Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 27th, 2017

Law enforcement evening links

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Some of the links Radley Balko posted in the Washington Post:

  • Pennsylvania governor signs bill that would give police departments wide discretion over when to release body-camera and dash-camera video to the public. This is the opposite of transparency.
  • In other bad body-camera news, Florida law now requires all police agencies to let police officers view camera footage before writing their reports.
  • Three Chicago cops have been charged with conspiracy to cover up the shooting of Laquan McDonald. [I wondered whether that would happen. I didn’t expect it to. – LG]
  • Study finds that imprisoning drug dealers doesn’t change the rate at which people use illegal drugs.
  • Massachusetts judge issues blistering opinion accusing prosecutors of perpetrating “a fraud upon the court” in case involving a disgraced crime lab analyst.
  • A useful corrective on the opioid crisis — most addicts and overdoses did not start out as pain patients.
  • Town sits on surveillance video of teen who died in police custody for months. DA now says cops were criminally culpable, but the statute of limitations in which to charge them has expired. [Amazingly overt protection of police misconduct. – LG]
  • Illinois legislature passes forfeiture reform bill after Reason magazine investigation showed low-dollar seizures in mostly black, poor neighborhoods.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2017 at 4:22 pm

A Path Less Taken to the Peak of the Math World

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Kevin Hartnett writes in Quanta:

On a warm morning in early spring, June Huh walked across the campus of Princeton University. His destination was McDonnell Hall, where he was scheduled to teach, and he wasn’t quite sure how to get there. Huh is a member of the rarefied Institute for Advanced Study, which lies adjacent to Princeton’s campus. As a member of IAS, Huh has no obligation to teach, but he’d volunteered to give an advanced undergraduate math course on a topic called commutative algebra. When I asked him why, he replied, “When you teach, you do something useful. When you do research, most days you don’t.”

We arrived at Huh’s classroom a few minutes before class was scheduled to begin. Inside, nine students sat in loose rows. One slept with his head down on the table. Huh took a position in a front corner of the room and removed several pages of crumpled notes from his backpack. Then, with no fanfare, he picked up where he’d left off the previous week. Over the next 80 minutes he walked students through a proof of a theorem by the German mathematician David Hilbert that stands as one of the most important breakthroughs in 20th-century mathematics.

Commutative algebra is taught at the undergraduate level at only a few universities, but it is offered routinely at Princeton, which each year enrolls a handful of the most promising young math minds in the world. Even by that standard, Huh says the students in his class that morning were unusually talented. One of them, sitting that morning in the front row, is the only person ever to have won five consecutive gold medals at the International Mathematical Olympiad.

Huh’s math career began with much less acclaim. A bad score on an elementary school test convinced him that he was not very good at math. As a teenager he dreamed of becoming a poet. He didn’t major in math, and when he finally applied to graduate school, he was rejected by every university save one.

Nine years later, at the age of 34, Huh is at the pinnacle of the math world. He is best known for his proof, with the mathematicians Eric Katz and Karim Adiprasito, of a long-standing problem called the Rota conjecture.

Even more remarkable than the proof itself is the manner in which Huh and his collaborators achieved it — by finding a way to reinterpret ideas from one area of mathematics in another where they didn’t seem to belong. This past spring IAS offered Huh a long-term fellowship, a position that has been extended to only three young mathematicians before. Two of them (Vladimir Voevodsky and Ngô Bảo Châu) went on to win the Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics.

That Huh would achieve this status after starting mathematics so late is almost as improbable as if he had picked up a tennis racket at 18 and won Wimbledon at 20. It’s the kind of out-of-nowhere journey that simply doesn’t happen in mathematics today, where it usually takes years of specialized training even to be in a position to make new discoveries. Yet it would be a mistake to see Huh’s breakthroughs as having come in spite of his unorthodox beginning. In many ways they’re a product of his unique history — a direct result of his chance encounter, in his last year of college, with a legendary mathematician who somehow recognized a gift in Huh that Huh had never perceived himself.

The Accidental Apprentice

Huh was born in 1983 in California, where his parents were attending graduate school. They moved back to Seoul, South Korea, when he was two. There, his father taught statistics and his mother became one of the first professors of Russian literature in South Korea since the onset of the Cold War.

After that bad math test in elementary school, Huh says he adopted a defensive attitude toward the subject . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2017 at 1:54 pm

Posted in Education, Math

The plot continues to thicken: The ‘International Man of Mystery’ Linked to Flynn’s Lobbying Deal

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Isaac Arnsdorf reports in ProPublica:

More than two years ago, two men started visiting Washington to push Turkey’s agenda in the capital. They dined with dignitaries and enlisted prominent lobbying firms from both sides of the aisle.

It was an unremarkable Washington story, except for one thing: the last lobbyist one of the men hired was Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump’s campaign adviser at the time, who was later fired as national security adviser for lying about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador.

Flynn’s client, a Turkish businessman named Ekim Alptekin, has gained attention as federal investigators examine Flynn’s apparent failures to disclose foreign contacts. But so far, the other man in the pro-Turkey efforts has largely avoided public notice.

That man, Dmitri “David” Zaikin, is not registered as a foreign lobbyist and has no apparent connection to Turkey.

What he does have, a ProPublica-Politico examination found, is a long track record of partnering with powerful Russian businesspeople and government officials, mostly involving energy and mining deals. More recently, Zaikin has done political work in Eastern Europe, advising parties in Albania and Macedonia that have drifted toward the Kremlin.

Zaikin also has business connections to Trump. Working at a real estate agency in Toronto in the 2000s, Zaikin brokered sales in one of the city’s new high-rises: the Trump International Hotel & Tower. Perhaps coincidentally, Zaikin was also close with a Russian woman who was the exclusive agent for one of Trump’s Florida developments and who was branded “Trump’s Russian hand” by a glossy Russian magazine.

Zaikin has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Alptekin and Zaikin have denied knowing each other and say Zaikin had nothing to do with Flynn’s lobbying deal.

As this reporter previously reported in Politico, three people with direct knowledge said Alptekin and Zaikin collaborated on Turkish lobbying, jointly steering the work.

Zaikin referred questions to his lawyer, who declined to comment. Flynn’s lawyer didn’t answer requests for comment. The White House referred questions to Trump’s outside lawyer, whose spokesman also did not respond to a request for comment.

Zaikin says he was born in 1967 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. In an earlier email to Politico, he wrote that his family long faced anti-Semitic persecution in their homeland and that they fled the collapsing USSR for Canada in 1990.

“Mr. Zaikin reserves nothing but contempt for the Soviet government, and whatever vestiges of it may still exist,” his lawyer, Tara Plochocki of the firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss, wrote to Politico.

But Zaikin gave a different account to Geoffrey P. Cowley, a British engineer who was his business partner from 2010 until they split in 2016. Cowley said he never heard Zaikin claim his family was persecuted, nor had he heard Zaikin criticize the former Soviet Union.

“That might be the official line,” Cowley said. . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more and already the plot has the consistency pudding.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2017 at 1:28 pm

Chicken Hearts Springtime Surprise

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Interesting: 1.04 lbs at Whole Foods is 14.07 ounces at home (on my kitchen digital scale). Amazing that my scale could be off that much.

Here’s the recipe as I made it today. I make various versions of this, depending on the allium available and my mood, and today I used a spring shallot and a spring onion. Here’s a spring shallot:

But you can use any allium: onion, scallions, spring onion, green garlic, shallots, spring shallots, whatever.

First, make Mark Bittman’s “preserved” lemon: cut the ends off a lemon and discard them, then slice the lemon into slabs, deseed, and dice the slabs. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1.5 teaspoons sugar, stir, and let sit. Bittman says 20 minutes.

Also, mince 6-8 cloves of garlic so it, too, can rest before cooking. 15 minutes here.

With those resting, I do all the chopping for the recipe:

2 pieces thick pepper bacon, cut into chunks—these I put into the cold skillet.
1 splash olive oil: not so much fat was rendered from the bacon, so I added this
1 large spring shallot (a double, as shallots tend to be—could use 2 relatively small spring onions)
1/2 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeño, cap removed, chopped small, seeds and all
4 large King oyster mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lb chicken hearts (a little less today, apparently)
1/2-3/4 lb asparagus,, but into 1″ pieces; discard tough ends (mine were pre-trimmed)
10-12 cherry tomatoes, sliced
dash of Red Boat fish sauce
salt, pepper

Brown the bacon. As it nears brownness, add the shallots (or other allium), and sauté about a minute. Then add garlic, peppers, mushrooms, and hearts and stir as you sauté for, say, 6-8 minutes.

Add the “preserved” lemon, the cherry tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cook for another 8-10 minutes. Heat should be medium high. You want the tomatoes cooked, so go by that.

Very tasty. I would have added a dash of Red Boat fish sauce had it caught my eye.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2017 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

What Do We Have a Government for?

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The NY Times has an interesting and timely discussion of the job of government. The discussants are Gail Collins (centrist Democrat) and Bret Stephens (a new conservative columnist for the Times), and the discussion goes something like this:

Gail Collins: Bret, let’s talk about rules. President Trump, like virtually all Republicans, thinks we have too many. Getting rid of government regulations is one of the cornerstones of his administration — if you can imagine anything as shaky as this administration having cornerstones.

The idea of streamlining government always sounds good. I live in Manhattan and half the buildings seem to be under construction sheds in order to comply with various regulations. When I was covering city government, the Department of Buildings was so inefficient people made entire careers out of standing in line for contractors.

But the ungodly fire in London put the whole thing in a different light. Officials were under pressure to be business-friendly, so they refrained from demanding that buildings be retrofitted with sprinklers. It also sure looks as if they went easy on building materials, although the investigation is still underway.

What are your thoughts?

Bret Stephens: My first thought is that every hot-blooded libertarian should read The Times’s cold-eyed investigation of the regulatory failures that led to the Grenfell Tower disaster.

My second thought is that we have to learn from the tragedy, but keep it in its right proportions. As the article notes, about 350 people die in fires in the U.K. each year, next to 3,000 in the U.S. — a favorable comparison for Britain even if you account for the fact that our population is about five times as large.

Third, I wish the debate about regulation was less ideological. There are good rules and there are dumb ones. Governments aren’t all-knowing and markets aren’t flawlessly self-regulating. Over- and under-regulation are both real problems. This is common sense to most of us and shouldn’t descend into a stereotyped left-right debate.

And another thing: Theresa May’s gotta go. My feelings about her are approaching yours about Joe Lieberman.

Gail: Wow, that’s very bad news for Theresa May.

We’re in agreement about good rules/bad rules. I have fond memories of the Clinton administration’s war on government inefficiency. Al Gore had his little hammer .… Ah, those were the days.

There are some things that will work out if you just let the free markets take care of themselves like, um, popular music. But there are others that won’t. And their number is legion, from building safety to … health care.

Bret: Building safety is a core responsibility of government, assuming it’s competently and honestly executed. I lived through a horrific earthquake in Mexico City in 1985, which at the time had some of the most stringent building codes in the world. They didn’t help because too many buildings, including dozens of public schools and hospitals, had been cheaply built in violation of the codes. Rules are good only if they are sensible, affordable — and enforced.

Gail: I would barge in here and point out that good enforcement requires government funding, but that’d just be cranky. Plus it’s your turn. Go on.

Bret: On health care, the libertarian conceit that health care is just another marketplace where consumers can make their own choices according to their own tastes and budgets, as they might at Whole Foods or Walmart, is silly. The real problem is that, as with buildings, it’s hard to define the upper limit of how much safety — or health — we want, especially when it comes at the expense of other goods: affordability, availability, experimentation, innovation and so on.

Notice I’m avoiding the elephant in this chamber, so to speak.

Gail: How did you feel about that government-efficiency order Trump signed calling for doing away with two regulations every time a new one was implemented? I’m stacking the deck here, given that it was based on a British model that could well have been one of the reasons there was no rule on retrofitting apartment sprinklers.

Bret: I liked that executive order — one of the very few things for which I’ve ever praised Trump. Maybe it’s Procrustean, but I’m hard-pressed to think there weren’t two outdated U.K. regulations that could have been retired for the sake of installing fire sprinklers in older housing projects. The license fee for the privilege of watching TV in black-and-white, for instance?

Gail: You may have more faith in bureaucracy than I do. I wouldn’t want to bet everything on officials having the energy to change the status quo and retract two rules that somebody somewhere probably has a stake in keeping on the books.

While we’re talking rules, I want to ask you about one in Obamacare. It requires most people to buy health insurance or face tax penalties, and it’s possibly the thing Republicans hate most in the entire program.

Can you explain that to me? I thought requiring people to take responsibility for themselves was a very conservative ideal. Mitt Romney used to say that all the time — at least back when he was governor.

Bret: The conservative answer would be that it’s an infringement on liberty to require people to purchase a product they don’t want; and that it doesn’t work. I’m more persuaded by the second point than the first, since it’s also an infringement on my liberty to have to subsidize, through my tax dollars, the bad choices of others. In Massachusetts, what was once “Romneycare” has mainly amounted, as a good op-ed essay in The Boston Globe pointed out last year, to a near doubling of Medicaid enrollees, declines in the number of people with employer-provided insurance and more than a doubling of costs.

I know everyone wants to pile on when it comes to the G.O.P. health bills. But I haven’t really seen my liberal friends come to terms with the fact that Obamacare was leading private insurers to pull out of Obamacare exchanges in one state after another, while Medicare premiums kept going up.

Gail: This liberal friend would say that Obamacare could quickly be repaired if the two sides worked together on it. It would still be a deeply imperfect program, of course. (Listen and you will hear the trees whispering, “Single-payer option!”)

But about requiring everyone to have health insurance: It’s the only possible way you can have a plan that allows people with pre-existing conditions to buy coverage. Otherwise they can just coast while they’re healthy and opt in when they’re looking at large bills.

Also, we’re committed as a nation to providing emergency health care to all — I believe our current president came out very strongly against letting people “die in the streets.” And it’s a crushing burden for hospitals when the people come into ER.s uninsured.

The most sensible answer is to have national health care for all. But if that isn’t going to fly I think part of being an adult citizen should be having at least adequate health insurance to pay for a crisis. Otherwise, we’re … encouraging spongers.

Bret: For those of us on the conservative side of politics, the chief problem of the Senate bill is that it is basically an Obamacare rescue package, as Philip Klein pointed out in The Washington Examiner. The Senate bill promises a lot of spending in the next three or four years to sustain Medicaid’s current expansion. The spending is pared only after that, which is to say, sometime during the Warren-Booker administration (or is that Harris-Sanders?). Which is all another way of saying, it’s never going to happen. That’s why I’ve been so skeptical of the whole G.O.P. exercise.

I suspect you’re going to get your wish for single payer, sooner or later. Even if the G.O.P. bill goes through, it won’t survive the eventual Democratic wave election, whenever it hits. And to me single payer sounds like a lousy outcome: a two-tier system in which middle-class Americans get lower-quality medicine while the fortunate few maintain access to expensive private clinics.

By the way, what’s your read on Supreme Court ruling in the travel ban case? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2017 at 11:46 am

Where Physics Meets Philosophy

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Five Books interviews popular-science writer Jim Baggott on some of his favorite books on physics:

As a non-physicist, I find physics really hard to understand compared to most other subjects. I tried some of Brian Greene’s books, for example, which are for a general audience. Even those, I struggled with. I find this really frustrating because physics is so important—it’s telling us what’s around us and what’s going on in the universe. And yet, somehow, my brain can’t grasp it. Why?

There is a challenge that anyone faces trying to present some of the ideas of contemporary physics—to explain what are really quite deep and somewhat convoluted ideas in ways that are accessible. In all of the work that I’ve done, I feel I get a little better at it each time. But I still tend to produce books that are a struggle for anyone coming at this without any background.

The other thing that you learn from this is that there is a sense in which, in a curious way, there never was any real guarantee that nature would, ultimately, be understandable in a simple way. That was maybe a little bit of a mistaken view—brought about by the fact that some aspects of the classical ways of looking at things, like the mechanics of Newton, were easier to get our heads around.

That’s actually quite an important message. If you struggle with the concepts, it’s because nature is pretty complicated—at least as far as we currently understand it.

And it’s always contingent. We never quite know when the next theoretical breakthrough or new piece of experimental data will turn our current ideas on their heads.

I think the concepts are graspable in a very general sense, that even people without the right kind of background can make some sense out of what’s going on. But it requires some effort, I have to say.

From reading your book about the discovery of the Higgs boson, it seems like you do find physics easy to understand?

No—I struggle with it. I’ve always had an ambition to write books where I’m stretching my own understanding and using it as a vehicle to learn. So I’m learning as I go along. And, then, you face the struggle of communicating that—to write about it in a way that’s hopefully accessible to as many people as possible.

But don’t be fooled. Some of the guys who seem very authoritative—who write best-selling popular science books—by and large they’re also on the edge of their own understanding. Nobody, frankly, has got a decent grasp of the full picture. It really is that challenging.

Yes, there is a level of deep mathematical complexity. But that’s a little bit of a red herring. That’s not the reason everyone struggles to come to terms with what the theories are saying. Irrespective of the mathematics, it’s the concepts that you end up wrestling with. They are actually quite baffling.

Richard Feynman—a very, very charismatic, American, Nobel prize-winning physicist—once said, ‘I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.’ Given that he won his Nobel Prize for developing a structure called quantum electrodynamics, you’d think that at least he would have the authority to say, ‘I fully understand that.’ But no.

I think anyone is kidding themselves if they say they understand these things. There’s an ability to work with these concepts, where you learn how to calculate things. If you can set aside any concerns for what the hell it might mean, then you get on and you can make some progress.

But the minute you start to ponder what it might actually all mean is the minute you start to tie yourself in conceptual knots. And that’s the way it is.

How many physics books have you written now?

I’ve written ten books. My first was published back in 1992, in the dark ages, and was called The Meaning of Quantum Theory. My most recent book, Origins, was a much more ambitious attempt to try and explain the scientific story of the whole of creation from the Big Bang to human consciousness. But mostly I’ve tended to write about things like particle physics and quantum mechanics. My latest book, called Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields, is firmly back in this territory.

In the title of your book about the discovery of Higgs boson you refer to it as the ‘God particle.’ Has your philosophical view of the world been affected by studying physics?

It helps to understand where that term came from. An American particle physicist called Leon Lederman published a book in 1993 called The God Particle. He explains, in the foreword to the book, that he actually wanted to call it The Goddamn Particle, but his publisher wouldn’t let him.

The search for the Higgs in the early 90s was causing unbelievable anguish. At the time, American theorists were pitching for building something called the Superconducting Supercollider which was going to cost I don’t know how many billions of dollars. Eventually, in 1993, Congress cancelled it.

Although the name ‘the God particle’ brings a lot of baggage with it, there is a sense in which it is quite important. It’s a particle that physicists had been wanting to find for a very long time.

The way that modern quantum field theory works is that you have a field, which has values everywhere throughout space and time. Particles are therefore considered to be fundamental disturbances or fluctuations of the quantum field. They kind of pop out, they undergo collisions, and we make measurements on them.

The Higgs boson is the fundamental quantum particle of the Higgs field. And it’s the Higgs field that actually gives you the ‘woo’ effect and starts to lead you to become somewhat metaphysical or even theological because the existence of this field means that particles in the universe have mass. There’s absolutely no doubt that, according to current theories of physics, if the Higgs field did not exist then nothing would exist—at least, nothing with mass. Everything in the universe would be a bit like light—it would just zip around at the speed of light and nothing would ever happen.

That was one of the reasons that Lederman felt compelled to say there’s a sense in which we’re at the book of Genesis here. Whether you accept his arguments or not is neither here nor there, but it was a name that struck a chord in the popular imagination and it’s a name that tended to stick. I have no bones about using it in the subtitle of my book, which was published just a few short weeks after the discovery of the Higgs was announced.

When I talked to Peter Higgs about it, and asked, ‘Do you have a problem with that?’ he actually didn’t. He’s been on the record as saying he hates the name, but he didn’t seem to mind. It’s one of those things. As a writer and as a communicator, you have to find a way to hold people’s interest.

Ok, you are straying along the edges of science and theology maybe a little bit. There was never any sense in which ‘the God particle’ was suggesting, in any way, the existence of a creator but, at the same time, it stimulates discussion and gets people interested. If they pick up an article or a book or watch a documentary because of a trigger like that then, hopefully, what they’re going to learn is going to be useful. It is an important particle.

I notice from your book that a lot of these particles are either named after people or something like ‘quark’ which was, again, a bit like ‘Goddamn’ wasn’t it?

The origin of ‘quark’ is Finnegans Wake. There’s another American theorist called Murray Gell-Mann who was a bit mischievous. He thought the whole naming business was quite ridiculous. So he happily named these things and perhaps even surprised himself when it turned out that this was actually a correct way of describing elementary particles.

We have things like up and down quarks, strange quarks, charm quarks, top quarks, bottom quarks—all of these different names represent what are known as quark ‘flavours’. Quarks also have ‘colour’. Not, literally, a colour in the sense that we would understand it; they have properties that come in triplets and, in an attempt to keep things in order, physicists chose to call them colours: red, green, and blue. So, you can have a red up quark, and a green down quark, and a blue strange quark, and so on. These are all aspects of things that we’ve learnt about some of these elementary particles. But in a moment of non-seriousness, yes, they can get named sometimes rather strangely.

And ‘boson’ was named after an Indian physicist.

Satyendra Nath Bose. His work came to the attention of Einstein. There’s a branch of development in physics called Bose-Einstein statistics. All of the particles that make up atoms and molecules, that make us up and the universe that we know, the elementary particles that sit at the root of all of those—very much in the nature of Greek ‘atoms’—are all particles with a characteristic spin that means that they’re classed as something called fermions. It doesn’t matter what spin is and it doesn’t matter what properties fermions have, but they are very different from the kinds of particles like photons which carry forces between the matter particles. They have a different spin, of a type that classifies them as bosons. And if you want to know what the fundamental difference is then, in a sense, if it’s a matter particle, such as a quark or an electron, then it’s also a fermion. If it’s a particle that transmits forces between matter particles, then it’s a boson. That’s a simple rule of thumb but that’s how nature is.

I like the picture you have in your book, of Margaret Thatcher entering a room, as a way of illustrating the Higgs boson. Do you think more illustrations, more being able to visualise things, would help people?

Continue reading.

There’s a bit more general discussion, and then he discusses the eponymous Five Books, which in this case are:

  1. Asimov’s Guide to Science.
  2. Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein
  3. Quantum Physics: Illusion or Reality
  4. The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics
  5. Heisenberg’s War: The Secret History of the German Bomb

It’s a relatively long post, but I found it quite interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2017 at 11:18 am

Posted in Books, Science, Writing

Incompetence is metastasizing

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Take a look at these reports:

More than 30 nuclear experts inhale uranium after radiation alarms at a weapons site are switched off

Light penalties and lax oversight encourage weak safety culture at nuclear weapons labs

HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier runs on Windows XP, vulnerable to cyberattack

All three articles show how organization capability seems to be breaking down, something glaringly evident when you look at Congress. What happened? Perhaps it has always been thus, and only now do we have so much access (unlike the days of three networks and the local papers).

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2017 at 11:04 am

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