Sunday, July 30, 2006

DOPA - a six-pack strategy for change

I've been very much a part of the wild arm waving, hand wringing reaction to the passage of DOPA. Fine. Lots of energy expended by thousands like me, and, if you look at net results, who has heard? Well, nobody who will make a difference. Nobody who will directly influence a US Senator to vote nay on DOPA. Here's the question, in my mind, at least today: who will they listen to? I've come up with a six-pack:

1. lobbyists and unions

2. colleagues (of the senators)

3. state departments of education

4. Margaret Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education

5. large city school districts and school boards

6. library organizations

This of course runs counter to all the energy currently being expended at the grassroots level, to "tell everybody you know". This is real swell, but we are absolutely deluding ourselves if we think blogging about how bad it's going to be will change the mind of a US senator before a vote on DOPA - which could in theory happen within a week. The flat world is indeed here, but just because we can speak to everybody does not mean anyone will hear us, never mind listen to what we are saying. We are just an army of fleas trying to change the direction of a rampaging herd of elephants.

I think we ought to take another tack, encourage and support 1-6 above. This is not even web 1.0, it's more like 0.0,
as Will Richardson pointed out. At least one library organization is already all over DOPA. I have not heard a single peep from any of the first five. They have the power and influence to change a US senator's mind. If senators start hearing from any/all of the above, they WILL notice. I'm putting my energy there, starting with my local school district and school board.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Melville in July

happy hops
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
So why in the world would I be outside on a beautiful summer afternoon in Seattle, admiring my incredibly prolific hops - reading Herman Melville? I mean what are the odds? The only thing of his I ever read was Moby Dick, eons ago. I wasn't an English major, I read exciting stuff like Freud and Jung as an undergrad... Why would I start reading Melville?

Well, because the world has changed, is changing, so very fast. And when politicians make decisions that punish and cripple the communities they are in theory trying to help, those communities know instantly, and respond with almost one voice in outrage. It has to do with DOPA.

I am part of the community affected by DOPA, just passed overwhelmingly by the US House of Representatives. I am a third grade teacher. This past school year I have seen and tasted the promise of what web 2.0 can bring to our classrooms - IS bringing to classrooms all over the world. The US already is woefully behind nations like Canada, the UK, and Australia in embracing these new technologies. DOPA will essentially shut the door on web 2.0 in US schools and libraries. The reaction of educators and librarians is resounding; the blogosphere is ringing with our anger and disgust.

Those who are in favor of DOPA seem to feel it is the job of parents to teach online safety. This is simply not going to happen. The ONLY place it will happen is in the classroom. I know. I teach, and I have eyes and ears. I have 25 years of experience teaching, working with kids and their families. It will happen at school, or it wll not happen at all.

Where should Internet tools be used on a daily basis, as part of regular instruction, integrated into everything that happens there? In every single classroom of the 21st century. I cannot believe the number of blog comments I've read in support of DOPA that question the very existence of computers in schools. Some folk would have our students using nothing but slates and wooden benches, giving kids a "good, solid, fundamental education".

Which brings me back to… Herman Melville. Writing back in the days of slates and benches in schools, he painted a tale of fear and panic. Count on an elementary school teacher to go all literate in the middle of the summer (well, he always is), and basically force me to read Melville’s "The Lightning Rod Man" to see the connection. Doug Noon posted Too Safe to remind us that the reaction which produced DOPA is nothing new. We need to use our common sense to see through the fear - and remind others to do so.
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Friday, July 28, 2006

DOPA - kids get it, grown ups don't

Vicki coolcatteacher Davis posted a wonderful piece about DOPA. What I found the most compelling was the quote she included from one of her students. Here is what that student wrote, in its entirety:
I first heard about DOPA from my computer science teacher, who made us pick which side we were on and blog about it. Even intially I disagreed although I didn’t really know what DOPA was I knew it wasn’t a good thing. After digging a little deeper I found out that DOPA, which stands for Deleting Online Predators Act, esstenially is trying to ban the use of social networking sites like Myspace, Facebook, etc. along with things like IM and blogs from schools and public libraries, because some lawmakers feel that by taking away these sites children will be safer from the horrors of the Internet. Children will still have access to these sites at home unless the parents’ take it into their own hands like they should and prevent their children from doing foolish things out of ignorance. The only way to protect children from online predators is to arm them with the information to protect themselves. In fact, probably the best place for kids to have access to these sites is in school where they can be monitored. Not to mention all the educational benefits that come from these sites these lawmakers are trying to ban. Wikis are the new way to do classroom collaboration. Blogs are the new way to do classroom discussion. So no, DOPA is not protecting the children, in fact, all it is doing is hurting them by continuing to promote the idea that ignorance is bliss. These kids are ignorant of how to protect themselves from Internet predators. These lawmakers need to ban ignorance not promote it.
Vicki has since been picked up by CNN and Techcrunch - fantastic! However, at this writing, some of the comments left on the Money site display well, not as much understanding as I would hope. There is so much more work to do. As always, it's about education - but it's not the kids this time - they get it. It's the grown ups who need to go back to school.

Vicki has just posted What's Wrong with DOPA, an in depth look at the bill, with plenty of commentary, of course.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

DOPA - the battle begins now

OK, so DOPA passed the House of Reps. and it's now on to the Senate. A couple of ideas for fighting back have surfaced in the last couple of hours:
  1. Andy Carvin has set up an aggregator for reults on DOPA drawing from Technorati and Google News: Dopa Watch. Andy also has a more public forum, a blog on PBS, where he is trying to get the word out. Send him comments there - he has a big readership, more mainstream than the edtech blogosphere.
  2. Will Richardson has posted a bit of a rant about this. For now, anybody should read and circulate this. Does he have anything organized? Not yet, but stay tuned. I think the best bet is for Will and Andy to get themselves on Oprah. Maybe then public opinion (which is how our legislators vote anyway) might experience a slight shift.
  3. My thought is to contact the folks who opposed DOPA. Ask for their support. Tell them how important it is and how grateful you are that they opposed it. The fifteen smartest members of the House of Representatives are listed at the top of this page. Start with people who think like you, and ask THEM to change their colleagues' minds. They stand a much better chance than you or I. I am very proud to say my representative, Jim McDermott, is among those 15. Not that it was a tipping point for him, but it personally makes me feel better that I emailed him an impassioned plea last night...

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good grief - House overwhelmingly passes DOPA!

This just in, from Andy Carvin, on wwwedu:

Last night the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the
Deleting Online Predators Act, 410 to 15. It would seem that educators
had little to no impact on the outcome. Perhaps this is by lack of
numbers, or because the MySpace panic that's overtaken this country is
so overwhelming that no amount of rational pleas from educators would
have stopped it.

The battle moves on to the Senate. I'm not hopeful. Thoughts, anyone?
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

FWD: Call Your Representative Today…

Just in case you have not aleady read this incredibly important piece of news, here is David Warlick with some good advice:

just got this through Dave Farber’s Interesting People:

ALAWON: American Library Association Washington Office Newsline
Volume 15, Number 73
July 25, 2006

In This Issue: URGENT ACTION ALERT: Call Representatives TODAY and ask them to oppose DOPA

URGENT Action Needed:

The Washington Office has learned that the House may try to expedite passage of H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), TOMORROW, July 26th.

PLEASE CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES TODAY and ask that they oppose HR 5319. Capitol Switchboard number is: 202-224-3121.


DOPA is sponsored by Rep. Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and supported by the House Republican Suburban Caucus. It would require that, as a condition of receiving E-Rate support, all schools and libraries block access to social networking websites and chat rooms.

The bill raises a number of issues:

1) Local school districts and libraries should determine what content should flow into schools and libraries. Federal mandate over content control is very problematic.
2) Districts and libraries already have the power to block access to social networking sites and chat rooms and a number of them have already done so.
3) DOPA imposes yet another burden on schools and libraries participating in the E-rate and may deter many from continuing to participate.
4) This bill paints an unflattering and distorted view of the Internet as a whole, serving to scare away parents, students, teachers and librarians from making use of all its resources.

Last week, YALSA Executive Director Beth Yoke testified on DOPA before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on DOPA. You can read her testimony here:

And also from Andy Carvin:
The American Library Association's Washington office is reporting that the House of Representatives will likely vote on the so-called DOPA Act tomorrow. DOPA, the Deleting Online Predators Act, would force schools and libraries receiving federal Internet subsidies to block all interactive websites, including blogs, bulletin boards, email lists and online social network. It's an absurd reaction to the anti-MySpace hype that's been dominating the media in recent months, and threatens to make the Internet completely useless as an educational tool. Schools already have the ability to block inappropriate websites, and they should be the ones determining which sites are educationally relevant.

Please call your congressional representative today and tell them that you are against HR 5319, as it's officially known. The House switchboard is 202-224-3121 - just give them the name of your representative. If you don't know your representative, you can contact them online - just supply your address and it will be directed to your representative. -andy

Monday, July 24, 2006

SPACE replaces PLACE

In the not too distant future...

The PLACE of edtech conferences is replaced by the SPACE of edtech conferences.

For attendees, no more gathering in central locations, paying registration fees, paying for plane tickets and hotel rooms.

That model is outdated, slow, expensive, wasteful, and unnecessary.

Space replaces place.

We meet in a space online. Virtually. A Skypecast broadcast live. Possible? Sure. Other ways? Of course. We need to let go of our antiquated notions of how ideas are shared, of how we "teach" others, of how we spread the word.

The technologies we are all so excited about are there for us to use - not just in our classrooms, but in the way we teach each other.

Warm day rant on NCLB

How hot is it?
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
Not to obsess about the heat too much, but it is getting a bit on the unbearable side around here, with our fourth day in a row of mid nineties, no AC, and very little breeze.... we are warm weather wimps out here in Seattle.

This has been bugging me for some time. It is about testing, NCLB, students, and teachers. It is about the basic assumptions behind testing and raising the bar of achievement.

Background point 1: states are mandated to test, and then increase test scores.
Background point 2: there is no funding for any of this to happen - for testing or for increasing achievement.

Assumption point 1: teachers are not teaching as hard as they should be.
Assumption point 2: students are not trying as hard as they should.
Assumption point 3: in order to make test scores go up, teachers and students just need to try harder.

This IS the plan. For those of us who leave a portion of our souls in the classroom every day, this is an incredible, demoralizing insult. For our kids who give it their all every day, this cuts the legs out from under their motivation.

If there were new instructional techniques being promoted, if there were new training being provided, if there were assistance from somebody for students and their families - and if there were any money to pay for ANY of this, then my Assumption points above would not hold water.

However, there is absolutely no plan for how to increase academic achievement. Wait, I take that back. Here is the plan: raise the bar! If you do that, achievement will go up!

How? Well, there is no plan for how. Just try harder, I guess.

(my personal core temperature just went up five degrees, not helping much with the need for cooling, but I feel better having pointed out the obvious)
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Friday, July 21, 2006

Warm day baby steps

So what do you do when you live in Seattle and the temperature hits the mid/upper nineties? Not much. I know mid nineties may not sound like much to many across the US who have been withering away in the heat wave of the last few days, but when it happens out here, things just kind of stop. Sort of like when it snows. AC is not a common feature around here, especially in older homes, and many homes don't have a single screen. Our little home has neither. Bugs you say? What are those? So it's not all bad, but it is tough to be productive at anything physical. Thank goodness there is Internet stuff to work on :)

I've been developing a wiki for my school the past couple of weeks. I fully expect it (or something like it) to eventually replace the Arbor Heights Elementary School website, something I began twelve years ago. While I'm feeling my way around the wiki world, I am trying to involve a few parents in the initial building stage. If there's enough vested interest in the next month, with a core group watching and contributing to it, I will make it public at the opening of school in the fall. I hope to have staff, parents, and students all contributing to the wiki. We'll see...

Then for something totally different, I set up a podcast feed for the Jr. Seahawk Newsletter, the student newsletter I edit and produce with the kids from all the classes at school. We managed to crank out four podcasts at the end of year, so it's not much, but at least it's a start. I used the November Learning site I set up for reporters to comment on, set up a "category" for podcasts, and... tada!!... that category has an rss feed. Had no idea if this would work when starting out. Have tried the feed through Bloglines and Netvibes and the podcasts play just fine. Very cool. Two things I hope for in the fall:
  1. that the site remains free
  2. that my district does not block it
Then just to push in an area I know absolutely nothing about, I got the news reporter feed listed (pending approval) on iTunes. Yikes, I had to sign up, and all this business, just to have them list it. But now I can download all kinds of great music for my iPod. Right.

Now to find a shady spot with a bit of a breeze....

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Free City Wi-Fi

I remember reading about Philadelphia going with free wi-fi, and I must confess to being ignorant on how it's going. Here is sister city Portland's latest, from Tim Lauer in Portland Citywide Wi-Fi Gets Started:

Oregon Public Broadcasting has a report about the build out of Portland's citywide wireless Internet grid. (Dailywireless also has a report with a few more details.)

Starting later this year in the downtown and inner southeast sections of Portland, and later throughout the city, residents will be able to pick up an advertising based connection free of charge. Advertisement free service will cost $20 a month. The builders of the system indicate that when finished, 95% of the city will be covered. The bandwidth is expect to be 1 Mbps. In addition to providing access to residents, the city will use the system to connect to devices such as traffic beacons, parking meters, and other such city infrastructure that can take advantage of a wireless network connection.

It will be interesting to see how the local school systems interact with this system (According to the RFP, Portland Public Schools is a partner with the city...)

This is so very exciting to see. It will be interesting to note where Seattle - or anybody else - goes with this.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The case against classblogmeister - a response

Below is a comment I left in response to The case against classblogmeister, written by Dean Shareski, filling in for Wesley Freyer on Moving at the Speed of Creativity:

Well I suppose I better say something :) First, I think it is testimony to the power of Classblogmeister that its strengths and weaknesses are being openly debated out here. It is also testimony to its influence and success. Dean, I know you would never have brought up a wimpy, worthless tool that nobody saw much use for except for a few, that nobody could defend...

Next, if the primary "case" against Classblogmeister is that it just doesn't ring the chimes of high school students - well, I think that's a pretty weak case. I doubt David Warlick had his eyes on high school students as the primary beneficiaries of the tool when he was developing it.

On customization, I agree kids love it, that it sucks them into things. As an elementary school teacher however, I will also point out it's one of the biggest dangers lurking out there in introducing new technologies. I don't know how many times I said, as my kids had just been shown (or discovered) some new bell or whistle in PowerPoint and were obsessing over it, "frankly, I don't care how it looks, I care about what you have to SAY". Sound familiar, teachers?

Last, on the issue of longevity of blogs. I might be misunderstanding, but I'm assuming we're talking here about how long student blogs last, not how long Classblogmeister lasts - right? Anyway, having spent a school year blogging successfully with third graders, here are a couple of thoughts on longevity:

1) my kids and I want their blogs to continue. I do because it will be a record of their progress as writers (it's all about writing). They want their blogs to continue because they are proud of them, because they simply want to KEEP DOING THIS. They love being contributors, having a global audience, all that good stuff.

2) will I continue to monitor and publish their writing after they leave my class? Well, I am right now. I've told them 'til the end of the summer. Then who knows? There are a couple of possibilities - actually transferring their blog to another teacher's classroom blog, or I could even continue to monitor and publish. Maybe there is a new tool right around the corner that allows the importing of a Classblogmeister blog. This is totally uncharted territory, and I am not pulling off the road now...

The obvious ps to all of this is that the kids I am talking about are young. Technology will change (duh) in the course of their education. I am going to give them every opportunity to spread their wings and fly as far as is safe - right now. As far as I am concerned, Classblogmeister is the clear tool of choice.

As for the perfect blogging tool for high school students, I'll leave that for somebody else. I can tell you, though, there will be fewer choices in the US than in many other places... but that's another conversation.

Well, Dean, this has gotten to be a mighty long comment, so I guess it now becomes a post on my own blog, too :) Thanks for continuing and pushing the conversation. - Mark

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hard to walk away

american bittern 2
Originally uploaded by
I've not had such a difficult time before leaving school and classroom work behind. Even when I go out and find an incredible bird like this American Bittern today, I come home anxious to finish up this or that bit of blogging, work on a wiki, see what somebody else has written about NECC 2006, send a comment to somebody, check my classroom blog.... the school year is not ending like it used to.

Tuesday brought the exciting Skypecast, and worries about further blocking in my school district. Wednesday brought digesting all this, writing about the conversation, listening to it again, finding more and more exciting edtechblogs, and learning more about wikis, including editing one. Today has brought birds, more great blog reading and now I need to find out about mashups, something I was just reading about.

Spongemode. Here I am on summer vacation, and my kids are still blogging. I'm offering them feedback, approving their work, making a few corrections like I am still their teacher. I'm spending hours learning and planning - on the web, blogs, wikis - and not getting a credit or a dime for it.

Am I complaining? No way, I love it. I just find it remarkable right now how hard it is to walk away.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Pros and Cons of Educational Blogging...

Just plain amazing. Here's a screenshot Wesley Fryer posted of his computer while hosting the Skypecast last night, Podcast72: Pros and Cons of Educational Blogging Options. How in the world he managed to do this while simultaneously turning mikes on and off, responding to instant messages and emails from several of us, deciding who should go next, guiding the conversation, and occasionally having a good idea of his own :) - is beyond me. He must have been a teacher at one point in his life! Why bless my soul, I do believe he was. Fantastic job, Wesley, and everybody else involved in this conversation!

It's an hour and a half long discussion, wide ranging, but still focused. There are more of these in the works, and not just from Wesley. Brett Moller has one set up for next week...

In the afterglow of NECC, I hope people can begin to wrap their heads around what this may mean for spreading and sharing information. A point was made by many at NECC that F2F meeting was one of the biggest justifications for everybody getting together in San Diego. How about V2V? This Skypecast was a pretty powerful and rewarding way to meet people and exchange ideas, too. How we (are able to) do all this is changing so incredibly fast!

Anyway, head to Wesley's post for links to the podcast, show notes, the wiki, etc.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Birding getaway

Black backed woodpecker
Originally uploaded by mahlness.
Today Janeanne and I went to Eastern Washington in search of the black-backed woodpecker. We found these (parents and fledglings) by 8:30 AM. My other two "Birds of the Day" were also lifers: a pair of Lewis' Woodpeckers feeding young at a nest, and a family of five red naped sapsuckers. Absolutely breathtaking. It is so good to remember the beauty of the natural world. Here's Janeanne's summary of our day, posted to Tweeters.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Case for Classblogmeister

I've been following NECC blogs and presentations pretty carefully over the past three days. With my Bloglines Notifier going off pretty regularly, it's been real easy to stay on top of much of the action, thanks to Technorati and those who tagged their posts.

I must say I'm disappointed and stumped not to have heard a single mention of Classblogmeister. I feel like I should have been there - I would have put out a great sales pitch. David Warlick, the genius behind this incredible tool, is moving right on, and rightly so, with those who are pushing the tech envelope in daring ways. And I think he may be a little shy about pushing hard on something he has personally developed.

I see people at NECC setting up free personal blogs, student blogs, and staff collaboration blogs - on Blogger and Wordpress. It will be interesting to see the expressions on faces of all these new bloggers when they get back to their school districts and find access to those sites are blocked. Lots are trying out Edublogs, but frankly, this system is not as stable as it should be, and I worry about the huge load being put on its server(s) - and it does not offer a controlled environment in which students can learn.

So here's my testimonial, my sales pitch for Classblogmeister. First, it's not blocked. Next, it offers TOTAL teacher approval before any student post or comment on a student post (take that, MySpace fear mongers). Teachers can leave online feedback for students to improve their writing (like if they want to get it published) that is hidden from public view. Next, it's free (thanks to David W's generosity). It also has a very active list on Yahoo! Groups for sharing and problem solving. Last, I have never, in 25 years of teaching, seen a more powerful classroom tool for motivating students to write. Nothing else even comes close. It is the perfect blogging tool for teachers.

So it absolutely stuns me that I hear so little mention of it. I should have put up a presentation at NECC. I've been asked to present regionally on this, but there is no money, either in my wallet or my school's to make that happen. So I'll continue to preach from this little corner. Maybe this would make a good topic for my first personal podcast - I'll have to think more about that one!

Anyone reading here who is looking for a safe blog for students, look no farther than Classblogmeister. It is especially suited for elementary and middle school aged children. Please be clear about this, students EACH HAVE THEIR OWN BLOGS. In my opinion, having students leave comments on a teacher's blog is NOT blogging, nor does that practice empower students to deal in any way with the reality they face when they go home and go online - which is part of the reason to start young, and at school. More importantly, it does not present a learning opportunity for writing.

My own experience using Classblogmeister with my third graders this year has been absolutely phenomenal. I'll close by leaving pointers to a few posts I have left on my year with them. I encourage the reading of all their blogs (oh, and they are still blogging this summer, even though school is out) at

Thursday, July 06, 2006

NECC - tracking blogs, any teachers?

At the right, for a few days at least, are the up to the minute rss results for the hitchhikr page set up by David Warlick for tracking the bloggers at NECC in San Diego. A mouse over titles will give you the beginnings of the posts. (7-16-06 edit)

The blogging is fast and furious, some really exciting things are happening there. If anyone is collecting links to classroom teachers who are blogging/presenting at NECC, please let me know via email or comment. Thanks - Mark
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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Top 10 student blog posts

There was a suggestion by Vicki Davis for edubloggers to list what they considered their top 10 posts on their own blogs during the 2005-06 school year. Well, I don't have much to offer personally, but there was some pretty amazing writing coming out of my classroom. So I thought I'd offer the Top Ten Posts from my students this year. They are not all great pieces of writing, but they are meaningful and important for the authors and their teacher. Here they are, the top 10 posts from my classroom of third graders, in no particular order:
  • My Weekend - Logan was the first to start the practice (on his own initiative) of blogging his "morning journal" at the end of the week.
  • Changing Desks - Jose came a long way as a writer this year. Distinct paragraphs, the addition of personal reflections within a descriptive piece, describing a classroom routine, was nice work.
  • THE WASL - Joey, working on this every day for a few minutes, began to develop a sense that others were reading his blog, so he asked questions of the readers - and got several comments.
  • K.E.T's Escape - Jacqueline wrote this fantasy in two 15 minute periods as Thanksgiving approached. The class was responding to this prompt; "Pretend you are a turkey. How will you escape being served for Thanksgiving dinner?"
  • About My Blog - Jackson, probably the most prolific blogger in the class, had some well thought out reasons for having a blog and included what made it work for him.
  • my golf ball named Larry! - Hannah wrote this one morning, off the top of her head, in about 20 minutes. She does have a gift...
  • THe Last Gift! - Danielle wrote this from home over Christmas Vacation, in response to a prompt I put on the class blog a couple of days before. Wesley Fryer has shared this piece a few times in presentations and podcasts...
  • No presents allowed - Camden wrote this wonderful freeform list in respose to "Besides presents, what do you look forward to most over Winter Vacation?"
  • Don't keep it totally secret - August wrote some very nice pieces, and several longer ones during the year, but this short blurb of wisdom just popped out right before Valentine's Day.
  • Comments - Abigail responded to her readers, letting them know she was doing her best - the life of a third grader can get pretty hectic!

The danger in doing something like this, of course, is that you might hurt somebody's feelings by not including them on the list of your favorites - or that you might overlook pieces that were more worthy of a mention. Elementary school teachers know all too well the importance of fairness in the classroom, and the dangers inherent in singling out a few for special praise...

Well, I'm willing to take the chance here, because the much bigger danger, no - shame - would be if these kids did not get heard at all. They all should have their writing celebrated, so I encourage readers to browse through ALL the authors at

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