Prescience, or Claude Shannon Anticipates Sen. McConnell’s Procedural Maneuver (Open Thread)

Claude Shannon is best known as the founding titan of information theory — which was an idea of such pervasive impact, some have ranked it along side relativity theory as the most significant intellectual creation of the 20th century.

He wasn’t simply a brilliant mathematician and logical thinker though. He was as well a lifelong tinkerer, builder, and whimsy merchant. You can get a sense of that side of his life from this catalogue of MIT’s collection of Shannonania.

Among those creations you can find a simple device, apparently inspired by Marvin Minsky (himself no stranger to orthogonal humor), one that Shannon dubbed the Ultimate Machine.

I happened across mention of it today while reading Jon  Gertner’s excellent new book about Bell Labs, The Idea Factory, looked it up, and on seeing it, realized it was a perfect model for both Minority Leader McConnell’s decision today to filibuster his own bill — and for the Republican approach to the whole concept of governance.

Check it out:

<div align=”center”><iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/cZ34RDn34Ws” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

As a lagniappe, enjoy this demonstration of the boss donkey’s approach to tech:

<div align=”center”><iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/9uvGaAs1Ge0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe></div>

You’re welcome.

(Oh, and open thread, also too.)

 

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75 replies
  1. 1
    Ben Franklin says:

    Manouver.

    Was manure what you were going for?

  2. 2
    Wag says:

    I feel
    Like that every day.

  3. 3
  4. 4
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Ben Franklin: erk.

    Fix’t

  5. 5
    AA+ Bonds says:

    the most significant intellectual creation of the 20th century

    Tom, you’re plenty smart, don’t write things like this.

  6. 6
    Tom Levenson says:

    @AA+ Bonds: From The Idea Factory: “Shannon’s Bell Labs colleagues came to describe it as “one of the great intellectual achievements of the twentieth century;” some years later, Shannon’s disciple, Bob Lucky wrote, “I know of no greater work of genius in the annals of technological thought.” A few observesr in time would place the work on a par with Einstein’s.” (p. 131)

    Shannon disagreed — and I guess it is hyperbole. But the pervasiveness of the idea of information as a universal abstraction for a whole range of material phenomena (I’m thinking, for example, of the informationalization (stop that, Tom — Ed.) of biology) is a huge intellectual legacy.

    I’m an Einstein biographer, and I guess I’d agree that I have yet to come across anyone who could reason across such a wide range of ideas with such deep impact. But Shannon’s best years were remarkable, and while we certainly inhabit Einstein’s universe, it has a Shannon cast to it as well.

  7. 7

    @AA+ Bonds:

    Tom, you’re plenty smart, don’t write things like this.

    …s/he typed, using a machine that would not exist without Claude Shannon (Boolean/switching theory), in a message sent over a network that would not exist without Claude Shannon (information theory).

    If you bought anything online today, he gets a little credit for that, too (cryptography).

  8. 8
    Richard Shindledecker says:

    Perfect Tom, Thank you!

    I tell people that I was born when our world was a year old (1949) and they kinda look at me funny.

  9. 9
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God: Thanks, I was about to write this.

    In addition, being able to make a phone call while traveling at high speed along with hundreds of people around you would not exist without Claude Shannon.

  10. 10
    Ruckus says:

    …on seeing it, realized it was a perfect model for both Minority Leader McConnell’s decision today to filibuster his own bill—and for the Republican approach to the whole concept of governance.

    There’s a republican approach to governance that has any place in a discussion of intellectual brilliance? Other than a discussion of the lack of it?

  11. 11
    👽 Martin says:

    @Judas Escargot, Acerbic Prophet of the Mighty Potato God: And all modern data compression. Digital video would be nigh impossible without that. Audio and still images would be barely viable. Even lossless formats are still compressed.

  12. 12
    GeorgeSalt says:

    “information theory—which was an idea of such pervasive impact, some have ranked it along side relativity theory as the most significant intellectual creation of the 20th century.”

    This zombie lie has been around for a long time. In the 1950s, the popular media pumped up Claude Shannon’s theory to a be a “theory of everything.” It was said to be the key to understanding linguistics, literature, economics, politics and just about everything else. After a few tantalizing early results it proved to be far more limited in application. These days, communications engineers who design error-correcting codes are about the only people who use Claude Shannon’s information theory on a regular basis.

  13. 13
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Ruckus:

    There’s a republican approach to governance that has any place in a discussion of intellectual brilliance?

    No.

    This is more along the lines of: should Punxsutawney Phil be concerned that he might be replaced by the GOP leadership? If Yertle the Turtle sticks his head out of his shell and sees his own shadow, that means we can predict 6 more weeks of fiscal winter.

  14. 14
    Ted & Hellen says:

    Isn’t the President just dreamy?

  15. 15
    Ruckus says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:
    If he sticks his head out and sees his shadow what are the chances he shits himself? And what are the chances the rest of us will have to smell the effect?

    100% in both cases.

    ETA Because my typing is almost as bad as…

  16. 16
    mai naem says:

    @taylormattd: That is way cool. I would like some high profile political Republican gay couple to ask one of the rightwing USSC four to officiate at their weddings. I think Scalia and Scalito’s brains would explode. Maybe, not a bad thing. Thomas has been doing Limbaugh’s weddings for a while so it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for him.

  17. 17
    lamh35 says:

    Ok, It’s now that all relevant parties have been informed, it’s official: I MOVING BACK HOME TO NOLA (well Baton Rouge anyway :-). Turned in my letter of resignation today so do or die, I’ll be leaving the DFW area the 2nd week of January 2013. So of course I’ve been whistling this song (which is already my ringtone) since I turned in my letter.. :-D

    Fats Domino – Walking to New Orleans
    http://youtu.be/o-eWAuFmjN0

  18. 18
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Ruckus:

    Well, considering where exactly it is that he pulls his head out from, when the time comes to take a peek around at the landscape, I think your question answers itself now, doesn’t it?

  19. 19
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @lamh35: Woohoo for you!

  20. 20
    Ruckus says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:
    I like it when a semi-coded message is understood.

  21. 21
    MikeJ says:

    nfrmtn thry rcks

  22. 22
    Downpuppy says:

    5th biker of the year killed in Boston today.

    Oddly enough, 4 of them were killed by hitting large trucks or buses.

    The other one is the one that bugs me. The guy is in a ton of stories, but nobody seems to have bothered finding out who Doan Bui was.

  23. 23
    Ben Franklin says:

    http://consortiumnews.com/2012.....netanyahu/

    In the battle over the budget, Mr. Obama evidently has concluded that he must appeal directly to citizens in addition to dealing directly with the Republicans in Congress. He has been taking his message campaign-style to the country. But he is taking no such approach toward the frustrations originating with Netanyahu’s government.

    Instead the administration is maintaining the familiar old minimal-daylight, “we have your back” posture toward Israel. The United States, in contrast to sharp protests from several European governments, responded to the latest Israeli announcement on settlements with its usual timid “this is not helpful” slap on the wrist.

    Why the difference? The president has had during his first term sufficient bitter and frustrating experience with the opposition party in Congress, whose declared top priority was to try to prevent his re-election, to know that a different approach was necessary if he was to get any result other than more goalpost-moving additional demands. His appeal over the heads of members of Congress is a recognition that the opposition party understands only the language of political force.

    But Mr. Obama also has had enough bitter and frustrating experience with Netanyahu to warrant reaching similar conclusions regarding dealing with Israel. So first-term experience does not justify the difference in strategies.

    There is the obvious distinction that in one case an appeal is being made to an electorate in the United States while in the other case a foreign public is involved. But Israeli interference in U.S. politics has already made that distinction very blurred. The politics of policy on Israel have to do with the feared or expected reactions of some parts of the American electorate (or American financial donors). Israel is in effect just as much a domestic issue as the budget.

    In short, there is no good reason the administration should not take an approach toward the Israeli government that is similar to the one it is taking toward congressional Republicans.

    A just-released poll of Israeli public opinion conducted by Shibley Telhami provides additional basis for going over the heads of Israeli political leaders. Despite all we have heard about how suspect Barack Obama is in Israel, his current poll numbers there are pretty good. Among all Israelis it is 60 percent favorable to 32 percent unfavorable. Excluding Arabs and counting just Jewish Israelis, the numbers are 62 percent favorable and 30 percent unfavorable.

    You can’t blame Obama for being afraid of the Zionists. They assassinate with impunity.

  24. 24
    PurpleGirl says:

    @lamh35: Best wishes for the future; may it be all you want it to be.

  25. 25
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    I dare you to call the President the “Boss Donkey” to his face.

    Double dog dare you.

  26. 26

    @Ted & Hellen: Yes he is.

    I can’t get over the difference in quality – on every level – between our side and theirs.

  27. 27
    Juju says:

    @Ted & Hellen: Yes, he is.

  28. 28
    jl says:

    @Juju: might be a shark up there. Watch out.

    Anyway, I don’t see how, from what I have read, McConnell’s self filibuster was a legislative maneuver, unless you mean a BS publicity stunt maneuver that blew up in his face.

    He wanted to show the votes weren’t there. The votes might have been there, so he had to filibuster himself.

    Did he get any procedural advantage out of it?

  29. 29
    Walker says:

    @GeorgeSalt:

    These days, communications engineers who design error-correcting codes are about the only people who use Claude Shannon’s information theory on a regular basis.

    Wow. That is not even remotely correct. It is regularly applied to issues of data privacy and privacy policy. It is also used in machine learning, which is the heart of the “big data movement”.

    If you are going to trash Shannon, please know what you are talking about.

  30. 30
    trollhattan says:

    Speaking of our nerd-in-chief’s dog (we were, weren’t we?) here’s the WH Xmas card.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/onli.....bo2012.jpg

    Which I first thought to be a well-executed Lomograph, or something similar, but turns out to be a photo-not-quite-so-realist painting based on this photo.

    http://img2.timeinc.net/people.....07-660.jpg

    Backstory here.

    http://www.vanityfair.com/onli.....-Christmas

  31. 31
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Downpuppy:

    I can’t help wondering how many of them were riding fixies without brakes. I took a bike safety class here in the LA area and at least two fellow students were nearly in nasty accidents because they didn’t have a brake on their fixie, one of them in a very similar way to that fatal accident (a truck turned in front of him but he was going too fast to stop and didn’t have a brake to stop with — had to make a hard left turn and narrowly missed being hit by a car going the opposite direction).

    I’ve got a little Dutch-style three speed, so obviously I’m not zipping through the streets at any kind of speed, and it freaks me the hell out to see people on bikes zooming through red lights at 20 miles an hour.

  32. 32
    JoyfulA says:

    @lamh35: Very appropriate! And thanks for the memories.

    (I used to live a street over from Chubby Checker’s childhood home, and I never got the connection with Fats Domino until someone else pointed it out.)

  33. 33
    👽 Martin says:

    @Mnemosyne: 6 bike fatalities in Irvine last year. All the fault of motorists. By comparison, 2 murders – both domestic disputes.

    We’re getting one thing right and one thing wrong.

  34. 34
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Ben Franklin:

    There is the obvious distinction that in one case an appeal is being made to an electorate in the United States while in the other case a foreign public is involved.

    There is the other rather obvious difference that Obama made raising the tax rate paid by the wealthy here in the US a centerpiece of his winning 2012 campaign while at best I/P issues took a backseat to domestic concerns. As a consequence BHO has a clear mandate from the voting public for the former, but not for the latter.

    People can complain all day long about the performance of BHO’s first administration, but the major themes of the 2008 campaign were a pretty good predictor of which policies were pursued (albeit not always with success), and which ones were pursued as a top priority, during the subsequent 4 years. I expect the 2012 campaign and his 2nd administration to follow the same pattern.

  35. 35
    Downpuppy says:

    @Mnemosyne: Los Angeles – todays story is that you’re in the land of open season hit & run.

    When you get crushed by a semi, helmets are kind of irrelevant.

  36. 36
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Ruckus:

    I like it when a semi-coded message is understood.

    Kind of appropriate given the opening thread topic, isn’t it?

  37. 37
    Dee Loralei says:

    @trollhattan: I got one in the mail today! I was sooooooo excited. Becaue yea, I am an Obot. Promptly put it on my fridge with a picture of the 4 Obamas and my other friends and family.

  38. 38
    the Conster says:

    @Downpuppy:

    Every time I see a biker anywhere in Boston, especially in the Huntington Ave./Longwood area, I pray for them, because they’re moving targets.

  39. 39
    Yutsano says:

    @lamh35: I declare there will be much frabjous shenanigans from this great news! YAY!!

  40. 40
  41. 41
    Ben Franklin says:

    At first, Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said that the candidate had “always” supported decriminalizing marijuana, suggesting his 2004 statement was correct. Then after the Times posted copies of the video on its Web site today, his campaign reversed course and declared he does not support eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use.

    http://stopthedrugwar.org/spea.....wants_arr@ThatLeftTurnInABQ:

    People can complain all day long about the performance of BHO’s first administration, but the major themes of the 2008 campaign were a pretty good predictor of which policies were pursued (albeit not always with success), and which ones were pursued as a top priority, during the subsequent 4 years. I expect the 2012 campaign and his 2nd administration to follow the same pattern.

    He follows the polls…..that is all.

  42. 42
    David in NY says:

    @the Conster: My son commuted by bike back and forth over the BU bridge from Brookline to MIT for the last five years — I wasn’t always very comfortable driving over. And in the winter. Yikes. Just moved to Minneapolis however, which I trust will be better (the biking, not the winter).

    @Downpuppy:

  43. 43
    Tom Levenson says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey: I’d love to have the opportunity.

  44. 44
    Ruckus says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ:
    That’s what I was going for.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  45. 45
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    ’ve got a little Dutch-style three speed, so obviously I’m not zipping through the streets at any kind of speed, and it freaks me the hell out to see people on bikes zooming through red lights at 20 miles an hour.

    Bugs the heck out of me when I see cyclists riding without lights in the dark, or blowing through stop signs or red lights, or wearing headphones while cycling, or with no helmet.

    In the UK, it’s illegal to ride a bike without lights, and if you do a motorist isn’t liable if they hit you: but over here I see cyclists . In the UK, kids often take a bike safety course at school (and do a lot better job in educating road safety to kids in general). I didn’t learn to drive until I was 25, and so a bike was my main mean of transportation in my early 20’s, so I’m not anti-cyclist. But I see a lot of careless cyclists over here.

  46. 46
    JPL says:

    @trollhattan: Where’s my xmas card.. hmmmmpf…

  47. 47
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger: Having commuted by bicycle in 3 countries now, the scariest ever are New Haven drivers. They have all the anarchy of the boston driver with all the malice of a new york driver and none of the occasional empathy displayed by either.

    In Britain the buses terrified me – I was nearly hit numerous times and knocked onto the pavement twice in 7 years, but ordinary drivers weren’t so bad.

    Here in Aus (or at least my corner of it) the buses are great – super respectful and careful and most drivers are pretty good too, but the cars with the diplo plates. Jesus.

    Lesson: the higher the number of cyclists the better drivers are at dealing with them, but explicit road training (for cars and buses not just cyclists) is supremely important too.

  48. 48
    the Conster says:

    @David in NY:

    There are two things I always look for – bikers in the city, and deer on the back roads around my house. Boston is a crazy place to drive, walk or bike for everyone. Those old colonial cow paths that are barely wide enough for two cars, now have trucks, rogue pedestrians, ambulances and trolleys all vying for the right of way. I’m actually surprised when there aren’t people dying every day.

  49. 49
    Downpuppy says:

    @David in NY: I suspect that Boston is no more dangerous than most places. Certainly, I feel safer than being chased by dogs in the sticks or on the 6 inch edge of a rural highway with pickups zipping by at 70.

    I was really surprised that basically nobody has been killed by a passenger vehicle in daylight.

  50. 50
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Downpuppy:

    Frankly, semis and buses are rarely the problem out here, because they’ll actually stop when they hit someone and (generally speaking) they’re accustomed to having to watch for smaller vehicles.

    The real problem, as you can see from that article you linked to, is “normal” drivers not paying attention and plowing into pedestrians or cyclists and then driving away. Unfortunately, large parts of Los Angeles are still mostly set up for drivers — the street that the woman in the story was trying to cross is at least four lanes, and may be six lanes at the spot where she was crossing, and it’s supposed to be a normal city street (ie not a highway).

    There’s a reason a lot of the lobbying in Los Angeles has been for separated bike lanes, but that’s only going to help so much when drivers feel comfortable going 60 miles an hour down city streets.

    And, no, a helmet isn’t going to protect you if you’re hit by a semi, but it’s not like your bare head is going to do a better job in that case. I wear a helmet to protect me against the much more likely chance of doing a header because of a pothole or rock in the street, not because I think it’ll protect me from the SUV doing 40 miles an hour on a residential street.

  51. 51
    Maude says:

    @Mnemosyne:
    In NJ, bikers get hit by cars. There was a fatality a couple of years ago when a car hit a bike a few blocks away from where I live. It was a two lane highway with a left turn lane.

  52. 52
    Downpuppy says:

    @Mnemosyne: At my age, a simple over the handlebars is good for 2 months of shuffling around near crippled. So I go reeeeaaalll slow.

    Back in the day, I had a weird talent for flying safely between concrete posts with no damage. Them days are gone.

  53. 53
    Darkrose says:

    @Downpuppy: I used to ride my bike in Boston. Then I got run down by a pedestrian on the BU Bridge.

  54. 54
    The Sailor says:

    @Ben Franklin: “He follows the polls…..that is all.”

    Fuck you, loser.

    [edit, I had 5 minutes to edit this and all I could come up with was “Fuck you, loser.”
    +++++++++++++
    I stopped riding my bike when cars hit me too often. And this is in a ‘bike friendly’ Uni town.

  55. 55
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    @JPL: Got my card today, too, which was a first. I assumed it was because I did lotsa volunteer work (including opening my house to GOTV volunteers) – and maybe because I gave twice as much as their computer program predicted I would? Anyway – it made me happy, and it’s sitting on my fireplace mantel.

  56. 56
    Ben Franklin says:

    @The Sailor:

    I had 5 minutes to edit this and all I could come up with was “Fuck you, loser.”

    The strain was just too much for proper argument. I understand.

  57. 57
  58. 58
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Downpuppy:

    I’ve taken up cycling (really, tootling along on my 3-speed) in my middle age, so I don’t really have tales of exploits to tell. I kind of wish I did. :-(

    I did get a massive, disturbingly multi-colored bruise over the summer when some damn teenager slammed his mountain bike into my middle-aged-lady bike while I was riding home from work. It gave one of my friends bad flashbacks to a motorcycle accident she was in years ago. My doctor was mad that I didn’t make an immediate appointment because apparently spleen damage from bike handlebars is extremely common.

  59. 59
    mai naem says:

    What bugs me is pedestrians who dress in dark clothes and jaywalk at night. Same with bicylists in dark clothes and no lights. Don’t be blaming the car driver for hitting you when you’re basically invisible.

  60. 60
    Wolfdaughter says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey:

    I think Obama would just laugh and quite possibly adopt it as one of his monikers. Another reason I voted for him over the Mittster–Obama has a sense of humor and is able to laugh at himself. I would never vote for a pol who isn’t able to laugh at him/herself.

  61. 61
    Ruckus says:

    @mai naem:
    Anytime you are on a single track vehicle (bike, motorcycle) or walking among anything with a motor, you should plan on being invisible. Because the only people that see you may be planing to hit you, or at least try to scare you. This has been my policy for decades. That and when riding my motorcycle and someone tries to hit me, I leave, rapidly. Two tons or more of metal beats 180 lbs of flesh everyday.

  62. 62
    Wolfdaughter says:

    @Wolfdaughter:

    What bugs me is pedestrians who dress in dark clothes and jaywalk at night. Same with bicylists in dark clothes and no lights. Don’t be blaming the car driver for hitting you when you’re basically invisible.

    I’m with you. I wish classes on biking and being a pedestrian were taught in middle school. And I wish we had a law like the one in the UK alluded to above.

    I don’t know where you are in AZ, but here in Tucson, pedestrians need to realize that vehicles can’t stop on a dime. Traffic moves right along on the major arterials. A pedestrian stepping out in front of oncoming traffic will still be just as injured or dead whether in a marked crosswalk or not. And if you do a lot of walking at night, at least wear a light-colored garment, or better yet, get yourself a light. Blinking lights are best.

  63. 63
    RSA says:

    @Walker:

    Wow. That is not even remotely correct. It is regularly applied to issues of data privacy and privacy policy. It is also used in machine learning, which is the heart of the “big data movement”.

    I point my undergrads to a couple of sections of A Mathematical Theory of Communication when we go over decision trees (there are more accessible later sources, but it’s cool to see Shannon develop the ideas). It’s interesting that Shannon himself was pretty circumspect about his work: “The quantity H has a number of interesting properties which further substantiate it as a reasonable measure of choice or information.” “Reasonable”–very pragmatic.

  64. 64
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Ruckus:

    Because the only people that see you may be planing to hit you, or at least try to scare you.

    I wouldn’t say that — it scares the living fuck out of me every time I turn onto a street only to discover that some guy decided that riding his black bicycle in a black jacket with no rear light was a great idea because that way I wouldn’t see him until I’d almost run him over.

    What I’ve always heard is that you should assume that you’re invisible to drivers and ride defensively with the expectation that they aren’t going to see you. Actively making yourself invisible to drivers — especially at night — seems like a death wish.

  65. 65
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Ruckus:

    Also, too, I tend to be very visible riding to work through Glendale because I’m usually wearing a skirt and tights or something else semi-girly. I get noticed occasionally, but so far I think there’s only been one a-hole who seemed actively hostile. In some situations, it’s helpful to be a girl. ;-)

  66. 66
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Wolfdaughter:

    Safe Routes to School is trying but, like everything else that’s not on a standardized test, a lot of those “citizenship” assemblies and classes have been dropped from schools.

  67. 67
    peorgietirebiter says:

    @lamh35: Jeez, I can’t believe you’re leaving us at the prettiest time of year. Congrats and good luck.

  68. 68
    Ruckus says:

    @Mnemosyne:
    Wasn’t trying to justify not being visible. Just trying to say that of those that do see you you have to count on them trying to hit you. Because many of them do try to. How do you know which ones? And which ones see you? The only thing that matters is they miss you, having seen you or not.
    It’s a dog run over dog world out there, the only way to survive is to not be where they are going.

  69. 69
    Tonal Crow says:

    @MikeJ:

    nfrmtn thry rcks

    Wl sd, +entrpy.

  70. 70
    Joel says:

    Information theory is pretty incredible, but the whole field of quantum mechanics is amazing in its own right. And it goes far beyond the theory of relativity and atomic bombs.

  71. 71
    El Cid says:

    There’s a great future in plasmonics. Think about it.

  72. 72
    Diana Vernon says:

    @Tom Levenson: you’re spot on in your regard for Shannon and his information theory. It is a substantial accomplishment of human thought, and every member of our species should be proud to be associated with it.

    James Gleick’s well-written and well-received 2011 book “The Information” makes the case as well as Jon Gernter does. I highly recommend it.

  73. 73
    Gin & Tonic says:

    When I was young, in the 1960’s, I remember a toy just like that “ultimate machine.” It was, as I recall ,generally available, and I think I remember seeing it in some catalog somewhere. I’d love to have one, but have been unable to find one anywhere, and I’ve been looking for years.

    Am I making this up? Does anyone else remember anything like this?

  74. 74
    BethanyAnne says:

    @lamh35: woot, gratz!

  75. 75

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