Etech 2009 This Week

Monday February 16, 17:13:32

This week, high on the list of things to look forward to (definitely well-above my appointment with my accountant, nice as she is..) is O’Reilly Etech. I’m glad to be going this year, after missing it entirely last year.

I’ll be talking on Thursday March 12 at 11:55am in the Imperial Ballroom, immediately after the Senate has their deliberations on whether or not to leave a garrison in Cloud City.

My topic? Design Fiction. Hopefully the essay that attaches to this thinking will be done in a matter of a few dozen hours. We’ll see. Had quite my share of Tawny Port last night and I don’t write particularly well when juiced like Hemingway or, whatever..Joyce or something.

Design is a kind of authoring practice, crafting material visions of different kinds of possible worlds. Design’s various ways of articulating ideas in material to create social objects and experiences can be seen as a kind of practice close to writing fiction. This is a presentation about the relationship between design, science fiction, and the material elements that help tell visual stories about the future — mostly props and special effects.

The questions here are this:

How does design participate in shaping possible near future worlds?
How does the integration of story telling, technology, art, and design provide opportunities to re-imagine how the world may be in the future?

Continue reading Etech 2009 This Week

Star Trek Embedded Culture

StarTrek_Tricorder

Speculative design details for a Star Trek (TOS) Sciences Tricorder, complete with placement of thru-hole (!) capacitors, resistors, wire bundles and rectifiers. Just in case you were wondering, there will be no surface mount in the future, which is fine. Tangibility is good. From Franz Joseph. 1975. Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual.

For anyone who hasn’t watched the amusing trekumentary How William Shatner Changed the World — please, treat yourself. It come back and forth to my mind as I hammer out some of the contours of design fiction thinking and practices.

The theme is quirky and done with a dose of hubris, of course, which adds a bit of geeky humor to the whole thing. But, the undergirding notion is that some of the instrumental and ontological furniture of the Star Trek future are found here, today. In some ways, with some of that furniture, we are in the Star Trek future. We don’t have intrepid, frontiersman space captain’s tear-assing around the universe, contemplating the ethics of Prime Directives. But, we do have things like Bones’ medical bay, at least in some parts of the world. We do have communicator like things, of course. And Shatner will take you to the folks who are today’s engineer-scientist geniuses who grew up on Star Trek and have come to him to help wonder about the role it played in their young lives, providing little sources of inspiration and contemplation and motivation.
At least, that’s how the story’s told in this clever, campy documentary. All the folks are real — they’re not making stuff up to bolster the Shatner ego. In all seriousness, what I find most intriguing is the implication here for this design fiction notion — that science fiction has always participated in creating future worlds.

More than the imagining, but the speculating, prototyping and thinking-through of the near future worlds we may want to inhabit. This is where the design component comes in — as a resource, actively engaged in the “engineering” of things, experiences, objects. It’s not an easy thing to do. Much of the work done today in making near future worlds wants to get down to the brass-tacks operations of things. Logistics. Pragmatics of markets. Instrumental aspects of making objects, forgetting too quickly the imagination. Dismissive of speculation and creative imagination. Not even considering the possibilities of telling stories to help think things through. It’s a peculiar, undisciplined approach to innovation — to doing things differently and finding new materialization practices.

There’s so much about Star Trek that lives outside of the television and movies themselves that shows the active hand of imagining in real, material ways all the bits and pieces below the surface. I’ll own up. I remain a huge Star Trek fan. I dug up my old Starfleet Technical Manual that I got with a fistful of dollar bills saved when I was a tiny boy, purchased at a real, honest-to-god Star Trek convention in New York City that my dad took me and my brother to. This imaginative book closes a lot of the gaps, helping to imagine the nuances of the Star Trek near future, making it seem more tangible and possible. The book is a kind of design prototyping — a sketchbook to help ponder one possible future world with all of its props, each behaving as a kind of conversation piece through which that future happens.
Continue reading Star Trek Embedded Culture

Upload Cinema – Visions of a Future


via erwinvanderzande

An interesting proposition — show shorts that are found online, like on YouTube or Vimeo or wherever in a proper, normal, human bricks & mortar theater. That’s what Upload Cinema in Amsterdam does and, darnit..if I was there, I’d go every month.

Update: The viewed films can be seen online now.

On February 2, 2009 they will be showing short films and clips according to the theme “Visions of a Future” which I had the good fortune to be the guest editor and curate, along with a few other folks. Part of the duties I agreed to was to provide some introduction. As I’m not in Amsterdam and am someplace rather warmer and drier, I cobbled together a rash-dash video introduction which doesn’t say much, but sets the mood.

Upload Cinema Visions of a Future Intro from Julian Bleecker on Vimeo.

I had an evening, after a day in the studio, to put this together and I really have no video production skills and, on top of that, my aspirations were pretty high. I thought about what I might say that would tie the event to my design fiction thinking, but that’d mean pulling together a few remarks and I thought it’d be more fun to be fun.

The high concept, which — after a few test compositions and some editing and rendering I realized would take me into the wee hours of the morning — is that the Odyssey from 2001: A Space Odysseyhas a custodian/superintendent who is called Hal and misunderstandings between him and HAL evolve from there when Hal, the Super, overhears Dave and Frank talking about disconnecting HAL.

Anyway..I blame the Porto.

Continue reading Upload Cinema – Visions of a Future

Many Facets

Saturday January 24 18:10

There are many facets to art-technology and its exhibition. This was seen at the splendid “Future Imaginaries” exhibition at the Ben Maltz gallery at Otis College of Art and Design. I eagerly await Norman Klein (pictured gesturing to Lev Manovich who is assessing an audio focus rig) and Andreas Kratky’s forthcoming DVD that was featured at the exhibition/ There was also a collection of curious, carnivalesque assemblages that are all simultaneously forward and backward into the future. Tom Jennings’ peculiar recording, mapping instruments from the future past or somewhere were my favorite.

Saturday January 24 18:16

Saturday January 24 18:17

Here are some other pieces from the exhibition:

Saturday January 24 18:15

Saturday January 24 18:07

Saturday January 24 18:19

As to my Top-15 list of criteria for interactive art / art-technology, I generally don’t assume its necessary to ask “what’s it do?” about such things as shown in an exhibition like this. That’s a little weird to me. It’d be like asking Goya what “Saturn Devouring His Son” does, or how it works or something. So, I only know what these objects do in my own mind. That’s all I mean. So, like..if you ask? And I tell you? That is my basis for knowing — I didn’t ask any of the artists to explain their art to me, like a bunch of other people did. Which is weird to see happen.

A few more photographs are here.

Continue reading Many Facets

Isla Lyddle End 2050

Isla Lyddle End Beach (Lyddle End 2050)

Isla Lyddle End Map (Lyddle End 2050)

For Russell’s speculative modelling provocation, I was sent a Hornby Jubilee Clock Tower. I quote Mr. Davies:

How about I get a load of Lyddle End properties and we try and build a version of what we think Lyddle End might be like in 2050? Everyone who wants one gets a little building and they have to alter it, mod it, change it, play with it, to reflect how they think the world will be in 42 years time. Then, we’ll put them all together, either physically or through the magic of photography, and see what it might tell us about our visions of the future. I can’t help thinking we might be able to build ourselves a rather intriguing speculative diorama.

After meeting Russell at Design Engaged and feeling a certain kinship around our shared interest in the old Canon A-1 and design provocation generally, I signed up to participate. My first draw was a wholly different, participatory kind of design process. One that allows speculation to involve not only thinking but making, crafting and without the usual constraints that might go into thinking about a future that’s only one product cycle out. Mid century fictional futures. Perfect. Very Design Fiction-y.

At first, I wasn’t entirely sure what the heck a Jubilee Clock Tower might be, so I asked Rhys, with whom it is my good fortune to sit adjacent to in the studio and who got a Hornbee Flower Shoppe, and he explained that these things are clocks constructed to celebrate the Golden or Diamond Jubilees of the British crown. It sat on my desk, got twirled about, mulled over, discussed, peppered up in various ways until basically I knew I’d have to do something least I fail in my mission.

Blinding insight befell. I saw a future for Lyddle End that revealed impending environmental challenges, that signaled the possibilities for vast, almost impossible to imagine cultural shifts and that was undergirded by a romantic notion I have with stalwart Britishness to make do despite overwhelming odds.

Isla Lyddle End lies on the far west of the British Archipelago. It is the largest of the western islands in what was once the continuous land mass known as Hornbyshire. Isla Lyddle End celebrates the Golden Jubilee of The Grand Iman of Britain HH Patel bin Windsor with a minaret clock tower, constructed of hard-pack, molded synthetic carbon nodules in full compliance with the Rock and Soil Conservation Act of 2038. Isla Lyddle End is only a 40 minute fan boat ride from Paddington Sea Station. Bring your Wellies! Isla Lyddle End is well-swamped twice a day, and near coastal areas submerge at the day’s first tide.

Britain in 2050 has a monarch of mixed cultural ancestry, is 98% sunk under rising seas, has traces of Spanish in its idiolect and recognizes Muslim culture in its public monuments.

Isla Lyddle End Clock Tower Minaret Sea Fort (Lyddle End 2050)

Thursday January 22 14:35

Thursday January 22 14:36

Thursday January 22 14:36

Wednesday January 21 19:21

It was a simple matter of Dremel’ng the top off of the original Jubilee Clock Tower, modeling a simple version of what I think the top of a Minaret in 2050 might look like, plastic-printing it and plopping it on top. Some photography late last night suggested that there need to be something besides sea and shore, so I put in some photos of the Maunsell Sea Forts for context. The British Archipelago map is actually an algorithmic rendering of “my” Southern California generated by GPS tracks. There’s a hunk of the westside (Venice Beach and Santa Monica), bits toward downtown and Hollywood/Silverlake/Los Feliz, little jaunts further south, and my coastal commute up the Pacific Coast Highway to the studio in Calabasas where I decided Isla Lyddle End should reside.

cf russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/2008/11/lyddleend2050….
cf lyddleend2050.tumblr.com/

Thanks for the fun project Russell!
Continue reading Isla Lyddle End 2050

Workshop on Pervasive Advertising


It amazes me how non-relevant this topic is, particularly nowadays when there can be little reason to entice a consumer to engage in letting loose of whatever cash they may have. By the time we get out of the current morass of mistrust, misspending and misguided expectations of a world where all the growth graphs go up and to the right, we should be happy to have a pair of trousers that fit and a spigot with potable water running out of it.

But, the topic of pervasive advertising goes further than that. What could the outcome of a workshop be other than..a world of pervasive advertising. I mean, working out the details is all good, but what about a workshop on a world without advertising? Could that even be possible to have without essentially saying you’re going to quit your job as an engineer/scientist of pervasive stuff?

It just turns out that the vision of a near future of pervasively advertised-to humans just comes out all wrong. It’s only ever annoying and bothersome, or a horrid expression of human-database symbiosis.

There’s really not much more of an end game for pervasive advertising than that of the extrapolation of today’s conditions as in the remarkable design fiction of Spielberg’s visual rendering of P.K. Dick’s “Minority Report”. The assemblage of participants in the world of advertising is optimized for itself, which is well-greased linkages between me, my “interests” (to the extent these translate into commerce) and those who have something to gain in economic terms from selling me my interests. It’s optimized to leverage the pervasively networked, databased world and this can only lead to an intensely uninspired, technically awesome, intrusive and annoying world. It can’t really go any other way than that shown in the various compelling and fascistic interpretations in “Minority Report” of the pervasive advertising future – retinal scanning, holographic “pop-up” adverts, yammering cereal boxes with laminated displays and gesture recognition (to know when I’m trying to tell it to stop yammering, which is guaranteed to fail any number of times, as adroitly shown in Spielberg’s film), fascistic large urban screens, etc.

Yet, this workshop sounds pleasantly inviting. I don’t, though, see how the conditions of possibility for a world of pervasive advertising would lead to anything but the nuisance we experience today, times a billion. Who knows. Maybe today’s economic blight will wipe advertising as we know it off the face of the map for something else. What that is, i have no idea but so long as we think of advertising as a “sure thing” along with death and taxes, it’ll be nothing more than what it is today, except with a few network links and even bigger screens. We’ll still have “pop-ups” only they’ll stand in front of us when we try to get from here to there. We’ll still have messages on otherwise blank walls reminding us to give feedback on that Torx wrench we just bought from Callium Carbide Tools of Peoria last week. I mean..sounds wretched.

$100 for the first person who can come up with a compelling imaginary of a world without advertising, and one that renders viable and with a buzzing economy.

CALL FOR PAPERS

1st Workshop on Pervasive Advertising

In conjunction with Pervasive 2009
May 11, 2009 – Nara, Japan

http://pervasiveadvertising.org

Submission Deadline: February 10, 2009

“The only sure things in life are death, taxes and advertising. Although
pervasive technologies cannot avoid death or lessen the pain from
taxation, advertising is fertile ground for research on pervasive
technologies.”

[[What ninny said this?? What? Did Moses take out a 2 minute spot during the parting of the Red Sea? If this is the principle of pervasive advertising, fatwa on all pervasive advertising workshops! If advertising really is a necessary evil, like death and taxes, lets get to work on making it an obsolete evil thing that has been eradicated, like the Pox and Foot and Mouth disease; get rid of it already. Or get onto something different and inspired and more in keeping with the times. Stop twiddling about with technologized versions of the same old crap. Seriously.]]

======================================================================

Electronic displays have become ubiquitous and replace traditional
posters and billboards. Hence they not only provide a way of showing
dynamically updated content, but also means to react implicitly and
explicitly to the audience in their vicinity. In order to interact with
the target audience, technologies need to be explored capable of
identifying the user or his interests / needs.

[[Well, this is speculative. I see plenty of peeling wheat-paste-ups all over the place. but, okay. Let’s assume that J.C. Decaux is well-positioned to introduce digital displays ubiquitously. Do I want to know that they’re linked to a database of me? Who is J.C. Decaux anyway? Can I tell him to leave my database alone?]]

The current generation of mobile phones come with high speed Internet
access and built-in location sensing. Those properties make mobile
phones a powerful mediator between the advertiser / advertising platform
and the customer.

[[Good God. That’s just wrong. I mean, who wants an ad to pop up on their phone?? I have enough trouble when I get an SMS. Seriously. Who is it? Am I missing something here?]]

Social networks such as Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn are rapidly
growing. Such platforms include detailed information not only on the
interests of users (based for example on profiles and histories) but
also on their network. This information is placed on the Internet and
shared with friends or even the public.

[[Yeah, but under my own terms. Or should be. Can I opt out of pervasive advertising networks?]]

These technological advances, and others, change the opportunities and
challenges for advertising radically.

[[Not really. It’s the same crap, only with a network and a database and real-time data links. Really. Don’t fool yourself to think that something innovative is going on here. It’s just optimization of an existing schema for knots and linkages between my wallet, my sensibilities and some company some where.]]

Consequently, advertising is becoming one of the major drivers of
pervasive computing technology for many end-users (e.g. mobile ads,
digital signs, context awareness, RFID). Yet we believe that the
attention this topic received in the pervasive computing community does
not equal its immediate impact on society.

Taking a positive view we can envision advertisements that precisely
match a person’s interests and fit the current situation so well that
people enjoy receiving them and see advertising as a pleasant
distraction. On the contrary taking a negative view one could imagine a
world where people cannot escape from advertisement, where we are
continuously tracked and where advertisements reduce the quality of
life. Both views even though very extreme are worthy of further
discussion. Hence we hope to provide a venue for this discussion by
offering this workshop.

[[I’ll be looking for the workshop write-up. I’m dubious. No one in my mind has come up with anything other than that which will lead to the “Minority Report” imaginary. Seriously. As pleasant as it is shown in the PowerPoint, it’s always enormous screens beaming down to me Coca-Cola ads or encouraging me to buy a watch only someone like Sir Edmund Hillary would wear..you know, those big, multi-face “chronometers” that look like an exercise weight.]]

PAPER SUBMISSION AND PARTICIPATION

We ask potential attendees to submit 2-4 page papers describing their
research interest and particular focus on the workshop topic. The paper
may include the description of ongoing research, results found,
experience gathered, new ideas, future projects or questions on topics
related to pervasive computing and advertising. Each participant is
asked to provide a short paragraph (up to 200 words) on their vision of
advertising in 25 years from now. All submissions will be peer-reviewed.

More information can be found at
http://pervasiveadvertising.org

All submissions must be sent electronically to joerg.mueller@uni-muenster.de
The format for submissions is Springer LNCS, the same as that of
Pervasive 09.
Templates can be found at
http://www.springer.com/computer/lncs?SGWID=0-164-7-72376-0

Papers should be no longer than 4 pages. All papers must be submitted in
PDF. At least one author for each accepted paper is expected to attend
the workshop.

Non-archival working notes will be produced containing the papers
presented at the workshop. Selected papers from the workshop may be
considered for expansion and inclusion in a special issue of a journal.

IMPORTANT DATES

* February 10, 2009: Deadline for electronic submission
* March 1, 2009: Author Notification
* May 1, 2009: Submission of camera-ready
* May 11, 2009: Pervasive Advertising Workshop at Pervasive 2009

WORKSHOP ORGANIZERS

Jörg Müller, University of Münster
E-mail: joerg.mueller@uni-muenster.de

Albrecht Schmidt, University of Duisburg-Essen
E-mail: albrecht.schmidt@acm.org

Bo Begole, PARC
E-mail: bo@parc.com

Aaron Quigley, University College Dublin
E-mail: aquigley@ucd.ie

Why do I blog this? I dunno. This stuff kinda bugs me, if you can’t tell. It’s pretty clear that the angle is to create something that has commercial viability, rather than thinking things through for an alternative near future of connecting people, interests, ideas and so forth. On the one hand, it’s exciting and futuristic stuff. On the other hand, it’s not a future that I think has particularly exciting prospects in the category of “habitable”, fun, non-invasive, non-bothersome, non-pop-up-in-your-face futures. And, the advertising thing. I’m serious. If someone can’t paint a picture of a world without advertising..I’m listening. And I got your $100 here.
Continue reading Workshop on Pervasive Advertising

Design Fiction / Science Fiction

Spied about while meeting-and-greeting Helsinki colleagues at Nokia House, some materials that I couldn’t help but recognize in the context of the early morning writing I’ve been trying to do, refining the last three presentations I’ve given last month on “Design Fiction.”

There’s a curious practice here that I don’t think is entirely new, but there are some exciting directions from whence the idea has circulated, drawing me back to the relationship between the science of fact and the science of fiction, and then to the old science-technology-studies principles, and Latour, who taught me to not have anything to do with clearly delineated boundaries between much of anything, particularly any kind of science. This is where it starts.

I can imagine a practice that can comfortably work in between and even be comfortable swapping properties between fact and fiction for the purposes of telling a story that is a materialization of an idea, or one’s imagination. It’s like science fiction made real, without the weight and burden of the whole truth.

Why science fiction? Because it’s a literary genre that can comfortably stretch the now out toward a possible near future world better than other ways of story telling. (I’m perfectly happy to accept that there are others — the symmetry though between the hubris of science fact and the imaginative whimsy of science fiction is too hard to resist.) That practice is some derivation of design probably.

Why design? Because so far it seems to be less inclined to be as disciplined as the other practices I’ve tried, it has a vocabulary that includes the word “people”, it can work with vernacular, everyday, even mundane practices quite well, it implies working with one’s hands and head and even risking a nicked finger, etc.

While a restless graduate student at the University of Washington I worked at a place called the Human Interface Technology Lab, or HITLab. The lab was working quite hard on virtual reality (VR), another (again) of a kind of immersive, 3D environment that, today, one might experience as something like Second Life. The technology had a basic instrumental archetype canonized in a pair of $250,000 machines (one for each eyeball) called, appropriately, the RealityEngine. With video head mount that looked like a scuba-mask, one could experience a kind of digital virtual world environment that was exciting for what it suggested for the future, but very rough and sparse in its execution. As I was new to the new HITLab (still in temporary trailers on a muddly slope by the campus’ steam plant), I went through the informal socialization rituals of acquainting myself to the other members of the team — and to the idioms by which the lab shared its collective imaginary about what exactly was going on here, and what was VR. Anything that touches the word “reality” needs some pretty fleet-footed references to help describe what’s going on, and a good set of anchor points so one can do the indexical language trick of “it’s like that thing in..” For the HITLab, the closest we got to a shared technical manual was William Gibson’s
“Neuromancer” which I was encouraged to read closely before I got too far involved and risked the chance of being left out of the conversations that equated what we were making with Gibson’s “Cyberspace Deck”, amongst other science fiction props. I mean — that’s what we said. There was no irony. It was the reference point. I’m serious. I mean..this is from a paper that Randy Walser from Autodesk wrote at the time:

In William Gibson’s stories starting with Neuromancer, people use an instrument called a “deck” to “jack” into cyberspace. The instrument that Gibson describes is small enough to fit in a drawer, and directly stimulates the human nervous system. While Gibson’s vision is beyond the reach of today’s technology, it is nonetheless possible, today, to achieve many of the effects to which Gibson alludes. A number of companies and organizations are actively developing the essential elements of a cyberspace deck (though not everyone has adopted the term “deck”). These groups include NASA, University of North Carolina, University of Washington, Artificial Reality Corp., VPL Research, and Autodesk, along with numerous others who are starting new R&D programs.

(PDF: http://tr.im/zoj)

There’s nothing wrong with this — it’s all good stuff. It’s a way of creating that shared imaginary that knits the social formations together. Latour would remind us that this is the socialization practices — this is an instance of the “how” and the “why” of technology. Technology is precisely the socialization of ideas.

It’s refreshing when you come across some good fiction — science or otherwise — positioned to be read, referred back to or just as a kind of badge to mark the contours of that shape and influence. Nothing literal — just literary, the edges of design fiction practices.
Continue reading Design Fiction / Science Fiction

Refinement in Degrees

A scale of design models in these check boxes suggests refinement from basic form to mechanical, color, materials and so forth — stopping at full appearance. Appearance absent functionality, which can only be inferred based on what it is a model of. In the world of mobile phones, the functionality is implicit — making calls and so a design prototype need not concern itself with use and operation.

Or does it?

What are the ways design can dig below the appearance, into actual use in order to better understand the contexts and vernacular aspects of people and their practices? Can it be done rapidly — quick enough to place things in context so that the freshness of the idea from its inception is decanted into the “model”? What about fictionalizing that experience — making props, instead of prototypes?
Continue reading Refinement in Degrees

The Blind Camera – Sascha Pohflepp's "Buttons" Series

Ever sense Sascha started talking, quite animatedly, about this project — ” The Blind Camera — I became almost as excited as he. A camera..that takes someone else’s photo. The semantics are tricky — it doesn’t take a photograph of someone else, but take’s (as in, borrows or copies or “snags”) a photograph that someone else has captured, somewhere else in the world, at that same moment.

So cool.

I mean..that’s kind of brilliant in a playful, thoughtful way. The project captures all the amazingly promising characteristics of a world of sharing and circulating culture and experiences. And the most engaging part of the project, in my mind, is that it’s an object, a tangible camera — an actual camera – and not just a bit of code, that you can download for free or whatever, and put on your laptop to play with for a few days and then discard or foreget about. It’s an object – a physical affordance or whatever you want to call it. And that makes all the difference in the world for this project.

And another reason why I think Things that are networked matter. The idea of a general purpose computational device like your laptop has much less appeal in this regard. Or even the idea of the mobile phone being the one device you carry with you.

How, conceptually, from the perspective of design or even practicality, can we expect that this idea of one mobile device will sustain itself? There are so many things wrong with the mobile phone as an address book, for instance, or a game interface, or even as a telephone. Even the simplest of annoyances seem beyond the capabilities of the common phone to avoid. For example, how can you get people to stop shouting into their phone? People talk louder than they do when they’re just having a normal human conversation — from inside my house on a nice pedestrian street, I can hear the phone conversations of neighbors walking their dogs as if they were sitting right here in my office.

Anyway, I am very fond of the idea of a diversity of devices at our disposal, whether or not we have them all the time. A baroque assembly of various instrumentalities, one of which is a camera that takes other people’s photographs, another of which allows me to carry my online persona out into 1st Life so it can interact with other, offline objects, another that reminds me how to get where I’m going, etc. One device for everything seems positively impossible to achieve, practically or even conceptually speaking. And there’s heuristic proof out there — my Treo is great because it has QWERTY. My Treo stinks cause it has Sprint. My Treo is great because it has a decent camera. My Treo stinks cause it weighs a ton and strains the seams of my pocket. My Treo stinks cause it has Sprint. This Nokia E61 I have is great cause it has QWERTY. This Nokia E61 stinks cause it has no camera. Etc. I think it is a conceit driven by corporate avarice and design hubris that there is One Thing that will embody all the interesting things we could do in our mobile lives.

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