Cloud

Microsoft Wins A Big Cloud Deal With America's Intelligence Community (spokesman.com) 20

wyattstorch516 shared this story from the AP: Microsoft Corp. said it's secured a lucrative cloud deal with the intelligence community that marks a rapid expansion by the software giant into a market led by Amazon.com Inc. The deal, which the company said Wednesday is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, allows 17 intelligence agencies and offices to use Microsoft's Azure Government, a cloud service tailored for federal and local governments, in addition to other products Microsoft already offers, such as its Windows 10 operating system and word processing programs.

The cloud agreement gives Microsoft more power to make its case to the Pentagon as it goes up against competitors like International Business Machines Corp., Oracle Corp. and Amazon for the agency's winner-take-all cloud computing contract for up to 10 years.

That contract is expected to be worth billions of dollars, according to the article, adding that "the Defense Department has said it intends to move the department's technology needs -- 3.4 million users and 4 million devices -- to the cloud to give it a tactical edge on the battlefield and strengthen its use of emerging technologies."

One Microsoft executive said this week's deal reinforces "the fact that we are a solid cloud platform that the federal government can put their trust in."
The Almighty Buck

Companies Are Using California Homes As Batteries To Power the Grid (qz.com) 70

"Companies like Tesla and SunRun are starting to bid on utility contracts that would allow them to string together dozens or hundreds of systems that act as an enormous reserve to balance the flow of electricity on the grid," reports Quartz. "Doing so would accelerate the grid's transformation from 20th century hub-and-spoke architecture to a transmission network moving electricity among thousands or millions of customers who generate and store their own power." From the report: In theory, networked home-solar-and-battery systems, acting in coordination over a single geographical area, could replace things like natural gas "peaker" plants need to help support the grid on a moment's notice. But it's an open question whether it makes financial sense. Kamath says renewable mandates could keep home solar-storage solutions for the grid going for a while, but the idea will have to prove itself on the market, perhaps by aggregating large areas, if it wants to seriously compete with existing energy assets.

SunRun told investors in 2017 that its pilot programs suggest it could competitively generate $2,000 worth of services by managing electricity flow back to the grid. The company has recently dropped its combative stance with utilities dragging their feet on accepting home solar. Instead, it's pursuing cooperation with the utilities now, in hopes of selling them home-based power. That would allow it grab a chunk of the billions being spent on modernizing the grid. "We don't want to be in a position of building two competing infrastructures," SunRun's Jurich said.

Programming

A Middle-Aged Writer's Quest To Start Learning To Code For the First Time (1843magazine.com) 128

OpenSourceAllTheWay writes: The Economist's 1843 magazine details one middle-aged writer's (Andrew Smith) quest to learn to code for the first time, after becoming interested in the "alien" logic mechanisms that power completely new phenomena like crypto-currency and effectively make the modern world function in the 21st Century. The writer discovers that there are over 1,700 actively used computer programming languages to choose from, and that every programmer that he asks "Where should someone like me start with coding?" contradicts the next in his or her recommendation. One seasoned programmer tells him that programmers discussing what language is best is the equivalent of watching "religious wars." The writer is stunned by how many of these languages were created by unpaid individuals who often built them for "glory and the hell of it." He is also amazed by how many people help each other with coding problems on the internet every day, and the computer programmer culture that non-technical people are oblivious of.

Eventually the writer finds a chart of the most popular programming languages online, and discovers that these are Python, Javascript, and C++. The syntax of each of these languages looks indecipherable to him. The writer, with some help from online tutorials, then learns how to write a basic Python program that looks for keywords in a Twitter feed. The article is interesting in that it shows what the "alien world of coding" looks like to people who are not already computer nerds and in fact know very little about how computer software works. There are many interesting observations on coding/computing culture in the article, seen through the lens of someone who is not a computer nerd and who has not spent the last two decades hanging out on Slashdot or Stackoverflow.

Games

Valve Slammed Over 'Horrendous' Steam School-Shooting Game (eurogamer.net) 297

Several readers have shared an EuroGamer report: Just a week after the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas that saw 10 people fatally shot and 13 others were wounded, Valve has come under fire for a Steam school-shooting game that encourages you to "hunt and destroy" children. Active Shooter, which at the time of publication is live on Steam and due for release on 6th June, is described by its developer as "a dynamic S.W.A.T. simulator." The idea is you're sent in to deal with a shooter at a school, but you can also play as the actual shooter, gunning down school children.

Now, an anti-gun violence charity has called on Valve to pull the game from Steam. The developer of Active Shooter is called Revived Games, the publisher Acid. Revived Games' credits include White Power: Pure Voltage and Dab, Dance & Twerk. "Acid", who plans to add a survival mode in which you play as a civilian and have to "escape or perform a heroic action such as fight against the shooter itself," took to Active Shooter's Steam page to defend the game. "First of all, this game does not promote any sort of violence, especially any soft [sic] of a mass shooting," Acid said.

United States

Massachusetts Gains Foothold in Offshore Wind Power, Long Ignored in US (nytimes.com) 171

New Bedford hopes to soon be the operations center for the first major offshore wind farm in the United States, bringing billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs to the town and other ports on the East Coast. The New York Times: On Wednesday, that effort took a major step forward as the State of Massachusetts, after holding an auction, selected a group made up of a Danish investment firm and a Spanish utility to erect giant turbines on the ocean bottom, beginning about 15 miles off Martha's Vineyard. This initial project will generate 800 megawatts of electricity, roughly enough to power a half a million homes. At the same time, Rhode Island announced it would award a 400-megawatt offshore wind project to another bidder in the auction.

The groups must now work out the details of their contracts with the states' utilities. "We see this not just as a project but as the beginning of an industry," Lars Thaaning Pedersen, the chief executive of Vineyard Wind, which was awarded the Massachusetts contract, said in an interview. Offshore wind farms have increasingly become mainstream sources of power in Northern Europe, and are fast becoming among the cheapest sources of electricity in countries like Britain and Germany. Those power sources in those two countries already account for more than 12 gigawatts of electricity generation capacity.

Youtube

Google Launches YouTube Music Service With Creepy AI To Predict Listening Habits (audioholics.com) 87

Audiofan writes: Will the new YouTube Music streaming service provide the soundtrack to your life? Google believes that its ability to harness the power of artificial intelligence will help the new service catch up to its rivals in the music streaming business. Google's latest attempt to compete with Spotify and Apple Music may finally have what it takes if it doesn't creep users out in the process. While the service officially rolls out on Tuesday, May 22nd, only some users will be able to use it at launch. What separates YouTube's music streaming service from the competition is its catalog of remixes, live versions, and covers of official versions of songs. It also uses the Google Assistant to make music recommendations based on everything it knows (and can learn) about you and your listening habits. "When you arrive at the gym, for example, YouTube Music will offer up a playlist of hard-hitting pump-up jams (if that's your thing)," reports Audioholics. "Late at night, softer tunes will set a more relaxing mood."

YouTube Music is free with ads, but will cost $9.99 for ad-free listening. There is also YouTube Premium, which will cost $11.99 per month, and will include both the ad-free music service and the exclusive video content from the now-defunct YouTube Red.
Desktops (Apple)

Razer Slims Down Blade, Debuts MacOS-Compatible eGPU Enclosure (arstechnica.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Today, Razer debuted big updates to its Razer Blade laptop, focusing on design and performance to usher the gaming notebook into 2018. While the new Blade still looks unmistakably "Razer," its design has changed dramatically for the better. Razer upped the screen size from 14 inches to 15.6 inches, reducing the surrounding bezels to just 4.9mm so that the device fits in with the other nearly bezel-less ultrabooks popular today. Razer is offering 1080p 60Hz or 144Hz panels, along with a 4K touchscreen option as well. The larger display panel makes the laptop slightly heavier than its predecessor, and it's a bit wider overall, too (4.7 pounds and 9.3 inches, respectively). However, the slimmer bezels, sharper edges, and aluminum unibody make the new Razer Blade look like a clear upgrade from the previous model.

Another new addition to the Razer lineup is the Core X, a Thunderbolt 3 external graphics enclosure with space for large, three-slot wide graphics cards. The Core X joins the Core V2 graphics enclosure as one of Razer's solutions for gamers who want to add desktop-like graphics power to their laptops -- and it's more affordable than the V2 as well. While it's a bit stockier than Razer's existing enclosure, the Core X has an aluminum body with open vents to properly handle heat, regardless of the task at hand. The Core X connects to a compatible notebook through one Thunderbolt 3 port, providing eGPU access and 100W of power thanks to its 650 ATX power supply. It's both cheaper and seemingly easier to use than the V2, but that comes with some compromises: the Core X doesn't have Chroma lighting, and it lacks USB and Ethernet ports.
Some other specs of the new Blade include a Intel Core i7-8750H processor, Nvidia GTX 1060 or 1070 with Max-Q graphics, up to 32GB of RAM, up to 2TB of PCIe-based SSD, and 80Whr battery. There are three USB-A 3.1 ports, one proprietary charging port, one Thunderbolt 3 port, a Mini DisplayPort, and an HDMI port.
Facebook

European Lawmakers Asked Mark Zuckerberg Why They Shouldn't Break Up Facebook (theverge.com) 218

European lawmakers questioned Mark Zuckerberg in Brussels today for almost an hour and a half, asking him to address concerns about the Cambridge Analytica data leak and Facebook's potential monopoly. German MEP Manfred Weber asked whether the Facebook CEO could name a single European alternative to his "empire," which includes apps like WhatsApp and Instagram in addition to Facebook. "I think it's time to discuss breaking up Facebook's monopoly, because it's already too much power in only one hand," said Weber. "So I ask you simple, and that is my final question: can you convince me not to do so?" Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt then chimed in and asked whether Facebook would cooperate with European antitrust authorities to determine whether the company was indeed a monopoly, and if it was, whether Facebook would accept splitting off WhatsApp or Messenger to remedy the problem. The Verge reports: The panel's format let Zuckerberg selectively reply to questions at the end of the session, and he didn't address Verhofstadt's points. Instead, he broadly outlined how Facebook views "competition" in various spaces. "We exist in a very competitive space where people use a lot of different tools for communication," said Zuckerberg. "From where I sit, it feels like there are new competitors coming up every day" in the messaging and social networking space. He also said that Facebook didn't hold an advertising monopoly because it only controlled 6 percent of the global advertising market. (It's worth noting: this is still a huge number.) And he argued that Facebook promoted competition by making it easier for small businesses to reach larger audiences -- which is basically unrelated to the question of whether Facebook itself is a monopoly.
Power

Creeping Lava Now Threatens Major Hawaiian Power Plant (gizmodo.com) 68

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Molten lava from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has entered the grounds of Puna Geothermal Venture, a geothermal power plant that provides about 25 percent of the Big Island's power. The 38 Megawatt Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) power plant, which is located in the east rift zone of the Kilauea volcano, was shut down soon after the eruptions began on May 3. Yesterday, lava from Fissure 22 came to within 820 feet (250 meters) of the plant's nearest well pad before stalling, as Reuters reports. Overnight, workers managed to cap the 11th and final well at the facility in anticipation of the lava eventually reaching the facility, and to prevent the uncontrollable release of toxic gases. Mercifully, the lava flow stopped at a ridge near the PGV plant, but as the events of the past two weeks have shown, Mount Kilauea is in an extremely volatile state. The HCCD said Fissure 22 is producing most of the lava feeding the flows, so the situation near the power plant remains precarious.
Microsoft

The Whole World is Now a Computer, Says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (zdnet.com) 182

Thanks to cloud computing, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, we should start to think of the planet as one giant computer, according to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella. From a report: "Digital technology, pervasively, is getting embedded in every place: every thing, every person, every walk of life is being fundamentally shaped by digital technology -- it is happening in our homes, our work, our places of entertainment," said Nadella speaking in London. "It's amazing to think of a world as a computer. I think that's the right metaphor for us as we go forward."

[...] AI is core to Microsoft's strategy, Nadella said: "AI is the run time which is going to shape all of what we do going forward in terms of applications as well as the platform." Microsoft is rethinking its core products by using AI to connect them together, he said, giving an example of a meeting using translation, transcription, Microsoft's HoloLens and other devices to improve decision-making. "The idea that you can now use all of the computing power that is around you -- this notion of the world as a computer -- completely changes how you conduct a meeting and fundamentally what presence means for a meeting," he said.

Space

German Test Reveals That Magnetic Fields Are Pushing the EM Drive (arstechnica.com) 306

"Researchers in Germany have performed an independent, controlled test of the infamous EM Drive with an unprecedented level of precision," writes PvtVoid. "The result? The thrust is coming from interactions with the Earth's magnetic field." From the report: Instead of getting ahold of someone else's EM drive, or Mach-effect device, the researchers created their own, along with the driving electronics. The researchers used precision machining and polishing to obtain a microwave cavity that was much better than those previously published. If anything was going to work, this would be the one. The researchers built up a very nice driving circuit that was capable of supplying 50W of power to the cavity. However, the amplifier mountings still needed to be worked on. So, to keep thermal management problems under control, they limited themselves to a couple of Watts in the current tests. The researchers also inserted an enormous attenuator. This meant that they could, without physically changing the setup, switch on all the electronics and have the amplifiers working at full noise, and all the power would either go to the EM drive or be absorbed in the attenuator. That gives them much more freedom to determine if the thrust was coming from the drive or not.

Even with a power of just a couple of Watts, the EM-drive generates thrust in the expected direction (e.g., the torsion bar twists in the right direction). If you reverse the direction of the thruster, the balance swings back the other way: the thrust is reversed. Unfortunately, the EM drive also generates the thrust when the thruster is directed so that it cannot produce a torque on the balance (e.g., the null test also produces thrust). And likewise, that "thrust" reverses when you reverse the direction of the thruster. The best part is that the results are the same when the attenuator is put into the circuit. In this case, there is basically no radiation in the microwave cavity, yet the WTF-thruster thrusts on. So, where does the force come from? The Earth's magnetic field, most likely. The cables that carry the current to the microwave amplifier run along the arm of the torsion bar. Although the cable is shielded, it is not perfect (because the researchers did not have enough mu metal). The current in the cable experiences a force due to the Earth's magnetic field that is precisely perpendicular to the torsion bar. And, depending on the orientation of the thruster, the direction of the current will reverse and the force will reverse.
The researchers' conclude by saying: "At least, SpaceDrive [the name of the test setup] is an excellent educational project by developing highly demanding test setups, evaluating theoretical models and possible experimental errors. It's a great learning experience with the possibility to find something that can drive space exploration into its next generation."
Businesses

US Treasury Secretary Calls For Google Monopoly Probe (theregister.co.uk) 86

After a 60 Minutes episode that focused on Google and its effective search monopoly, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called for large tech companies to be investigated for potential antitrust violations. Asked whether Google was abusing its market dominance as a monopoly, Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday "these are issues that the Justice Department needs to look at seriously," and argued that it was important to "look at the power they have" noting that companies like Google "have a greater and greater impact on the economy." The Register reports: Mnuchin's willingness to directly criticize Google and other tech companies and argue that they should be under investigation is just the latest sign that Washington DC is serious about digging in the market power of Big Internet. It is notable that it was 20 years ago, almost to the day, that America finally dealt with another tech antitrust problem when the Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general filed suit -- on May 18, 1998 -- against what was then the most powerful tech company in the country: Microsoft.
Transportation

Tesla Model 3 Falls Short of Consumer Reports Recommendation (cnbc.com) 295

Consumer Reports published their review of the Tesla Model 3 today. The product review site liked the vehicle's range of the battery and agile handling, but had issues with braking, controls, and ride quality. Overall, it failed to get a recommendation. CNBC highlights the key shortfalls: "Our testers also found flaws -- big flaws -- such as long stopping distances in our emergency braking test and difficult-to-use controls," said a review in the publication. In particular, the car's stopping distance of 152 feet from a speed of 60 miles per hour was slower than any of its contemporaries, including the Ford F-150, a full-size pickup. The location of almost all of Tesla's controls on a touchscreen and the vehicle's ride quality were also factors in the group's decision. Tesla issued a statement in response to Consumer Reports' stopping distance claim: "Tesla's own testing has found braking distances with an average of 133 feet when conducting the 60-0 mph stops using the 18-inch Michelin all season tire and as low as 126 feet with all tires currently available. Stopping distance results are affected by variables such as road surface, weather conditions, tire temperature, brake conditioning, outside temperature, and past driving behavior that may have affected the brake system. Unlike other vehicles, Tesla is uniquely positioned to address more corner cases over time through over-the-air software updates, and it continually does so to improve factors such as stopping distance."
Google

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin Wants Justice Department To Scrutinize Big Tech (cnbc.com) 127

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Monday joined the growing chorus of government officials concerned about tech monopolies. From a report: When asked if Google is a monopoly, Mnuchin said, "These are issues that the Justice Department needs to look at seriously -- not for any one company -- but obviously as these technology companies have a greater and greater impact on the economy, I think that you have to look at the power they have," Mnuchin told CNBC's "Squawk Box." Mnuchin acknowledged that antitrust matters don't fall under his jurisdiction, but said someone ought to be looking. His comments come on the heels of a "60 Minutes" segment on Google's unparalleled market share in online search. The Sunday night spot included an interview with Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder of Yelp, which he said "would have no shot" if it were being built today.
Facebook

Advocacy Groups Call for the FTC To Break Up Facebook (bleepingcomputer.com) 133

An anonymous reader shares a report: Several advocacy groups have banded together for a campaign that calls upon the US Federal Trade Commission to intervene and break up Facebook into smaller companies -- and more specifically to split off the Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp services from the mother company. The campaign, named Freedom from Facebook, was set into motion today by eight groups -- Demand Progress, Citizens Against Monopoly, Content Creators Coalition, Jewish Voice for Peace, MoveOn, Mpower Change, Open Markets Institute, and SumOfUs, respectively. Through a dedicated website, the eight advocacy groups are urging users to file a petition with the FTC on the grounds that Facebook has become a monopoly. The campaign's motto is "It's time to make Facebook safe for democracy." "Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have amassed a scary amount of power," the campaign's website reads. "Facebook unilaterally decides the news that billions of people around the world see every day."
Power

No Fossil Fuel-Based Generation Was Added To US Grid Last Month (arstechnica.com) 123

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In the U.S., two types of electricity generation are on the rise: natural gas and renewables. If one of those is set to make a bigger mark than the other this year, it's natural gas: in 2018, natural gas-burning capacity is expected to outpace renewable capacity for the first time in five years, according to data from the Energy Information Agency. Although natural gas additions are expected to overtake renewable energy additions in 2018, forecasts for renewable energy additions to the grid roughly match what we saw in 2017. Natural gas is overtaking renewables not because renewable energy adoption is slowing, but more because natural gas facilities are seeing a considerable boom.

In fact, barring any changes in the EIA numbers, natural gas, wind, and solar generation are the only electricity generation sources that will be added to the U.S. grid in any consequential manner in 2018. Battery, hydroelectric, and biomass facilities make up the small percentage of "other" sources that are expected to come online this year. Renewable energy also started off the year strong. According to the EIA, "in February 2018, for the first time in decades, all of the new generating capacity coming online within a month were non-fossil-fueled. Of the 475 MW of capacity that came online in February, 81 percent was wind, 16 percent was solar photovoltaic, and the remaining 3 percent was hydro and biomass."

Privacy

'I Asked Apple for All My Data. Here's What Was Sent Back' (zdnet.com) 171

"I asked Apple to give me all the data it's collected on me since I first became a customer in 2010," writes the security editor for ZDNet, "with the purchase of my first iPhone." That was nearly a decade ago. As most tech companies have grown in size, they began collecting more and more data on users and customers -- even on non-users and non-customers... Apple took a little over a week to send me all the data it's collected on me, amounting to almost two dozen Excel spreadsheets at just 5MB in total -- roughly the equivalent of a high-quality photo snapped on my iPhone. Facebook, Google, and Twitter all took a few minutes to an hour to send me all the data they store on me -- ranging from a few hundred megabytes to a couple of gigabytes in size...

The zip file contained mostly Excel spreadsheets, packed with information that Apple stores about me. None of the files contained content information -- like text messages and photos -- but they do contain metadata, like when and who I messaged or called on FaceTime. Apple says that any data information it collects on you is yours to have if you want it, but as of yet, it doesn't turn over your content which is largely stored on your slew of Apple devices. That's set to change later this year... And, of the data it collects to power Siri, Maps, and News, it does so anonymously -- Apple can't attribute that data to the device owner... One spreadsheet -- handily -- contained explanations for all the data fields, which we've uploaded here...

[T]here's really not much to it. As insightful as it was, Apple's treasure trove of my personal data is a drop in the ocean to what social networks or search giants have on me, because Apple is primarily a hardware maker and not ad-driven, like Facebook and Google, which use your data to pitch you ads.

CNET explains how to request your own data from Apple.
Operating Systems

Canonical Shares Desktop Plans For Ubuntu 18.10 (ubuntu.com) 80

Canonical's Will Cooke on Friday talked about the features the company is working on for Ubuntu 18.10 "Cosmic Cuttlefish" cycle. He writes: We're also adding some new features which we didn't get done in time for the main 18.04 release. Specifically: Unlock with your fingerprint, Thunderbolt settings via GNOME Control Center, and XDG Portals support for snap.

GNOME Software improvements
We're having a week long sprint in June to map out exactly how we want the software store to work, how we want to present information and to improve the overall UX of GNOME Software. We've invited GNOME developers along to work with Ubuntu's design team and developers to discuss ideas and plan the work. I'll report back from the sprint in June.

Snap start-up time
Snapcraft have added the ability for us to move some application set up from first run to build time. This will significantly improve desktop application first time start up performance, but there is still more we can do.

Chromium as a snap
Chromium is becoming very hard to build on older releases of Ubuntu as it uses a number of features of modern C++ compilers. Snaps can help us solve a lot of those problems and so we propose to ship Chromium only as a snap from 18.10 onwards, and also to retire Chromium as a deb in Trusty. If you're still running Trusty you can get the latest Chromium as a snap right now.
In addition, Ubuntu team is also working on introducing improvements to power consumption, adding support for DLNA, so that users could share media directly from their desktop to DLNA clients (without having to install and configure extra packages), and improved phone integration by shipping GS Connect as part of the desktop, the GNOME port of KDE Connect. Additional changelog here.
Earth

A Fleet of Sailing Robots Sets Out To Quantify the Oceans (bloomberg.com) 76

pacopico writes: A start-up in California called Saildrone has built a fleet of robotic sailboats that are gathering tons of data about the oceans. The saildrones rely on a hard, carbon-fiber sail to catch wind, and solar panels to power all of their electronics and sensors. "Each drone carries at least $100,000 of electronics, batteries, and related gear," reports Businessweek. "Devices near the tip of the sail measure wind speed and direction, sunlight, air temperature and pressure, and humidity. Across the top of the drone's body, other electronics track wave height and period, carbon dioxide levels, and the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. Underwater, sensors monitor currents, dissolved oxygen levels, and water temperature, acidity, and salinity. Sonars and other acoustic instruments try to identify animal life." So far they've been used to find sharks, monitor fisheries, check on climate change and provide weather forecasts. Saildrone just raised $90 million to build a fleet of 1,000 drones, which it thinks will be enough to measure all of the world's oceans.
Businesses

Senate Votes To Save Net Neutrality (gizmodo.com) 288

In a monumental decision that will resonate through election season, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted to reinstate the net neutrality protections the Federal Communications Commission decided to repeal late last year. From a report: For months, procedural red tape has delayed the full implementation of the FCC's decision to drop Title II protections that prevent internet service providers from blocking or throttling online content. Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed that the repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order would go into effect on June 11. But Democrats put forth a resolution to use its power under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to review new regulations by federal agencies through an expedited legislative process. All 49 Democrats in the Senate supported the effort to undo the FCC's vote. Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska crossed party lines to support the measure. Further reading: ArsTechnica.

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