About Duffbert...

Duffbert's Random Musings is a blog where I talk about whatever happens to be running through my head at any given moment... I'm Thomas Duff, and you can find out more about me here...

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Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide
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04/29/2003

Latest Read, And I Love This Time Of The Sporting Year....

Category Book Reviews


The latest read was
Tomorrow Now - Envisioning The Next Fifty Years by Bruce Sterling.  He's more well-known for science fiction and social satire, so this is a but of a departure.  I have to agree with many of the reviewers on Amazon...  I expected more from his writing, and it rambles a lot for a book that's only 224 pages.  He examines the future using Shakesphere's seven stages of life (infant, student, lover, solder, justice, pantaloon, and oblivion) and tends to comment more on society and institutions than actual technology.  For instance, in the section on war he goes into painful detail on the lives and careers of three thugs who were prime movers in the new style of war fought in Bosnia and Chechnya.  The point is that wars will not be fought in the traditional format any more.  The problem is that he spends far too much time trying to tell you that point through the biographies of these criminals.  I was hoping for more...

And on sports...  When I'm downstairs in my office working on the laptop (like I am right now), I usually have ESPN/ESPN2 turned on to some sporting event.  I LOVE this time of year on the sporting calendar.  Hockey is probably my favorite sport, and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs mean that there are two and three games on every evening!  We're in the second round now, so we have two games each night (which is still good).  We're due to go on vacation the end of May at DisneyWorld in Orlando, so we'll probably be able to catch a game or two at the ESPN Club at the Boardwalk hotel.  Last year we were able to watch the final game of the Stanley Cup finals there, and it was a kick to be with all the Detroit fans as they cheered on their team.

04/28/2003

Whoo-hoo! Portlet #2 now working!

Category Software Development


Guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!  
A picture named M2

My latest assignment was to take a Notes application and add a portal interface to it.  In this case, we had a Notes application that, given your zip code and a range of miles, will return all office locations within that distance range.  It does this with latitude and longitude calculations that I don't even BEGIN to understand.


In many ways, it was a simple task to convert it to run as a portlet.  The Domino object model in Java is pretty straight-forward.  And the main processing agent to do all the distance processing was already written as a Java agent in the application.  "All" I needed to do was wrapper it in the portlet framework, give it a JSP for input/output, and voila!  Or so that's the way it's SUPPOSED to work...


In order to get the access to the Domino object, I had to import the NCSO.jar file.  That's fine, and I understand that.  But when I would run the portlet, it would tell me it couldn't render the portlet.  The log files made it look like it couldn't find the Notes classes.  I finally did the right combination of steps that attached the source of NCSO.jar to the EAR file.  Don't quite understand WHAT I did yet, but it worked...


Next step...  Work on a portlet application involving two portlet windows that interact with each other.  The one portlet will display a view of documents in Notes, and the second window will display the selected item...


This is getting to be fun!

04/28/2003

Congrats, Joe!

Category Everything Else


I just got a cell call from
Joe Litton with the news that he passed his Sun Java certification test!  Knowing how much he studied for it (as he really wanted to be able to beat my score!), I'm sure he's feeling a great sense of relief.  Head on over to his site and congratulate him on a great achievement.

Of course, now he's back up to the number of certs I have, so the pressure is on me to pick up a new one somewhere...   :-)

04/26/2003

Saturday morning random thoughts...

Category Everything Else



The joys of being tech support at home...  We have two computers (my laptop and the main desktop machine) that are used by the family.  The laptop is mine and has strict rules for what can and can not be done on the machine (THE KIDS MAY NOT INSTALL ANYTHING!).  The desktop box is pretty much fair game for the wife and kids.  Usually about once a month or so, I need to sit down and "clean up" that computer after the kids have installed games, utilities, shareware, adware, etc.  And occasionally, I have to fix things when they don't work anymore...  Like this morning...


My wife comes in and says "the internet doesn't work anymore".  That always strikes fear in my heart.  I am a developer, not a PC technician!  I got up and started the process...  The messaging clients on the box worked, so the connection was fine.  My laptop's IE browser (networked through the desktop) worked fine, so it was isolated to the desktop machine.  I could telnet to the library's web site, so it was restricted to the browser.  Then it was a matter of unstalling much of the CRAP the kids had installed that might interact with IE.  And of course, both kids swear they didn't install anything.  Between unstalling Grokster, eliminating a few items in the Startup folder, AND cleaning out the Run registry setting for Windows, I got everything working again.


Last time I did this, it was much more tedious...  I didn't know about the registry setting, and there were two programs in there that were hijacking my browser and creating pop-up ads all over the place.  While I hate doing this kind of support, I did learn quite a bit...


I also need to go buy a new printer today.  The main one we have connected to the desktop machine broke down.  My wife found an HP PSC 2110 printer/copier/scanner at Office Depot for $149 after rebate.  It should do the job OK, and it will be nice to have a copier AND a scanner available to us again...

04/24/2003

Blog list trolling, and a new read...

Category Book Reviews

I first started considering blogs a couple weeks before Lotusphere.  I kept hearing about Ed Brill's blog, and I felt guilty that I wasn't reading it to keep up-to-speed on Lotusphere preparation (though it didn't stop me from hitting the Gonzo Lotusphere site hourly!).  After LS, I found a few other Lotus personalities that were blogging, and I started following them every couple of days.  Then the local competition (Joe Litton) started blogging, and I couldn't let him get ahead of me.  Soon I too joined the world of the bloggers.  Not much to say, but I was having fun saying it!

Of course, as I started to read more blogs, I started to see references to other sites that looked interesting.  Every couple of weeks I added a couple more sites to my list of blogs I kept up with.  Now many of the main players in the Domino blogging world have some rather substantial blog rolls.  Every couple of weeks I like to spend some time looking at the blog rolls of others in search of sites I should be reading.

So how much attention to you pay to the blog rolls of others, and do you use them to glean new sites of interest?

And for my latest read...  I just finished Contest by Matthew Reilly.  This is a very good science fiction novel that maintains a pretty frentic pace throughout.  The main character (who is human) finds himself transported into the New York Public Library along with an alien guide.  He learns that he's the human representative in a contest called The Presidian.  It's held once every thousand years, and it pits seven contestants from different worlds against each other in a life-or-death struggle.  The building is electrified so that no one can escape, and the only way you can get out is to be the last being alive at the end of the contest.  Of course, he's up against deadly killers armed with weapons, and all he has is his brains and his little girl who also happened to get transported into the library inadvertantly.  It's not deep or socially relevant...  just a lot of fun.

04/21/2003

Does IT look less promising to you?

Category Everything Else


In the latest issue of InformationWeek, there's an article titled
Critical Path which deals with the issues surrounding the current state of IT.  The basic premise is that the IT career path has become less promising, and that the future does not bode well for IT workers.

They see this coming from two primary sources...  offshore development and tight IT budgets.  The tight IT budgets are causing CIOs to run very lean staffs that are concentrating primarily on strategic projects only.  And of course, the offshore development revolves around being able to have application development done in countries like India at a fraction of the cost of US-based resources.  There are far fewer jobs in companies where you can hide yourself in a small niche and drift.


The recommendations offered in the article involve becoming more of a business person than a techno-geek so that you can offer additional value to the company.  In addition, you have to stay informed and current, as well has having an area of expertise that you can specialize in.  In short, you have to be able to do everything (as usual)...


I'm undecided on this whole area.  I agree there are more options available to the company today going after IT resources.  Offshore does make financial sense in some cases, just like it does for manufacturing.  It's an ugly fact of life, but it IS a fact of life in a global economy.  Conversely, I don't think a company can run their entire infrastructure offshore.  You need to have experts onsite and available to plan and guide the company as it moves forward.


What does this all mean?  I think it means that the people who got into IT "for the money" will be weeded out.  This is a career that you need to enjoy in order to not burn out.  If you're in it just for the money, I feel sorry for you.  I think it also means that we as IT professionals need to be more aware of where we fit into the business as a whole.  I don't think there is much room right now to be a techno-geek with no business skills (unless you are a true guru at your specialty).


And after 20+ years in this industry, one thing I'm sure of is that the pendulum will continue to swing, and we can be sure that this current environment will also change.  We've gone from the dot.com boom to the dot.bomb bust.  Two to three years from now, we'll be somewhere else...


So what do YOU think?

04/21/2003

New spokesman for Microsoft...

Category Microsoft

In the latest press conference regarding the security issues of MS products, newly-hired Micorsoft spokesman Muhammed Saeed al-Sahhaf reiterated that all security issues have been satisfactorily met in a webcast last Thursday:

"Windows XP is a blessing upon the face of the world. The Linux infidels lie like dogs in a Persian bathhouse when they boldfacedly tell you that Windows XP (R) has security holes. The holes are in their dead, rotting corpses. Windows XP has no faults as befits this blessing from the hands of the most high. I know because I tell the truth"


Thanks, Bas....  A picture named M2

04/19/2003

Random weekend things...

Category Book Reviews


Finished a book this morning that wasn't too bad...  It's called
The Return by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes.  Since Buzz Aldrin (a former astronaut) is involved, you can figure it's gonna be about space.  A company involved with privatizing space travel encounters a disaster when a star basketball athlete dies in a shuttle accident that is actually sabotage.  The mother sues the head of the company and he's having a hard time finding a law firm to take the case.  It appears there is some major power trying to use this to shut down the US space program.  At the same time, India and Pakistan's long-running war erupts when a proton bomb is launched to knock out the local infrastructure.  But due to miscalculations, the effects encircle the earth and endanger the lives of astronauts in an orbiting space station.  They have to figure out how to safely rescue the astronauts and solve the mystery of who's behind the accidents...

As I've mentioned in the past, both my kids are into hockey.  A new spring league is starting up, so we're back to two games a week now.  The high school winter league was a disaster for their team, as it was their first year with a lot of players who had never skated before.  They went 0-22.  It was bad.  But this time around Ian is playing for another team with kids who are much better than he is, so he'll be able to learn more.  They lost the first game Wednesday 3-1, but they won in an overtime shootout 3-2 last night.  Ian was SO stoked as it's the first win he's been part of in a real league.  He was also hyped over the fact that the other team had a player who plays major junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks, and Ian was the only player who had no issues about running the guy into the boards.  Of course, Ian is 5'4" and the other kid is like 6'3", so it was a bit of a mismatch.  But fun to watch anyway...


Other than that...  a quiet weekend.  

04/16/2003

This entry on the nsftools blog rings true...

Category Everything Else



There is a new blog entry at nsftools titled
Managing Change.  Very good reading for a couple of reasons.  First off is the whole issue of taking the time to learn the new technology.  This isn't something that is just going to happen.  You actively have to plan for this and do it, whether or not it happens on work time or your own time.

The second issue (which hurt a little) was the matter of not keeping up with new features as the old ones still work fine.  There is a person I work with at a client site who kids me about some of my "habits".  For instance, I still prefer to use the workspace instead of bookmarks.  I find it makes the development process easier.  His response is "that is SO R4!".  In his mind, I'm someone who uses the "old" methods because I didn't keep up with the "new" ones.  While in many cases it's a matter of preference and efficiency, there is still an element of truth there.  I have to ask myself if I've really made the effort to use "new" methods or if I've just taken the path of least resistance in order to keep working "faster"...


Interesting things to think about...

04/16/2003

Constants for Microsoft Office programming...

Category Microsoft


A useful tool that I was able to help out on...


A short time ago,
John Coolidge shared a file in the Business Partner forum that had extracts of all the different Microsoft Office constant values for the different programs like Word and Excel.  I offered to take the separate files and put them in a Notes database so that they could be more easily referenced.  He posted them up on his site in order to share with others....  So here are the links...

The Raw Files
The Notes R5 database
The Notes N6 database

04/15/2003

Off With The Pixies...

Category Microsoft

Mark Jones' latest column in InfoWorld titled Taking Collaboration To The Masses is worthwhile reading to understand Microsoft's approach to collaboration.  His basic premise is that "only companies that understand the basic requirements for collaborative platforms will survive."

I absolutely love his opening paragraph...


"Collaboration technology suddenly finds itself split into two camps:  those who get it and those who don't.  Groove gets it, IBM gets it, Sun Microsystems is trying to prove that they get it, but Microsoft is off with the pixies..."


Thanks for the link, Chaz...

04/14/2003

Some interesting Websphere Portal resources and news...

Category Software Development

For an interesting webcast on portlet development, drop by the IBM Webcast site for a session on Developing Portlets For Websphere Portal 4.2.

For a lab on portlet development, you can drop by the site for Developing Collaborative Portals And Portlets For Domino Developers.  This is a lab I need to work through.

And finally for a bit of interesting news...  IBM Plans Sneak Attack On Microsoft Office...  This opens some interesting opportunities...  Imagine having a word processing portlet window open along with a portlet showing the latest customer invoice for someone who just called in.  With inter-portlet communication, you could conceivably click a button that would transfer data and format a letter automagically without having to leave the portal.  Or...  imagine a portal showing all timesheet transactions for a given period, and a button that would allow that data to be transferred into a spreadsheet portlet for further manipulation.  Heck, just imagine a basic word processor or spreadsheet application that runs via a browser that does 90% of the basic functionality that most people need and use.

Exciting times...

04/14/2003

Recommendation for personal motivational material...

Category Everything Else


If you are interested in self-help/self-improvement reading, I recommend you go over to
Jim Rohn's site and sign up for their free weekly newsletter.  Rohn is a motivational speaker and "business philosopher" who has some great material on practical ways to improve your attitude and mental outlook on life.  The weekly newsletter usually has two or three small articles by Rohn and other motivational writers/speakers, as well as a lot of advertising for their different programs.  But fortunately the advertising is all at the end so you can get to the meat of the writing very quickly.

Here's a sample from this week's mailing...


The Time to Act by Jim Rohn

Engaging in genuine discipline requires that you develop the ability to take action. You don't  need to be hasty if it isn't required, but you don't want to lose much time either. Here's the time to act: when the idea is hot and the emotion is strong.

Let's say you would like to build your library. If that is a strong desire for you, what you've got to do is get the first book. Then get the second book. Take action as soon as possible, before the feeling passes and before the idea dims. If you don't, here's what happens -

- You Fall Prey to the Law of Diminishing Intent -

We intend to take action when the idea strikes us. We intend to do something when the emotion is high. But if we don't translate that intention into action fairly soon, the urgency starts to diminish. A month from now the passion is cold. A year from now it can't be found.

To take action. Set up a discipline when the emotions are high and the idea is strong, clear, and powerful. If somebody talks about good health and you're motivated by it, you need to get a book on nutrition. Get the book before the idea passes, before the emotion gets cold. Begin the process.  Fall on the floor and do some push-ups. You've got to take action; otherwise the wisdom is wasted.  The emotion soon passes unless you apply it to a disciplined activity. Discipline enables you to capture the emotion and the wisdom and translate them into action. The key is to increase your  motivation by quickly setting up the disciplines. By doing so, you've started a whole new life process.

Here is the greatest value of discipline: self-worth, also known as self-esteem. Many people who are teaching self-esteem these days don't connect it to discipline. But once we sense the least  lack of discipline within ourselves, it starts to erode our psyche. One of the greatest temptations is to just ease up a little bit. Instead of doing your best, you allow yourself to do just a little less than your best. Sure enough, you've started in the slightest way to decrease your sense of  self-worth.

There is a problem with even a little bit of neglect. Neglect starts as an infection. If you don't  take care of it, it becomes a disease. And one neglect leads to another. Worst of all, when neglect starts, it diminishes our self-worth.

Once this has happened, how can you regain your self-respect? All you have to do is act now! Start  with the smallest discipline that corresponds to your own philosophy. Make the commitment: "I will discipline myself to achieve my goals so that in the years ahead I can celebrate my successes."

To Your Success,
Jim Rohn

04/13/2003

Finally, a decent book...

Category Book Reviews


It seems like the last couple I've read haven't lived up to my expectations (and I normally have relatively low expectations!)...  
A picture named M2

Greg Bear's
Vitals is the latest book, and it was a pretty good read.  The main character is a scientist who is studying the area of life extention and longevity.  His twin brother is in the same field, but gets killed over something that appears to be related to his research.  As he progresses further down the path he's pursuing, he startes to find people who are trying to kill him, who don't want to see people living "forever".  Some pretty heavy science in parts, but a good story line with various twists.

04/13/2003

I'm trying to figure out...

Category IBM/Lotus


... the hesitancy to accept Websphere (specifically, Websphere Portal) by many IBM/Lotus professionals...


In a forum I'm part of, there's been a thread lately about the value of WP in the business partner community.  While there are a number of individuals who are diving into the new technology, there are also a surprising number of people who are pretty "anti-Portal" when it comes right down to it.  The arguments tend to revolve around the statements of "I can do that in Domino" or "It's too complex and expensive for the small business market" or "There's no opportunity for development services".  I pretty much don't buy any of those arguments...


There is ongoing fear that Domino is going away, regardless of how much IBM asserts to the contrary.  I don't know how much more IBM can do to convince people that it is not the case.  People who want to believe that are going to do so regardless of what is said.  There is a greater emphasis on Portal right now, as Domino is a mature technology.  But "mature" does not mean "stagnant".  ND6 is a great product, and there are cool things coming up in 6.5 and 7.0.


It is true that you can do a lot of things in Domino that can also be done in WP.  And right now, it's true that it's probably cheaper and faster to do so in Domino in many cases.  But it doesn't mean that you SHOULD do something in Domino just because you can.  I see them being a great complement to each other.  You can front-end the system in WP and use the Domino backend for workflow, collaboration, and notification.  


While there are an increasing number of "out of the box" portlets available for download, there is also a rich API for development.  To me, that development is not any different than other types of development.  Granted, it's more difficult to learn than Domino, but I don't recall Domino being so easy first time out either.  Once the experience is gained, things start to flow much faster.  If you sell WP to a customer, they are going to want custom applications just like they do when you sell them Domino.  


Cost?  I don't know...  I'm a developer who tries to stay out of those arguments...  
A picture named M2  I don't see that WP is the type of product you'd sell to a five person company (though you could).  You could probably sell Domino to that company as an email system with some collaboration built in and be successful.  In that case, Domino is a good fit.

I think people are fearing that WP is being touted as a replacement for Domino.  There is overlap there, and it's up to us as IT professionals to examine the products, analyze the needs, and determine/recommend the best fit.  Some situations will call for Domino only, some for WP only, and some will work best with a mixture of both.  


I don't see this as a "win-lose" decision.  I see it as a "win-win" for IBM/Lotus professionals.  For whatever reason, Domino is often a hard sell in corporations for enterprise-wide applications.  I think we can thank Microsoft for that.  Now we have different options to offer.  Domino is stronger than ever as a RAD and collaboration tool.  WP gives you the ability to have a framework for portal development and presentation that is built specifically for that task.  And the two can co-exist!


All this rambling to say...  There is room for both products, and WP and Domino give the IBM/Lotus professional some powerful options to solve business problems in today's marketplace...

04/12/2003

A strange book...

Category Book Reviews

Finished a book called Chi by Alexander Besher.  It's touted as a "novel of virtual reality".  The story is somewhat about a black market empire where people's chi (life essense) is stolen and drained from their body.  A number of individuals are trying to undermine the empire of the largest marketer of the chi.  Throw in some biotech engineered creatures with a subplot I guess I missed, and you have a very strange story.  It started out well with some great writing and images.  But the story quickly got muddled in subplots and in the end I wasn't really sure what just happened...

04/12/2003

Resources for Websphere Portal/portlet development...

Category Software Development

One of the things I've found frustrating in the beginning stages of portlet development is trying to get good introductory material to teach one how to do this.  I suppose if you already have a background in J2EE technology (servlets and JSP specifically), perhaps you wouldn't have this problem.  But if you start from just a base understanding of Java, there's a lot of new concepts to follow...

First off, you should download the IBM redbooks, as they have the most comprehensive material out there at this time:
A very good shorter guide that covers everything well is the Websphere Portal: Portlet Concepts And Guidelines.  I used this one in getting through my first portlet project.

These two writeups are also not bad...  Portlet Application Programming Part 1 and Part 2.  This assumes you know a little bit to start with, so it may not be your best "first choice".

And then there's the obligatory "Hello World" portlet tutorials...  There's the starting one, followed up by the same portlet using JSP technology.

For good reference books on J2EE concepts, I'd recommend some of the O'Reilly titles (all of which I own and use)...
Is this stuff easy?  Nope.  I've put a lot effort into it so far, and I've just barely scratched the surface.  Of course, some would say that says more about me than the technology! A picture named M2  But I think it's well-worth getting on board this train...

04/08/2003

So close...

Category Blogging

I was SO close to rolling out ny new blog...  I got the ACL issues ironed out and it looked fine.  I then put down the new template and now I'm getting HTTP 500 server errors...  sigh...  Guess it will be this weekend after all...

04/07/2003

It's been a little busy lately...

Category Book Reviews


As noted in Chris Miller's blog, I'm transferring my blog over to Connectria.  I got a copy of the blog software moved over there, but there are still some quirks going on.  In addition, there's an update to Blogsphere that I should probably incorporate.  With the way the week is going, I will probably not get things going until this weekend, but we WILL get there...


While plugging away at the gym last night, I finished
T2: Rising Storm by S. M. Stirling.  This was a book I picked up at the library as it looked interesting.  This is described as a book "based on the world created" by the Terminator movies.  Much to my surprise, it was a very good book.  I usually don't read books related to movies (one or the other, not both), and I also don't read book series that supplement movie/TV series (like the Star Trek books).  But this was a good story line that was supplemented by what happened in the Terminator movies, and it stands well on its own.  

One thing I want to do here in the very near future is post some of the resources I've been using to study up on Websphere Portal and portlet development.  One of the frustrating things about learning portlet development is the difficulty in finding good introductory material.  There's a number of reasons for this which I'll go into later, but I hope to save any of you going down the same path some effort.


OK... Time to start getting ready for work...

04/04/2003

Random Saturday morning thoughts...

Category Book Reviews


If you haven't seen this site, it's worth a look.  I thought it was VERY funny...  
Saddam's Cyber Palace.

My latest read was
Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson.  This particular novel is set in the present, and involves the search for the creators of a number of video clips that have appeared on the internet.  Many people want to tap into this creative talent, especially marketers who see it as a way to sell more products.  Did I like it?  ehh...  I really liked his first novel Neuromancer many years ago.  And normally I really like "cybernovels" set in the near future.  And I really want to like his stuff.  But the last couple of novels he's done haven't done much for me.  It may be that he's the type of writer that makes you think through his observations of society as part of his story.  At times, that's fine.  But many times I'm reading for entertainment and escape.  I don't want to have to work that hard when I'm pounding away on a Stairmaster...  

Hopefully over this weekend, I hope to accomplish a couple of things...  I want to get my new blog set up using blogsphere at Chris Miller's hosting site.  Once (if!) I get that going, I'll put some rerouting code to send you there automagically from here.  Over time I'll copy over content from here to there.  We'll see how it all goes.  And secondly, I hope to get a portlet going as my first "practical" portlet.  


Just another wild weekend...  :-)

04/01/2003

Migration of Domino to Exchange?

Category IBM/Lotus

Another interesting article to share with those who feel that migrating to Exchange from Domino is a much better option...  From the March 31st edition of Computerworld...  Scope Creep And Exchange Server 2003

While this may not be an issue if you run your company on two servers for the 50 or so people you have, the logistical aspects of it all become mind-boggling when you look at hundreds of servers and thousands of users...  And what happens in 2004, 2005, etc...

The interesting quote was near the end...

"All this is not to say that Exchange 2003 doesn't have many features to recommend it.  But for the 20% or so of Exchange users that Gartner says have already migrated to Exchange 2000, there's no reason to rush to 2003 unless a new feature is critical - and worth the risk and expense of related upgrades."

Talking about having your customer base all over the board when it comes to software support...

03/31/2003

Reading recommendation...

Category Book Reviews

Another recommendation from Chris Miller...  The Grid by Phillip Kerr.  This book seemed vaguely familiar, so I checked my reading lists from prior years.  Sure enough, I read this about five years ago.  Regardless, it was worth the re-read.  The Gridiron is a "smart" building where everything is controlled via computer.  But after the programming starts to go haywire, a group of people are trapped in the building with the computer trying to kill them off.  If I explain any more, it will give away the "why" of what happens.  But I can say it's a fun read...

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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