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TidBITS#890/30-Jul-07

The big Apple news this week is a stunning $818 million profit for the third fiscal quarter of 2007, thanks to a record number of Mac sales (and a goodly number of iPhone sales too!). For those of us not rolling in that kind of cash, we have news about useful Mac products and techniques that won't stress your checkbook. Adam looks at options for mounting and reading bare hard disk drives that aren't strapped into enclosures (and why you'd want to do this). Glenn Fleishman notes the release of Webjimbo, a program that lets you access your Yojimbo data remotely. Joe Kissell stays up late trying to get his MacBook Pro to go to sleep, no thanks to Apple's Safe Sleep feature. And lastly, we have a pair of new Take Control ebooks: "Take Control: The Mac OS X Lexicon," which provides practical and witty definitions of over 500 Mac- and Internet-related terms, and an update to "Take Control of Syncing in Tiger," which now covers the iPhone and Apple TV.
 
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Apple Marks Best Quarter of Mac Sales for Q3 2007

  by Jeff Carlson <jeffc@tidbits.com>

Sales of 1.76 million Macs between and April and June of this year pushed Apple to an $818 million profit on $5.41 billion in sales, according to the company's quarterly financial results. That's 33 percent more Macs than the 1.33 million sold in the year-ago quarter (see "Apple Reports $472 Million Q3-2006 Profit," 2006-07-24) and represents the highest number of Mac sales during a quarter. iPod sales came in at 9.81 million, a 21 percent gain over last year's third quarter.

However impressive those numbers are (and for those of us who remember the troubling Q2-1997 quarter, the figures are impressive), the most eagerly awaited results centered around the new iPhone. Apple reported sales of 270,000 iPhones during the quarter, which doesn't sound too exciting until you realize that number accounts for just 30 hours of sales (the iPhone was released at 6:00 PM on 29-Jun-07, and the quarter ended at midnight on 30-Jun-07). In a conference call with analysts, Apple said it expected to sell one million iPhones by the end of September 2007. Apple also said it expects to launch the iPhone in a few major countries in Europe by the end of this year, and to have it available more broadly in Europe and Asia in 2008.

Prior to the release of Apple's numbers, the company's stock took a beating after cellular partner AT&T reported in its quarterly financials that it logged only 146,000 activations for the same period, far lower than the number of iPhones that Apple said it sold. The difference is most likely due to activation problems on AT&T's end during the first days of iPhone availability. (Speaking of AT&T, Brier Dudley at The Seattle Times reported that the telecom giant is apologizing to iPhone buyers who were forced to buy accessories from AT&T stores on the opening day of sales; those customers can return the accessories for full refunds.)

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Accessing Bare Hard Drives

  by Adam C. Engst <ace@tidbits.com>

Most Macintosh hardware products do a good job of hiding the actual electronic parts inside sleekly designed cases, and for most people, that's probably best. But if you want to go beyond the basics, to soup up a Mac past the stock configuration, or troubleshoot certain problems, sometimes you need to get down to bare metal.

Take hard drives. Cases provide physical protection, a certain level of useful industrial design, and conversion from the hard drive mechanism's native power and interface connectors to standard power jacks and ports such as FireWire and USB 2.0. But making it possible to power a hard drive mechanism and connect it to a computer doesn't require a case, just the connector conversions. Several new products now enable you to do just that - use a hard drive mechanism directly on a Mac or PC without a case.

Why would you want to? Perhaps a friend or client is switching from a dying PC to a Mac and needs to transfer content from the PC's hard disk to a VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop installation on a new iMac. Maybe, working as a consultant or help desk support technician, you regularly encounter situations where you need to make backups of or recover data on disks installed in computers that are otherwise non-functional. Or perhaps, like me, you've had trouble with a FireWire drive case or drive bay used for regular backups. The problem isn't with the drive mechanisms, but you're still dead in the water unless you can get those drives to mount.

I haven't needed to use these products extensively, but I and a friend have successfully used the NewerTech USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter, which costs $29.95, and the slightly more expensive USB 2.0 High-Speed Bridge Adapter from Granite Digital, which runs $39.95. The two devices seem essentially identical, in that they provide flexible power and connectivity cables for all 2.5", 3.5", and 5.25" drive mechanisms, whether they're IDE or the newer SATA (I or II). You're unlikely to find many 5.25" hard drive mechanisms these days, but the products work with bare CD and DVD mechanisms as well.

To my mind, the main downside of these devices is that they're USB-only, which makes them significantly less useful with older Macs that rely on FireWire for high-speed connections and have only slow USB 1.1 ports. USB 1.1 runs at 12 Mbps, USB 2.0 at 480 Mbps, and FireWire 400 at 400 Mbps. Even though USB 2.0 isn't as fast as FireWire 400 in real world usage, it's plenty sprightly for drive use, whereas USB 1.1 is painfully slow.

WiebeTech sells a pair of products that address this lack of FireWire compatibility, but they come at a price and with limitations. Their FireWire DriveDock and ComboDock products are boxes that attach to the back of 3.5" IDE bare drives, providing power and connectivity, and then connect to a host Mac via FireWire 400 (for the FireWire DriveDock) or 800 (for the ComboDock). They also include power switches and feedback LEDs. Unfortunately, WiebeTech's docks cost noticeably more at $99.95 for the FireWire DriveDock and $169.95 for the ComboDock. And if you want to use the ComboDock with drives other than 3.5" IDE mechanisms, you need additional adapters that cost between $49.95 and $99.95 (the full kit with all six adapters costs $499.95). Although I've not used the WiebeTech docks personally, my impression is that they're aimed more at the technician working with four or five different drives every day, rather than someone who needs to access a bare drive only occasionally.

But what about the other function of a hard drive case: physical protection? It's certainly true that you could install a bare drive in an inexpensive hard drive case, but most cases lack the interface flexibility of these bare drive adapters, and it's often fussy to insert and remove drives from cases. The WiebeTech docks come with a bottom plate to protect the drive electronics (and you can purchase additional plates if desired). But Granite Digital has a better answer to this problem: Drive Shields, available either in stretchy silicone ($9.95) for quick insertion and removal or aluminum ($19.95) that offers more protection and cooling for longer term use. A package of the silicone Drive Shields includes shields for both 2.5" and 3.5" drives; the aluminum Drive Shield works only with 3.5" drives.

The bottom line is that if you ever find yourself needing to work with bare hard drive mechanisms, one of these inexpensive adapters will prove an essential addition to your toolkit.

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Webjimbo Makes Yojimbo Data Web-Accessible

  by Glenn Fleishman <glenn@tidbits.com>

Adrian Ross has released Webjimbo 1.0, a Web-based interface for Bare Bones Software's Yojimbo organizer software, enabling both a view into stored items and the capability to update some of that data. (Neither Adrian Ross nor his software have a direct connection to Bare Bones.) Webjimbo is a compact Web server that runs on a Mac with a launched copy of Yojimbo. Webjimbo preserves a lot of Yojimbo's look, feel, and interaction by using AJAX Web technology. (AJAX combines JavaScript and XML to send and receive information between the browser and Internet applications, like a Web server, as well as to update parts of a Web page without reloading it.)

Yojimbo centralizes and organizes the variety of content that we accrete in using the Internet. You can print PDF documents from any application directly to Yojimbo, drag PDFs straight in, create notes and encrypt them, add Web site and other passwords, note serial numbers, and organize bookmarks. Yojimbo can also create static archives of Web pages. (We reviewed Yojimbo 1.0 in "Let Yojimbo Guard Your Information Castle," 2006-01-30; it's now at version 1.4.)

The program has become a constant resource for me, as I split my time and usage among a home office (a living room couch) and a real office. Yojimbo can use .Mac synchronization, which enables me to keep everything both centralized in the program and distributed among my computers. In fact, I had written Rich Siegel, head of Bare Bones and a friend of TidBITS, a few days after getting my iPhone to ask when a Web-based version of Yojimbo would make my life even easier given the iPhone's poor storage of passwords; he noted that the independently developed Webjimbo was already well into beta testing.

Webjimbo is simply a Web server that uses AppleScript behind the scenes to expose data from Yojimbo. While you can view PDFs inline within Yojimbo, Webjimbo provides them as downloads, which can be viewed inline in a browser if you have the appropriate Acrobat plug-ins. Encrypted notes and passwords can't be edited in this release; similarly, encrypted Web archives can't be viewed.

The server requires an IP address that's reachable from the places you want to access your data. On a local network, that's not a problem, but it's likely that you would run Webjimbo to access Yojimbo's data store remotely. That won't work for many users, because you must have a routable IP address, something most home Internet service providers charge extra for or don't even offer.

If you use an AirPort base station or other gateway to handle access among multiple computers for a home broadband connection using DHCP and NAT to assign addresses, you could be out of luck in this release. Some remote control systems - such as LogMeIn and CoPilot - connect a client application with a central server to allow access to computers behind such gateways. (I write about some ways around this annoyance in "Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Extreme Network" if you're using a 2007 model of the AirPort Extreme Base Station.)

Ross could choose to add such support on a subscription or other basis in the future; it's not technically difficult to create such servers and linkages, but it requires full-time operational support, just like a hosted application. It could also be tied into Skype, which provides application hooks for traversing gateways.

On the security front, Webjimbo does a good job keeping Yojimbo data private. First, the software requires that you set a password for the server, rather than just using your Mac OS X account password. You could set the Webjimbo password to be the same, but that would reduce security.

Second, because Yojimbo doesn't allow access to its encrypted notes and passwords via AppleScript by default, you must choose to enable that access. You can turn on access via scripts to notes or passwords or both. (The settings are in the Security tab of Yojimbo's Preferences dialog.)

Third, Webjimbo allows only SSL/TLS connections from a browser, providing strong encryption for data in transit - this is especially critical for iPhone users, as the iPhone lacks a simple way to secure an entire data connection consistently. (See my Macworld article, "Securing Your iPhone's Traffic.") Ross took a shortcut here, using a self-signed certificate; this can save considerable expense on his part. These certificates can't be validated via information that's pre-loaded into Web browsers, and your browser will throw up a warning the first time you access a Webjimbo server. You can choose, depending on the browser, to accept the validity of the certificate once or for subsequent connections. (For more on self-signed certificates, see Chris Pepper's "Securing Communications with SSL/TLS: A High-Level Overview," 2007-06-25.)

While Webjimbo is primed to be an iPhone-focused application, development started before the iPhone and associated developer information was released, and Ross promises an iPhone-optimized version in the future.

Ross charges $29.95 for a single user license of Webjimbo and $49.95 for a five-user household license. It requires Yojimbo, which Bare Bones offers for $39 for a single user, $69 for up to five users in a household, or $29 for a single educational user.

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Stewing Over Safe Sleep

  by Joe Kissell <joe@tidbits.com>

Imagine that you've just bought a new car, and the car manufacturer has thoughtfully included a new piece of technology, a Dead Battery Preventer. In order for the DBP to work its magic, your car must continue to run for 49 seconds after you turn it off - every time you turn it off - during which time you can't open the doors. But, as the car dealer reassures you, surely this is a small, barely noticeable inconvenience compared to the tremendous savings in grief you'll experience on those occasions when you'd otherwise find yourself stuck, unable to go anywhere due to a dead battery. No waiting for a tow truck to arrive, no frantic calls to AAA. Just activate the DBP and drive away.

There's no such thing as a DBP, but that's the closest analogy I could come up with for a feature that has been built into all Apple laptops for the past couple of years. It's called Safe Sleep, and it's comparable to the hibernation mode typically found on Windows laptops. In this mode, your laptop uses no electricity whatsoever, and the entire contents of your RAM before entering Safe Sleep are safely stored on your hard disk. The main point of this feature is to protect you from a situation in which your computer has gone to sleep with an unsaved document, and then your battery, which can ordinarily sustain your computer's RAM during sleep for hours or even days, has drained completely. When you plug in your laptop or replace the battery... Oh no! Your unsaved document is gone! But not with Safe Sleep: your computer automatically restores the contents of RAM from that file on disk, and you're right back to where you were before. The cost for this safety net? A short delay whenever you put your computer to sleep so that your RAM can be copied to disk.

In most of the articles I've read about Safe Sleep, it has been hailed as a tremendously helpful feature. There are utilities and hacks to enable Safe Sleep on certain laptops where it wouldn't otherwise be available, and you can download any of several free tools (such as Deep Sleep, Midnight, and SuspendNow) to force your laptop directly into Safe Sleep (as opposed to ordinary sleep). But I don't like Safe Sleep one bit - at least not the way it's currently implemented. I especially dislike the fact that Apple has not merely made it the default setting, but has omitted any graphical interface for turning it off - and the fact that if you use the command line to do so, chances are good that Safe Sleep will turn itself back on when you least expect it.

This is not merely a suboptimal or marginally infelicitous design decision. It's a bad way of doing things that Apple should be actively ashamed of and should remedy immediately. To explain why I feel this way, I want to provide a bit more detail about Safe Sleep and how its current design falls far short of Apple's ordinarily high usability standards.


Stages of Sleep -- My trusty old titanium PowerBook G4 belongs to a generation of laptops before Safe Sleep existed. When I put my TiBook to sleep, it goes to sleep immediately. Right away, the power light begins pulsating gently, and right away I can put it in my bag, or back under my seat on the plane, secure in the knowledge that the hard disk is parked and therefore relatively immune to everyday shocks and jarring. When I open the lid again, everything immediately returns to its previous state. While the laptop is asleep, it uses a little bit of electricity - enough to maintain the contents of RAM and keep a few other key components minimally active - but I know from experience that the computer can stay asleep for some time. If the battery held close to a full charge before I put the computer to sleep, that period of time can be several days or longer, but even if it was close to empty, I know it will last for at least a few hours.

The situation is different on more recent Apple laptops - every portable model starting with the 15-inch and 17-inch Double-Layer SuperDrive models introduced in October 2005. These models do have an ordinary sleep mode, just as before. But Apple's documentation warns you that when you put such a laptop to sleep (by closing the lid, for example), you must not move it until the power light has begun pulsating. During the first moments after you close the lid, when the light is on steadily, Mac OS X is busily copying the contents of your RAM to your hard disk in preparation for the possibility that your battery might later drain completely - forcing the computer into Safe Sleep mode. And during that time, when the disk is spinning, any untoward movement could cause damage to the hard drive mechanism. (You can also employ a command-line hack to force it to bypass the ordinary sleep mode and go directly into hibernation after saving the RAM, if you so desire; I discuss this a bit later.)

So far so good, but here's where the problems start. It takes more than a "moment" for your computer to write this hibernation file to disk and go to sleep. The length of time it takes is proportional to the amount of RAM you have installed. On my new MacBook Pro with 4 GB of RAM, it takes 49 seconds for the computer to sleep when Safe Sleep is active; with Safe Sleep turned off, it takes only 4 seconds. That's an enormous, and enormously annoying, difference.

Moreover, for each gigabyte of RAM you have, you effectively lose a gigabyte of storage space on your hard disk, because of the space required for this special RAM cache file. Given the higher cost and lower capacities of laptop hard drives, this space usage is a nontrivial issue. In essence, there's now both a performance penalty and a storage space penalty for buying the latest hardware and maxing out your RAM!

Even so, the inconveniences of Safe Sleep would be slight if Apple offered an easy way to turn it off. But as things stand now, you have to do this in Terminal, using the same pmset program Glenn Fleishman had to employ to solve another sleep-related issue (see "Sleepless (and Latchless) in Seattle," 2006-10-09). To disable Safe Sleep and delete the existing disk image used to hold the contents of your RAM, open Terminal and enter the following two commands:

sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0
sudo rm /var/vm/sleepimage

The new settings take effect immediately; no restart is required. (To return Safe Sleep to its default setting, repeat just the first command, replacing the 0 with a 3. To change the behavior so that your computer always goes directly into Safe Sleep without waiting for the battery to die, replace the 0 with a 1. And if you have Use Secure Virtual Memory selected in the Security pane of System Preferences, replace the 1 or 3 with 5 or 7, respectively.)

Still, however, the problem hasn't quite gone away: even after I did that on my computer, I found, more than once, that Safe Sleep had turned itself back on. I haven't yet discovered why or when this happens. I do know that using the pmset program modifies the same file used by the Energy Saver pane of System Preferences: /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.PowerManagement.plist. At first I assumed that making any change to the Energy Saver preferences overwrites all the settings not explicitly shown in the preference pane with their default values, and that Safe Sleep had turned itself back on because I'd changed some other setting there. However, this is not the case; I've made changes to the Energy Saver preferences and verified, afterward, that the hibernatemode value in the preference file was still at 0, just as I'd left it. But something that happens periodically on my computer does reset that value to its default from time to time, and I realize this only when I attempt to put my computer to sleep and notice that it takes far too long to comply - invariably at the least convenient moment.


The Wrong Solution -- I understand, of course, that software development involves a never-ending series of compromises. Sometimes elements of usability must be sacrificed for some greater good. But in this case, I believe that the good is not greater, and that Apple had other options available.

In the first place, consider the problem Safe Sleep is trying to solve. Safe Sleep is useful only when all three of the following circumstances exist:

This set of circumstances never, ever exists for me. First, I habitually save my documents frequently, and allow any application with an auto-save feature to save files on its own every 10 minutes, if not more often. So, the maximum amount of work I could lose, if not using Safe Sleep, is 10 minutes. Second, I always travel with an AC adapter and a spare battery, so I'm never away from some source of power for longer than my computer can stay asleep. And finally, I don't expect my computer to protect me from my own carelessness: if I've neither saved my work nor arranged for enough power to keep my laptop's memory alive, I don't assume that the computer will somehow magically forgive me.

But that's me. You might have different habits or expectations; seemingly enough people do that Apple considered Safe Sleep important. And I don't mind at all that Safe Sleep exists. As I said earlier, what I mind is that it's on by default - a significant reduction in usability - without any obvious means of turning it off or getting it to stay turned off.

Apple could have done things differently. For example, they could have put a Safe Sleep control in Energy Saver Preferences so that you can turn it on or off, or adjust its behavior, if needed. But I think even that is unnecessary aggravation. You don't have to stop jogging and wait for 49 seconds before your iPod will shut off. In fact, you don't have to shut it off at all. The world's zillions of iPod users wouldn't tolerate such an inconvenience, and Apple quite reasonably designed the iPod in such a way that you never have to think about whether it's in motion or perform some lengthy ritual to put it to sleep safely. I have to believe that Apple's engineers are smart enough to figure out how to do something comparable for a laptop.

Interestingly (and ironically), all the Apple laptops that come with Safe Sleep enabled by default also include a Sudden Motion Sensor (SMS), a little device that detects when your computer might be moving too much and parks the hard drive to prevent damage. If the SMS works as advertised, it should be unnecessary to avoid moving your laptop when it's busy caching your RAM; what should happen is that if your computer moves too much, the SMS steps in and keeps your hard drive safe. All this can and should be invisible to the user. And for all I know, maybe the SMS already works just fine if you jar your computer while it's saving your RAM - but if so, there should be no need for all the warnings about keeping your laptop still, and no intermediate "not-quite-asleep" mode to know about.


Lights Out -- I eventually worked around this problem, for myself, on my own MacBook Pro. It took me all of a few minutes to write a three-line shell script to turn off Safe Sleep and delete the RAM cache, if any - and then to set up a cron job (or I could just as easily have used Launch Services) to run this command with root privileges every hour, just in case I've inadvertently done something during that time to turn Safe Sleep back on. My script, by the way, was simply:

#!/bin/bash
/usr/bin/pmset -a hibernatemode 0
rm /var/vm/sleepimage

But then, I'm a propellerhead. I don't mind doing that sort of fiddling. Ordinary non-geeks shouldn't be subjected to such silliness.


Asleep on the Job -- I remember being in the audience for a Steve Jobs keynote several years ago in which he was demonstrating wireless streaming video. A PowerBook was playing a video clip that was being streamed over an AirPort connection from another Mac. To show how robust this capability was, Steve closed the PowerBook's lid while the video was playing, putting the computer to sleep, and then, a few seconds later, opened it again to demonstrate how the video immediately picked up where it had left off. We all applauded: that's how seamlessly things were supposed to work.

You can't do that anymore - at least not without using an unsupported hack. You have to wait almost a minute before your laptop will sleep, during which time you should not be moving it around. Look, it's 2007 and I'm a Mac user; if I can't put my brand new computer to sleep and into its bag in less than 10 seconds, something is seriously wrong.

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Take Control News/30-Jul-07

  by Adam C. Engst <ace@tidbits.com>


Get the Last Word on Mac OS X Terminology -- We Mac users sling technical jargon around every day, but if you've ever felt uncertain about what a term actually means, help is here in our latest ebook. "Take Control: The Mac OS X Lexicon" is a mad romp through over 500 Macintosh- and Internet-related terms. You'll learn how to figure out if your optical drive can write to a dual-layer DVD, why 404 and 501 are interesting numbers, how to work with the three main types of dashes that you can type on a Mac, and much more. We're not talking about some dry old dictionary here - these definitions are loaded with useful tips, practical advice, humor, and empathy.

Written by veteran Macintosh authors Andy Baird and Sharon Zardetto, the 191-page ebook extends the familiar Take Control design with handy alphabetic navigation tabs on every page, oodles of custom graphics, and over 2,000 internal links. Want to learn more about a particular entry? Margin icons link to hand-picked external Web sites, TidBITS articles, and other Take Control titles. (Needless to say, the internal links and margin icons can't be clicked in the print version, so if you prefer reading on paper, we encourage you to purchase the ebook first, after which you can buy the print version via the Print Book link on the cover; the price is the same either way.)

Make no mistake - this book won't teach you how to make your Mac dance or turn you into an instant network administrator. But we're sure you'll have fun reading it and learning more about the Mac because the draft generated far more and far livelier comments from the Take Control authors and other expert technical reviewers than any other ebook we've published. So take a look, and if you want to see a full list of the defined terms in advance, download the sample, which includes the first page of each letter.


Updated Ebook Explains Syncing iPhone and Apple TV -- We've just released an update to "Take Control of Syncing in Tiger" to add details about syncing to the iPhone and the Apple TV. The book, written by Mac expert Michael E. Cohen, is packed with real-world advice for syncing data and files from a Mac to iPods, cell phones, PDAs, and other Macs. Now the book also covers the specific quirks of the iPhone and the Apple TV. Those who already own an earlier version of the ebook can download a free update via the Check for Updates button on the ebook's cover. The print version of this update to "Take Control of Syncing in Tiger" is also available now.

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Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/30-Jul-07

  by TidBITS Staff <editors@tidbits.com>


Sites with info for new Mac users -- Following last week's mention of the MyFirstMac site, we receive other recommendations. (3 messages)


Personal Finance Program with Shared Database -- Are there any finance programs for the Mac that allow two people to make separate entries on different computers, but access all the same data? (1 message)


Recovering data from single density floppy disks? Dig back into your Mac memory to find out how to read data from old 400K floppy disks. (20 messages)


Cell Phone Prepaid Plans -- Last week's article on prepaid cellular plans raises a variety of questions from readers. (8 messages)


Rumour Site "MacOSRumors" Off The Air? A Mac rumor site has gone dark. We'll all adapt somehow, or at least that's the rumor. (7 messages)


Multiple mailboxes on the iPhone -- The iPhone's Mail program supports multiple folders, but they must be created on the Mac first, apparently. (9 messages)


Writing software for novelists -- A novelist gives high marks to Scrivener, a program designed specifically for the needs of serious fiction writers. (3 messages)


Palm Software -- What's the best approach to synchronizing an old Treo with a modern Mac? (7 messages)


Actual iPhone sales and activations -- Although Apple claimed 270,000 iPhones sold within the third fiscal quarter of 2007, how were those numbers calculated? (2 messages)


iPhone Features & Software -- A reader looking to replace his Treo 650 with an iPhone seeks advice on replacement software and tasks, too. What's available for the iPhone now? (7 messages)


iPhone batteries v. laptop batteries -- Will iPhone batteries withstand charging cycles better than laptop batteries, and if so, why? (1 message)

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