Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

Flash mob in the Copenhagen Metro

Copenhagen Phil playing Peer Gynt

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Biggest Cave Has A Jungle And Waterfalls Inside


Son Doong is the name of the world's largest cave in the world. It is not only huge, but also a very beautiful place filled with wonders.

It is almost like an alien world on Earth. What is truly fascinating is the jungle inside the cave.

As you can see on these breathtaking images this is without doubt one of the most remarkable places on our planet.

Son Doong cave is more than 200 meters wide, 150 meters high, and approx 9 kilometers long, with caverns big enough to fit an entire city street inside them.

It located in Son Trach, Bo Trach District, Quang Binh province, Vietnam. The cave was found by a local man named Ho Khanh in 1991 and was recently discovered in 2009 by British cavers, led by Howard Limbert.

It was created 2-5 million years ago by river water eroding away the limestone underneath the mountain Where the limestone was weak, the ceiling collapsed creating huge skylights.

Image credit: Peter Carsten

And as shown in these amazing images taken by photographer Carsten Peter, there is even a jungle concealed deep inside the cave.

Because of a collapsed portion of the cave roof, vegetation began to grow and form what would be the largest cave jungle.

The jungle is fairly small, but considering its location also fairly incredible. It also has the nickname "Garden of Eden."

A jungle inside a cave? A roof collapse long ago in Hang Son Doong let in light; plants thickly followed. As "Sweeny" Sewell climbs to the surface, hikers struggle through the wryly named Garden of Edam. Image credit: Peter Carsten

Carsten from Munich, Germany, took the images in 2010 when he joined British and German cavers during further expeditions of the site.

The purpose of the expedition was to make a complete exploration of Hang Son Doong and create a photographic record of the cave.

Cartsen, 52 said he spent up to two weeks at a time deep inside the caves, where he slept with just a sleeping bag and spent his time exploring and photographing the secret underground world.

"We discovered new parts of the cave, it's a huge area so to find them and access them is very difficult.

Wonderful waterfalls: A waterfall explodes into Hang Son Doong in the hidden depths of the Vietnamese jungle, which is part of a network of over 150 caves. Image credit: Peter Carsten

Photographing caves of this size is a challenge, it needs a lot of preparation.

But it's a great feeling to photograph a newly discovered cave, for me I see the cave for the first time when I see the photographs.

A big opening gate of cave - Going underground, expedition members enter Hang En, a cave tunneled out by the Rao Thuong River. Dwindling to a series of ponds during the dry months, the river can rise almost 300 feet during the flood season, covering the rocks where cavers stand. Image credit: Peter Carsten

I love to explore, I have been in some great caves in my lifetime and this is one of the most magnificent.

In this video, photographer Carsten Peter takes us along with him on a journey into Son Doong, the world's largest cave located in Vietnam. The biggest chamber in the cave is over 3 miles long and more than four times taller than the Statue of Liberty.

I've been a photographer and explorer for the last 35 years and I've visited so many caves, I've lost count. But this is by far one of the most unique and unusual caves I have ever seen.Swimming deep into Hang Ken cavers found a giant cave column. This is one of 20 new caves found in Vietnam in 2009.
"Ken" cave, it look like 2 occult eyes - A giant cave column swagged in flowstone towers over explorers swimming through the depths of Hang Ken, one of 20 new caves discovered last year in Vietnam. Image credit: Peter Carsten
To see a cave so large it has a forest inside is superb - it was overwhelming," Peter Carsten said.

If you want to see more Carsten's amazing photos, make sure to visit the National geographic gallery.

The underground caverns are not easy to access. Son Doong is situated below another cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang, though its entry passage is very difficult to traverse. It takes explorers 6 hours of walking through a 10 kilometer long forest path from Truong Son Highway to reach the mouth of Son Dong cave.

The Son Doong cave is so large that explorers are still searching for its end!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Challenge Coins


By Larry Downing

To watch a “challenge coin” being passed from one person to another is to witness the equivalent of “the secret handshake.” Starting and ending as quickly as a bullet, the ritual is performed out in plain sight and almost always in the presence of others.

Most “civilians” remain clueless as to what they witnessed even though it happened right in front of them – seeing nothing more than a stone-faced soldier or Marine at attention quietly facing a commanding officer, politician, or at best a nation’s President, before reaching out firmly to shake hands.

And just like that the longstanding military tradition of giving away a “challenge coin” is over in the blink of an eye. A small, shiny medallion riding inside the palm of one hand and seamlessly ending up in the other; similar to the practice of slipping the folded $20 dollar bill to the maitre d’ on date night.

News photographers find it nearly impossible to catch a coin in mid-flight and not many can claim those bragging rights. However, Reuters senior photographer Jason Reed beat the long odds and froze two with his camera last June while on assignment in the dangerous dust of a hot patch of Afghanistan. Reed was accompanying then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates touring hostile combat zones around the country as the Secretary said his weary goodbyes to troops before returning home and retiring as the nation’s “SecDef.”

Soldiers were honored by Gates with “the secret handshake” – leaving each with one of the most coveted souvenirs in the U.S. military, the Secretary of Defense’s personal coin. A coin forever worthy on the mantle above the home fires alongside military medals, other unit coins and glowing citations reminding future generations of the personal victories of a distant relative during adventurous times. “Challenge coins” remain hard proof of membership into a unique club requiring nothing more than sole possession of one to remain a lifetime member. Military tradition suggests all those currently serving to carry one at all times, helping to build morale and promote camaraderie.

No one can accurately identify when or where the practice of carrying them was born but with certainty almost anyone wearing a military uniform today would be able to produce one immediately when challenged while drinking inside an NCO, or Officer’s club on any post, base, or camp around the world. Once a coin is loudly slapped down onto the bar, folklore demands everyone else must quickly answer that call by slapping down their own coin or pay the price and buy drinks – and lots of them.

Collecting is eagerly pursued by most anyone today, especially in official Washington DC, where coins seem to have replaced the business card. Anyone working in the nation’s capital “who is anybody” has designed their own to pass out. Each one is unique and representative of a specific group or enthusiastic ego. And like snowflakes, no two are alike.

All coins with White House ties are treated by collectors as top drawer. The U.S. Secret Service easily monopolizes the “cool” factor because of its many different job specialties with a separate coin for each special division protecting the president.

The two Secret Service coins toughest to score are the “CAT” coin (Counter Assault Team) with the menacing paw on the front side and the “Counter Sniper Team” coin featuring a rifle’s scope cross hairs built inside a clear plastic window – prized trophies for varsity collectors. But you can’t go wrong with any of their coins.

Also at the top of a serious wish list are coins from military units, supporting either of the aircraft the president flies aboard; Air Force One and Marine One.

But not all coins are created equal and only one wears the king’s crown and that’s the rarest coin to get – the Presidential coin! That keepsake originates from only one place on earth – the right palm of the man occupying the Oval Office at the White House.

Former President George W. Bush reserved his coin for wounded military servicemen. He always kept a small stack, much like poker chips, on top of his desk for a quick draw. The chances are excellent anyone carrying his coin is combat wounded and probably deserving of it.

The Barack Obama coin is also a tough catch. Watching him pass one off is a treat to see. He enjoys giving it more than the other does receiving it and he always ends the handshake with an electric smile. His private stash is carried inside the front, left pocket of his pants and he retrieves one quickly with his left hand before transferring it to his right hand in a slick motion before beginning the “the secret handshake.” His delivery is developed much more now, after a rough start when he dropped one while awkwardly trying to give it to a Marine at the bottom of Marine One’s steps, at Joint Base Andrews.

My personal collection briefly displayed one of the Obama coins. I realized owning that coin made me an imposter compared to those returning home from combat so I found a home more deserving. I sent it to the mother of a severely wounded U.S. soldier, Shane Parsons, for him to receive on Christmas morning. Shane not only lost both his legs while serving in Iraq but suffers from traumatic brain injury. I had met him at the 6th annual National Disabled Festival in Laurel, Maryland in 2010, before a sled hockey game between military wounded veterans and he told me then how important “challenge coins” were to him.

His mother wrote to me after the holiday: “He cried for 45 minutes after seeing the coin, thank you.”

10 Oldest Living Trees On The Planet


At 4,841 years old, this ancient bristlecone pine is the oldest known non-clonal organism on Earth. Located in the White Mountains of California, in Inyo National Forest, Methuselah's exact location is kept a close secret in order to protect it from the public. (An older specimen named Prometheus, which was more than 5,000 years old, was cut down by a U.S. Forest Service graduate student in 1964.) Today you can visit the grove where Methuselah hides, but you'll have to guess at which tree it is. Could this one be it?

What happened to Prometheus you ask?

In 1964 while studying Methuselah and the bristlecone pines, Donald Curry got his bore instrument stuck while sampling one of the trees. He had received a permit to cut down one tree for study so he decided to cut down the tree with his stuck bore. It turns out he cut down the oldest tree ever found - over 4900 years old.

Sarv-e Abarqu
Sarv-e Abarqu, also called the "Zoroastrian Sarv," is a cypress tree in Yazd province, Iran. The tree is estimated to be at least 4,000 years old and, having lived through the dawn of human civilization not far away, it is considered an Iranian national monument. Many have noted that Sarv-e Abarqu is most likely the oldest living thing in Asia.

Llangernyw Yew
This incredible yew resides in a small churchyard of St. Dygain's Church in Llangernyw village, north Wales. About 4,000 years old, the Llangernyw Yew was planted sometime in the prehistoric Bronze Age — and it's still growing! In 2002, in celebration of the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the tree was designated as one of 50 Great British trees by the Tree Council.

The Alerce is a common name for Fitzroya cupressoides, a towering tree species native to the Andes mountains. There's almost no telling how old these trees can get, since most of the larger specimens were heavily logged in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many botanists believe they are the second-longest living trees on Earth aside from the bristlecone pine of North America. To date, the oldest known living specimen is 3,640 years old.

The Senator
The Senator, located in Florida, is the largest bald cypress tree in the United States, and it is widely considered the oldest of its species known to exist. It is likely the largest U.S. tree of any species east of the Mississippi River. Estimated to be around 3,500 years old, the Senator was used as a landmark for the Seminole indians and other native tribes. The Senator's size is particularly impressive because it has endured many hurricanes, including one in 1925 which reduced its height by 40 feet.

The tree gets its name from from Sen. M.O. Overstreet, who donated the tree and surrounding land in 1927.

Update 1.17.12: It is with a heavy heart that we report that 'The Senator' has burned to the ground

What? How?

A 26-year-old Orlando-area woman has been charged with setting the January fire that burned and destroyed 'The Senator', one of the world's oldest pond cypress trees and a beloved local attraction.

Investigators said tips to a crime hotline led them to Sara Barnes, who allegedly took photos of the fire she started inside the popular 118-foot-high hollow tree and uploaded them to her laptop, reports WKMG. According to WESH, Barnes told police she regularly visited the spot in Longwood's Big Tree Park to use drugs, and lit a fire the night of January 16 in order to see better.

"She did not call the Fire Department or 911 to report the fire," Florida Department of Agriculture spokesman Sterling Ivey told the Orlando Sentinel. "It's a great fuel source. Unfortunately."

The fire, which burned the tree from the inside out for several hours, caused a 20-foot section of the mighty bald cypress to fall from the top before the rest of the tree collapsed. Investigators initially ruled out arson and theorized that a lightning strike may have caused the fire.

Not only was Barnes charged with malicious burning of land, a third-degree felony, but police found drugs in her home while executing a search warrant. She now faces additional charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia.

While Barnes sits in Seminole County jail on $5,950 total bond, WESH reports members of the public have taken their anger over The Senator's demise to her Facebook page:

"Burn in hell, you horror of a human," one person told Barnes, while another wrote, "I hope you get some 'jail house justice' in Seminole County Jail."

The tree, which was a whopping 18 feet wide, was named for a state senator in the 1920s who donated the land that is now Big Tree Park. Former President Calvin Coolidge commemorated the tree with a plaque in 1929.

Orlando resident Jillian McClung said she was deeply saddened over the loss of a piece of history: "Very few things stood the test of time the way the Senator had 

Patriarca da Floresta
This tree, an example of the species Cariniana legalis named Patriarca da Floresta in Brazil, is estimated to be about 3,000 years old, making it the oldest non-conifer in Brazil. The tree is believed to be sacred, but its species is widely threatened due to forest clearing in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela

Olive Tree of Vouves
This ancient olive tree is located on the Greek island of Crete and is one of seven olive trees in the Mediterranean believed to be at least 2,000 to 3,000 years old. Although its exact age cannot be verified, the Olive Tree of Vouves might be the oldest among them, estimated at over 3,000 years old. It still produces olives, and they are highly prized. Olive trees are hardy and drought-, disease- and fire-resistant — part of the reason for their longevity and their widespread use in the region.

J?mon Sugi
J?mon Sugi, located in Yakushima, Japan, is the oldest and largest cryptomeria tree on the island, and is one of many reasons why the island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tree dates to at least 2,000 years old, but some experts believe it could be older than 5,000 years old. Under that theory, it's possible that J?mon Sugi is the oldest tree in the world — even older than Methuselah. Regardless of the numbers, it's a tree that deserves mention here.

Chestnut Tree of One Hundred Horses
This tree, located on Mount Etna in Sicily, is the largest and oldest known chestnut tree in the world. Believed to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old, this tree's age is particularly impressive because Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The tree sits only 5 miles from Etna's crater. The tree's name originated from a legend in which a company of 100 knights were caught in a severe thunderstorm. According to the legend, all of them were able to take shelter under the massive tree. It is listed by Guinness World Records as having the "greatest tree girth ever," at 190 feet in circumference.

General Sherman
Believed to be around 2,500 years old, General Sherman is the mightiest giant sequoia still standing. The volume of its trunk alone makes it the largest non-clonal tree by volume in the world, even though its largest branch broke off in 2006, smashing part of its enclosing fence and cratering the pavement of the surrounding walkway. Perhaps this was a sign that General Sherman could not be caged in? Sherman can be found in Sequoia National Park in California, where five of the 10 largest trees in the world exist.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Crossing The Line

The film is about a former U.S. Army soldier, James J. Dresnok, who defected to North Korea on August 15, 1962. The film was directed and produced by British filmmakers Daniel Gordon and Nicholas Bonner, and was shown at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The film, which was narrated by actor Christian Slater, was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the festival

Inside North Korea


Sun men trick way into secretive state where lights go out at 11pm, gum is given as change and no one knows Jacko's dead

Sun's Simon and Alex
Duty ... Sun's Simon and Alex lay flowers and bow in front of statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung as expected by the regime
Published: 30th May 2012

THE SUN can today reveal what it is like living in the world’s most secretive country — North Korea.

Posing as businessmen, Sun men Alex Peake and Simon Jones spent a week inside the poverty-stricken state, ruled by the most oppressive regime on the planet.

They got visas through a contact in China working for British-based Lupine Travel. They even set up fake business addresses and email accounts for the applications — although at no point did they tell Lupine Travel or anybody else on the trip they were Sun journalists.

They entered by crossing the border from China into the last Stalinist state on the planet.

At the checkpoint on the North Korean side, the pair were ushered off their coach by gun-toting soldiers in peaked caps and khaki uniforms bearing the Communist badge.

But they were let in... and were about to get an unprecedented glimpse behind the world’s last “iron curtain”.

AS we headed from the border post to a hotel in the crumbling town of Sinuiju we could see six-storey buildings dotted along the banks of the river.

From neighbouring China they looked like nice flats. It was a sham, they were all windowless and empty.

Despot Kim Jong Il had ordered the “homes” to be built to make it appear to the Chinese that North Koreans were living well.

Shut out ... the metro has chandeliers, but people can’t afford to travelIn fact, many of the people here are starving.

Apart from the grey blocks, the only other buildings along the river were watchtowers, manned 24 hours a day by soldiers under orders to shoot anyone attempting to flee for a better life.

It may have been less than a mile from the bright lights of China but it felt like we’d arrived on another planet.

The town was dingy and bleak with no signs of shops or restaurants or any commerce whatsoever.

We drove past either drab grey government buildings or crumbling blocks of flats with paint peeling off the outside walls.

Locals all wore a badge with the late Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, or the Great Comrade, his father Kim Il Sung, and walked slowly or cycled along the streets.

Propaganda ... blue van belts out party message

Nobody was smiling and most people were walking alone in a zombie-like state, staring at the floor. As the bus passed, many stood and stared at us as we peered out of the window.

We then took a 200-mile journey on a 1940s train to the capital Pyongyang, a six-hour journey.

For miles there was nothing but paddy fields with people knee-deep in water working. As the train chugged past they stopped and looked up to stare. We waved, but nobody waved back.

Every so often we passed through a small town or village and no matter how tiny it was — wherever there were people living — there was a colourful giant mosaic of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il or both.

North Korea ... symbolism

Monuments to the two leaders and their beloved ruling Workers’ Party were erected in the remotest parts of the countryside. We had been warned our rooms could be bugged long before we arrived at the 47-floor Yanggakdo Hotel. It is one of two hotels in Pyongyang the regime use to house the handful of tourists.

They favour the Yanggakdo because it is on an island in the middle of the city, making it impossible for people to wander off without government minders.

Even so, armed guards patrol the only bridge off the island. When we arrived, our guides checked us in as we stood in the massive foyer looking in horror at the giant turtle that was swimming around in the tiny aquarium. The hotel, built in 1995, has six lifts — although none has a button for the fifth floor. Officials say Level Five is where the staff live.

Helping out ... Sun reporter Alex gets to talk to English language students at the Grand People’s Study Theatre

Others are convinced it is where government agents spy on guests, listening in on their conversations.

Every room has a TV. Airtime on one channel is filled with pro-regime propaganda including hours of footage of new leader Kim Jong-un watching military displays. The bars in the hotel mainly sold the surprisingly good North Korean lager at 50p a bottle.

Staff flatly refused tips and instead of change we were given two pieces of loose chewing gum. In the city, thousands of ordinary North Koreans pay daily tribute to Kim Jong Il, who died last December. The mere mention of his name causes them to burst into tears in grief.

Holding a bunch of plastic flowers — as ordered by our guides — I waited my turn to lay them at the feet of a 65ft bronze statue. The Mansuda Grand Monument was unveiled following the Dear Leader’s death. It stands next to a statue of his father Kim Il Sung.

Don’t relish this ... burgers are available only at the Youth Restaurant but despite officials’ claims they taste nothing like a genuine Big Mac

Thousands of worshippers, mainly schoolchildren, are taken to the site to lay plastic flowers at their “divine” metal feet.

Comically, we were banned from taking pictures too close to the statues in case we cut any body part out of the frame. Our guides told us it is seen as a “very grave offence”. Despite desperately fighting against “evil” western ways, there is a burger bar and pizza restaurant in Pyongyang. We went for a burger at the “Youth Restaurant”.

Officials say the burgers were modelled exactly on Big Macs. But God only knows what the meat is, there was no way it was beef.

According to a guide that met us at the giant doors of The Grand People’s Study Theatre, the building holds more than 25 million books. If true, that would make it the largest library in the world.

Not so happy meal ... Youth Restaurant

We asked one guide about America and without hesitation he clenched his fists and began shouting “down with USA”. In the music room, he was bursting with pride when he produced a Beatles album on CD and proceeded to blast out Yellow Submarine.

All three of the guides knew The Beatles and liked the music. Amazingly though, none had heard of John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney or George Harrison.

The only other western star they had heard of was Michael Jackson — but were shocked to discover that he was dead.

Deep underneath the streets of Pyongyang is the most lavish underground system in the world.

As millions of North Koreans starve, surviving on a diet of rice and potato handouts from the government, commuters in the capital can wait for their trains under gleaming gold and crystal chandeliers while looking at beautiful propaganda paintings and murals.

New leader ... Kim Jong-un

The Pyongyang Metro claims to have two lines and boasts 17 stations — but it is believed there are in fact only three stops.

And only privileged Party members can ride on the green and red East German trains, many still with German graffiti on the side.

Rumours are rife the hardline authorities fill the metro stations with actors when foreign tour groups visit because normal citizens cannot afford to travel.

For most of the 24 million population day-to-day life is a constant struggle. Nobody in North Korea is paid a wage. Workers get a property, almost always a grotty flat.

Back in time ... a girl student at the Grand People’s Study Theatre uses an old computer

With the accommodation comes free electricity although demand means it often cuts out.

Even in Pyongyang most of the city is plunged into darkness at 11pm. Only the statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung and monuments to the regime are constantly lit.

Less than one per cent of North Koreans own a car so traffic jams are non-existent. But both in the cities and countryside blue vans with megaphones patrol the streets.

They blare out a relentless message: “Work harder.”

Sun man Alex ... with one of his North Korean guides

Four Naked Women Playing Mahjong


Right in front, the Asian lady with a tattoo on her back is China.

On the left, the lady full of concentration is Japan.

Dressed at the top looking sideways is USA.

Lying rather seductively is Russia.

The little girl standing by the side is Taiwan.

China "tripled" the Dong tiles (East Winds, this is a double up). This means that China has arisen with the circumstances (the winds); maybe that is the display of the "East Wind" missiles she possesses now. It looks like China is doing ok, but there is no clue about the other cards (tiles). Meanwhile she is up to no good under the table.

USA, appearing confident, is looking at Taiwan with an expression; perhaps to read from the look of Taiwan or to send some message.

Russia may appear indifferent but it is far from that. One leg is on USA and one hand is passing card(s) to China. They are some discreet exchanges going on.

Japan has all eyes on the cards, unaware of what others are doing.

Taiwan wears a red abdominal vest, maybe implying she is the last successor of the Chinese culture. She holds a tray of fruits in one hand and a fruit knife in the other, looking quietly at China with resentment. But she has no option. She is not in the game (a little girl too young to play the game?).

Dark clouds hang over the river outside the window implying tension over the straits separating Main Land China and Taiwan.

The portrait on the wall is interesting, mustache of Sun Yet Sun, the bare head of Chiang Kai Set, the face of Mao Tze Tong...

How the 4 ladies are dressed is also very interesting.

China bares her top, with panties and a skirt.

USA is almost fully dressed but bares her bottom.

Russia is left with only panties.

Japan naked.

These perhaps reflect the status of each nation;

The attire of USA appears to be most complete, probably because she is still the most powerful. Others are short of something here and there. Though USA is most presentable, she has nevertheless exposed her bottom (line). China and Russia look naked but keep their private parts are covered.

We assume this is a stripping game where the loser removes a piece of clothing.

In this game, if China loses, she will be like Russia today... (broken up).

If USA loses, she will also be like Russia...

If Russia loses again, then she has nothing left...

And Japan is already left with nothing....

Russia may appear to have drawn an extra tile (by the rule of the game, she cannot complete the game i.e. cannot win) and is hanging on for nothing ... BUT she is actually exchanging tiles with China...

The other person hanging on is Japan since she has no more "chips". She is out of the game if she loses.

In conclusion:

USA is pretending. She looks most glorious but faces great dangers. If she loses this game, she loses her dominating position.

Russia has a leg each on a boat, most sly ... Her situation is a little like China after liberation (when the communist took over China), sometimes with the USSR and sometimes with USA. Due to her lack of self sufficiency, she has to yo-yo between two parties for survival and room of development.

China has many tiles but they are not in view. Does that imply China keeps her strengths under wrap? And she is exchanging tiles with Russia under the table.

USA can only guess from the expression of Taiwan what may be happening between China and Russia.

Japan looks ignorant as she continues to focus on her cards.

China’s hand (of tiles) is most unpredictable.

Poor Japan ... there are so many things happening around her. She has no chance of a win and she is out the moment she loses.

Taiwan keeps watch as a bystander. She sees all that transpired in the game and she understands. But she is not qualified to, nor capable of participating in the game. She has no right to speak. She is full of grievances and is utterly helpless. She can only be the maid, offering fruits to the winner(s).

The winner should be a pick between China or USA , there is little doubt about this. Then again if you notice, they are playing Chinese Mahjong, not Western Poker.

Playing with the rules of a Chinese game, what are the odds for USA?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

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