Unmanageable Software?

Not as nice this morning. First of all the temperature on the Brindlee mountain shul eBoard was almost 10 degF higher than yesterday, and no wind. And then the gym was crawling with educationalists, all seemingly oblivious to being rendered bankrupt by the revelation that learning styles are bunk. And then the podcast episodes were highly unmemorable today. And the only thing that resonated from the electromagnetic receivers was that the repubgnants could do better running Theodore Roosevelt (or Abraham Lincoln) for chief executive than any of the current gaggle of candidate wannabes. 

So lacking any inspiration to yammer this morning I am going to turn to the literature. The latest issue (V13, #5) of Computing in Science and Engineering has a rather nice article entitled “Software Engineering for Scientists” by Kelly, Smith, and Meng. This journal is a joint IEEE and AIP publication and is available freebie on the internet one issue late. So wait a couple of weeks if you don;t subscribe and then you can read online.

The article tries to bridge the gap between scientist software and software engineering, which really isn’t about engineering but about management. The basic problem is that software is a relatively new thing, maybe a half-century od, and we still don;t have a good empirical basis for knowing how to manage it. So we have lots of brain flatulence and mind whack about how to do so. Happily with the speed of today the bad ideas get identifie pretty quickly and get weeded out of the small organizations quite quickly. The big organizations are something else entirely.

The difficulty is that the best way to build and maintain software is to have one programmer do it. (And probably nothing else.) Sadly, this approach is not deemed economically viable so the basic data are ignored and all sorts of wasteful and counter-productive approaches are tried to managing software.

These approaches, the better ones, at least, can be made to work poorly in the cases of software no one really cares about, like operating systems (Windows is the classic example here) and organization process software. It basically doesn’t work at all on software that anyone cares about like games and science software.

Since software engineering is all about management it is big on plans and schedules and instrumentality of operation. So what it ends up doing is managing the folks who work on software more than it manages the software itself. And it assumes that the software is some sort of all pervasive goop that has neither beginning nor end.

The problem with science software is that too often it has no such good behavior. Back when I was an undergraduate student, I would come across some need for a program, such as analyzing some laboratory data, write the program, use it, and then put the program away until I got distanced enough from the effort and discarded it. In graduate shul things were a bit more structured in that I had long term research plans and more stability. But the programs were not stable as I kept rewriting them to reflect the direction the research was going. After graduation most of the programs I have written have been for my research and they very much fitted into the paradigm of write and rewrite programs along the lines of the work but dispose of them once their usefulness has demonstrably (?) been established.

This is not how software engineering doctrine sees software. It is a product, an appliance, perhaps a foundry tool. Something that is not put to work until it is finished. After that it may be refined but there is still a distancing between development and production. My experience with science software is rather the opposite. Development and use are one with the research. Coding is not some independent activity, it is part of the mechanics of research just like tuning equipment or arguing with colleagues over interpretation. 

Miscegenation and Misconception

Back to gym after a week+ off to recover from injury. The temperature according to the Brindlee Shul blat-board was below 70 degF for the first time in what seem a LONG time. And the density in gym quite endurable, especially of educationalists.

On which nite there are several intriguing things indicated in the tabs. There is an indication that human resistance to disease is the direct result of sapiens interbreeding with neandertals and denisovians (denisovans?) [Link] I suspect this comes as less than welcome news to mystical repubgnants who sometimes seem to think that the only acceptable form of human intercourse is incestual. It comes, I am sure, as quite a blow to be told that miscegenation is beneficial.

One has to suspect that the problem is that politicians use up all of their adaptability to miscegenation in the social context of policy negotiation internal to the in-group and have no capacity left to accommodate any further variation in any dimension.

Still, they are left with the courage of their convictions as evidenced by the recent publication of the deputy chief executive’s memoirs. It is rare to find a politician who has such a fundamental understanding of time travel.

Next, boffins at U Virginia have come out with a study that indicates that ‘learning styles’ are bunk. [Link] Learning styles is an educational theory that different people learn best by different modes: visual (reading); aural (listening); participatory; or experiential. Well the psychologists say this is all rot and that what counts is engagement rather than presentation.

I have to admit that superficially this sounds like a bit of flim flam. Yes, i agree that engagement is key. If you don; get the student’s attention span then you can’t teach, and repeated whacks to the skull with a cricket bat may be satisfying to the teacher but it doesn’t get the right channel of attention.

The thing is that what gathers the attention span of some people evinces the opposite in others. So should we now talk about engagement channels? That may not be as redundant as it sounds.

I have some broad experience with engagement. Frankly, a lot of what got broadcast in high shul, didn’t, and when it did, it was episodic. College was better. The fluff courses like English literature and such were so much static but the nerd courses had a lot of attraction. In fact, they had enough to go to the other extreme where some idea was so well planted as to become a diversion and cut off engagement. But overall, in college I found the traditional lecture method to be a lot more effective for me than blue serge suit techniques and mumbling discussions of what some boring author meant in his literary opus.

Back then, they use to say that the purpose of graduate education was to become self-educating, so you didn’t need a lecture. And for some things I can educate myself. In general all those army courses that I had to take were much easier to master if I went to the men’s room and red the text in a stall. The lecture was too information sparse to be engaging. To say nothing else about the competence and enthusiasm of the instructor. But there are some things I just can’t self-engage on.

What awaits is just what impact this will have on the educationalist apparat. At first glance this is pretty close to bankruptcy since this learning style is fairly fundamental to educationalist dogma. It even bankrupts the basis of Every Child Left Behind. But we should not downplay the vitality of totalitarian bureaucracy. However much it may be wrong, however much it may be harmful, regulation wins out over almost everything except barbarians. So don’t be surprised if the educationalists and the bureaucrats maintain this learning style merde. You can always tell them it’s such and be labeled a problem parent. Which is sorta like being Roger Ramjet?

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English Taxonomy

Apparently the English equivalent of ‘bog’ is ‘luvvey’. [Link]

And the head of Gooey seems to think that this taxonomic identification is indicative of deep degeneration.

Does anyone write poetry anymore, in college or elsewhere? When I was an undergraduate I wrote (bad) poetry all the time. It was a means of dealing with the irrational emotionalism that had its roots in young adulthood. But by the time I got to graduate shul the need/urge had gone away.

The World Wonders.

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Missing Digits

Strange day yester. Had to go eat strange foodstuffs for social reasons and my metabolism is still in an uncollapsed state. So the prospect of blogging this morning is both enticing and offputting.

First off, my attention was drawn to an article [Link] about the Wonk Shul’s Collective Intelligence Center, which contrary to first inclination is neither about hive minds nor borg. The article is one of those insipid puff pieces put out by academic publicity offices that is intended to totally camouflage any reality such as the slow disintegration of the academic environment or whether any actual work is being done. It is the highest example of academic autarky.

Near as I can tell, collective intelligence is the ‘intelligence’ of a group of humans. But it has very little to do with actual intelligence so the use of the term is highly ambiguous and probably deliberately misleading so that grant monies can be obtained. The thesis of the article is one that is politically/socially correct and dripping of social engineering dogma, that collective intelligence is directly proportional to the number of women in the group.

I am the last one to debate the merits of women in working groups, or any other organization not requiring some uniquely male solidarity, such as a football scrum or a sperm donors’  organization. But that does not mean that I have surrendered my criticality. What is conspicuously missing in this article is any form of quantization. And if ever there was something that Kelvin’s advice applied to it is group composition mechanics.

For example, one of the questions I would like answered is how does collective intelligence change as the woman fraction changes from zero to one? I have no intention of waiting. The wonks do not respond to the rest of the Yankee republic.

Meanwhile, physicists at U Pennsylvania have published some work [Link] on the formation of coffee ‘rings’ that has plenty of quantification. Sadly, there is no mention of the effect of coffee on collective intelligence, which we all know is considerable and cries out for quantification as well as study. There is a bit of surprise to this work inasmuch as the same group has done nothing with chocolate.

And lastly, an article about a Yankee republic legal ruling that computer code cannot be patented unless it has a minimum level of complication. [Link] I have to admit the article is not very clear which is at least partly the result of trying to decipher the ruling and translate it into human language.

No wonder the wonk shul is putting out such nonsense, since they can’t patent it, it isn’t worth anything but publicity.

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Food and Frolic

OK, having offered our coins of cognition on the matter of government, let us turn to the serious business of paring down the tabs that have accumulated this week.

First, the cooking cabal at fair Hahvahd have been at it again. [Link] They now peg the dawn of cooking to 2 MYA and homo erectus. What is chilling to consider in this is that cooking may have propelled us along the road to intelligence but has it left us with all manner of nasty residue? One has only to sample the programming on the Travel channel and the Food network to view some of the most depraved eating behavior. Is this the the price we have to pay for intelligence, and not very good intelligence at that? I am particularly appalled by that chap who attempts to make overeating a competitive affair. Somehow it offends to reduce species survival to overindulgence.

And with such abysmally bad food at that. Nothing these folks ever gorge on is much more than burnt roadkill. But perhaps that is quintessentially human? Perhaps we started with the combustive equivalent of roadkill? Who better than the sots at fair Hahvahd to tell us?

Next, the folks at U Florida tell us that fingernails (toenails) came about something like 55 MYA during a period of global warming. [Link] Somehow we have to harbor the suspicion that some coevolutionary leap of lice occurred at the same time.

The folks at CERN seem to not be satisfied with not finding gravity, but now have delved into the climate change thing. [Link] Seems that they have published some work on the mechanics of gamma rays on ionizing atmospheric molecules which in turn serve as nucleation seeds for clouds, which moderate temperature. It occurs that this effort should meet with bitter disagreement by the (modern) repubgnants who screechingly deny any human interaction with climate.

No word on their political position on hurricanes taking out the Eastern seaboard.

Next, in a bit of an elevation for English ancestry, boffins at U Oxford and Edinburgh have determined that the settlers of antediluvian England did not arise from neo-agriculturists but from hunters of Mammoth. [Link] This seems much more politic and soothing to English sensibilities. Being tagged as a nation of Turkish farmers is rather degrading. After all, such would have been industrious, constructive, and practical whereas Mammoth hunters are coarse, brutish, and destructive. Some might detract from this by noting that such fits admirably with the historical English temperament. I suppose one might conceive of Henry Tudor returning home after a day’s hunt to brag about a bag of two Mammoth and a saber toothed wife.

Lastly, we have a potpourri of surveys, some of them actually academic and hence of merit, that indicate that religion, or at least affiliation with a religionist organization, is the cause of criminal incarceration. [Link] The surveys indicate that among the populations of prisons throughout the Yankee republic, people who are not affiliated with a religionist organization are strikingly underrepresented compared to the general population. The article stops short of concluding that such religionist organizations, and their propaganda, could be the cause of crime.

I however, from experience, can attest that having to interact with some of the members of these organizations is indeed criminal. Their respect for the rights and ideas of others is absent to the point of tyranny, at least in the main.

I shall refrain from hypothesizing that such arrogance of righteousness translates into antisocial criminal behavior.

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Man on Horseback

I ran across this [Link]

and it caused me to think about what characteristics we need now for a chief executive. We need someone who combines intelligence and integrity, who is fundamentally concerned with protecting the nation, and who is masterful at eradicating animosities in a constructive fashion.

Sadly, I am unaware of any of the current candidates who have more than one of these characteristics. So the question is whether our current system will not admit such to the candidacy, or that men such as Joshua are extinct. Either is a tragedy.

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Bairn Science Learning

The density of demand is grinding. Too much on the plate and too few opportunities to pass under the table to the dawg. So the blogging may be sparse a bit.

I noted an article [Link] in Ars Technica on early childhood science education. It’s a bit of a puff piece, dwelling too much on the ways of teaching: lecture; discussion (Socratic discourse); experimentation; but fail to get into what I think is real substance. So I have to offer up my coins of cognition.

In teaching science, or any form of nerdery, and maybe any disicpline, we cannot get too far from the 4Ts: terms; tools; techniques; and thoughts. The problem throughout all of pre-college (is that childhood’s definition?) is teaching these, and the root of the problem is a combination of absence of capability to teach and absence of capacity to learn.

If we focus in on the lower half of pre-college eduction, we have an environment where even I do not quibble that the teaching should be done by educationalists. So long as they have basic skills such as literacy (reading) and calculate (arithmetic), that is sufficient, IMHO. And since the model of bairns as ‘blank RAM’ is not totally inaccurate, they need special training on initial storage since in humans, at least, erasure is problematic and if the knowledge gets vertically copulated ab initio then it stays that way and we have a broken human being.

But this emphasis on instructing bairns assures that almost all educationalists have less knowledge of science (and nerdery in general) than they will need – by a VERY large measure. But especially, they lack the knowledge and experience of the last “T”. And if they had it, that probably couldn’t be communicated.

Even if we plopped first-half students into college classrooms, I don’t think most could ‘get’ it. I don;t have any confidence that pre-adult (early admittedly) humans are structured mentally and emotionally to gather the right insights form laboratory exercises, or even learn the tools and techniques, much less the thoughts, which the educationalists can’t really teach since they don’t know.

I suppose I should comment here that the vast majority of college age students can’t do this either. The bogs surely can’t. They subscribe to the idea that maths are irrelevant after high shul and college algebra is some rite of passage rather than a last flailing attempt to rescue them from being slime mold. So you can pretty well forget about bogs learning tools, and that also shuts them pretty well out of techniques and thoughts, even if they had the mental plumbing to handle it.

This eventual expulsion of the inept is not any excuse or rationale for not teaching bairns nerdery, or, at least, about nerdery. And it is problematic both in the sense that there are some pretty disturbing demographics about those who get dumped, and the too few who don’t and how that paucity is strangling the nation’s future. (see that old SF tale The Marching Morons, overdone title but vivid similarity of effect)

If you look at pre-college science courses/textbooks/curricula you will see that they are overwhelmingly term composed. That is a matter of necessity. About all any of the educationalists can handle, except for a scant few with real degrees in high shul, is rote instruction of definitions. Dictionary stuff.

What this doesn’t do is to impart to kids what science is about and what scientists do, since the two are pretty inseparable with children. Or at least they were with me when I was a (chronological) children. SO at this point things get memory oriented. IMHO, the way to teach lower-half bairns about science is biographical stories: the lives of scientists and what they did. Back in my day there were wonderful books by lots of publishers, many surprising, that did exactly this. I still have a few of these, one published by the Popular Science periodical is especially good and I sometimes read it today.

If these stories talk about the experiments – how they are planned and executed and what the results are, then this is a form of vicarious discovery. And if the logic of planning and analysis is discussed then the Socratic aspect is taught, and the idea of why we have to have terms and tools and techniques can be developed.  And this instills a desire to learn when the time in development arrives that they can.

But make sure they read the stories for themselves and that discussion is meaningful but brief. A disproportionate fraction of nerds are introverts and too much social activity will drive them away and we will be hurting twenty years hence. Individuals count, not herds.

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Era Ended

Survived the pilgrimage to Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill. And returned to Greater Metropolitan Arab only slightly the worse for wear. The franticness generated by the resessioning of shul seems to have abated somewhat although, if anything, the traffic is more dense than ever. And the drivers more aggressive and confrontational. It seems almost to the point where the city should just arm them all with RPGs and let them at it until the numbers are pruned down.

Of course that might get some untoward publicity? I can visualize the liberal social engineering indignation of the national evening news broadcast and the false fairness of the irishman on Reynard network. And definitely not the positive tone of the same situation in Tripoli.

One of the disadvantages of my pilgrimage is that I get far behind computationally and have to spend rather too much time trying to renorm back to what I laughingly declare to be normality. One of the articles [Link] that popped up for my attention had to do with the eminent and desired transfer of Fort Monroe from the Yankee army to the Yankee park service.

Over my years with the Yankee army, I had many times to go to Fort Monroe. The trip is less than wonderful, involving at least two semi-commuter legs between Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill and Norfolk with a stop in some wonderful place like Atlanta or Knoxville. One of the nastinesses of working for the Yankee government is that you often come to judge the merit of cities by their airports. One of the greater nastinesses is that you get to judge the merit of cities by actually trying to drive through and around them in a rental car.

Norfolk is such a city. Its airport is middle range for Amerika when I was traveling. Aside from the petty thievery of the rental car vendors, the vendors were above average although services were surprisingly spartan for such a populous region. The rental cars are always old and cranky and make the overcrowded, poorly laid out, badly surfaced, and worst maintained roads a headache from foot one. And then one gets to drive under the river through the tunnel – with several inches of water at the low point.

Happily one gets out of the tunnel and quickly gets off the hideously overcrowded and oversped interstate almost at the edge of dry land. One expels a sigh of relief at not having to drive further up to Williamsburg, now one of the most venial of tourist traps, or another military base. You cannot escape the tenor of towns hereabout, which seem like normal old towns except being compressed from quart volume down to cup. But you can now enjoy the relative absence of tension.

Back in my day there were two places to stay, a 1950’s (maybe that modern) motel at the interstate exit named the Strawberry Banks. It commanded a superb view of a state (?) institution for the insane and of the river. The latter was the primary reason for staying despite the threat of the former. One could look out over the waters from one’s room, perhaps with a libation, and enjoy the Yankee navy ships coming and going. Nighttime was the time selected for the most important to keep the citizenry, if not the Soviets, from knowing of their movement.

The other choice was an old tourist hotel, the Chamberlain, named for the savior of the nation, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Maine, located on the beach adjacent to the fort. One did not voluntarily stay there. The guest rooms had not been modernized, nor apparently, even repaired, since women began to get wet in the ocean and the hotel had become unpopular and reverted back to the Yankee army. On the other hand, the lobby is wonderful, reeking of history, and the retaurant arguably the best in town, especially for breakfast.

One travels early to Monroe. The drive through town is cramped and complicated with the somnolence of regular commuters. Distances are short and so are tempers. Post security is nominal – what mujaheddin tries to blow up a fort? But fundamentally, one arrives early, two hours before start of business to find a place to park. By my count there are only enough parking places for two-thirds of the people who work there, much less visitors. So you come early, hunt hard for a parking place, and then eat a wonderful breakfast at the Chamberlain before going to your meeting.

The folks who work there are a cut above those you usually encounter at most army posts. Some of it is the sheer age of the place seeps into the mind and convinces one that the mickey mouse stuff has worn thin. Part of it is the greater intelligence of the staff. Not as many nerds as among technies but as close as the army military side can get. And while the demands are as unrealistic as anywhere else, the manners are rounder, more expansive and the arguments fewer and funner.

At lunch one grabs machine stuff and crosses the moat back bridge for a few minutes in the museum and more minutes communing in the gun emplacement room where Jefferson Davis was incarcerated after the end of the WAR. This is almost as far nawth as one can get and still have the locals remember that. As such Monroe is on the boundary of the nation and that conflict. Here is not only where Davis was jailed – and almost hung – but where fugitive slaves came for safety. If the five sided fool farm is the executive suite of the army, and places like benning and knox its manufacturies, then monroe is its sacred grove.

We may only hope that the National park service does half so well in preserving this majesty of America as the Yankee army has. I know I do.

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Seeing is Knowing

Yesterday was a bit out of usual. I had to go visit my general physician about an injury I had done myself. This sort of thing happens not without a sort of stochastic periodicity when I venture outside the tame world of habitation and civilized paving. This is the primary reason that I had to abandon hiking and camping as activities – too many injuries just from being a klutz.

This injury was not serious, rather modal in fact, a twisted foot caused by stepping on a tree gall and rolling off balance. Sounds rather improbable bout one of my reputational appellations is he-who-can-stumble-over-his-own-shadow. Anyway, this time the recovery was rather prolonged and FD SCP induced me to impose upon my physician lest some undue damage be ignored. Turns out it was just a lack of aggression.

Anyway, once the obligatory X-Rays had been snapped and I had added a significant, near-impulsive dollop to my annual radiation exposure, my physician proceeded to examine the injured area and his concentration and probing led me, in short order once the anticipatory tension had been dispelled by his diagnosis, to consider the nature of observation.

Observation is intrinsically human. Even bogs have been observed – rarely these days – in the act. Many crafts, professions, and disciplines enhance native observational skills. The way a physician observes is, based on my observation, rather different from how a physicist observes. In some ways it is much more difficult because homeostatic systems are not usually forthcoming with rich observation in a short time. In other ways, it is perplexing and even frustrating when what are obvious physical differences are seemingly ignored but I have respect grown from long and positive experience and merely make note of these differences in technique.

Physicists tend to observe for physical phenomena, and what seems to be at variance with such. Mechanics is a large part of this since motion is more easily observed by humans than is stationarity – in the sense of not moving. Although stationarity in the stochastic sense can sometimes be of import and usually less directly forthcoming than watching a homeostatic system.

Physicians, I am informed, are taught how to observe, first by pedagogy and then by relatively ruthless drill and testing. Physicists, being expected to see other things are less trained than guided and spurred by competition. Back when I was a student, our model was more Arthur Conan Doyle than Isaac Newton, at least in methodology, so in this my generation owes a debt to physicians. One of the primary purposes of laboratory exercises in the educational environment is developing skills of observation. In general this purpose is seldom fulfilled. But it does act as a superior weeding mechanism to separate the wanna-be from the can-be, a distinction that is frowned upon in the current delusional climate of you-can-be-anything-you-want (and your parents can afford.) We tend to lose sight that Cinderella stories have to be rare for commonality brings chaos and boredom, one of the few ways these two can be combined.

Almost all bogs reap no benefit of laboratory exercises. They skate or crib their way through. Or burn down the laboratory with antic irresponsibility. For this reason, serious laboratory exercise had to wait for college. Even then, too many of those taking physics lab learn too little, again cribbing or skating. I cannot recall any of the teaching assistants or lecturers telling me the value of observation, and had I not already been introduced to the idea by the Sherlock Holmes stories, then unacceptably modern and illiterary to high shul literature teachers, I am not sure I would have discovered it.

The epiphany of my undergraduate observational days occurred as a sophomore taking classical mechanics. The topic was harmonic motion in one, two, and three spatial dimensions and I recall musing on then one day while walking from the physics building, Galilee Hall, to my next class. I happened to be walking across the quadrangle and observed before me a gossip of coeds [1] intent on a similar effort as myself, going from point A to B, probably between classes, or class and dorm.

This was in the days when the U had a dress code and coeds (also a dated term?) were not permitted shorts or pants in ‘public’ except on travel on attending a physical education class. These women were wearing rather tight short skirts but not so tight that the harmonic motion of their steatopygous buttocks was damped out. The first of the trio, a rail thing Twiggy type, exhibited one-dimensional harmonic motion. The second, rather more buxom, exhibited two-dimensional harmonic motion. The third, the obligatory chubby ‘fun’ girl in the group, exhibited – wait for this! – two-and-a-half-dimensional motion.

I have to admit to being shocked, effectively awed because of long moments all I could do was stumble along, unable to talk or even think coherently. The young may chant “awesome’ but it is with ignorant, inexperienced abandon. Awe shuts you up and often down.

I was so overcome by this epiphany of observation and analysis that I do not know to this day how I got to my next class. Luckily it was one of those information vapid literature classes that everyone has to endure in college, the kind that may let you read contemporaries of Doyle as sensationalisticly progressive but only if they never achieved any popularity, and definitely not Doyle – he was too hack. Luckily the lectured, a graduate student, was more taken with saying than whether his students were listening and when I came around I could see I had missed little of content in that class.

But I now understood what observation was about, at least for that small aspect of physics. And incidentally, I laid a seed of thought to blossom years later when I finally got to read Benoit Mandelbrot.

I am unsure of how observation is fostered today. The teaching and nature of physics has changed. BY my sophomore year, my laboratory courses were all dependent on exotic machinery and instruments and few of the observations were direct, most were of dials and gauges. The Millikan oil drop experiment was as close as one came to direct observation and that experiment was included for historical reasons more than anything.

Students today do not get taught the same balance of physics that I received. Even less of theirs is stuff than can be observed directly, out in Nature or around one in the civilized environment. I find students today woefully absent of knowledge of classical mechanics, as an example. So I really do not know how well they can observe.

[1]  A gossip is a small group of people, usually less than 5, 3 modal, who walk and carry on converse about other humans.

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