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The Survival Machine Farm 214

Posted by samzenpus
from the zombie-machines dept.
pacopico writes "There's a 30-acre plot of land in Maysville, MO where about two dozen people have gathered to build a Civilization Starter Kit. As Businessweek reports, they're working on open-source versions of bulldozers, bread ovens, saws and other tools right on up to robots and chip fabs. The project has been dubbed the Factor e Farm, and it's run by a former nuclear physicist and a bunch of volunteers. The end goal is to have people modify the tool designs until they're good enough to compete with commercial equipment."
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The Survival Machine Farm

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  • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:21PM (#41883911)

    wskiâ(TM)s hut anchors a 30-acre compound near Maysville, Mo., full of wooden shacks, yurts, work sheds, flapping laundry, clucking chickens, and a collection of black and strange-looking machinery. A dozen or so people in their twenties, none of whom appears to have bathed in a while, wander around or fiddle with the machines."

    I'm not sure these people are queued for success...

    • Re:Ah... Yeah... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Millennium (2451) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:33PM (#41884105) Homepage

      Perhaps not, but the idea of an archive from which the survivors of a disaster could start to rebuild is intriguing. I'd tend to focus more in information than objects, mostly because I believe it would be easier to ensure that the information survives in a usable state, but objects do have the advantage of allowing you to test your specifications.

      • by sinij (911942)
        In order for survivors of a disaster to start rebuilding civilization there has to be survivors that are able to continue surviving. Buying food at WallMart is #1 indicator that you got whole survival thing WRONG.
        • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:11PM (#41884771) Homepage

          Basically, these people need to learn from the Amish, who are already skilled in knowing how to survive without the complicated infrastructure of a high-tech society.

          --if there really is going to be a civilization-destroying apocalypse, the Amish are going to be the ones who rebuild civilization, 'cause the rest of us all starved to death by about the fifth winter.

          (Yes, the Amish don't live completely independently of the rest of society. But they are a darn sight closer than any of the rest of us.)

          • by hawguy (1600213)

            Basically, these people need to learn from the Amish, who are already skilled in knowing how to survive without the complicated infrastructure of a high-tech society.

            --if there really is going to be a civilization-destroying apocalypse, the Amish are going to be the ones who rebuild civilization, 'cause the rest of us all starved to death by about the fifth winter.

            (Yes, the Amish don't live completely independently of the rest of society. But they are a darn sight closer than any of the rest of us.)

            Exactly - if civilization collapses, they are going to be better off with human and animal powered tools since they'll quickly run out of fuel, supplies (like oil), and tools to maintain the powered equipment. Even steam powered equipment needs repair and maintenance.

            • by aurispector (530273) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:26PM (#41885009)

              Exactly. It's pure arrogance on their part to assume that the expertise at John Deere will be simple to match. Those folks know what they're doing because they've been doing it for generations. Institutional knowledge is a precious thing.

                The other arrogance is to assume that somehow not making a profit will make it all better. A profit is simply an indicator that you are efficiently supplying people with goods and services that they actually want. A tractor that is 70% as good as a Deere won't sell on an open and competitive market where people vote with their dollars.

              • by SB9876 (723368)

                You're missing the point, though. A John Deere tractor is much better than what they're making and I'm sure they would agree with that assessment. Their machines are cheaper and more importantly much simpler so that they can be built or have major repairs done on site with very simple metalworking tools.

                That's not much of a selling point in the US but in a developing nation, it's a game changer. We could give a bunch of poor farmers John Deer tractors and when they break down, those farmers can't afford

          • by jythie (914043)
            That was my thought.. it seems like this group is ignoring work already done in this domain.

            Though I take the tone with a bit of a grain of salt since it really feels like the journalist went in with a 'damn hippies, why can't they be MBAs?' attitude, thus I would not be surprised if the piece had a bit of a selection bias to it.
      • by JWW (79176) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:39PM (#41884203)

        When you said archive for survivors, this concept for a post-apocalyptic movie just popped into my head.

        In 2275 on a wasteland Earth, survivors seek the fabled temple of Google, rumored to contain all the knowledge of mankind before the great cataclysm....

      • That already exists. If humans survive, machines will survive to be reverse engineered. And they will not be theoretical OS machines , but mass produced tried and tested machines which become OS as soon as civilization collapses.

        • Exactly. Why all this re-inventing of the wheel (even literally?)

          If they were working on machinery that could be more easily built with low technology (that is, w/o requiring CNC machining and integrated circuits), then it would be a sort-of good idea, though I'm not 100% sure that they can accurately predict what technologies and resources will still be around (and what won't) post-apocalypse.

          But, if all they're trying to do is to make something free from patent/copyright encumbrance and BS like that? Umm,

          • by ArhcAngel (247594) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:29PM (#41885077)
            If cockroaches survived the last apocalypse then I suspect patent trolls will survive this one.
          • by Nadaka (224565)

            They actually are trying to make things that can be constructed without infrastructure. To create and document the construction entire tool stack. The long term goal is to be able to take a pile of raw materials and be able to make every single tool in that chain without having to use a tool from outside that chain.

        • Re:Ah... Yeah... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Shoten (260439) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:52PM (#41885357)

          You can't quite reverse engineer machinery with your bare hands. Sure, you can take the thing apart (for the most part) and examine how the parts are shaped and how they fit together. But the metallurgy alone is a whooole other ball game.

          Here's an example: my espresso machine. Yes, I know, it's not a farm combine, but work with me for a second. It's stainless steel, but if you look carefully at it, you'll see that the body of the machine is a different color metal than the tray at the bottom. And there's a reason for this: the steel of those two sections, while both considered "stainless steel," are different alloys. Why is this? Well, I happen to know that it's for reasons of ductility with regard to the body of the machine, and of stiffness for the tray. But what I don't know is the exact composition of those alloys. I also don't know how to make the dies that produced either component, how to smelt the raw metals that went into the alloys, and so on...

          Now, that was just the outside body of a relatively simple device with relatively minimal demands with regards to physical strain or usage. Just a household espresso machine. Take that a step further, onto a device that has waaaaay more moving parts, exerts far more force, and must also be weatherproof. Something that will be exposed to grit, dust, moisture, mud, snow, and rain. Something with hydraulics (good luck reverse-engineering the fluid, by the way) and an internal combustion engine, and an electrical system. Try reverse engineering the metal of the cogs and bearings, the plastic/neoprene of the seals, the wires, the chips inside the microprocessors. And then try to imagine how to build them all.

          I'd hang out with the Amish, and cast my lot with them...

          • The situation is more dire than you know - no one person knows everything needed to make a pencil. [youtube.com]

            Consider even just the lead-

            I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read [econlib.org]

            My "lead" itself—it contains no lead at all—is complex. The graphite is mined in Ceylon. Consider these miners and those who make their many tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the graphite is shipped and those who make the string that ties the sacks and those who put them aboard ships and those who make the ships. Even the lighthouse keepers along the way assisted in my birth—and the harbor pilots.

            The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi in which ammonium hydroxide is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added such as sulfonated tallow—animal fats chemically reacted with sulfuric acid. After passing through numerous machines, the mixture finally appears as endless extrusions—as from a sausage grinder-cut to size, dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. To increase their strength and smoothness the leads are then treated with a hot mixture which includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated natural fats.

        • I think some people are missing the point about their design's being open source. The idea is for these machines to be built and used in poor, developing nations today. This would prove that they can be built by relative laymen, can be repaired, and can compete with (much, much, much more expensive) commercially available options, not on a feature for feature basis, but on a cost and effort to reward basis. If you can get even a tiny bit of momentum going, maybe 100 farmers knocking together these machi

      • by Culture20 (968837)
        Look! A field full of iron doohickeys! We're rich! Let's build a blacksmith shop right here so we can turn these sculptures into something useful like plows.
      • Re:Ah... Yeah... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by tgd (2822) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:10PM (#41884749)

        Perhaps not, but the idea of an archive from which the survivors of a disaster could start to rebuild is intriguing. I'd tend to focus more in information than objects, mostly because I believe it would be easier to ensure that the information survives in a usable state, but objects do have the advantage of allowing you to test your specifications.

        Neither are actually really of much use. There's too much interconnected technology these days. Behind any one little thing there's a chain of a hundred other technologies (or entire industries) supporting it. And underlying almost all of it is "available energy". There are very few viable energy sources a group of "survivors" could tap if they truly had to bootstrap a technical society again. The fuel sources that powered industrialization (coal, whale oil, eventually petroleum) are all largely non-recoverable anymore without infrastructure built up over time using those same energy sources.

        A bulldozer won't help you do much -- you need steel to make more. That takes electricity or coal. To get electricity, you need (in its simplest form, something like hydro) bulldozers. To get coal, you need them, too. And to build them you need steel -- and fuel to power them. To get that fuel, you need drilling equipment. See where this goes?

        If you really wanted to help "survivors" you need to enormously reduce the industrial and energy requirements of manufacturing your manufacturing equipment. The industrial revolution was very likely a one-time event in history, at this point.

        • by Millennium (2451)

          Obviously you can't go straight back to industrial levels. You would have to start with considerably lower-tech solutions and build up from there, not too different from how it worked the first time around. The object is to make it faster (without the overhead of rediscovery from scratch), not to make it instantaneous.

          • by tgd (2822)

            Obviously you can't go straight back to industrial levels. You would have to start with considerably lower-tech solutions and build up from there, not too different from how it worked the first time around. The object is to make it faster (without the overhead of rediscovery from scratch), not to make it instantaneous.

            The first time around, you could mine coal with hand tools. Oil was found near the surface, and could be drilled with primitive equipment. Before that there were massive old growth forests of dense wood that could be felled for fuel. None of that is true anymore. We've used up all of the easy to acquire resources. You need to dig deep for metals, you need to dig deep for coal. You need to drill deep for oil.

            Its optimistic to think its even possible to bootstrap anymore. There may be very limited sources of

        • A lot of their machinery is made largely from aluminum, which, while very inefficient to harvest, is present just about everywhere. As for iron and steel, well, it's the apocalypses isn't it? There's an awful lot of scrap to be had if the population drops to 1/100th it's current size. One of the first machines they designed and tested was a smelter to extract aluminum from regular old clay.

          Your points about power requirements, however, are spot on which is probably where it all falls apart. Quite bluntl

        • by tibman (623933)

          They use steam power that comes from burnt bio matter that has been pelletized.

    • by fifedrum (611338)

      while this particular implementation may be lacking, the concept as a whole is sound and should be supported by local governments and distributed throughout the land. If I had a chance, I would include semi-automatic, automatic and bolt action rifles and pistols both design and manufacture, along with appropriate ammunition, I would also include the resources to smelt and reprocess scrap and ore at one end of the facility, delivering raw slabs of steel of various compositions to the other processes, maybe s

    • by vlm (69642)

      Other than 30 acres that sounds like most remote telecom sites I've visited. Bonus points for having to fiddle with the machines at 2am because a laser burned out or a dexcs card fried.

    • Re:Ah... Yeah... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:36PM (#41884153) Homepage

      Really. While these folks are struggling re inventing technology, I'm gonna grab the D4 sitting in the rental store yard, trundle over to a diesel tank, steal that and drag the whole thing down the road to my house. All the while taking potshots at people who are similarly inclined with my semi automatic rifle and the 10,000 rounds of ammo I found in the neighbor's house.

      Then I'm gonna head down to these guys and steal their chickens.

      Come on. If the apocalypse happens there is going to be so much techno crap strewn over the landscape that you will want to bury it at some point. Once you have stabilized your situation with appropriate amounts of defensive gear, food, water and communications you will have a treasure trove of stuff to pick from once the buzzards pick the bodies clean.

      In the mean while, I'm going to sleep on a nice bed and take regular showers. Easier to get laid that way.

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        Really. While these folks are struggling re inventing technology, I'm gonna grab the D4 sitting in the rental store yard, trundle over to a diesel tank, steal that and drag the whole thing down the road to my house. All the while taking potshots at people who are similarly inclined with my semi automatic rifle and the 10,000 rounds of ammo I found in the neighbor's house.

        Then I'm gonna head down to these guys and steal their chickens.

        Come on. If the apocalypse happens there is going to be so much techno crap strewn over the landscape that you will want to bury it at some point. Once you have stabilized your situation with appropriate amounts of defensive gear, food, water and communications you will have a treasure trove of stuff to pick from once the buzzards pick the bodies clean.

        In the mean while, I'm going to sleep on a nice bed and take regular showers. Easier to get laid that way.

        Of course, somebody else, with more ammo than you may be looking at your stash thinking they will take it. Even if you "win" eventually, you will have no diesal fuel and no ammo (let alone running water or anything else). Do you really think the survivors from the camp where you took everything, assuming they are still alive are going to graciously let you in?

        The fallacy with all of the survivor type groups is that they plan on surviving for a period of time. Maybe months, maybe even a few years. In a pos

    • by ScentCone (795499)

      I'm not sure these people are queued for success...

      They're not worried about whether they can really build "open source" bulldozers after the apocolypse. They're just looking to goof off and get cred with that hot girl at the maker event next month. Because even these folks are smart enough to know that unless they can rig up a way to make really good antibiotics, and store them while they're fresh, they're all going to be dead before they get around to building a refinery, a solar panel fab plant, and enough defenses to keep the surrounding barbarians (wh

  • by PPH (736903) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:30PM (#41884049)

    ... the mineshafts [youtube.com].

    • by rwa2 (4391) *

      Hmm, disappointed it wasn't a minecraft video.

      Yeah, someone just needs to introduce these people to running their own server with some of the realism mods... maybe that will get this survivalism fetish out of their systems.

      (but really, all the more power to them. When it hits the fan, I'm certainly gonna have some bloody knuckles from punching trees)

  • by sycodon (149926) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:31PM (#41884073)

    An Open Source Bulldozer?

    I think these Open Source evangelists are going a bit off their rocker.

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:36PM (#41884147)

      There are probably more people in the world who can benefit from a robust, easy to build, easy to repair, fully documented bulldozer than there are people who can benefit from open source software. Now, whether they have actually produced a design that is any of those things is another question that I'm not equipped to try to answer.

      • by Firethorn (177587)

        Considering that bulldozers are relatively ancient technology, I'd tend to say that there's plenty of designs that are older than their patents, thus fully duplicable without having to pay any licensing cost.

        The trick is that it takes lots of equipment and skill to make a high quality bulldozer, especially from 'scratch'.

        Not that I'd object to a more complete set of 'civilization' specifications, maybe something like designs for a good quality engines in a range from 1/4 hp all the way up to 400 hp.

        • It's not so much the set of designs as it is having the manufacturing facilities to make and assemble all the small parts. That, and having an adequate foundry for the steel fabrication. And all the hydraulic hoses.

          It's a cute project, but they've got the emphasis on all the wrong things.

          • by Firethorn (177587)

            Let's see - you mention facilities to make & assemble 'small parts'. Then a foundry and something for hoses.

            Can you see why I simply boiled it down to 'lots of equipment'? Then you consider the skills it would take to operate all of said equipment in order to produce the parts necessary and you're looking at hundreds, perhaps thousands of different skills depending on how far out you abstract your design.

        • by rossdee (243626)

          What about Elephants?

          (Indian ones are trainable, self reproducing etc)

          • Environmentally limited(wouldn't last well in Alaska)
            Actually pretty resource expensive for what you get - They eat a LOT.
            Not all that great at the tasks a bulldozer is really good for, such as the moving and spreading of large amounts of dirt.

      • by sinij (911942)
        Absolutely, there are plenty of people who can benefit "from a robust, easy to build, easy to repair, fully documented bulldozer". These are not the same people who are potential survivors of post-apocalyptic Earth... or do you think Patent Trolls are THAT powerful and can survive THAT well to litigate few rugged survivors for violating this or that patent on rounded corners?
      • And there are probably more people in the world that ARE benefiting from rebuilding various bulldozers of whatever origin and parentage that are scattered over the entire frikkin planet. If The Shit Hits The Fan, there are going to be lots and lots of unemployed bulldozers / engines / radios / whatnot floating around. You're better off keeping your skills up by disassembling a Caterpillar D4 [wikipedia.org] every other week than trying to make something new.

        Same with Pharma - go steal some college's organic chemistry lab

      • There are several existing solutions for this problem. The better specialized postapocalyptech for earthmoving is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ox [wikipedia.org] but for more general usage the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse [wikipedia.org] design is widely preferred. If in doubt, consult the Whole Earth Catalog.
      • by wbr1 (2538558)
        Exactly. For reference, see AK-47. Easy to replicate and everywhere.
      • by gbjbaanb (229885)

        does it come with an easy-to-install gasoline manufacturing plant too?

        When I was a kid we did stuff for Sierra Leone, and one part I remember was the bit where well-meaning western organisations would fund raise to buy tractors for the place, only that a year later these would be rusting away after various mechanical failures in the heat and dust, or because the villager couldn't afford to run them. What the villagers really needed, and no-one in the industrialised world figured out, was shovels.

        The problem

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:45PM (#41884305)

      The open source bulldozer is fully documented here [wikipedia.org].

  • by pr0t0 (216378) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:35PM (#41884129)

    Didn't these guys do this last year with the Global Village Construction Set on Kickstarter?

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/622508883/global-village-construction-set [kickstarter.com]

  • Misguided... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sinij (911942) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:35PM (#41884139) Journal
    Civilization starts with an ability to feed and shelter its members. Not with tractors, open source and agile development techniques.

    If you are serious at building civilization survival kit, obsess less with open source (in the event of apocalypse there won't be anyone enforcing patents), but with a designing robust, reliable and highly redundant system to meet basic needs.
    • I agree, this just seem like a bunch of open source nutjobs that wanted a cool way to spin some OS stuff. This does not seem to have any practical connection to civilization founding.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Feeding your members is much easier when you have a tractor. Housing your members is much easier when you have a table saw and a brick press,.

  • But if civilization has collapsed, or you are just building a new one, everything is open source.

    So why not just reverse engineer existing tech...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Lawyers, like cockroaches, can survive most kinds of disasters.

      • by sinij (911942)
        Yes, but in post-apocalyptic world they are more likely will be leading reaver raiding party, so AK-47 is all tools you would need for post-apocalyptic patent defense.
    • Try to reverse engineer a non functioning microprocessor with a out of order electronic microscope... Building a civilisation is hard enough to not add the complexity of reverse engineering the previous one.

      • There will definitely be some functioning microprocessors of every variety left if any humans survive.

        That is the thing with existing commercial tech, you do not even have to reverse engineer it for a long time, as it already is mass produced and available everywhere.

        • There will definitely be some functioning microprocessors of every variety left if any humans survive.

          No, I don't think so. I'm not sure what the lifetime of the actual microprocessors chip is, but more specifically, they don't boot themselves, and all the magnetic and all the electronic storage will be gone. All the documentation is likely to be gone as well, and without some pretty detailed information about what to do with it and how, it's going to be moderately useless.

  • Initially when we setup a base on mars we'll send two of everything plus parts, but over time being able to build for yourself using a basic erector set of parts is going to be extremely useful, if not completely necessary. All we need is some calamity that causes launches to be delayed and suddenly they'd be on their own.
  • FTA:

    Most of Factor e Farm’s equipment runs on an in-house invention called a Power Cube. It’s a black metal box about the size of an office copier, with a 27-horsepower engine that runs a hydraulic pump.

    Honestly, if you're going to have a bunch of 27HP motors with hydraulics kicking around, (and fuel to run them), how big of a challenge is it to mechanize things?

    I think a true post-apocalyse scenario should focus on relearning the now-forgotten survival skills of past generations. Simple, fundamental things that were once widely known, such as how to grow and store crops, mill lumber, weave fabrics, make soap, etc. Assume that available sources of power will be draft animals, water and wind mills, or y

  • by ddd0004 (1984672) on Monday November 05, 2012 @02:46PM (#41884339)

    I took a look at the picture on the first page and your clean room needs a little work

  • The nerd in me really wanted to read this as a real life implementation of Civilization (the computer game). Sigh.

  • Just get you a cardboard sign and live under an overpass. You can keep your agile development techniques too. Heck, I saw a guy having a stand up scrum meeting by himself on a street corner just this morning.

  • Typical "not re-invented here" syndrome.
    I thought that's why we kept these beard-slashing traffic impediments [wikipedia.org] around.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:19PM (#41884895) Journal

    This happens in Missouri for a reason: lax zoning and a distinct lack of busy-bodies who complain.

    This is what California was like 40-50 years when hippies were doing this kind of thing there. Now it's locked up tight. In some cases it's for good reasons. Developers were silting streams and destroying fisheries with ill-advised grading. OTOH, the government is literally telling you where you can poop, which makes doing things like this illegal and/or expensive now. Sometimes it still happens. They can't police communes any better than they can police illegal pot growers; but a project like this out in the open is less likely to happen in CA now, which is a bit sad.

    My understanding is that a good chunk of Missouri was depopulated by the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. I wonder if too many "back to the land" people like this will eventually cause complaints and ruin it like California.

  • by Fubari (196373) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:21PM (#41884929)
    Blueprints for Civilization [ted.com] This TED video is worth 4 minutes of your time.
    Jakubowski articulates his vision very clearly.
    I remember hearing of this a few years ago; I am glad to see they're making some headway.
  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:32PM (#41885115)

    I mean if civilization is reduced to the stone age do you really want to survive it?

    When I see shows like Doomsday Preppers, and the types of people preparing for the end of the world, it further steadies my belief that I in no way want to survive any of these kinds disasters once the yokels crawl out of their caves and spider holes.

    • by ScentCone (795499) on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:49PM (#41886091)
      Has it ever occurred to you that the people who know how to farm, hunt and gut a deer, hand-load ammo, and know which mushrooms will or won't kill you ... that they think you're the one that will make a post-apocalyptic world intolerable? Where's my latte! Why isn't there a better set of legislative checks and balances on who in this survival village gets to own a gun! Who do I get to do the laundry around here? My mobile device isn't getting any kind of signal out here! Say, who's the local dentist - I've got a toothache ... but he's got to take Visa, because I have nothing valuable to trade except awesome WoW skills and some excellent Class 10 SD cards.

      Blam. Get his shoes, and check those SD cards for any quality porn.
  • Concept reminds me of the the G.E.C.K. (Garden of Eden Creation Kit) from Fallout. Without the "just add water" deus ex machina.

  • by robot256 (1635039) on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:01PM (#41885487)
    Not sure if the reporter missed this or if it's just a Slashdot obsession, but I'm sure I read before that these guys are trying to make technology accessible to third-world countries. Their goal is not (necessarily) to bootstrap a post-apocalyptic economy, but to bootstrap starving villages so that they can rapidly increase food output using all the tech we can bring to bear in a cheap, interchangeable manner.
  • by CommieLib (468883) on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:41PM (#41886013) Homepage
    I nominate Detroit for beta testing.
  • Because porn should survive an Apocalypse!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Willendorf [wikipedia.org]

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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