Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Historic Rocket Landing

from youtube

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What Is Consciousness? Neuroscientist May Have Answer to the Big Question


Science has failed to pinpoint the actual brain processes behind our awareness.

he following is an excerpt from the new bookConsciousness and the Social Brain by Michael S. A. Graziano (Oxford University Press, 2015): 
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I was in the audience watching a magic show. Per protocol a lady was standing in a tall wooden box, her smiling head sticking out of the top, while the magician stabbed swords through the middle.
A man sitting next to me whispered to his son, “Jimmy, how do you think they do that?”
The boy must have been about six or seven. Refusing to be impressed, he hissed back, “It’s obvious, Dad.”
“Really?” his father said. “You figured it out? What’s the trick?”
“The magician makes it happen that way,” the boy said.
The magician makes it happen. That explanation, as charmingly vacuous as it sounds, could stand as a fair summary of almost every theory, religious or scientific, that has been put forward to explain human consciousness.
What is consciousness? What is the essence of awareness, the spark that makes us us? Something lovely apparently buried inside us is aware of ourselves and of our world. Without that awareness, zombie-like, we would presumably have no basis for curiosity, no realization that there is a world about which to be curious, no impetus to seek insight, whether emotional, artistic, religious, or scientific. Consciousness is the window through which we understand.
The human brain contains about one hundred billion interacting neurons. Neuroscientists know, at least in general, how that network of neurons can compute information. But how does a brain become aware of information? What is sentience itself?
The first known scientific account relating consciousness to the brain dates back to Hippocrates in the fifth century b.c. At that time, there was no formal science as it is recognized today. Hippocrates was nonetheless an acute medical observer and noticed that people with brain damage tended to lose their mental abilities. He realized that mind is something created by the brain and that it dies piece by piece as the brain dies. A passage attributed to him summarizes his view elegantly:
"Men ought to know that from the brain, and from the brain only, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrows, pains, griefs and tears. Through it, in particular, we think, see, hear, and distinguish the ugly from the beautiful, the bad from the good, the pleasant from the unpleasant."
The importance of Hippocrates’s insight that the brain is the source of the mind cannot be overstated. It launched two and a half thousand years of neuroscience. As a specific explanation of consciousness, however, one has to admit that the Hippocratic account is not very helpful. Rather than explain consciousness, the account merely points to a magician. The brain makes it happen. How the brain does it, and what exactly consciousness may be, Hippocrates left unaddressed. Such questions went beyond the scope of his medical observations.
Two thousand years after Hippocrates, in 1641, Descartes  proposed a second influential view of the brain basis of consciousness. In Descartes’s view, the mind was made out of an ethereal substance, a fluid, that was stored in a receptacle in the brain. He called the fluid rescogitans. Mental substance. When he dissected the brain looking for the receptacle of the soul, he noticed that almost every brain structure came in pairs, one on each side. In his view, the human soul was a single, unified entity, and therefore it could not possibly be divided up and stored in two places. In the end he found a small single lump at the center of the brain, the pineal body, and deduced that it must be the house of the soul. The pineal body is now known to be a gland that produces melatonin and has nothing whatsoever to do with a soul.
Descartes’ idea, though refreshingly clever for the time, and though influential in philosophy and theology, did not advance the scientific understanding of consciousness. Instead of proposing an explanation of consciousness, he attributed consciousness to a magic fluid. By what mechanism a fluid substance can cause the experience of consciousness, or where the fluid itself comes from, Descartes left unexplained— truly a case of pointing to a magician instead of explaining the trick.
One of the foundation bricks of modern science, especially modern psychology, is a brilliant treatise so heft y that it is literally rather brick-like, Kant’s A Critique of Pure Reason, published in 1781.  In Kant’s account, the mind relies on what he termed “a priori forms,” abilities and ideas within us that are present first before all explanations and from which everything else follows. On the subject of consciousness, therefore, Kant had a clear answer: there is no explaining the magic. It is simply supplied to us by divine act. Quite literally, the magician did it.
Hippocrates, Descartes, and Kant represent only three particularly prominent accounts of the mind from the history of science. I could go on describing one famous account after the next and yet get no closer to insight. Even if we fast-forward to modern neuroscience and examine the many proposed theories of consciousness, almost all of them suffer from the same limitation. They are not truly explanatory theories. They point to a magician but do not explain the magic.
One of the first, groundbreaking neurobiological theories of consciousness was proposed in 1990 by the scientists Francis Crick (the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA) and Christof Koch.  They suggested that when the electrical signals in the brain oscillate they cause consciousness. The idea goes something like this: the brain is composed of neurons that pass information among each other. Information is more efficiently linked from one neuron to another, and more efficiently maintained over short periods of time, if the electrical signals of neurons oscillate in synchrony. Therefore, consciousness might be caused by the electrical activity of many neurons oscillating together.
This theory has some plausibility. Maybe neuronal oscillations are a precondition for consciousness. But note that, once again, the hypothesis is not truly an explanation of consciousness. It identifies a magician. Like the Hippocratic account, “The brain does it” (which is probably true), or like Descartes’s account, “The magic fluid inside the brain does it” (which is probably false), this modern theory stipulates that “the oscillations in the brain do it.” We still don’t know how. Suppose that neuronal oscillations do actually enhance the reliability of information processing. That is impressive and on recent evidence apparently likely to be true.  But by what logic does that enhanced information processing cause the inner experience? Why an inner feeling? Why should information in the brain—no matter how much its signal strength is boosted, improved, maintained, or integrated from brain site to brain site—become associated with any subjective experience at all? Why is it not just information without the add-on of awareness?
For this type of reason, many thinkers are pessimistic about ever finding an explanation of consciousness. The philosopher Chalmers, in 1995, put it in a way that has become particularly popular. He suggested that the challenge of explaining consciousness can be divided into two problems. One, the easy problem, is to explain how the brain computes and stores information. Calling this problem easy is, of course, a euphemism. What is meant is something more like the technically possible problem given a lot of scientific work. In contrast, the hard problem is to explain how we become aware of all that stuff going on in the brain. Awareness itself, the essence of awareness, because it is presumed to be nonphysical, because it is by definition private, seems to be scientifically unapproachable. Again, calling it the hard problem is a euphemism; it is the impossible problem. We have no choice but to accept it as a mystery. In the hard-problem view, rather than try to explain consciousness, we should marvel at its insolubility.
The hard-problem view has a pinch of defeatism in it. I suspect that for some people it also has a pinch of religiosity. It is a keep-your- scientific-hands-off-my-mystery perspective. One conceptual difficulty with the hard-problem view is that it argues against any explanation of consciousness without knowing what explanations might arise. It is difficult to make a cogent argument against the unknown. Perhaps an explanation exists such that, once we see what it is, once we understand it, we will find that it makes sense and accounts for consciousness.
The current scientific study of consciousness reminds me in many ways of the scientific blind alleys in understanding biological evolution.  Charles Darwin published his book The Origin of Species in 1859, but long before Darwin, naturalists had already suspected that one species of animal could evolve into another and that different species might be related in a family tree. The idea of a family tree was articulated a century before Darwin, by Linnaeus, in 1758.  What was missing, however, was the trick. How was it done? How did various species change over time to become different from each other and to become sophisticated at doing what they needed to do? Scholars explored a few conceptual blind alleys, but a plausible explanation could not be found. Since nobody could think of a mechanistic explanation, since a mechanistic explanation was outside the realm of human imagination, since the richness and complexity of life was obviously too magical for a mundane account, a deity had to be responsible. The magician made it happen. One should accept the grand mystery and not try too hard to explain it.
Then Darwin discovered the trick. A living thing has many offspring; the offspring vary randomly among each other; and the natural environment, being a harsh place, allows only a select few of those offspring to procreate, passing on their winning attributes to future generations. Over geological expanses of time, increment by increment, species can undergo extreme changes. Evolution by natural selection. Once you see the trick behind the magic, the insight is so simple as to be either distressing or marvelous, depending on your mood. As Huxley famously put it in a letter to Darwin, “How stupid of me not to have thought of that!” 
The neuroscience of consciousness is, one could say, pre-Darwinian. We are pretty sure the brain does it, but the trick is unknown. Will science find a workable theory of the phenomenon of consciousness?
I propose a theory of consciousness that I hope is unlike most previous theories. This one does not merely point to a magician. It does not merely point to a brain structure or to a brain process and claim without further explanation, ergo consciousness. Although I do point to specific brain areas, and although I do point to a specific category of information processed in a specific manner, I also attempt to explain the trick itself. What I am trying to articulate is not just, “Here’s the magician that does it,” but also, “Here’s how the magician does it.”
For more than twenty years I studied how vision and touch and hearing are combined in the brain and how that information might be used to coordinate the movement of the limbs. I summarized much of that work in a previous book, The Intelligent Movement Machine, in 2008. These scientific issues may seem far from the topic of consciousness, but over the years I began to realize that basic insights about the brain, about sensory processing and movement control, provided a potential answer to the question of consciousness.
The brain does two things that are of particular importance to the present theory. First, the brain uses a method that most neuroscientists call attention. Lacking the resources to process everything at the same time, the brain focuses its processing on a very few items at any one time. Attention is a data-handling trick for deeply processing some information at the expense of most information. Second, the brain uses internal data to construct simplified, schematic models of objects and events in the world. Those models can be used to make predictions, try out simulations, and plan actions.
What happens when the brain inevitably combines those two talents? In theory, awareness is the brain’s simplified, schematic model of the complicated, data-handling process of attention. Moreover, a brain can use the construct of awareness to model its own attentional state or to model someone else’s attentional state. For example, Harry might be focusing his attention on a coffee stain on his shirt. You look at him and understand that Harry is aware of the stain. In the theory, much of the same machinery, the same brain regions and computational processing that are used in a social context to attribute awareness to someone else, are also used on a continuous basis to construct your own awareness and attribute it to yourself. Social perception and awareness share a substrate.  The attention schema theory, as I eventually called it, takes a shot at explaining consciousness in a scientifically plausible manner without trivializing the problem.
The theory took rough shape in my mind (in my consciousness, let’s say) over a period of about 10 years.
A great many reaction pieces were published by experts on the topic of mind and consciousness and a great many more unpublished commentaries were communicated to me. Many of the commentaries were enthusiastic, some were cautious, and a few were in direct opposition. I am grateful for the feedback, which helped me to further shape the ideas and their presentation. It is always difficult to communicate a new idea. It can take years for the scientific community to figure out what you are talking about, and just as many years for you to figure out how best to articulate the idea.
None of us knows for certain how the brain produces consciousness, but the attention schema theory looks promising. It explains the main phenomena. It is logical, conceptually simple, testable, and already has support from a range of previous experiments. I do not put the theory in opposition to the three or four other major neuroscientific views of consciousness. Rather, my approach fuses many previous theories and lines of thought, building a single conceptual framework, combining strengths. For all of these reasons, I am enthusiastic about the theory as a biological explanation of the mind—of consciousness itself—and I am eager to communicate the theory properly.

Good Advice from Rick Warren

from the purpose driven life

Rick Warren author

"I have been at the bedside of many people in their final moments, when they stand on the edge of eternity, and I have never heard anyone say, "Bring me my awards, my medals, that gold watch I was given".  When life on earth is ending, people don't surround themselves with objects. What we want around us is people --- people we love and have relationships with.

In our final moments we all realize that relationships are what life is all about.  Wisdom is learning this sooner rather than later"  

good advice for a special friend in toronto  

The Greats in one magical performance

from youtube

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Inside the United States Senate almost a yesr ago

from msnbc/youtube

Published on Dec 15, 2014

Sen. Elizabeth Warren took to the Senate floor to debate the $1.1 trillion spending bill, taking aim at “a dangerous provision that was slipped into a must-pass spending bill at the last minute solely to benefit Wall Street.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Charlie Sheen says he’s HIV-positive, has been extorted for $10 million over diagnosis

from washingtonpost

Play Video1:27

Charlie Sheen: 'I am in fact HIV-positive'

During an interview with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show, actor Charlie Sheen confirmed rumors that he is HIV-positive and was diagnosed four years ago. He says he has been blackmailed for "millions" of dollars over the disease. (The Washington Post)
Charlie Sheen confirmed on Tuesday that he is HIV-positive, as rumored in recent days by an onslaught of tabloid stories. Sheen told Matt Lauer on the “Today” show that he is going public with his illness for multiple reasons, including that he’s been blackmailed for upwards of $10 million since he was diagnosed four years ago.
Sheen said that he hired prostitutes over the years, some of whom turned around and extorted him over his diagnosis. Sheen told Lauer that one woman took a cellphone photo of the antiretroviral HIV medication he had in his bathroom and threatened to sell the image to the tabloids.
“What people forget is that’s money they’re taking from my children,” Sheen told Lauer. “They think it’s just me, but I’ve got five kids and a granddaughter. … I release myself from this prison today.”
Sheen said depression over his condition led him to drug and alcohol use, “making a lot of bad decisions” that resulted in hiring more prostitutes who could blackmail him.
“That part I own, one hundred percent,” Sheen said.
He told Lauer he led with “condoms and honesty” with all of his sexual partners, and it “couldn’t be farther from the truth” that he threatened the health of many others — he said it’s impossible that he transmitted the disease to anyone else. Sheen said that he had unprotected sex with two partners, but both were warned ahead of time and under a doctor’s care. Sheen confirmed that before sexual activity, he’s told all of his partners that he is HIV-positive.
Sheen also doesn’t know how he contracted the virus, but told Lauer that it had nothing to do with needles.
Rumors about the actor’s health recently emerged in the tabloid press in places like Radar Online: NBC announced his appearance on the “Today” show on Monday right after the National Enquirer revealed a new cover storythat said Sheen is HIV-positive and was being blackmailed. The tabloid said its story is running after a “dogged 18-month investigation.”
Later on “Today,” Sheen’s doctor Robert Huizenga sat down to confirm that the actor contracted HIV, but after anti-viral treatment, he has an “undetectable” level of the virus in his blood. Contrary to what some tabloid outlets speculated, Sheen does not have AIDS.
“[The treatment] suppressed the virus to the point that he’s absolutely healthy from that vantage,” Huizenga said. “And my biggest concern with Charlie as a patient is substance abuse and depression from the disease more than what the HIV virus can do in terms of shortening his life — because it’s not going to.” (Sheen said he still drinks, but has stopped using drugs.)
Lauer also fact-checked Sheen’s claim that it would be impossible to transmit the disease to someone else through protected sex.
“Individuals who are optimally treated, who have undetected viral loads and who responsibly use protection have  incredibly low — it’s incredibly rare to transmit the virus,” the doctor said. “We can’t say that that’s zero, but it’s a very, very low number.”
Sheen, who once made nearly $2 million per episode as the star of CBS’s hit “Two and a Half Men,” is known for his troubled personal life, with amuchdocumented history of substance abuse and prostitutes. His most stunning meltdown occurred in early 2011, just after he was arrested for domestic violence against his then-wife, Brooke Mueller. This followed reports of drugs, Vegas partying, and a lawsuit from a porn star who was reportedly found locked in Sheen’s hotel room.
CBS shut down production on “Two and a Half Men” so Sheen could go to rehab. When he started calling into radio shows to bash the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre, as well as the network, CBS fired Sheen and scrapped the rest of the season. This led to Sheen going rogue, giving interviews with his two live-in “goddesses” (one a former porn star) and launching his own cross-country tour. Because Hollywood loves second chances, Sheen still landed another sitcom, “Anger Management” on FX, which wrapped in 2014.
Lauer asked Sheen if this behavior was because of his reaction to the HIV-positive diagnosis.
“I wish I could blame it on that,” Sheen said. “That was more of a ‘roid rage. But this was — this was — on the heels of that, let me say, yeah.”
In terms of legal repercussions now, Sheen acknowledged he’s expecting to face a “barrage of lawsuits” given how sexually active he’s been over the last four years. Lauer noted that 35 states have laws that say people infected with HIV must disclose that fact to their sexual partners, or they can be charged with a crime.
“This I completely understand, and I completely respect that. But having divulged it is the reason I’m in the mess that I’m in with having all the — all the shakedowns, you know,” Sheen replied. “I can’t sit here and protect against all of that or completely worry about it. I can only sit here with you and tell my truth.”
The actor said the worst part about reading the rumors in the last few days were those he said he was “intentionally” spreading HIV. “I just thought, wow…damn, that’s far from the truth as anything could be,” Sheen said.
Sheen, once the highest paid actor on television, admitted that the extortion made a dent in his savings, calling his current finances”not great.” He said that people in the industry already know about his illness and he has a couple prospects for a new TV show and a couple movies — though his situation right now is “not commerce driven, it’s socially driven.”
Sheen was eventually replaced on “Two and a Half Men” by Ashton Kutcher, and most of the show’s series finale was spent making not-so-subtle digs at Sheen. (After someone noted that Sheen’s character died under mysterious circumstances, one character replied, “It wasn’t that mysterious. He was taking a lot of drugs and pissed off almost everybody.”) Co-star Jon Cryer shared many Sheen stories in his memoir, and said Sheen essentially became his personal prostitution guru after Cryer got divorced.
However, Sheen has been mostly out of the spotlight as of late, save for astartling Twitter screed against Denise Richards over the summer. The two actors, who had a highly publicized custody fight over their young daughters, were married from 2002 to 2006. Sheen and Mueller wed in 2008, but divorced in 2011 after they had twin sons. He has another 30-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old granddaughter.
Sheen was engaged to former adult film star Brett Rossi last year, but the couple split right before their wedding in November. He was also previously married to model Donna Peele for about a year in 1995.
“The stigma that is attached to this diagnosis is one of the worst parts about it. People don’t take action, they don’t get help because of that stigma. Do you still feel that stigma?” Lauer asked.
“Not anymore I don’t,” Sheen said. “I have a responsibility now to better myself and to help a lot of other people. And hopefully with what we’re doing today, others may come forward and say ‘Thanks, Charlie. Thanks for kicking the door open.'”
(This post has been continuously updated.)
Read more:
Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.

Firing at Chase and Ocwen

from court filings 

Filed Today November 17, 2015 in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals  

The battle continues ....... 

Elizabeth Warren Calls for Us to Sign Her Petition for Social Security COLA Increase

from obrag.orh

by  on NOVEMBER 16, 2015 · 0 COMMENTS
Elizabeth WarrenEditor: Senator Elizabeth Warren has started a petition to get Congress to pass a Cost of Living  increase for Social Security recipients. As of right now there is no annual increase coming – and this is only the 3rd time in the last 40 years that there hasn’t been a COLA increase for those who received Social Security.
Here’s Elizabeth Warren’s call:
On January 1, for just the third time since 1975, seniors who receive Social Security won’t be getting an annual cost-of-living increase. Neither will millions of other Americans whose veterans’ benefits, disability benefits, and other monthly payments are pegged to Social Security.
Will you join me in calling on my fellow members of Congress to give seniors and veterans the raise they deserve?
Please pass the Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefits Act (SAVE Benefits Act) to give seniors and veterans a one-time 3.9% payment in 2016—the same raise that America’s top CEOs received last year.
Two-thirds of retirees depend on Social Security to pay for the basics: to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads—but seniors who usually get a small boost on January 1 won’t see an extra dime next year.
The Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefits Act (SAVE Benefits Act) would:
  • Provide seniors and veterans with an emergency, one-time 3.9% payment in 2016 (approx. $581/person). 3.9% is the average raise that America’s top CEOs received last year.
  • Fully cover the cost of increased payments by closing the tax loophole that allows corporations to write off obscene executive bonuses as a business expense for “performance pay.”
  • Extend the life of Social Security by bolstering the Social Security and Disability trust funds.
So let’s do it. Let’s close the loophole and let’s use the money to give seniors and veterans the support they need on January 1. Tell Congress that America supports the SAVE Benefits Act.
Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.
Senator Elizabeth Warren

Thursday, November 12, 2015

You Go Girl -- Your a true patriot -- Honor the Veterans from the Senate

from youtube

See post of November 14, 2015 for her exposing how things work in congress 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

9th Circuit Court Of Appeals Addresses Issue Of Senility Among Federal Judges Appointed For Life


SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — Now 84, federal appellate court Judge William Canby made the difficult decision a few years ago to mostly stop hearing cases after a 30-year career. He was sharp and healthy, but didn’t want to risk mental decline that would lead him to make mistakes, he said.
“It seemed to me if the goal is to work until you are no longer able, you will work a couple of years too long,” he said.
Canby’s decision reflects one of the unique job hazards federal judges face: age-related mental decline. Unlike judges in most states, U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal appellate and district court judges are appointed for life. To be removed, they must be impeached by Congress, which has occurred only a few times.
Some judges stick around too long, colleagues and court observers say, prompting complaints that they are showing signs of senility such as forgetfulness, an inability to follow arguments and long delays in deciding cases. Judges say they often enlist peers or family members to quietly and delicately encourage the person to seek help or leave.
But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes federal courts in California and eight other Western states, has taken a more pro-active approach to the problem of mental decline by trying to get its judges to think about the condition, plan for it and handle it appropriately if it comes up.
The circuit court holds regular seminars led by neurological experts to teach its chief judges about the signs of cognitive impairment. It has set up a hotline where court staff and judges can get advice about dealing with signs of senility in colleagues. It has also encouraged judges to undergo cognitive assessments and designate colleagues, friends or family who can intervene if concerns arise about their mental health.
“We’re an organization that is required to police ourselves,” said Phyllis Hamilton, chief judge in the Northern District of California and head of the 9th Circuit’s wellness committee. “If we wish to retain the goodwill and confidence of the public in our ability to render justice by judges who are unimpaired …, we have to take steps.”
The U.S. Constitution guaranteed federal judges lifetime appointments to maintain judicial independence by preventing the easy removal of judges for unpopular decisions.
But life expectancy when the Constitution was signed in 1787 was under 40. It is now about 79.
Some judges serve well beyond that age. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is the oldest person to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, retiring in 1932 at the age of 90. U.S. District Court Judge Wesley Brown in Kansas was the oldest working federal judge in the country’s history when he died at the age of 104 in 2012.
Critics say the risk of cognitive decline is among several factors that favor imposing a retirement age or term limits on federal judges. Most states require appellate judges to retire between 70 to 75 years old, according to the National Center for State Courts. State judges may also face elections and generally can be removed by disciplinary commissions without turning to the state legislature.
“(Federal judges) could be independent and still have a retirement age,” said Paul Carrington, a law professor at Duke University. “I can’t believe policing themselves is a complete answer to the problem.”
With no requirement that federal judges undergo cognitive tests, it’s not known how many experience mental decline in their later years. Anecdotes from judges and court observers, however, indicate it may be more than an isolated problem.
Richard Carlton, who runs the 9th Circuit’s counseling hotline, said he gets a handful of calls a year from judges concerned that a colleague may be impaired.
“A lot of these situations resolve themselves pretty quickly,” he said. “It often times turns out to be some kind of physical condition or some new medication somebody’s taken, or they’re in the process of transitioning from senior status to full retirement.”
Over the past five years, the 10th US. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Colorado and five other Western states and has its own judicial health program, has addressed at least two complaints that could reflect mental decline.
One accused a senior district judge of falling asleep during a court proceeding.
The judge said a tiring family emergency may have been to blame and indicated that he would reduce his caseload and decline trials and lengthy hearings, according to a 2010 order by the circuit’s chief judge.
The second complaint by a judge’s former law clerk accused the judge of forgetfulness and erratic, abusive behavior. The judge underwent psychological screening and was cleared of any mental disability, according to a 2014 order by the circuit’s chief judge.
The judges and complainants were not identified.
Canby encourages his colleagues to get ahead of any complaints by, like him, voluntarily declining to regularly hear cases at some point. In an article in the 9th Circuit’s wellness newsletter, he said impaired judges threaten public confidence in the judicial branch.
“If a great majority of judges are determined to keep on judging until they are no longer mentally able to perform properly, instances of impaired judges still making decisions will multiply,” he wrote. “The consequence of such behavior will be an unacceptably high rate of institutional damage.”
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