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Osmo’s blocks are like Lego for coding

There’s a growing sense among educators and parents that learning to code is a valuable life skill. The UK has implemented programming in its computing curriculum, and several companies have cropped up with toys and games designed to teach young’uns how to code. Today, a startup called Osmo has come up with its own solution: an iPad game that teaches kids to code with physical blocks. Think of it as Lego for coding.

It’s simply called Osmo Coding and it builds on top of the Reflective AI platform the company launched a couple years ago. You essentially fit a mirror over the front-facing camera of an iPad, and through some clever software and visual recognition tech, it’s able to translate any physical objects in front of the iPad to a digital environment. Previous Osmo titles include Words, which uses letter pieces, and Tangram, a puzzle game that uses geometric objects.

Osmo Coding functions in much the same way, except that you use physical blocks to direct the actions of a character in a game. The character is called Awbie and it loves strawberries. Indeed, the objective is basically to make it eat them while maneuvering through obstacles like trees, bushes and lakes. Each of the aforementioned blocks represents a certain command, like going up or down, or an action like “jump” or “grab.” You can also group the blocks together to form a series of commands, which is handy if you want Awbie to get to its destination faster or eat a whole bunch of berries in a row. There are also modifier blocks like “loop” and “if-then” Boolean style commands for those who are more advanced.

I had a chance to try out Osmo Coding for a few minutes, and found it a lot of fun, even if I am way outside the target age demographic. Putting the blocks together was pretty intuitive since they’re all magnetic, and they click together in a satisfying way too. It also doesn’t hurt that they look and feel great in the hand, with smooth edges and bright colors. Even without the game, I had a fun time simply connecting the pieces together.

Of course, it all only really makes sense when you pair the blocks with the game. As an adult, I picked it up pretty quickly. I learned that you could put number modifiers next to certain code blocks so that Awbie would do the action more than once (like going right three times and then down twice). The game world is purposefully open-ended; there’s no one way to get to your objective. You can have Awbie eat up all the strawberries with very simple actions, but it’ll probably be a lot faster if you go with more complicated commands. The game also provides better rewards if you’re smart enough to create more sophisticated sequences.

Interestingly, there are also certain blocks that won’t click together no matter what, simply because it wouldn’t make sense. Osmo CEO and co-founder Pramod Sharma says these are built-in constraints to help guide you to make the right commands. But aside from that, the game is actually pretty forgiving if you make mistakes — say, if you accidentally guide Awbie into the water or have it bump against a tree. “Just like Lego, it’s okay to make mistakes,” says Sharma.

The idea behind Osmo Coding was actually the brainchild of Ariel Zekelman, a hardware engineer from Northwestern University. As a 23-year-old, she’ll apparently be the youngest person to have designed a product that will be sold in Apple stores.

“When I was young, I was always playing with my brother’s Legos,” she says. “My mom bought me dolls! I didn’t have Legos. But I always wanted to build stuff.” Fast forward several years later, and she found herself in an Art and Science class in college, where she and fellow collaborator Felix Hu were working on building tangible experiences for kids. “Children are on their iPads, but they’re not building and touching anymore,” she says. “Instead of building with Legos, they’re touching their screens.”

When Osmo started to create the idea of making a coding game accessible to kids, it was pretty tough. “Coding is a very abstract concept,” she says. “Bringing something that’s literally rooted in abstraction and the digital world into the physical space is very difficult.” But, through trial and error, the company came up with Strawbies, which is what the game was initially called.

“Putting these two things together [the blocks and the game] is genius,” says Sharma. “It’s taking those abstract commands and manifesting it.” Sharma, a former engineer at Google, especially appreciated how the game was able to transform the act of programming and boil it down to fundamentals. “These concepts are very simple to grasp. But you can build very complex things with them.”

Osmo definitely had Lego in mind when it came up with the idea for the final product. “There are three principles we learned from Lego,” says Sharma. “First, it’s open-ended. Second, it encourages experimentation. And third, it’s a hands-on, physical thing.” Combine all three factors, he says, and you end up with a product that’ll help kids learn and remember better. “Our goal is to be the first true introduction of programming to kids,” she says.

The standalone Osmo Coding base will be available from Amazon, Apple and starting today for $49, but that’s assuming you already have the Osmo base (the iPad stand and mirror). If you don’t, you can go ahead and get the Coding Kit, which has both the base and the Coding blocks for $75.


Rumors are flying about new Xbox consoles and streaming devices

E3 kicks off on June 12th and Microsoft will be there in full-force, showing off the latest and greatest Xbox games and hardware. The company hasn’t yet revealed what it’ll announce at the big show, but The Verge and Kotaku claim Xbox is working on two new devices — however, that’s where the reports’ similarities stop.

The Verge says Xbox will reveal two streaming devices at E3, one that behaves like Chromecast and one that’s closer to a streaming microconsole. The second device would supposedly be able to access universal apps and games from the Windows Store, and stream games from the main Xbox One console to any TV in a house, The Verge says. Part of the focus here would be on TV, allowing users to access Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other streaming services. This report stems mainly from Petri executive editor Brad Sams, who correctly predicted the Elite controller’s existence at E3 last year.

Kotaku claims that Microsoft is set to unveil two new Xbox consoles. One is a cheaper and smaller Xbox with a 2TB hard drive that should launch later in 2016. The site says Xbox will reveal this model at E3. The second console, which may not make an appearance at E3, is codenamed Scorpio and is due to hit shelves in 2017. It apparently sports a more powerful GPU and it will support the Oculus Rift VR headset. That wouldn’t be shocking, considering the Oculus already comes packaged with the Xbox One controller and the companies already enjoy a symbiotic relationship.

The new consoles are part of a larger initiative known as “Project Helix” that’s designed to converge Xbox and Windows, Kotaku says.

Regarding these reports, an Xbox spokesperson tells Engadget, “We do not comment on rumors or speculation.” We’ve reached out to Oculus for clarification on the reported 2017 console.

Lots of creative chatter today. Excited to share our gaming story at E3 on June 13th….

— Phil Spencer (@XboxP3) May 25, 2016

Overall, the details of these reports differ but their hearts are the same: Xbox is on a path to merge its PC and console gaming brands. The streaming devices would tap into Windows 10 and universal Windows apps, while the rumored consoles aim to make PC-to-console gaming more accessible. Xbox hasn’t been shy about this strategy, either. Xbox boss Phil Spencer said in March that he wants Xbox to operate more like PC gaming, where libraries follow players even when they get new hardware.

“We can effectively feel a little more like what we see on PC, where I can still go back and run my old Doom and Quake games that I ran so many years ago and still see the best new 4K games come out — and my whole library is always with me,” Spencer said.

Plus, Spencer wants to see more console iterations, more often. Instead of nearly a decade between console generations, he’s looking at the two-year timeline of smartphones for inspiration.

“You look at improvements in graphics capability, you look at improvements in display, you look at things like 4K and HDR, and these other technologies that have come along, and for the most part consoles sit outside of that [upgrade cycle],” Spencer said.

E3 runs through the week of June 12th and Engadget will be on the ground, delivering the latest news and interviews from Xbox, Sony, EA, Ubisoft, Bethesda, Nintendo and other companies. Stay tuned.

Source: Kotaku, The Verge


Tech alliance asks the FCC to investigate data cap exceptions

Some big names in tech don’t believe that the FCC’s net neutrality rules do enough to keep internet providers honest. A group of dozens of companies and advocacy groups (including Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Mozilla and Reddit) has sent a letter to the FCC asking it to publicly investigate the practice of zero rating, or exempting services from data caps. While the strategy isn’t strictly illegal, the alliance is worried that internet providers are using zero rating to make an end run around net neutrality. After all, the ISPs are favoring certain sites over others — you may be less likely to try that new video service if it cuts into your data allotment.

The FCC hasn’t responded to the letter, but it previously said it would look into this practice on a “case by case” basis. There’s no guarantee that it will try for a blanket ban as a result, which makes sense when zero rating policies vary wildly. Comcast’s exception for Stream TV is clearly meant to promote its service over streaming rivals, for instance, while T-Mobile’s Binge On and Music Freedom cover a wide range of services and are largely meant to lure you away from other carriers. If the FCC acts at all, it may focus its attention on particularly anti-competitive behavior.

Via: TechDirt

Source: (PDF)


‘Pokemon Go’ beta arrives on mobile devices

Pokemon Go, the real-world equivalent to kicking off your own journey to becoming a Pokemon master, is finally available for beta testers in the US as of today.

After opening signups to users earlier this month, beta testers will be chosen and allowed into the program today to begin roaming the world capturing Pokemon, battling other trainers, and making those who weren’t chosen for the field test feel bad.

Along with revealing the field test is commencing today, The Pokemon Company and Niantic have also revealed several new tidbits about Pokemon Go as a whole. There will be more than a hundred different Pokemon to capture out in the wild. When one is near a player out in the wild, there’ll be a notification sent via phone to use the device’s touch screen to throw a Poke Ball, which may be purchased at PokeStops, or real-world monuments, historical locales, or public art installations.

Battling is an important and obvious centerpiece to the game as well, and players can use their captured monsters to assume control of Gyms out in the world. Attacking the Pokemon defending particular Gyms will reduce its Prestige level, and when it’s been taken out completely the player will take control of a Gym. The higher the Gym’s level, the more Pokemon that can be left to defend it. leading to several real-world turf battles that could grow to pretty impressive proportions.

If you signed up to participate in the field test, you should be receiving a notification that you were chosen for the beta. The signup page is still live, however, so if you missed out on doing so before you may want to hurry over and give it a try. You could be strutting around outside the office today catching your very own Pokemon.


Don’t worry, Twitter isn’t going to broadcast all your replies

Twitter just announced substantial changes to how tweets work — namely, removing photo, video links and mentions from the 140-character-per-tweet limit, to help give posts some creative breathing room. Some changes to the way “@” replies work means you’re going to see even more tweets in your feed from people you follow. Most importantly, perhaps, the company wants to reduce confusion for new users — which it sorely needs more of.

But while the social network attempts to streamline and clarify, some of the changes are slightly confusing. We have some lingering questions after reading the company’s brief blog post announcing the news. Do the changes mean unlimited mentions in tweets? (Spoiler: Of course not.) Will your followers see all your reply tweets? Well, that depends.

Twitter is getting rid of the workaround people used to reply to others in such a way that their followers could see the conversation in their feeds. Instead of “.@engadget” when mentioning this site (while showing your followers that you were saying something), “@engadget” will now suffice. (One character saved!) Think of this as a “mention tweet”, started from scratch. Your followers would see this when the changes came into being.

However, if you were replying to an existing “@engadget” tweet, this would be in a “reply style” and would only be seen by users that followed both you and @engadget — not all your followers. (If you want your followers to see a reply, that’s where the new ability to retweet yourself comes in.) Usernames in tweets wouldn’t count against your “reply” character limit, but they will be counted in “mention” tweets. When I put it that way it makes more sense but yes, it’s initially a bit confusing. (It’s worth remembering that up until 2009, you saw every tweet of someone you follow: the whole Twitter firehose.)

While usernames won’t count toward your character count on replies, there’s still a limit of fifty. A Twitter spokesperson added that while this may change later, this is the current cap. Fine with us: Fifty usernames sounds pretty intense as it is.

Now let’s go back to the loss of the “.@username” hack. New tweets that begin with a username will now be broadcast to your followers by default — even if you only wanted a few people to see it. Sorry, Twitter, but not everything starts with replying to someone else’s tweet. With these changes, even if you wanted to make a snarky in-joke to a friend, everyone following you will see it. It’s like a hushed, one-on-one conversation in a pub is broadcast on loudspeakers to everyone else in the bar. Fortunately, at least, Twitter users will probably find ways around whatever features they don’t like.

Twitter, for its part, will be happy, as these tweaks will almost certainly stimulate more conversation, more retweets, more replies and more likes. The social network could suddenly get very loud. It could make the most vocal Twitter users you follow seem even more vocal — possibly to a cloying degree. The same could be said for the ability to retweet and quote yourself. We’ll reserve judgement until the go into effect, but remember: The mute and block buttons are there for a reason.


Qualcomm’s Fast X12 LTE Modem is Appropriate Candidate for iPhone 7

While several rumors point towards Apple switching to Intel as its primary supplier of LTE modems for the iPhone 7 series, the consensus remains that longtime supplier Qualcomm will continue to share a portion of orders.

Assuming at least a percentage of orders go to Qualcomm, which has been the exclusive provider of LTE modems in iPhones for over three years, its X12 modem is a likely candidate for LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity on iPhone 7.

Qualcomm’s X12 chipsets, announced in September 2015, feature theoretical LTE category 12 download speeds up to 600 Mbps and LTE category 13 upload speeds up to 150 Mbps. The lineup, including the MDM9x45 and MDM9x40 chipsets, also support LTE Advanced carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, LTE-U small cells, and automatic LTE and Wi-Fi switching.

4G+LTE Advanced, first supported on iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, enables data transfer between multiple cell towers to allow for higher data rates with lower latency across the network, translating to faster speeds for browsing the web, downloading apps, streaming video, and other data-related tasks.
The MDM9x45 would be an appropriate successor to Qualcomm’s MDM9635 modem in the iPhone 6s series, which provides theoretical downlink speeds up to 300 Mbps and uplink speeds up to 50 Mbps. The X12 has already been adopted in several flagship Android smartphones equipped with the Snapdragon 820 processor, including the Samsung Galaxy S7, LG G5, and Xiaomi Mi5.

Comparatively, Apple is rumored to use Intel’s XMM 7360 LTE modem [PDF] with theoretical download speeds up to 450 Mbps and upload speeds up to 100 Mbps. The chip also features LTE Advanced with 3x carrier aggregation and support for up to 29 LTE bands overall, VoLTE, dual SIM cards, and LTE and Wi-Fi interworking.

Provided that rumors about Apple sourcing LTE modems from both Intel and Qualcomm are accurate, it remains unclear how the chipsets will be divided. The split could be based on certain iPhone models or SKUs, or perhaps Apple will elect to use Intel modems in certain regions and Qualcomm modems in others.

Qualcomm also introduced the X16, the world’s first announced Gigabit-class LTE modem, in February 2016, but the chipset is unlikely to make its way into iPhones until at least late 2017. The X16 supports 4×20 MHz carrier aggregation to achieve unprecedented theoretical download speeds up to 1 Gbps and peak upload speeds up to 150 Mbps. Real-world speeds, however, are often limited by carriers.

The bottom line for end users is that the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus/Pro will likely have much faster peak LTE and Wi-Fi speeds, regardless of whether the chipsets are sourced from Intel, Qualcomm, or a combination of the two. While true speeds ultimately rely upon carriers, the upgrade should be a welcomed improvement for data-heavy users in the U.S. and around the world.

Related Roundup: iPhone 7
Tags: Qualcomm, LTE
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‘Pilot’ Real-Time Language Translating Earpiece Tops $1 Million in Funding

A new wearable Bluetooth earpiece has been gaining traction on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, recently surpassing $1 million in funding and easily breaking its original goal of $75,000 from its backers. Called the “Pilot,” the insertable earpiece translates languages in real time between users speaking with one another, all through a connected smartphone app.

The Pilot comes with two earpieces, and when used together the system can function as a traditional set of wireless earbuds with basic audio and music playback through a Bluetooth-connected smartphone. When in need of its translation ability, users can hand off one of the earbuds to another person so their conversation is filtered and translated to each user through the Pilot’s real-time language translator.

To start off, the earpiece’s creators — Waverly Labs — will include language packages for English, Spanish, French and Italian, with other languages introduced as paid downloads in the future. The app will initially be required to connect online when it launches this summer (as a basic translator sans Pilot earpieces), but will eventually store its language database offline so users won’t have to worry about a constant internet connection fueling Pilot. There’s even an option to funnel the translated conversation through a smartphone’s speaker so everyone nearby can hear what a foreign speaker is saying.

The Pilot’s FAQ mentions that translation isn’t currently perfect, but that the more people use the device, the smarter Pilot will become. There’s also “a couple of seconds of delay” between when a user speaks in their native tongue, and when it is translated to the second Pilot earbud wearer, which Waverly Labs says will be an aspect of the device it works hard at shortening through app updates.

pilot earpiece
Although there were early bird specials at discounted prices, all of them are sold out. Pilot is currently selling for $199 as a pre-order on its Indiegogo page. With that bundle users will get the two earpieces, a portable charger, and three different sized eartips. Other backer levels include bundles of extra Pilot earpieces, and the chance to meet the team at Waverly Labs and get a glimpse behind the scenes of the technology’s creation.

The Pilot could be delivered, at the earliest, by Christmas of 2016, although Waverly Labs is telling backers to expect the first shipment of Pilot earpieces to arrive in Spring of 2017.

Tags: Pilot, Waverly Labs
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Apple in Talks About Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles

Apple has been engaged in discussions with charging station companies about their underlying technologies, according to Reuters.

The talks are largely unsurprising given that Apple is widely believed to be researching and developing its own electric vehicle, which could enter production by 2020.

Apple would of course need to provide a way to charge the so-called Apple Car’s battery, possibly akin to Tesla’s network of Supercharger partners in the U.S. and around the world.

Charging firms are treading carefully, the person added, wary of sharing too much with a company they view as a potential rival.

It is unclear whether Apple would want its own proprietary technology, such as Tesla Motors’ Supercharger network, or design a system compatible with offerings from other market players.

The report offers few specific details about the discussions, but it does confirm that a “global engineering and construction firm” has already contacted Apple to offer its services. It remains unclear, however, if Apple would be open to a charging partner or prefer to create its own proprietary network.

“It would be natural to assume if Apple is going to have a full battery electric vehicle that creates a seamless consumer experience the way Apple does, the charging infrastructure and its availability would be of paramount importance,” the source said.

The report also reflects upon a series of charging-related hirings that Apple has made in recent months, based on LinkedIn profiles, such as Nan Liu, described as “an engineer who researched a form of wireless charging for electric vehicles,” and former Google charging expert Kurt Adelberger.

As more electric vehicles begin to arrive on the roads, it is expected that EV automakers will have to expand their charging stations to accommodate. Tesla, for example, currently has around 600 charging stations worldwide, which pales in comparison to the nearly 400,000 reservations for its lower-priced Model 3.

Apple is on track to spend a record $10 billion on R&D this year, which analyst Neil Cybart believes is a clear indicator of its electric vehicle plans. Cybart predicted the odds of Apple releasing an electric vehicle are at least 80 percent, adding that Apple has likely already spent at least a few billion dollars on the project.

“Apple is not spending $10 billion on R&D just to come up with new Watch bands, larger iPads, or a video streaming service,” he wrote. “Instead, Apple is planning on something much bigger: a pivot into the automobile industry.”

The majority of R&D may be taking place in Sunnyvale and the surrounding Santa Clara Valley area, near Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, with a recent report claiming the company is looking to purchase “large expanses of real estate” in the San Francisco Bay Area for the project.

Related Roundup: Apple Car
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‘Pokémon GO’ U.S. Beta Kicks Off as New Battle Details Are Revealed

Beta testing of the upcoming Pokémon GO game for iOS kicked off in the United States today, with Niantic Labs sending out beta invites to customers who signed up to be field testers earlier this month. Beta testing is already underway in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Pokémon GO, first announced last year, is being developed by Niantic Labs in collaboration with The Pokémon Company. It will allow Pokémon fans to search real world locations to collect, battle, and trade more than 100 different Pokémon.

As was detailed in previous posts, Pokémon Go will notify players when they’re near a catchable Pokémon, with the iPhone used to throw a Poké Ball. PokéStops around the world, located at places like public art installations and historical markers, will allow players to stock up on Poké Balls and discover Pokémon Eggs.

Alongside the launch of the U.S. beta test, more details have been revealed about the way the battle mechanics will work in the game. Each Pokémon Go user will be encouraged to join one of three teams to engage in Gym battles with other teams. Gym battles can be undertaken once a team is joined, and Gyms, like Pokémon, are located in real world locations around the world. Evolving Pokémon has also been added to the game.

Battling is essential to any Pokémon game, and Pokémon GO is no different. Players can battle using the Pokémon they’ve caught to gain control of a Gym. By using their own Pokémon’s attacks and dodging incoming attacks by swiping left and right on the screen, Pokémon GO players can defeat the defending Pokémon to reduce the Gym’s Prestige.

Once the Gym’s Prestige reaches zero, the defending team loses control of the Gym, and the victor’s Pokémon can be assigned to defend the Gym. When a team has control of a Gym, team members can increase its Prestige and level by training their Pokémon with other defending Pokémon. As the Gym gets to a higher level, the defending team gains the ability to assign more Pokémon to defend it. They can also team up with friends and battle together at a rival Gym to take down stronger Gyms faster.

Pokémon Go will be free to download when it launches later in 2016. In-app purchases will be available, allowing players to buy PokéCoins for power-ups and extra items. No concrete release date has been provided for Pokémon Go, but with the expansion of the beta test, a launch is growing closer. Customers who want to sign up for the field test can do so on the Niantic Labs website.
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Kenmore 92583 review – CNET

The Good The $2,800 Kenmore 92583 electric range is a fast and furious cooker with a design that evokes luxury-brand design. The dual convection fans in the oven help you bake multiple racks of food evenly.

The Bad The range has too much of a heavy hand with some features such as broiling and the Accela-Heat mode, which promises to cook food without having to preheat the oven. The test results included burnt burgers and crunchy cinnamon rolls.

The Bottom Line This range looks like a pro, but still needs some practice when it comes to cooking.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

Kenmore has in recent years produced a steady stream of reliable ranges that cook food well. Many of them have even gotten good reviews here at CNET Appliances.

More Kenmore ranges
  • Kenmore 95073 induction freestanding range
  • Kenmore 97723 electric double oven range
  • Kenmore 72583 gas slide-in range

Unfortunately, the company’s winning streak has ended with its Pro line. The Sears-held brand designed this suite of large kitchen appliances to rival products that come from luxury (read: more expensive) manufacturers. The Kenmore 72583 gas range from the Pro catalog was amateur in its cooking performance and gave me pause about Kenmore’s attempt to reach a higher-end market. The Kenmore 92583 electric range solidified my feelings about the company’s Pro ranges: These products let the entire brand down.

Like its gas counterpart, the $2,800 Kenmore 92583 has impressive extras — no-preheat baking, rapid boiling, dual convection fans — and a physical profile that will make home cooks feel like top chefs. The range nails basic tasks like baking and boiling as you would expect from a product that’s nearly $3,000. But it flounders at perfecting the features that are supposed to elevate the range above other mainstream brands. Tests left me with scores of unexceptional test food and questions about Kenmore’s move into professional kitchen-inspired appliances.

The Kenmore 92583 isn’t the range you’re looking for from this brand. Save yourself some money and go with the Kenmore 95073, a freestanding model that makes up for its lack of special features with its fast-boiling induction cooktop and $1,700 price.

Kenmore range flies too close to the sun,…
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A remarkable range at first glance

The Kenmore 92583 has all the physical qualities that a house-hunting couple on HGTV could ask for. The 30-inch wide range has a stainless steel finish, a smooth electric cooktop and a slide-in design, features that allow it to make a confident statement in the kitchen without being too garish.

A few performance details are as equally noteworthy as the range’s appearance. The cooktop features a Turbo Boil burner, which lived up to its name in my tests. This burner took an average of 8.93 minutes to bring 112 ounces of water to a rolling boil. Only one other electric cooktop has clocked in a faster time: another Kenmore range, the 97723.

Large Burner Boil Test (Electric Models)

Kenmore 97723


Kenmore 92583


KitchenAid KSEG950ESS




Kenmore 41313




Samsung NE58K9850WG



Time to achieve rolling boil, in minutes

The 5.1 cubic-foot oven also has a couple of pleasant surprises hiding in its walls. The oven comes with dual convection fans that help circulate air more evenly and efficiently throughout the oven cavity. Convection works well when you’re baking food on more than one oven rack, and the two convection fans in this Kenmore proved that point well.

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