Saturday, November 26, 2011

SL hacktivists: Your guide to joining the IRC


Yesterday on IRC about three of us were having a chat on the number of people in the IRC. Or rather, the lack of it. Fact is, most people haven’t really used IRC at all since it can be just a very cumbersome and tiring process. Especially if you happen to use Windows seeing that the most popular client out there isn’t free. Neither is the second most popular client. It doesn’t help that most of the tutorials out there have been written for those two either. Given that, I though it would be best to write a tutorial for joining the channel on IRC using one standard process. No choice of clients, no frills, no nothing. Just one standard process which once you are comfortable with you’ll be free to move on to try other things. Be warned however, IRC can be addictive once you get into it. Let’s get into it then.

Edit – Screenshots have been provided for the whole process. Scroll down if the text doesn’t interest you.

Step 1: Downloading and setting up the client.

This is the worst step usually. Wikipedia’s comparison of IRC clients is worthless. It’s a mess of colours and columns which makes one wonder if they are in the process of inventing some form of chinese tic tac toe. To make things standard, let’s all get on the same boat with Trillian. (For windows. For mac users I have an instruction all the way at the bottom so it doesn’t confuse anyone up here in wondering which one to take)

1.1 Go to

1.2 Click on the download button (I’m loving the simplicity. Are you?)

1.3 Standard install process. No frills. Refuse the bloatware that comes with it.

1.4 Go through the basic sign up process. Note that this account you sign up for is like an account with any other website. The account is with trillian and not with the IRC so go ahead and set it up like you would a normal accout. Username and password. Yey. You are done with that

Step 2: Setting up the IRC connection

You should now have a skinny column on the left of your screen. Welcome to trillian. Time to IRC.

2.1 Click on the trillian menu bar. And click manage accounts.

2.1.1 Ideally you should be in the screen Basics->Accounts. If you aren’t, then go there.

2.2 Click Add New Account. You should see a nice tall column of various types of accounts to click on. Click IRC (doh!)

2.3 Ok this is usually the tough part right? It’s simple.

2.3.1 In account name, just type what you want to call it. SL hacktivists account maybe. It’s just a name for your reference.

2.3.2 In nickname, choose what you want to be called*. This is the equivalent of a twitter handle. We’ll see you as ‘crazym4dd0g’ when you log in (or whatever you choose to call yourself. I’m kiriappeee).

2.3.3 Just type in here. IF you are wondering what that is. That’s the server where our slhacktivists and slhackathon channels are. That’s all you need to know.

2.4 Click connect. And once done. Close the window.

Step 3: Joining the channel

Notice now that your skinny column has a new tiny blue logo on the top right of it? Click it.

3.1 Click join a channel

3.2 In the window that opens, type slhacktivists and press Join.

Welcome to the IRC.

There’s the slhackathon channel you also want to join. Do the same process above (3,3.1,3.2) again and type slhackathon this time into the channel name.

Do bear in mind that we are building the community at this point. It may seem a little empty but that’s ok. Come on in and just leave yourself logged in. Even if you are idling don’t leave. Conversations will pop up from time to time and things will eventually get started.

* Note that if you choose to use an existing username you will probably be automatically given a username of the format [existingusername]_ . So if you chose kiriappeee you’d be giving kiriappeee_ <- notice the ‘_’ :D

For mac users you can use the plugin chatzilla with firefox. I think. Either way, if you get something that has no graphical user interface like trillian, then type this into the chat line when you join.

/Nick <your username> (like kiriappeee)


/join slhacktivists

/join slhackathon

Hope to see you guys in there soon. Please share this tutorial. We understand that IRC is a geeky thing but there really is nothing better to get people into one place where they can chat and wait. Let the hacktivism, begin.

Edit – Big thanks to ‘AJ’ who provided screenies for how to join the IRC if you are using a MAC. Choice of IRC client here is Adium.


I’ll put up tutorials for all other clients as well soon. If you’ve got screenshots for Linux and iOS I would really appreciate that.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The SL Hacktivist movement


It’s about time this got started. So, this morning’s post on hacking received a generally decent amount of positive feedback if the retweets and faved tweets were anything to go by. Also a quick review of my blog’s traffic shows somewhere upwards of 80 page views. That’s just for the individual post so I figure there must be around another 20 page views coming through the standard blog home view. Not bad. 100. I think we would be off to a super brilliant start if anywhere of a quarter and upwards of those views were converted into people participating from tomorrow. I’m really not expecting too many people, mainly due to the spontaneous nature of this suggestion which also equates to way short notice. But I think its important that we start. Even if its just me tomorrow I will forge ahead because I think starting is the most important thing. How could it not be? It’s the one thing we keep putting off after all. And it’s time to change that.

If you read the post on my mild disappointment at refresh Colombo there were several interesting comments regarding my observations on us not having a community of individuals who actually create stuff. One set of comments that interested me most were the ones left by laktek in which he said this.

“It's very hard to cultivate this attitude on Sri Lankans.  They are more comfortable with cursing the system and envying others for lack of opportunities rather than creating it by themselves. Well, of course there are few exceptions (like you :)).
Also, another cynical piece of advice - just ignore these so-called tech events in Sri Lanka. I know the people organizing these events are passionate and have pure motives. But if you analyze the audience carefully, it's a just a bunch of rich kids who wants to show off their new gadgets and some smugs desperately trying to find some way to get noticed, upon realizing they have just wasted the best in their lives.
If you want to get some real shit done these events are just poison. It's easy to dream up all sorts of crazy ideas. But it will take lot of stamina and courage in you to turn them in to realities (and even more perseverance to get people to pay you!)
(Disclaimer: this is just my personal opinion based on my experiences, so take it as a grain of salt)”

He wrote another post on his Google+ as well. Scathing. But sadly true in many ways.

Lakshan Perera  -  Oct 27, 2011 (edited)  -  Public

These are the people you will actually meet in a Sri Lankan tech event:
1. I work for [insert a big multinational organization] as the Chief Social Media Strategist and my job is to tweet the inside jokes of the office.
2. I work at a cubicle farm and I just masturbate to Endgadget & Gizmodo all day.
3. Dude, I have compiled & installed Linux distributions that don't even exist.
3. I'm a final year engineering student at [insert any prominent university in Sri Lanka] and I have a first class. I'm planning waste my next 5 years in this CO2, for the prospect of going to US and getting a PHD (I don't know what to do with it after that).
4. My parents could afford to send me to [insert one of the top 10 universities in the world] and there we had this thing called [insert a name of a popular web app]. I'm looking for someone do a clone of it for Sri Lanka. Guess I could make big bucks out of it.
5. I'm just here for food.
6. I don't trust my boyfriend, that's why I'm here.
7. All these tech stuff are greek to me, but our professor said he will ask questions from this conference in the final exam. So I even took notes of lightning talks.
[6, 7 are the only kind of female species you will find in these events]
People you will not find in these events:
"I'm the one who developed ____________"
"I'm working on _____ to solve ________"
That's why I don't attend to Sri Lankan tech events anymore.”

So I replied to his comment on my blog. A long rambling reply both agreeing with his observation about tech events as well as defending the whole concept of Refresh Colombo which I think has done a lot of good for the community. I’d never have started down this road if not for them. And if this takes off then it’ll at the end of the day have been because of that first Refresh Colombo meeting I attended. The reply I received to this sparked my interest.

“As I said, the second point was based on my own experience. There was a time I even used to gatecrash tech events searching for inspiration and guidance. The audience I've seen around all these events (including RefreshColombo) seems to remain the same (I don't mean it as in individuals, but as in personas they represent). That's why I remain skeptical, but there's a hope for change.
Anyway, rather than ending this conversation by just dissing the system, let me suggest something. It seems there are many folks with cool ideas out there, but they are not committed to spend time and effort on those.
So let's gather around all these inspired people for a Sri Lankan style Hackathon, fueled with Kottu and lime. They will have to hack on their idea for 48 hours. If they run the full race, they will have a tangible output on their hands after those 48 hours. Then, they could come up and present it confidently in the next editions of RefreshColombo.
More importantly, it would be a great start to evolve just an idea in to a fully blown product.”

I thought I could get this started. I pitched the idea to my dad and his reply was one of interest but which at the same time didn’t seem to be too convinced that this sort of activity could lead to better things. If you are wondering the same thing, “can something as small as this actually work out to something worth while?”, then I would suggest you go ahead and read this gist on github. Big thanks to laknath for posting this link. One of the most valuable things I’ve read in a while. The gist of it is basically that the people who created successful web apps and iOS apps didn’t just create it out of no where. At least not in the case of the majority. The way this happens is that there’s a lot of tiny apps and experiences and slightly larger apps and a lot of difficult work that actually happens before someone creates an experience that turns out to be a hit. The problem and the reason that people rarely get there is that they don’t take those first steps towards creating the small apps and suffering through the difficult experiences.

Which brings me to the last point I want to make on getting things started. It’s not just about the small experiences and the tiny apps. The fact is that if you don’t get started you won’t go anywhere. But the other side of that fact is that once you do get started you won’t know where you will go. A recent question thread on quora questioned the validity of the incessant amount of photosharing apps and other things that seem to be permeating the very atmosphere of silicon valley these days. In an extremely logical and eloquent fashion this claim is not only disputed but the value of these kinds of projects are also brought to the front. For me the most valuable lines were,

  • "Trade Pez dispensers online" -> a marketplace larger than many national economies (eBay)
  • "Tell your friends what you are doing" -> a global communications network (Twitter)
  • "Hook up at Harvard" -> a billion person network, disrupting governments (Facebook)
  • "Send money to your friends" -> disruptive payment network (Paypal)

Large, disruptive ideas start with teams who jump into the game, start with small, tangible problems, then grow and expand from there.
But that requires their getting into the game in the first place. They need a starting point of something that feels achievable and caters to their passions and aptitude.
And they need encouragement. They don't need criticism from various pundits and hanger-ons who deem them to be working on the wrong problem. Especially since many of the pundits don't work on them either.

Do you see that? Small seemingly worthless ideas that don’t have any capability of running at a profit or ever generating a worthwhile revenue have grown to be something not only worth billions of dollars but also something completely different from what they started out to be.

So let’s get started then shall we?

Here’s the deal. Since I can’t afford to put up a physical hackathon yet and since the logistics are a little beyond me without knowing the real interest of the community I thought, why not we start a cyber weekend hackathon and a general hacktivist community?

This is how it’s going to work.

For the hackathon, the serious hackathons will happen every 2nd and 4th weekend of the month. This is where we actually try and work on an idea and smash it into place in 48 hours. Maybe an old idea even but the point is we work like the hounds of hell are after us for those 48 hours. Saturday morning 6 AM I should be on the IRC (more on that in just a moment) and hopefully you guys will join as well. Come along. Introduce yourself. And if you know what you are going to be hacking on just tell the rest of the community. You don’t have to be specific. Just a general idea.

What you decide to do at the hackathon is for you to choose. The point is to get started.

At the end of the hackathon we need to show each other what we’ve done. I would like to see some sort of standard here that we upload the stuff on to github so that we can actually see tangible work from each other. A physical hackathon would actually have people being able to point to their laptop screens but since we don’t have that let’s just go with this. Open sourcing side projects is a good thing imo. If for some reason you don’t want to open source your work that’s fine. But leave something tangible to show what you did during the last 48 hours. Preferably something more than a screen shot. If it was an Android app, upload the apk. Desktop app, upload the exe. Web app. Host it on your machine and let us know how to remotely connect to it for a few hours. Or take a screen cast of it using screencastr.

On all the other weekends it would be nice to see the community still hanging around on the IRC but more as a way of working on stuff in a chilled out way. Ideally talking the product you are working on/worked on the previous week with you co havktivists would be the best thing to happen. Features might get added. Unwanted stuff will get dropped and at the end of it we might just see the growth of the hacktivist ecosystem.

The SL Hacktivist culture

Since we don’t really have an Hacktivist culture I think it would be a great idea to work right from the start on being supportive. Be critical of ideas. Question the person working on those ideas on the whys and whats. But don’t be destructive. If you feel something isn’t right, don’t just say it. Say it with a suggestion of what you think might be right. Essentially the best case scenario would be a community which continues to pump ideas into other people’s projects in order to spur further innvoation.

There will be zero tolerance towards those who want to put down other people’s work. If you don’t think it’s something anyone will use then please have an explanation ready to be given in a civilized way rather than simply putting it down as “what is this I don’t even…”. That’s the sort of thing comment trolls write. That will not be tolerated within this community.

The communication mechanism

I racked my brain trying to figure this one out and the realized the answer was simple. IRC. I will write a quick tutorial later on how to get IRC started up so you can join the conversation. Because if you don’t know how to use IRC I really don’t blame you.

Server will be (port 6667 if needed)

Channels are

#SLHackathon – Will be the default channel we land up in for the hackathon days. Also on non hackathon days if you want to discuss your hackathon projects going to that channel would be a good idea but I’m not sure how the non hackathon days would pan out. Most important and distinguishing factor of this channel, going off topic will not be tolerated here all that much. I came to realise some time ago that conversation can be the bane of all productivity in situations like this. So chit chat will not be allowed. If you want to have a friendly chat and get to know your fellow hacktivists,

#SLHacktivists – Will be the channel you want to go to. Discuss your random programming problems. Share stuff you find interesting and just chill and get to know the community there. There might occasionally be interesting topics based on what you guys want. So enjoy your time there. (Right now at the time of writing this it may be a little cricket like silent but don’t worry. People will come soon hopefully).

Also on Twitter we will use the tags #SLHacks and #SLHackathon to talk about it. I’m sure we’ll agree on a standard in the end but let’s leave it at that

Timing and management

Apart from the no chit chat there’s also the time management technique called pomodoro technique. I went through it and it sounds ideal for getting people into a high focus mode with a goal oriented approach. Check it out. (Another one of laktek’s suggestions).

The end

That is it. That’s all you need to know. The first hackathon starts tomorrow (26th Novemeber 2011) and finishes Sunday Midnight-ish (or goes on if you wish)

Let the hacking. Begin

A big big big thank you to laktek for the advice and the ideas provided. You and the rest of team at Curdbee (vesess) keep making us proud :).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Who wants to hack?

Time to get stuff done. While I’m continuing work on Project MADA I’m sad to say that I don’t think I can give my full attention to it as I have decided to give that attention to the place I work at. It’s my dad’s company and I might eventually be the person who takes over it so therefore I need to give some time and focus to that business instead. I’ll probably do a full post about that on the Project MADA website sometime later but for now let’s just say it’s going into a stasis of some sort.

But I don’t want it to be like that. I want it all. I want to work on stuff for the company as well as Project MADA. The problem is that my attitude won’t let me do that. I admit. I youtube a lot. I get on HN plenty. And I figure I waste at least 2 hours a day on that kind of stuff. You know how much 2 hours is? Every 12 days you lose one whole day. In less than 2 weeks you have already given up one whole day for YouTube and HN. Just imagine that. Can you actually picture yourself watching YouTube and reading tech stories for 24 hours at a stretch? It’s poison. That’s what it is.

So I want to become a hacker. That’s it. Simple right? And I’m going to blow past this attitude of mine by simply ‘doing it’. I know I can. I did a lot of serious sports and my mind is still conditioned towards doing stuff like that. I just need something to get started on. So I figured why not take a tiny step. That was how I did it in sports too. When I was running and I felt myself hitting the wall I would reach deep into my subconscious and give over control of myself to get me to take that one step. 5 minutes later I’d find myself back in stride. But I digress.

This weekend, and every month on the 2nd and 4th weekend I propose that we get together to have a cyber hackathon. We all work on a project for those weekends and by the end of it we have a project we can show off. Something. Some tangible end result. So here’s how it’s going to work.

We get together as a group. If you want to collab with someone else be my guest. I probably won’t because I discovered how useless I am at it recently. There’s just a few people I can collab with mostly because they know who I am and can actually keep me on track when working in a group. So, here it is.

  • We all get set this weekend. Jump on to skype. Add me on kiriappeee. And please add the message saying weekend hackathon. I’ll set up a private Google group/FB group later.
  • We get set pretty early morning. No slacking. It’s one weekend. By 6 AM we are on.
  • For 45 minutes we discuss what we are going to do. More than discuss we just tell what we are going to do. If there’s feedback to be provided we’ll do it then
  • Get down to hacking. No katha. No sina. Hack hack hack. If you need help drop it down on the skype board but otherwise please don’t use the Skype session to talk incessantly.
  • Break in the evening. 30 minute discussion on what got done.
  • Back to hack
  • Knock the work off at 10 30 PM. You want to continue. Be my guest but honestly I think that’s not really needed.
  • Same on Sunday. Hack till about 11 45.
  • Commit to github.

Now all this was just off the top of my head. If we are going to be hacking then we need to be thinking in the spirit of hackers. Get a general idea first and then correct details as you go along.

What kind of projects should you bring to the table.

Just an idea of what you want to do. Maybe you want to create a project management web app but you have no idea what web programming is. That’s ok. Spend the night before deciding what language you want to use as scripting (Python or Ruby probably) and then come and start hacking from your first HTML page to your first python script. Bring it on. And learn as you go.

At the end of the hackathon we commit whatever we did, even if it is test code, to github. Why? Because we all get to have a good idea of what we’ve done and it’ll give a sense of community success. If you don’t want to open source your project, well, come along and join anyway but just be sure to make something tangible that others can see at the end of the day. Else the purpose will be lost. This is a cyber hackathon after all.

Now I hammered this post out in about 15 minutes. I’m rushing to work. Leave your comments and we’ll figure out how this is going to work in the future. For now, Hacking starts tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So what?

A note to those who attended my presentation at apiit where I delivered my talk on how go generate and sell a (tech) business idea. I don't feel I explained the so what section as well as I should and therefore I thought I'd go through it in writing for your benefit. What I will do is first explain exactly what the so what factor means. And then I'll address each project's so what factor individually.

What's up with so what?

Everything in my talk that I gave was geared entirely towards pitching your ideas in such a way that people will be interested in it. Within the first 1.5 minutes. Or even 30 seconds. That's right. Everything I spoke yesterday was for just your first 1.5 minutes. It does of course lay out your framework for a larger presentation but the fact remains. Your opening 1.5 minutes will depend a lot on getting across the points I mentioned yesterday.

The so what is for everything else. If someone gives you the so what question you should be happy. Why? Because it means that people are interested in knowing more about what you have to say. It may come across as "oh no. This person doesn't care" but trust me. If they really didn't care they'd just nod their head and wait for you to speak before deflecting it and changing the topic.

What's so important about the so what is that people want to know more. People want to know:
  • What's your edge? 
  • What makes you unique?
  • How do you fight the inevitable clones? 
  • What is your domain expertise in this area? 
  • How large is this market? 
  • How do you plan on marketing?
Think of the so what factor as the Q&A session. That's where the best stuff comes out so you better be ready for it. Well if you've understood what the so what factor is all about then I shall proceed to breaking it down for each project.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hacking Spool: Breaking the Regional Barriers


Quick reminder before I go any further. Definition of hacking in my book is, using something for a purpose other than what it was intended for. This is not some crazy sql injection where I stole a gabazillion usernames and passwords that match password123 which I promptly dumped onto pastebin. This was simply an intuitive use that I pushed out of a product that really wasn’t built with that purpose in mind.

A Quick Introduction to Spool

For the uninitiated and those who did not actively watch the videos of the TC disrupt competition, Spool is, in the words of TC itself, Instapaper on steroids. For the even more uninitiated, Instapaper is a service which allows you to save web pages to read later where the pages you save and read are synced across various devices. Instapaper and Spool share a very similar purpose (as do a plethora of Instapaper clones out there) and even execute in a very similar manner with users being able to save web pages both across their mobile devices as well as via Google Chrome using an extension. While most of the clones of Instapaper do the same thing, Spool takes a more advanced approach in not only saving a web page and syncing it to your device but in also making the web more readable. It uses an AI engine in the backend that reads the document like a human would and gets the necessary text (major time saver when it works on paginated articles). But most important is that it takes videos on the web page you wanted to save and converts it to a format that plays smoothly on your mobile device. In fact, given the language used in the app where upon saving the web page it says “recording…” I have a feeling that this was meant to be The killer feature in Spool.

The unique way Spool records

At first I wondered how Spool does the recording. I was thinking maybe they act as a download accelerator of sorts and simply rip the video out of wherever it is saved. I was surprised however, when I saved a Techcrunch TV article and found that instead of just the video, I was actually watching a video of the TCTV video playing inside TC player. Let me rephrase. Instead of just the raw video, I was actually watching the player on the Techcrunch website, playing the video. This meant that I could see the 3 second ad before, the play and pause button, the little tabs on top displaying the various categories and it was literally how I would see the player on the screen when looking at it with my own two eyes. What the AI engine was doing was actually taking a screencast of the video after having pressed play too. To be honest, I was mind blown. This just seemed really really advanced and in fact quite a cool solution to me. And then I saw the hack in front of my eyes.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

TouchFire: Finally a real keyboard for the iPad

If there's one complaint that can be made about the iPad across a large number of users, that complaint would be that it just isn't built for content creation where a large part of that criticism comes from the fact that they keyboard just doesn't allow for it. The touch keyboard doesn't provide the necessary feed back for users to type continuously without looking at it. I've heard of an effort to make a screen which actually uses a small electric current to create a pull on the finger to give the person that actual feeling that they are touching a keyboard. And while that kind of screen may solve the problem across every kind of device here's a solution which is both elegant and a work of genius.

Like I said. Elegant and genius. It completely utilizes ever aspect unique to the iPad to create a solution that does not get in the way. With just 36 days to go they've already hit 467% of their Kickstarter requirements but more really doesn't hurt now does it? Head over to the Kickstarter link under the video to check it out.

If you want more updates on tech stuff do follow me on @area51research on Twitter. Also I just started a new tumblog to feature indie projects at so give that a look and help me pass the word about it. You can follow that Twitter account on @theindiezone

Thursday, November 3, 2011

An interview with Addictive Mobility's CTO

As an accompaniment to my post on Google's lack of innovation in the mobile ad space (which you really should read) I thought I'd include the videos of my interview with Addictive Mobility's CTO and co founder, Dilshan.

Google's disappointing lack of mobile ad innovation

About a month ago I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by the company I work at to visit the GITEX 2011 tech exhibition in Dubai. While there I took the time to find out what talks and panel discussions were on and available for pass holders to attend free. On the side of mobile, apps and content world there were quite a few interesting looking discussions and daily addresses (most of which turned out to be duds) of which the talk titled " Daily Address: Mobile Marketing; The New Frontier - Mohamad Mourad, Regional Manager, Google MEA" caught my eye. The talk and the panel debate regarding targeted ads turned out to be a major disappointment for me in the end and I still can't believe I ran into a lack of innovation of this nature.

What the Google guy spoke of

As a member of the audience rightly commented, Mourad's talk on how advantageous mobile advertising is to companies was basic at best. The talk seemed better structured for a set of individuals who were absolutely new to the world of mobile advertising and I wouldn't be surprised in fact if the man had just taken a presentation he had already delivered countless number of times before to various audiences and attempted to deliver the same thing to us. Leaving the issue of being basic aside what was more interesting were the points he decided to focus on.

The first point he went harping on was the opportunity for advertisers and developers alike to use mobile advertising as a means of getting exposure and generating income respectively. His chosen example of Angry Birds wasn't one I would have chosen as it is definitely an edge case and doesn't apply to everyone. More on why that's important later. The second point he chose to go on about was the various types of rich media ads that mobile advertising could support thus leading to (apparently) better engagement with consumers and "increased brand awareness". Oh the agony of having to sit through a cannon ball of buzz words. A lot of buzz words that don't seem to ever touch upon the real issue of mobile advertising.

My question is...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bling my iPad 2. For £5m

I won't lie, I honestly think making luxury products out of things like mp3 players and computers is really one of those over the top things in life. I guess whatever floats the boat right? In the case of this iPad the likelihood of the boat being sunk seems to be greater. And I'll admit. As far as pulling out all the stops goes, the people behind this really didn't hold back. This iPad 2 features:
  • Two kilos of 24 carat gold and 12.5 carat diamonds.
  • A bezel made from ancient rock and the crushed remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. ~750g of Canadian Ammolite was mixed with 57g of fossilised T-Rex leg to create the bezel.
  • The rear Apple logo is made from 52 individually-set gemstones and the front includes an 8.5 carat diamond surrounded by a further 12 small flawless ones.

Now tell me. Where are you going to use this? I suppose if anyone ever tried to grab it, it could be converted to a lethal blunt object in a pinch. Read on for more

iPad 2 made from T-Rex fossils costs £5m • reghardware

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