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Turning old smartphones into anti-burglary devices and baby monitors

With 1bn smartphones lying idle in the US, meet the companies repurposing old smartphones into sensors and security cameras in a bid to tackle e-waste

old smartphone repurposed as video monitoring device
Manything turns old smartphones into video monitoring devices. Photograph: Manything

If Jim Poss hadn’t dropped his phone in the bath while bathing his son, he might never have hit upon the idea for his business. While researching a cheap replacement for his waterlogged iPhone, he had an epiphany: the used phones sold online for $60 (£45) or less could be repurposed as Internet of Things sensors and used to form flexible, low-cost security and vehicle telematics systems.

That idea quickly evolved into Modifi, a remote sensing platform that can capture everything from travel statistics to criminals. “There are around one billion idle smartphones in America,” says Poss, who also founded Big Belly Solar, which makes smart solar-powered trash compactors. “They’re just sitting in drawers at the moment destined for landfill. Yet they’ve got a GPS, two cameras, a microphone, a processor and five or six other useful sensors.”

Modifi works by converting used phones into low-cost sensor systems for use in security, fleet management and home monitoring. Users can create customised sensor alerts and mount the repurposed phones, which Modifi calls Mods, on a variety of surfaces – including doors, dashboards, walls and windows.

Mods can detect light, sound, movement, magnetic fields and power outages. If movement is detected in a retail store after a certain hour, for instance, the Mod can automatically start recording video and alert the owner of the building via a text message.

The company is currently working with three clients, which between them manage 8.1m “end-points” (networked devices). In the US, Poss estimates that Modifi’s systems could eventually account for over 110m end-points, “a seemingly large number until you recognise that this is only about 10% of the smartphones left idle or trashed annually”.

A Modifi device at a construction site
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A Modifi device at a construction site monitors movement, decibels and light changes and provides alerts to site managers. Photograph: Modifi

Poss is hopeful that manufacturers and carriers begin to transition from an equipment-based economic model to a service-based one. “Instead of solving a thousand different problems with a thousand different devices, we’re taking this one hugely versatile smart device and giving people the opportunity to configure it as they want,” says Poss.

Although legislation imposes recovery and recycling targets on the EU IT and electronics industry, with penalties for companies who fail to comply, e-waste is still one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. According to the UN environment programme, 41m tonnes of e-waste was produced in 2014. Up to90% was illegally dumped or exported to developing countries where devices are often improperly dismantled, causing health problems for workers and local communities.

Trade-in schemes run by phone manufacturers and carriers allow people to claw back some value from their old device; the higher-value handsets are refurbished and resold, while those of little market value are recycled. But globally only 12% of smartphone upgrades involve older devices being sold or traded for a new one. The Green Alliance estimates that up to 125m smartphones(pdf) are languishing in UK householder’s lofts, drawers and cupboards.

Modifi is just one of a number of organisations aiming to tackle this growing e-waste problem by repurposing unwanted smartphones. UK- and US-based company Manything has created a free app to repurpose old phones as wireless security cameras for home use.

Joanna Santander, head of business development for Manything, says it wanted to provide an ever-improving video monitoring solution without requiring customers to invest in new hardware. “Even if you’ve got an old iPhone 3GS with a cracked screen that’s never going to be worth selling, you can still put that to good use as a Manything camera,” she explains.

Manything has more than 500,000 registered users, and more than 15 years worth of video sessions are securely recorded every day – just under a quarter of YouTube’s daily video upload rate of 66 years per day. Several burglaries have been thwarted, according to the company. However conversations with smartphone manufacturers haven’t been forthcoming, says Santander.

The array of potential uses for unwanted phones is still being explored. Phonvert, an open-source project started by students at Keio University and Tokyo University in Japan, began when the students developed code to reuse the sensors on old smartphones, which attracted the interest of a couple of investors. “We were trying to start a business, but along the way we realised that both we and the world would benefit more if we made the project open-source,” says Tomo Kihara, one of the students working on Phonvert.

Currently, the team is focused on building a community around the idea and encouraging them to come up with new applications for repurposed phones. More than 300 ideas from around the world have already been put forward, often reflecting needs specific to each country. “For example, in countries like Finland where the ageing population is a problem, an idea to detect whether an elderly people had fallen was popular. While in developing countries around South Asia there were ideas for phonverting for education – ie to use retired smartphones as textbooks for children, since books are often very expensive.”

 

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Free-range meat can be worse for the planet than long-haul flights

by Katherine Martinko 

lamb dinner

CC BY 2.0 Jeremy Noble

George Monbiot wades into the meat-and-climate debate by explaining how ‘ethically’ raised meat is actually worse for the planet than those raised in confined spaces. It leaves omnivores in an awkward position.

When Guardian columnist George Monbiot modifies his long-standing “flying is dying” stance to say that something else is even worse for the planet, we should really pay attention. In an article called “Warning: Your festive meal could be more damaging than a long-haul flight,” Monbiot wades into the sticky world of meat production.

He writes: “A kilogram of beef protein reared on a British hill farm can generate the equivalent of 643 kg of carbon dioxide. A kilogram of lamb protein produced in the same place can generate 749 kg. One kilo of protein from either source, in other words, causes more greenhouse gas emissions than a passenger flying from London to New York… You could exchange your flight for an average of 3 kg [6.6 lbs] of lamb protein from hill farms in England and Wales. You’d have to eat 300 kg [660 lbs] of soy protein to create the same impact.”

The uncomfortable essence of his article is that so-called ‘ethical’ meat production – where animals roam the hills and fields freely and have a fairly decent life, aside from the fact that they’re eventually killed for someone’s dinner – is actually much worse for the planet than confined feeding operations, even though a life of confinement is far more unpleasant for the animals themselves.

The problem lies in the fact that grazing animals wreaks environmental havoc, while using vast tracts of land very inefficiently.

“To produce one lamb you need to keep a large area of land bare and fertilised. The animal must roam the hills to find its food, burning more fat and producing more methane than a stalled beast would… Nitrates and phosphates sometimes pour from their paddocks and into the rivers. Unless they are kept at low densities or on well-drained fields, pigs tend to mash the soil: a friend describes some of the farming he’s seen as opencast pig mining.”

This leaves omnivores in an awkward dilemma. Many justify meat consumption by buying free-range animals that have “lived a good life.” But if it’s really so bad for the environment as Monbiot argues, then it’s impossible to continue supporting that industry. On the other hand, I suspect many omnivores (myself included) would neverfeel comfortable buying meat from animals raised in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), force-fed grain, and given regular doses of antibiotics, no matter how much better for the planet it may be.

Monbiot says he is not anti-farmer, but unable to ignore the facts:

“The Arcadian idyll, a conception of the shepherd’s life (in both Old Testament theology and Greek pastoral poetry) as the seat of innocence and purity, a refuge from the corruption of the city, resonates with us still. But in the midst of a multifaceted crisis – the catastrophic loss of wildlife, devastating but avoidable floods, climate breakdown – entertaining this fantasy looks to me like a great and costly indulgence.”

What should we do? It’s the same old message that TreeHugger has been preaching for years now, but it’s more important than ever. Eat way less meat, or cut it out all together. Monbiot suggests saving the indulgence for festive occasions like Christmas, and then choosing wisely. Yes, it may affect the variety of your diet, but the sacrifice is worth it to preserve the great variety of life.

Tags: Agriculture | Animals | Animal Welfare | Diet | George Monbiot | Global Warming Causes

 

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Volleyball in a hijab: Does this picture show a culture clash?

Doaa Elghobashy and Kira WalkenhorstImage copyrightEPA

For the London Times it was a “culture clash”, for the Daily Mail “a massive cultural divide” between “the cover-ups” and “the cover-nots” – and for the Sun the cultural divide was not “massive” but “colossal”.

The pictures of Egypt’s women’s beach volleyball team playing Germany swept the internet yesterday, but while some people focused on what divided the players, others focused on what united them.

“Hijab vs bikini thing aside, how much of a ‘culture clash’ is it really if you are both playing women’s beach volleyball at the Olympics?” tweeted columnist Ben Machell.

CNN’s Bill Weir described it on Twitter as an Olympic Rorschach test, asking: “Do you see a culture clash? Or the unifying power of sport?”

Bill Weir tweet

A “culture clash” is defined in the Oxford dictionaries as “conflict or discord resulting from the interaction of (two) different cultures”.

There was none of this on display on the Copacabana beach, though the reaction on social media might be described as “culture shock” – “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”.

Up until the 2012 Olympics female volleyball players were obliged to wear bikinis (with the lower part no more than 7cm from top to bottom at the hip) or a one-piece swimming costume – a rule which some regarded as a transparent attempt to make the sport sexy.

The Australian Sports Commission complained that the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), the sport’s governing body, had “introduced uniforms intentionally to focus attention on the athletes’ bodies rather than for any technological, practical or performance-enhancing reasons”.

But since 2012 the rules have allowed women to wear shorts, long-sleeve shirts and body suits. British weather drove the Brazilian team, among others, to take up the full body-cover option.

April Ross (L) of the United States and Jennifer Kessy of the United States shake hands with Larissa Franca of Brazil and Juliana Silva of BrazilImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image caption2012: April Ross and Jennifer Kessy of the US shake hands with Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva of Brazil

Egypt’s Doaa Elghobashy, however, is the first Olympian beach volleyball player to wear a hijab as well though, thanks to a last-minute concession from the FIVB just in time for the Rio Olympics.

“I have worn the hijab for 10 years,” Elghobashy said. “It doesn’t keep me away from the things I love to do, and beach volleyball is one of them.”

Her partner, Nada Meawad, chose to play bare-headed.

Doaa Elghobashy and Nada MeawadImage copyrightAFP
Image captionDoaa Elghobashy and Nada Meawad
White line 10 pixels
As well as wearing a hijab, Elghobashy had a patriotic manicureImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAs well as wearing a hijab, Elghobashy had a patriotic manicure

Two tweets, among others, stirred a furious debate.

Andrew Stroehlein of Human Rights Watch tweeted the picture with the caption “What’s wrong with this picture? (Hint: nothing)”. Plenty of people replied to say they disagreed.

Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Foundation, meanwhile, asked which of the athletes were dressing closer to how they would actually prefer to dress, adding “Not obvious”.

Tweet by Ian Bremmer

Some of those who replied to the post had a problem with women wearing the hijab at all – others had a problem with the idea of a sport where the woman’s body is part of the spectacle.

The men’s volleyball outfit, by the way, falls somewhere in between the bodysuit and the bikini – it’s a singlet with shorts.

And often the players cover their heads.

Germany's Lars Fluggen and Markus Bockermann celebrate after winning a point during the men's beach volleyball qualifying match between the Netherlands and Germany at the Beach Volley Arena in Rio de Janeiro on August 8, 2016Image copyrightAFP

Follow @BBCNewsMagazine on Twitter and on Facebook

 

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8 reasons why you should go for a walk

by Katherine Martinko

walking on the beach

CC BY 2.0 René Schröder

Walking can do wonders for your body and soul. It’s a miracle drug of sorts – an accessible, affordable, and effective treatment for countless ailments. Here are some excellent reasons that will hopefully encourage you to get out there, start moving, and get healthier.

1. Walking makes you happier.

Moving around outdoors can lift one’s mood quickly. Walking has been found to combat symptoms of depression as effectively as medication. Researchers at Duke University found that “a brisk 30-minute walk or jog around the track three times a week may be just as effective in relieving the symptoms of major depression as the standard treatment of anti-depressant medications.”

2. Walking reduces stress.

People who walk are less stressed, as the act of moving around pushes the stress hormone cortisol through the body, stemming the flow of worries. A study of 18,000 commuters in Britain found that people who walk or bike to work experience lower stress levels than those who drive to work.

3. Walking clears your brain.

Say goodbye to “fuzzy brain,” “brain drain,” “brain fatigue.” Getting outside for a walk will clear your mind and rest it. This is especially true while walking in a rural area or green space, rather than on city streets, where you must remain vigilant at all times. Wandering through a green space allows for reflection and relaxation.

4. Walking induces creativity.

By clearing away any residual fuzziness in the brain, your mind will be open for creativity. Get those creative juices flowing by walking, particularly in a green space.Reader’s Digest reports: “A recent study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that walking improved both convergent and divergent thinking, the two types associated with enhanced creativity.”

5. Walking makes your bones stronger.

Strengthen your bones through regular exercise now in order to avoid factures, osteoporosis, and spine shrinkage down the road. Bone density is built through exercise, including walking, and people who do it have healthier, stronger bones than people who don’t, according to this study from Oxford University.

6. Walking improves concentration.

A study from the University of East Anglia found that people who walk (or bike) to work reported better concentration upon arrival at their jobs. The same has been found for kids who walk to school. A UK Department for Transport survey discovered that 9 out of ten teachers said their students are much more ready to learn if they’ve walked to school.

7. Walking is free.

Forget expensive gym memberships and the gas burned to get you there. Walking doesn’t cost you anything and will provide great exercise for your body. At the same time, you can save money by maintaining good health habits. The Harvard Business Review estimates that for every dollar spent on preventative health, including time spent walking, you’ll save $2.71 in health costs down the road. All the more reason to get it for free.

8. Walking builds relationships.

Get outside with your friends and family and create opportunities for conversation by leaving personal devices behind. A friend told me that being active with her teenage son, while not having to make eye contact, made it comfortable for them to talk about all sorts of tough subjects. Walking enables you to interact with neighbours and your neighborhood in general, which creates a sense of belonging and a better understanding of geography than if you drive around in a vehicle. In the words of urban affairs journalist Christopher Hume, “Walking is a reflection of how we feel about the environment in which we live.”

 

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Greggs and M&S join movement to donate leftover food to solidarity fridges

Afridge inside a brightly painted ex-public toilet block is helping a Somerset town’s food businesses reduce their waste. “It’s gone from something a bit weird to being normal,” says Sheila Gore, owner of Frome Wholefoods.

Frome’s community fridge was launched in April 2016 after the town council’s resilience officer, Anna Francis, heard about solidarity fridges in Spain, where residents and restaurants can drop off food otherwise destined for the bin. Students from the Edventure school for community enterprise got it up and running, and one of them – Esther Deeks – now coordinates the project.

Between 8am and 8pm every day, businesses and individuals can deposit edible food that would otherwise go to waste, and anyone can take it. Gore, who is also a town councillor, is one one of several local business owners who donate to the fridge. Her staple donation is bread left at the end of a day’s trading.

Frome Wholefoods
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Frome Wholefoods. Bigger retailers are now also coming on board as word about the fridge spreads. Photograph: Amy Hall

“As a retailer you don’t want to have waste, but inevitably things go awry sometimes,” she says. “You can’t always predict fluctuations and variations so when you don’t get it right the fridge is very useful.”

The fridge, which has a five-star hygiene rating, is checked and cleaned daily by one of the 12 person volunteer team. Before food is donated the giver must read a set of rules, including no raw meat or fish, but ultimately the responsibility is on the person taking the food. There is a disclaimer on the fridge warning people to make their own judgements on safety.

Growing demand

The fridge has been rapidly growing in popularity and Francis says they have been overwhelmed by the response. More than 1,000 items were donated to the fridge in June alone and nothing stays in there for long.

The biggest daily donation to the fridge comes from the local branch of Greggs. But participation from other chains has been making slower progress than Francis had hoped, largely because of the difficulty of getting access to the people making decisions at a national level. “You really need a champion within the business,” she says.

However, some bigger retailers are coming on board as word about the fridge spreads. Marks & Spencer donates through neighbourly, a project which matches food initiatives with retailers who have surplus. The fridge team is also in discussion with the Co-op, Iceland and Asda about their local branches donating to the fridge.

The costs of the fridge, around £8 a week for the rent of the space, electricity and other costs, are currently covered by the town council. In a bid to ensure the project’s sustainability, Edventure is starting business sponsorship and a “friends of the fridge” scheme for individuals.

Wendy Miller-Williams, who coordinates local food bank Fair Frome, describes the fridge as a “lifeline” for some, particularly during weekends when referral services are closed. The fridge is complimentary to the food bank, which does not accept fresh produce.

But is the fridge just treating a symptom of a wasteful society which is leaving its poor and most vulnerable in food poverty? “That’s an argument we’ve come across a lot,” says Johannes Moeller of Edventure. “We see it as a campaign as much as a service. The fridge makes food waste visible and public.”

In 2015, the UK produced 270,000 tonnes of potentially edible food waste. Meanwhile, more than 8 million people are struggling to get enough to eat.

International solidarity fridges

There are similar projects around the world, including Germany and India. In London, Impact Hub Brixton hopes to open a fridge this summer after raisingmore than £2,000 in crowdfunding.

Spain’s solidarity fridge network, Nevera Solidaria, has gone from strength to strength since it began in April 2015, with nine fridges across Spain and more towns planning to join. The initiative, led by a voluntary group based near Bilbao, is open to everyone in order to reduce stigma and encourage neighbourly solidarity without the need for internet or smartphones.

Niaz Zomorodian giving food to local construction workers at her Dubai fridge
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Niaz Zomorodian giving food to local construction workers at her Dubai fridge. Photograph: Amy Hall

“Today I may put in soup but tomorrow I take yoghurt. I think that this is the beauty of the project; everybody can do it and nobody is going to point a finger at you,” explains Ainhoa Crespo Gadea of Nevera Solidaria. Crespo Gadea estimates that as much as 90% of donations come from businesses such as restaurants and food shops.

In the United Arab Emirates, what began as a way to give during Ramadan with a few fridges rapidly scaled up when word spread through a Facebook group.

“It grew to 200 fridges across four Emirates,” explains Sumayyah Sayed, who developed the Sharing Fridgenetwork after watching low income construction and garden workers struggling in heat of over 35 degrees. Donations from businesses have taken off – from big corporates to small independent restaurants. For example, a cleaning company offered to clean the fridges for free and one chef reportedly cooked 175 biryanis on a regular basis for more than three weeks, on top of his regular work.

Sayed is excited about the potential of the sharing fridge movement. “Right now the whole world is in pain and it’s just lovely to see neighbours and communities coming together,” she says.

 

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What is really going on here?

A friend of mine posted this yesterday. If anything, it’s thought-provoking.

debs-schultz-cnn-550x304_1“I’ve been pondering the possibility of this scenario for a few months now (especially with recent turn of events) – in 2008, when Clinton had been beaten by the newcomer, Barack Obama, might she have set in motion a plan to capture the White House for herself?

If she could place her most loyal soldier, Debbie Wassermann Schultz at the top of the DNC, then she could manipulate the primaries to guarantee herself the nomination. But how to remove the then chairman of the DNC, Tim Kaine? Promise him the vice-president’s office if he stepped down and made way.

But what about the republicans? How could she undermine their efforts to block her from the White House? Perhaps recruit long-time friend and supporter Donald Trump to fund his own campaign and just go absolutely batshit crazy out there. Say the most ridiculous and outlandish things and see what happened. Trump is widely known across America and is a master of working the media. If his crazy shit goes south and he’s eliminated, well then she would have to deal with whomever but if it worked, he could capture the RNC nomination, keep talking crazy and then, towards the end of the general election season, just go really crazy and go down, clearing the path on both sides of the aisle to the White House.

If she succeeds, she would have not only usurped the democratic process in her own party but that of her rival party, as well as propelling her into the White House.

That might well be the most incredible and diabolical plan ever devised to win the presidential election.

Even when Wikileaks revealed that the democratic process in the DNC had been usurped, the people were willingly led astray to thinking about Russia than the election that had been manipulated in front of their eyes.

‪#‎TruthIsStrangerThanFiction‬

 

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Bill Clinton’s loving wife …

Capture by Dick Morris, former political adviser to President Bill Clinton
If you happen to see the Bill Clinton 5-minute TV ad for Hillary in which he introduces the commercial by saying he wants to share some things we may not know about Hillary’s background, beware.

I was there for most of their presidency and know them better than just about anyone, I offer a few corrections.

Bill says: “In law school, Hillary worked on legal services for the poor.”
The facts are: Hillary’s main extra-curricular activity in law school was helping the Black Panthers, on trial in Connecticut for torturing and killing a federal agent. She went to court every day as part of a law student monitoring committee trying to spot civil rights violations and develop grounds for appeal.
Bill says: “Hillary spent a year after graduation working on a children’s rights project for poor kids.”
The facts are: Hillary interned with Bob Truehaft, the head of the California Communist Party. She met Bob when he represented the Panthers and traveled all the way to San Francisco to take an internship with him.
Bill says: “Hillary could have written her own job ticket, but she turned down all the lucrative job offers.”

The facts are: She flunked the DC bar exam;

yes, flunked. It is a matter of record, and only passed the Arkansas bar. She had no job offers in Arkansas — none — and only got hired by the University of Arkansas Law School at Fayetteville because Bill was already teaching there. She did not join the prestigious Rose Law Firm until Bill became Arkansas Attorney General and was made a partner only after he was elected Arkansas Governor.
Bill says: “President Carter appointed Hillary to the Legal Services Board of Directors and she became its chairman.”
The facts are: The appointment was in exchange for Bill’s support for Carter in his 1980 primary against Ted Kennedy. Hillary then became chairman in a coup in which she won a majority away from Carter’s choice to be chairman.
Bill says: “She served on the board of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.”

The facts are: Yes, she did. But her main board activity, not mentioned by Bill, was to sit on the Walmart board of directors for a substantial fee. She was silent about their labor and health care practices.

Bill says: “Hillary didn’t succeed at getting health care for all Americans in 1994, but she kept working at it and helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that provides five million children with health insurance.”

The facts are: Hillary had nothing to do with creating CHIP.

It was included in the budget deal between Clinton and Republican Majority Leader Senator Trent Lott. I know; I helped negotiate the deal. The money came half from the budget deal and half from the Attorney Generals’ tobacco settlement. Hillary had nothing to do with either source of funds.
Bill says: “Hillary was the face of America all over the world.”
The facts are: Her visits were part of a program to get her out of town so that Bill would not appear weak by feeding stories that Hillary was running the White House. Her visits abroad were entirely touristic and symbolic and there was no substantive diplomacy on any of them.
Bill says: “Hillary was an excellent Senator who kept fighting for children’s and women’s issues.”
The facts are: Other than totally meaningless legislation like changing the names on courthouses and post offices, she has passed only four substantive pieces of legislation. One set up a national park in Puerto Rico. A second provided respite care for family members helping their relatives through Alzheimer’s or other conditions. And two were routine bills to aid 911 victims and responders which were sponsored by the entire NY delegation. Presently she is trying to have the US memorialize the Woodstock fiasco of 40 years ago.
Here is what bothers me more than anything else about Hillary Clinton:

She has done everything possible to weaken the President and our country

(that’s you and me!) when it comes to the war on terror.
  1. She wants to close GITMO and move the combatants to the USA where they would have access to our legal system.
  2. She wants to eliminate the monitoring of suspected Al Qaeda phone calls to/from the USA.
  3. She wants to grant constitutional rights to enemy combatants captured on the battlefield.
  4. She wants to eliminate the monitoring of money transfers between suspected Al Qaeda cells and supporters in the USA.
  5. She wants to eliminate the type of interrogation tactics used by the military & CIA where coercion might be used when questioning known terrorists even though such tactics might save American lives.

One cannot think of a single bill Hillary has introduced or a single comment she has made that would tend to strengthen our country in the War on Terror.

But, one can think of a lot of comments she has made that weaken our country and make it a more dangerous situation for all of us. Bottom line: She goes hand in hand with the ACLU on far too many issues where common sense is abandoned.
 

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