Science X Newsletter Monday, Sep 14

Dear ymilog,

Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for September 14, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

The Hall effect links superconductivity and quantum criticality in a strange metal

An operational amplifier fabricated using a 2-D semiconductor

Ancient volcanoes once boosted ocean carbon, but humans are now far outpacing them

Gene-edited livestock 'surrogate sires' successfully made fertile

Researchers create morphing crystals powered by water evaporation

Arctic transitioning to a new climate state

Millihertz quasi-periodic oscillations detected in an X-ray binary

Attosecond pulses reveal electronic ripples in molecules

Hints of life on Venus: Scientists detect phosphine molecules in high cloud decks

Animals' magnetic 'sixth' sense may come from bacteria, new paper suggests

A warm Jupiter orbiting a cool star

China says Mars probe stable; no word on reusable spacecraft

Major COVID-19 vaccine trial resumes in UK after safety review

'Superfungus' threatens last Panamanian golden frogs

Leviathan task: saving the whales in Dublin's 'dead zoo'

Physics news

The Hall effect links superconductivity and quantum criticality in a strange metal

Over the past few decades, researchers have identified a number of superconducting materials with atypical properties, known as unconventional superconductors. Many of these superconductors share the same anomalous charge transport properties and are thus collectively characterized as "strange metals."

Attosecond pulses reveal electronic ripples in molecules

In the first experiment to take advantage of a new technology for producing powerful attosecond X-ray laser pulses, a research team led by scientists from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University showed they can create electronic ripples in molecules through a process called "impulsive Raman scattering."

Collective quantum effect: When electrons keep together

Many celestial objects such as stars or planets contain matter that is exposed to high temperatures and pressure—experts call it warm dense matter (WDM). Although this state of matter on earth only occurs in the earth's core, research on WDM is fundamental for various future areas such as clean energy, harder materials or a better understanding of solar systems. In a study recently published in Physical Review Letters, a team led by physicist Dr. Tobias Dornheim of the Center for Advanced Systems Understanding (CASUS) at Helmholtz Center Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and alumnus of Kiel University (CAU), now reveals that warm dense matter behaves significantly differently than assumed, which calls into question its previous description.

Physicists discover new magnetoelectric effect

Electricity and magnetism are closely related: Power lines generate a magnetic field, rotating magnets in a generator produce electricity. However, the phenomenon is much more complicated: electrical and magnetic properties of certain materials are also coupled with each other. Electrical properties of some crystals can be influenced by magnetic fields—and vice versa. In this case one speaks of a "magnetoelectric effect." It plays an important technological role, for example in certain types of sensors or in the search for new concepts of data storage.

First fiber-optic nanotip electron gun enables easier nanoscale research

Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Nebraska have developed an easier way to generate electrons for nanoscale imaging and sensing, providing a useful new tool for material science, bioimaging and fundamental quantum research.

Physicists 'trick' photons into behaving like electrons using a 'synthetic' magnetic field

Scientists have discovered an elegant way of manipulating light using a 'synthetic' Lorentz force—which in nature is responsible for many fascinating phenomena including the Aurora Borealis.

Infinite chains of hydrogen atoms have surprising properties, including a metallic phase

An infinite chain of hydrogen atoms is just about the simplest bulk material imaginable—a never-ending single-file line of protons surrounded by electrons. Yet a new computational study combining four cutting-edge methods finds that the modest material boasts fantastic and surprising quantum properties.

Big answers from tiny particles

A team of scientists led by Kanazawa University proposed a new mathematical framework to understand the properties of the fundamental particles called neutrinos. This work may help cosmologists make progress on the apparent paradox of the existence of matter in the Universe.

A magnetic field with an edge

A team of Indian and Japanese physicists have overturned the six-decade old notion that the giant magnetic field in a high intensity laser produced plasma evolves from the small, nanometre scale in the bulk plasma. They show that instead the field actually originates at macroscopic scales defined by the boundaries of the electron beam that is propagating in the plasma. The new mechanism seeks to alter our understanding of magnetic fields in astrophysical scenarios and laser fusion and may help in the design of the next generation high energy particle sources for imaging and therapies.

Full-face readings can optimize fever screening with infrared thermographs

Thermography has been a hot topic this year, due to the need for quicker diagnostics to detect and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Noncontact infrared thermometers (NCITs) are currently a primary tool for fever screening, but their widespread use has been prone to inaccuracy. A related medical technology, thermography using infrared thermographs (IRTs), enables increased options for temperature estimation with greater accuracy. Although the use of thermography as a stand-alone detection method for COVID-19 is unlikely to prevent spread, emerging evidence and international consensus suggest that it is indeed possible to use IRTs effectively for detecting elevated body temperatures.

Astronomy and Space news

Millihertz quasi-periodic oscillations detected in an X-ray binary

Astronomers from Australia and Taiwan report the discovery of millihertz quasi-periodic oscillations in a neutron-star low-mass X-ray binary known as 1RXS J180408.9−342058. The discovery, detailed in a paper published September 3 on the arXiv preprint server, could help astronomers better understand the nature and behavior of X-ray binary sources.

Hints of life on Venus: Scientists detect phosphine molecules in high cloud decks

An international team of astronomers, led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University, today announced the discovery of a rare molecule—phosphine—in the clouds of Venus. On Earth, this gas is only made industrially, or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments.

A warm Jupiter orbiting a cool star

A planet observed crossing in front of, or transiting, a low-mass star has been determined to be about the size of Jupiter. While hundreds of Jupiter-sized planets have been discovered orbiting larger sun-like stars, it is rare to see these planets orbiting low-mass host stars and the discovery could help astronomers to better understand how these giant planets form.

China says Mars probe stable; no word on reusable spacecraft

China's Mars probe Tianwen-1, which blasted into space in July, is now more than 15 million kilometers (9 million miles) from Earth en route to the red planet, the National Space Administration said Saturday.

SpaceX SN8 to launch and fly to 60,000 feet next week

Elon Musk, head of SpaceX, has announced via Twitter that the company's SN8 rocket will take a test flight sometime next week. The plan is for the rocket is to soar up to 60,000 feet (18,300 meters) and then return to Earth in a controlled landing.

Uranian moons in new light

More than 230 years ago astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus and two of its moons. Using the Herschel Space Observatory, a group of astronomers led by Örs H. Detre of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy now has succeeded in determining physical properties of the five main moons of Uranus. The measured infrared radiation, which is generated by the Sun heating their surfaces, suggests that these moons resemble dwarf planets like Pluto. The team developed a new analysis technique that extracted the faint signals from the moons next to Uranus, which is more than a thousand times brighter. The study was published today in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Technology news

An operational amplifier fabricated using a 2-D semiconductor

Analog electronics are electronic systems that operate with currents and voltages that continuously change over time, rather than switching only between two levels, like digital electronics. Most existing analog devices are made of silicon. Due to the pressing demand for electronics that can be integrated within a wide range of devices, however, researchers have recently started exploring the possibility of fabricating analog components using alternative materials.

ARPA-type funding gives green technology an 'innovation advantage', study finds

A new analysis of the successes and failures of green energy companies in the US has found that those with ARPA funding filed for far more patents in the years after launching than other "cleantech" startups from the same time.

New research teaches AI how people move with internet videos

New research at the University of Michigan can train neural network models to identify a person's position in videos where only a portion of their body is visible in the shot. This breakthrough opens up a huge library of video content to a new use—teaching machines the meaning behind people's poses, as well as the different ways they interact with their environment.

Machine-learning helps sort out massive materials' databases

EPFL and MIT scientists have used machine-learning to organize the chemical diversity found in the ever-growing databases for the popular metal-organic framework materials.

Tandem devices feel the heat

Understanding how solar cell operation changes as it moves from the lab into the real world is essential for optimizing their design prior to mass production. KAUST researchers show how perovskite/silicon tandem solar cells function in a hot, sunny environment.

How to harness the power of biosolids to make hydrogen

Researchers have used biosolids to produce hydrogen from wastewater, in new technology that supports the comprehensive recycling of one of humanity's unlimited resources—sewage.

BLURtooth attack overwrites Bluetooth encryption keys

A bluetooth vulnerability that could impact millions of users of smartphones, tablets and IoT devices was reported last week by two research groups.

Apple out to reignite growth with line updates

Apple is expected to spotlight its smartwatch, iPad, and subscription services on Tuesday as it strives to reignite growth with a must-have holiday line-up.

Source: Oracle wins TikTok over Microsoft in Trump-urged bid

The owner of TikTok has chosen Oracle over Microsoft as the American tech partner that could help keep the popular video-sharing app running in the U.S., according to a source familiar with the deal who was not authorized to speak publicly about it.

SoftBank Group selling Arm to NVIDIA for up to $40 billion

Japan's SoftBank Group said Monday it is selling British chip designer Arm to US firm NVIDIA for up to $40 billion, potentially creating a new giant in the industry but sparking an investigation by UK regulators and fears about the impact on jobs.

Amazon to hire 100,000 to keep up with online shopping surge

Amazon will hire another 100,000 people to keep up with a surge of online orders.

Q&A: What does a deal between TikTok and Oracle mean?

ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the popular video-sharing app TikTok, has chosen Oracle over Microsoft as a new American technology partner to help keep the app operating in the U.S. TikTok confirmed the decision Monday, echoing earlier statements from Oracle and the U.S. treasury secretary.

High-performance computing helps grid operators manage increasing complexity

Making sure there's enough electricity at the lowest price is a critical endeavor undertaken daily by electricity market operators. Grid operators must continually ensure that power supply meets demand in real time. Now, there's an approach that provides more timely and accurate information to make decisions in the day-ahead timeframe. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) developed a new computational tool in collaboration with the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), which operates one of the largest wholesale electricity markets in the world. Gurobi Optimization, GE Grid Solutions, the University of Florida, and Cognitive Analytics also are partners in the project. The project was initially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy through its OPEN 2015 funding opportunity.

Digital 3-D models of London chart path to lower emissions

An interactive 3-D map of London that grades the energy efficiency of more than 3.5 million properties has been built by UCL researchers for the Greater London Authority (GLA) to inform efforts in tackling fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions.

Light processing improves robotic sensing, study finds

A team of Army researchers uncovered how the human brain processes bright and contrasting light, which they say is a key to improving robotic sensing and enabling autonomous agents to team with humans.

US government confirms receiving Oracle bid for TikTok

Ahead of a deadline set by President Donald Trump over video sharing app TikTok, US officials will evaluate a bid that could see American tech giant Oracle become a partner to a Chinese company that has been called a national security risk.

Has global oil demand hit peak? BP says it's possible

Global oil demand might have already peaked and will likely not stop falling for the next 30 years, hit by virus fallout and moves towards greener energy, Britain's BP predicted Monday.

NVIDIA out to be a giant in an AI age

US graphics chip maker NVIDIA aims to be a powerhouse in an era of artificial intelligence with the big-ticket buy of Britain-based Arm, whose microprocessors are in many smartphones.

Facebook anniversaries inspire reflection, nostalgia: study

Posted on Facebook, milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries prompt users to reflect on the passage of time and the patterns of their lives—and help the social media giant recycle content in order to boost engagement, according to new Cornell research.

What to watch for at Apple's first major product launch event of 2020

Apple Inc. will kick off a broad slate of new products at a virtual event on Tuesday, with upgrades to two of its most important hardware lines beyond the iPhone.

Microsoft finds underwater datacenters are reliable, practical, and use energy sustainably

Earlier this summer, marine specialists reeled up a shipping-container-size datacenter coated in algae, barnacles and sea anemones from the seafloor off Scotland's Orkney Islands.

Facebook out to recruit poll workers for US election

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Friday said the social network will launch a drive this weekend to recruit much-needed workers to staff US polling places in the coming election.

Big airlines fight with smaller ones over airport rights

Federal regulators are proposing allowing airlines to hold on to their valuable takeoff and landing slots at several big U.S. airports, even if they are not fully using their rights due to lower traffic during the pandemic.

Insider Q&A: T-Mobile pushes internet for virtual school

T-Mobile is pushing to offer internet service to schools that are doing online learning with a program aimed at low-income students who don't have access. In the U.S., millions of students don't have high-speed internet or computers at home—a difficult enough situation when it was just about trying to get homework done, but a much bigger problem when many school districts have moved part or all of the school day online during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dutch minister says survival of Air France-KLM 'not a given'

The survival of the Air France-KLM group is not guaranteed if the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic continues, Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra warned Sunday.

Heavily indebted Thai Airways gets court nod for restructuring

A Thailand court on Monday approved the restructuring of Thai Airways, which is billions of dollars in debt and struggling to survive the coronavirus tourism crash.

Arm: semiconductor giant powering world's smartphones

Arm, the British semiconductor designer being sold by Japanese group Softbank to US chip company NVIDIA for up to $40 billion, is a technological power in smart phones worldwide.

Delta latest airline to raise funds through loyalty program

Delta Air Lines will use its frequent flyer program to back up $6.5 billion in funding as the pandemic continues to buffet air travel.

European air travel nosedives as virus resurges

The total number of passenger flights in Europe will plummet by more than expected this year as countries fail to coordinate policy on air travel during a pandemic, Eurocontrol said on Monday.

Smart bug-checking for software

Computers and software are more important than ever. In systems such as cars, airplanes and medical devices, it is critical to implement software without major flaws, or 'bugs.' Eindhoven University of Technology Ph.D. candidate Thomas Neele developed three techniques for smarter and faster bug checking, based on the model checking method.

LA has a new COVID-19 contact tracing app, from a controversial source

Since the COVID-19 pandemic first came to Los Angeles in the spring, the county Department of Public Health has hired nearly 2,600 people to do the manual work of contact tracing: asking people who test positive for the coronavirus to list everywhere they've been and everyone they've seen in recent days, then tracking down anyone they've encountered and testing them before they spread the virus further.


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▼ The Apple Watch is being held back by Siri

Apple is set to unveil the new Apple Watch Series 6 this week. It's also rumored to be creating a new, lower-cost version of the Apple Watch instead of just dropping the price on an older model. The new Series 6 is rumored to add other health features like blood oxygen monitoring, while watchOS 7 will bring sleep tracking and yet more fitness options.

The Apple Watch is, without a doubt, a health device first. I'm curious to see how Apple navigates announcing a feature like blood oxygen monitoring — something that has been on everybody's mind during the pandemic.

Apple has done a very good job being clear on what the Apple Watch is and is not. It is a nice health monitoring device that can serve as an early warning system for certain conditions. It is not a medical device and shouldn't be used as your only health device if you are at risk for the things the Apple Watch looks for. Apple has never (and I believe never will) dissembled about the difference — but right now it's more important than ever that consumers understand that difference.

Anyway, I'm glad the Apple Watch finally found its place. For the first couple years there, it wasn't entirely clear what it was for and it was even less clear that Apple had a good answer. Instead, it had several answers. And as this year's Apple Watch refresh approaches I've been thinking about one of the answers that hasn't come to pass: ambient computing.

More after the links. A rare Monday newsletter today in part because I had been thinking about the Apple Watch and in part because last night was a wild night of tech news! Nvidia announced it will buy Arm and Oracle is reportedly not buying TikTok but becoming a "trusted tech partner."

- Dieter

 
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Apple News

┏ What to expect from Apple's 'Time Flies' event: Apple Watch Series 6, a redesigned iPad Air, and more. Jay Peters rounds up the most likely suspects. High likelihood: new Apple Watches and new iPad Air. Medium: Apple's new services bundle. Low: everything else.

┏ Apple Music for Android contains mentions of rumored 'Apple One' services bundle.

┏ Apple's new App Store guidelines carve out loopholes for xCloud, Stadia, and other apps that Apple had blocked. These aren't so much loopholes as they are narrow tunnels filled with spikes and poisonous tentacles. I see these more as clarifications of what Apple's existing policy is than any meaningful change of stance.

┏ Microsoft snubs Apple's olive branch to cloud gaming: 'a bad experience for customers'.

Tech news

┏ Nvidia is acquiring Arm for $40 billion. Kim Lyons on a blockbuster deal:

Arm will operate as an division of Nvidia and will remain headquartered in the UK, and, will "continue to operate its open-licensing model, while maintaining its global customer neutrality," the company said. But the deal is still likely to face intense regulatory scrutiny.

┏ Oracle reportedly wins deal for TikTok's US operations as 'trusted tech partner'. Hopefully by the time you're reading this we'll have more details, but there was way too much sound and fury leading up to this and it seems like a much smaller deal than what everybody has been expecting.

the company has been selected as a "trusted tech partner" instead. This is different from an outright sale, and appears to suggest Oracle will be helping run TikTok's US operations with its own cloud technologies.

┏ Microsoft says it's not acquiring TikTok after ByteDance rejects offer. Microsoft's statement here is very terse, to the point where it's hard not to think some sort of shenanigans happened leading up to it.

┏ Samsung announces September 23rd event, likely for Galaxy S20 'Fan Edition'. Chris Welch:

Most recently, the unannounced phone was found on Verizon's website by Android Police. Leaks and rumors have suggested it will retain some hardware specs of the standard S20 — like a 120Hz display and Snapdragon 865 processor — but will make downgrades elsewhere (like a 1080p resolution) to help drive down the price below the flagship. As for exactly what that price will be, we're not yet sure.

┏ Facebook reinvents Facebook with the launch of Campus for college students. Ashley Carman:

Campus might be one way Facebook tries to keep students and younger people on the original Facebook app and engaged for longer. At the same time, it's building off behavior Facebook says it's already seen on the platform.

┏ Bose announces $279 QuietComfort Earbuds and $179 Sport Earbuds. Here they are. Chris Welch has the details, the most interesting of which is that Bose is cramming in 11 levels of noise cancellation into these tiny earbuds. I'd have been happy with on or off.

┏ Bose introduces three new pairs of Frames audio sunglasses for $249. You know I gotta admit I am surprised Bose keeps making these — they must sell pretty well!

Gaming news

┏ Sony announces PS5 event for Wednesday September 16th. We should finally get a price.

┏ Your move, PS5. Sean Hollister:

But there's no reason for Sony to hold back now that Microsoft has revealed its hand. The question is how low Sony should go, how low it can afford to go, because as strong as the PS4 has been and as weak as Xbox once seemed, $299 is an incredible starting price that seems impossible to meet or beat.

┏ A closer look at Nvidia's new RTX 3080.

┏ A first look at Microsoft's new Xbox Series X console. Microsoft sent Tom Warren a couple dummy units of its upcoming Xbox consoles. Yep, it's pretty big.

┏ Microsoft's new Xbox Series S is surprisingly small in size and price. Of the two boxes, the Series S is the more fascinating because it really is quite small. I expected I'd be a no brainer for me to get a Series X, but now I'm torn.

┏ Welcome to the next generation of gaming. The Xbox and Playstation are exciting, but even if you're not into PC gaming you should keep an eye on the impending reviews of Nvidia's new high-powered graphics card. If it lives up to Nvidia's claims it could be the driver of a whole new generation of other PC components — starting with monitors.

Reviews

┏ Microsoft Surface Duo review: double troubles. My review of the Surface Duo, along with a video I'm really proud of. Microsoft is not off to a great start here, I have to be honest. But even though it has tripped up on software bugs and camera problems, it is running in the right direction.

┏ Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 review: a gaming laptop that doesn't need two screens. Turns out making a dual-screen gaming PC is just as hard as making a dual-screen phone. Monica Chin reviews:

For example, if you run Tomb Raider in full-screen mode and try to click on a Discord chat downstairs, it minimizes the game. You can fix this problem by using windowed mode, but tinkering with the ScreenPad still tabs you out.

More from The Verge

┏ Subscribe to Antivirus: a weekly newsletter on COVID-19 research. This new newsletter from our science editor Mary Beth Griggs is a must-subscribe:

This month we're officially launching a newsletter version of Antivirus, a column that we've been quietly rolling out on the site every Saturday morning. It's all about the unflagging efforts scientists are making to understand the coronavirus — and figure out how to stop it.

┏ Why 'Cancel Netflix' is trending. Julia Alexander with the definitive story explaining what the heck is going on with this horrible mess of conspiracy theory and social media.

The Apple Watch is being held back by Siri

My friend Walt Mossberg's final column for The Verge was titled "The Disappearing Computer" and it was about that idea, ambient computing. Back in 2017 we didn't have a clear definition for it (and truthfully, it's difficult to pin one down now), but Walt had a good working model for some of the signs that it has arrived:

The technology, the computer inside all these things, will fade into the background. In some cases, it may entirely disappear, waiting to be activated by a voice command, a person entering the room, a change in blood chemistry, a shift in temperature, a motion. Maybe even just a thought.

We'll leave the mind reading to Elon Musk for now. As for the rest, it's not that far from what the Apple Watch can do today. The Apple Watch is explicitly a computer designed to be on your body all the time, to blend into the background and become invisible, and to get your voice commands.

The Apple Watch, not the HomePod, ought to be Apple's primary device for ambient computing. It is better suited to that task than the devices any other company sells right now. Smart speakers from Amazon and Google sit in your home, but they haven't found an ambient computing foothold outside your home. Sure, you might have the Google Assistant on your phone or in your headphones, but it's still too phone-centric.

By now you're already guessed the fly in this ointment: Siri. Apple's digital assistant simply can't be the platform that's necessary to unlock ambient computing. Alexa and the Google Assistant aren't quite ready either, to be fair, but they're both much further along that path than Siri is.

The person presumably tasked with closing that gap is John Giannandrea, who led up search and artificial intelligence at Google until Apple snapped him up in 2018. Giannandrea recently spoke with Ars Technica and revealed he created the team that applied machine learning to the iPad's Apple Pencil recognition algorithms so it could have lower latency and better recognize handwriting — something Google was already doing with Chrome OS and Samsung just started doing with the Galaxy Note.

On the iPad, it works: both latency and handwriting recognition are much better than I've seen before. The "scribble mode" in iPadOS 14 isn't quite up to the task of replacing a keyboard entirely, but it's great for short bits of text.

I bring it up not to draw a line from this application of ML to generalized ambient computing, but to point out that there is a lot that can be done with the ML and AI tools already in everybody's tech workbench. They just need to be applied in new and clever ways. Using ML to improve handwriting and latency on the iPad isn't a sea change, but instead it's a step in the right direction.

Stepping in the right direction is what Siri needs right now. Even on the new beta for watchOS 7, I still can't ask Siri to do something basic like set multiple timers. It's actually ridiculous! If you set a second timer, the first one invisibly gets cancelled without any indication it's gone. It's the thing that keeps the Echo dot in my kitchen.

Harping on multiple timers in Siri — and harping on Siri in general — can be seen as making too much of small complaints. But on the flip side, Apple is well aware of this complaint and has been for some time, yet hasn't fixed it.

That's troubling, frankly. Apple could — and does — add great new capabilities to Siri on a regular basis. But nobody will ever discover those capabilities if Siri duffs the basics on an equally regular basis. And it still does.

The first Apple Watch was like the first beta of Siri: a mess. The Apple Watch never had a moment where it was "fixed," but instead was fixed slowly over time via relentless iteration and improvement. In theory, the same should apply to Siri, but it hasn't happened at the same pace.

Even though Siri isn't where it ought to be, the Apple Watch is still the best smartwatch on the market by a wide margin. But if Siri could do more, the Apple Watch could be something more. The era of ambient computing is still coming. Will Siri be ready?

Towards the end of his interview with Ars, Giannandrea talked about hiring new talent for his team. "I guess the biggest problem I have is that many of our most ambitious products are the ones we can't talk about and so it's a bit of a sales challenge to tell somebody, 'Come and work on the most ambitious thing ever but I can't tell you what it is.'"

That sounds great, but my advice is to start talking sooner rather than later. And the "talk" I'd like to see is actually action: new features for Siri that arrive via the same relentless improvement of the things people are trying to use Siri for today. And hey, maybe start with timers.


 
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