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Programming GNU is Not Unix Software Technology

Open Source Geeks Considered Modern Heroes 361

loconet writes "The BBC reports that a report by Demos says that the all-consuming passions of geeks and nerds may actually be beneficial for society. The UK think tank's report published today, underlines the importance of 'Pro-Ams' -- amateurs who pursue a hobby or pastime, in many cases an all-consuming passion, to a professional standard. The report says Pro-Am astronomers have made 'significant contributions' to the knowledge of the universe, while Pro-Am computer programmers are providing the only serious challenge to Microsoft's dominance of personal computing."
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Open Source Geeks Considered Modern Heroes

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:17PM (#10953899)
    this doesn't mean chicks will sleep with geeks now or anything.
  • Ok then... (Score:3, Funny)

    by krmt ( 91422 ) <therefrmhere AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:17PM (#10953900) Homepage
    Where's my damn cape then?
  • by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:19PM (#10953924) Homepage Journal
    Sure the headline may say
    Open Source Geeks Considered Modern Heroes
    But be sure to read the small print:
    ... Exception : women
  • This has been true forever.

    At the top, are the professionals (and the large companies, governments, and institutions to support them)

    At the bottom are those who have an interest but no means to carry out their interest due to high barriers of entry.

    That leaves room in the middle for us, the pro-ams. Most of us won't find the "next best thing", but a FEW of us will. That's pretty cool.
  • Am-Pros (Score:5, Funny)

    by FuzzyDaddy ( 584528 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:22PM (#10953961) Journal
    People who work as professionals that perform at an amateur level.

    Yup, I've known a few.

    • Of course, we do that in order to devote as much attention as possible to excelling in our avocation. I'm an amateur developer cause it pays the rent but professional poet, philosopher, historian of the 15th century. It is of the nature of higher pursuits that they do not remunerate like conventional skills.

      It is also true that this is the source of tremendous creative value. When the Ams go Pro, they can devote all their energy to their passions.
      • >It is of the nature of higher pursuits that they do not remunerate like conventional skills.

        Its not the "nature of higher pursuits" that forces you to develop so you can pay the rent.

        Its that your aren't good of a poet/philosopher/historian/candlestick-maker to get paid enough to pay the rent.
    • They're MY heroes!
  • but didn't we already know this? Open source geeks have been my heroes for years, and now that I am one I know that I feel better about my open source contributions than I do about a lot of other things I do! (I'm not exactly my own hero, but I am way cooler than all those "maybe I can start my own company with this cool office suite I'm programming for DOS!" losers)
  • It's too bad they/we cant get laid more often.
    • I really don't understand this position. Is it true that people that work in the computer industry have zero social skills, or just a perception we've come to cast ourselves by? I'm speaking as a 23 year old software developer who's getting married in 4 days.

      There's really nothing that can make us that socially different in our industry... not so much different as accountants that might spend 11 hours a day in a cube, or evil Ms. Wench in grade school that you might've had in first grade. Everyone I work w

      • Is it true that people that work in the computer industry have zero social skills, or just a perception we've come to cast ourselves by?

        Its a big stereo type. People think "computer industry" and lump together all the antisocial Evercrack nerds, tie wearing MCSEs, cheeto-covered "Linux Hacker", and the guys who sit around in jeans & Tshirts getting real work done.
      • by Beardo the Bearded ( 321478 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @02:35PM (#10954690)
        Here's why people think geeks can't get laid:

        1. They're morons.

        2. They're trying to be funny to karma whore, having not read the explicit instructions stating that "funny" does not improve your karma.

        Let me turn off the spin and give you a no-shiatter. It's had to explain in a tiny little window, but eh, I'll give it a shot and hope that you get some understanding.

        The truth is that we do stuff that most people can't understand. I'm smarter than most of the people I know. (The same probably holds true for most of the people on /.) I am more successful than anyone I went to school with, including most of my teachers.

        I program VHF transmitters that track animals, wildlife, and assets via GPS and broadcast those co-ordinates up to 20 km away. I primarily use C, but my day-to-day routine also requires HTML, Visual Basic, and Assembly. I've also got a hand in designing the circuit boards.

        I'm sure everyone on /. got that. Now, how many people do you know outside of work still understand that? How about the guy you went to school with who now runs the deli at the local grocer? The girl who - after 10 years - is now the manager at McDonald's? They don't have a clue. My mother-in-law knows that I "do something with computers" even though that's not the case. That's like saying a carpenter "does something with hammers". I get embarrased sometimes when I talk to the people I've known that haven't gone further.

        "How's it going? I haven't seen you for a long time."

        "Oh, I'm now running the gas station. How about you?"

        "Good, I'm an Electrical Engineer, etc."

        So where does that leave them? Exactly where they are. We're generally richer, having better health coverage, nicer vehicles, more attractive spouses, bigger houses, etc. In all respects, we're better off.

        Now, I'm not elitist. I don't think that I'm better than any other person, and I think that with the same training and ambition, just about anybody could learn to do this job. (I mean, hell, *I* figured this out, so how hard can it be, right? ;) ) I know that I don't have the physcial ability to dig ditches. (I could dig one, but I'd be more likely to rent a backhoe for the day.) Nor do I have the stomach required to clean toilets or mop floors.

        So what do they have left? Ridicule us based on a sterotype that may not apply. This holds true in the media - look at how geeks are portrayed. It's always someone with big glasses, greasy hair, and clothes that don't quite fit right. To round off the stereotype, the typical geek is shy and awkward around women, and has a voice that's barely audible. When geeks are portrayed as cool, it's so over the top that it's ridiculous. Take the Matrix (please!). They're running around in skin-tight leather, trenchcoats, and sunglasses. It doesn't even make sense, but that's what we've got. The media either portrays us as loner dorks who sit in messy rooms and order pizza on a Saturday night or as rejects from a leather fetish bar who can't work a dryer.

        The problem is that it's just not cool to be smart. You can buy expensive clothes, you can buy a cell phone, you can listen to the latest bads (and buy their CDs and cereal and posters!) but you can't buy a bigger brain. If you could, they'd tell you that you need an IQ of 222 to be cool.

        I wear contacts, I shower regularly, and a lot of my stuff is tailored. (Well, my jeans aren't, but they're women's jeans and I'm a guy. What can I say? I biked to university and ended up with pretty big legs - normal guy's jeans don't fit.) I was in a choir for 10 years, and I have a pretty strong and projecting voice. "It goes right to the heart," was how one person described it.

        I've been married for six and a half years, and I've got a fantastic 10-month old daughter.
        • Here's why people think geeks can't get laid:
          I've been married for six and a half years, and I've got a fantastic 10-month old daughter.

          I think there's something to the "geeks can't get laid" thing. In high school and college, getting laid (or a steady relationship, or popularity) is most people's primary objective. One popular strategy is lifting yourself up by putting others down. Geeks, though, they actually spend a substantial fraction of their time getting educated. Since they don't dedica

    • If you got laid more often, your brain functions wouldn't work properly. Remember what happened go George in the Seinfield episode where he gave up sex? Just the opposite would happen to you.
  • Yay for us! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by general_re ( 8883 )
    Today's as good a day as any for a little circle-jerk.

    (rolls eyes)

  • A Troll article? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:26PM (#10954007) Journal
    I have one Mod point left and I want to use it before the end of the day when it expires. How can I mod this whole article as Troll?

    Come on folks. Only on select sites such as this one are people like those mentioned in the article considered heroes. Joe Average, as a rule, doesn't even know what Open Source is let alone that it exists.

    Maybe, possibly, though unlikely, some time in the future those who have contributed might be recognized for their efforts (such as Linus) in hindsight but I'm not holding my breath.
    • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:33PM (#10954079)
      Come on folks. Only on select sites such as this one are people like those mentioned in the article considered heroes. Joe Average, as a rule, doesn't even know what Open Source is let alone that it exists.

      I think that we could say that even though most people don't know about Open Source "heros" that what these people do on a daily basis ends up impacting everyone else even if only indirectly.

      If it wasn't for the rise of Linux who knows where MSFT would be heading...
    • by Tim ( 686 ) <timr@alumni.was[ ... u ['hin' in gap]> on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:45PM (#10954189) Homepage
      You're being tremendously unfair.

      I'm a graduate student. I do computational biology research, as do many of my colleagues. I know scores of people who are involved in genome analysis, drug design, and fundamental forms of biomedical research. And when you look at the tools that we use, you find that we're increasingly dependent upon open source software -- from operating systems to compilers to scripting languages, our work is fundamentally enabled by the efforts of hundreds of thousands of volunteers.

      It's quite humbling, actually. I probably couldn't do my research without open source. At the very least, the people who pay me probably couldn't afford to pay the same number of students/faculty/staff if they had to shell out for millions of dollars in proprietary software (to say nothing of the compatability problems that proprietary software usually creates).

      The people who develop open source software help to make biomedical research possible. Is that heroism? I don't know, but it's certainly not a trivial thing....

    • The future belongs to those who own the Net. The Net belongs to a culture; it always has, and always will. The culture is bigger than goverments, stronger than armies, and yet listens to the tiniest whisper of knowledge, wisdom, or freedom.

      The future belongs to us. We will choose as our heroes those who inform us, inspire us, and remind us of our best selves. They struggle against the forces who would keep us ignorant, cowed, and small.

      It is not only the well-known who will be our heroes. A hero stru
    • >Joe Average, as a rule, doesn't even know what Open Source is let alone that it exists.

      You're right, if someone's selfless accomplishments aren't immediately splashed across Page One of some newsrag, that person ISN'T a hero.

      Case closed.

      In case you can't tell, this is sarcasm.
  • by Justice8096 ( 673052 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:27PM (#10954024)
    Note that the article from Demos indicates that professional amateurs are not new - this is just reversing a trend that started last century when professionals made most of the contributions.
    I'd say that the only "new" thing about professional amateurs is that the Internet allows them to publicise their work earlier, allowing us to take advantage of genius before the person dies.
    Whether this marginalizes them by forcing them down the conventional paths by responding to feedback from their peers, where previously an amateur would have less feedback and explore the non-utilitarian aspects of an idea, or allows the amateur to expand their idea by meeting more of their ilk, is up for grabs.
    Any ideas?
    • In a way you touched on how the Internet most threatens institutions; by leveling the playing-field, it short-circuits the copious ass-kissing and brown-nosing that lots of geniuses fail at when trying to go through the academia.

      Freedom of ideas, freedom of communication, these are the enemies of corporate-managed countries.

      I'm surprised the Internet has even been able to proliferate and circumvent most educational and class barriers (although there are still lots of people who cannot access the Internet)
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:28PM (#10954037)
    The terms "amateur" and "professional" are in no way synonymous with "expertise," and the phrase "professional standard," if it has any real meaning at all, has meaning only within the realm of a particular workplace, not the lab/workshop.

  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:30PM (#10954048)
    amateurs and people who code for corporations Pros?

    don't people do both? i know i do, so does that mean only projects where money involved are "professional" and OSS is "amateurs"?

    that is just assinine
    • by kavau ( 554682 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @02:49PM (#10954846) Homepage
      amateur n.
      1. A person who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession.
      2. Sports. An athlete who has never accepted money, or who accepts money under restrictions specified by a regulatory body, for participating in a competition.
      3. One lacking the skill of a professional, as in an art.

      professional n.

      1. A person following a profession, especially a learned profession.
      2. One who earns a living in a given or implied occupation: hired a professional to decorate the house.
      3. A skilled practitioner; an expert.

      I believe that the first two definitions of each word were close to the original meaning, and only later, sadly, the third meaning developed as a connotation. And the first two definitions of amateur capture the typical open-source developer pretty well.

      After all, amateur stems from Latin amare, meaning to love. So an amateur coder is somebody who loves to code. The upshot: Don't get upset if somebody is calling you an amateur, just smile :D

  • Or just a amateurish professional?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:33PM (#10954074)
    Oh, the bad news? You still won't get laid.
    • News News (n=uz), n From New; cf. F. nounelles. News is plural in form, but is commonly used with a singular verb.

      1. A report of recent occurrences; information of something that has lately taken place, or of something before unknown; fresh tidings; recent intelligence.

      I hate to tell you, but not getting laid doesn't qualify as "news" for 90% of us here. But thanks for reminding us, jerk.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:33PM (#10954077)
    Pros eventually reach a level where they spend more and more time managing the system (meetings, writing, planning, and press) than doing whatever they were doing to got them there in the first place. Amateurs have a love and the luxury (total absence of finances or already early retirement) of not having the management role and can focus their efforts more productively.
  • by hellfire ( 86129 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `vdalived'> on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:38PM (#10954124) Homepage
    See, this doesn't surprise me as news. The article should be taking the complete opposite tack.

    For the last 100 years in the US, for example, we've been consumed by consumption. Things have to make money in order to be researched or experimented with and people have to make money to survive. So everyone gets a 9 to 5 job and works their tail off until they go into business for themselves or find some niche that makes them happy that also pays them.

    I think the problem is that the over all amount of science and pure research has shrunk in recent years because so many people are concerned about two things:

    1) What they think is important rather than what's best for science in general.
    2) Money.

    I.E. "why should my taxes fund that research? Huh? it might cure disease in 20 years? I don't get it, it must be stupid since I don't understand how that could possibly happen. Now pardon me while I go manage my snack food and oil stock portfolio."

    And worse, in the US, so many people have less hobby time than they used to because people are working longer hours in the US.

    Scientists of old had more significant hobby time than dop typical US citizens. They also were funded more often by local lords who thought it a status symbol to be funding the local science or art geek. Our national endowments for the arts and sciences inthe US have been gutted as of late because the public feels these funds "unnecessary."

    Science and Art lead society. Most americans don't get that, because they are scared of change. So we are stuck with the same music as before, the same stupid non-important drugs, and the same people running the government, and less and less real art and science coming out of this country.

    Hopefully, the UK will heed the BBC and turn away from the way the US is running itself into the ground.
    • I think the problem is that the over all amount of science and pure research has shrunk in recent years...
      Your entire "insightful" comment is predicated on this assumption.
      Prove it.
    • Scientists of old had more significant hobby time than dop typical US citizens. They also were funded more often by local lords who thought it a status symbol to be funding the local science or art geek.

      I'm not an expert, but I suspect that it hasn't changed all that much. "Scientists of old" are the people who are remembered because they made such a significant impact on science. Just because we remember them, however, doesn't mean that there weren't scores of potentially capable scientists whose

  • Remember when Kim Polese was considered one of Time's most 25 influential people? WHat happened to Marimba... oh yeah, BMC bought them at a fire sale.
  • by suso ( 153703 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:44PM (#10954185) Homepage Journal
    When you think about all the people in history that made sizeable contributions to society (like Galileo, Mozart, Tesla, etc.), did it not seem to you from our perspective that they were more of hobbyists? I'm not trying to belittle them, I'm just saying that when reading about their life, they seemed quite a bit like most of us. So I imagine there is a lot we could learn from their lives and experiences they had within their society.
  • by rodentia ( 102779 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:49PM (#10954226)
    The guy sourced for the article happens to be an OSS geek. Anorak in the hed. Hello, slashdot? Is the BBC reduced to astroturfing?

    Top five pro-am activities:

    Arts and Crafts

    And the number one most popular pro-am activity:


    Go ahead, London.
  • Money.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PrimeNumber ( 136578 ) * <PrimeNumber@exc i t> on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @01:58PM (#10954323) Homepage
    I do think paying 'pro-ams' money would be disastrous. Govt money seems to be a sirens song for hucksters, slackers and corrupt businesses.
    One of the reasons I think people like working on opensource software is because they work with people that love what they do and want to do it the right way and be proud of it. You start mixing govt money into this equation, then every tom, dick and harry will be claiming they are pro-ams because they have contributed a bunch of half-a$$ed source to a project. This in my opinion would destroy the quality and 'pure' ideology of open source/free software. Keep OSDL, keep paypal or other donations to a project (firefox is a good example), but keep govt funds out.
  • The whole "Pro-Am" deal is exactly where most artists are today. They are very good at what they do, but get precious little recognition and zero pay for their efforts.

    A friend of mine even pushes it farther, saying that there is no such thing as Computer Engineering (he's a structural engineer) as for him, engineering consists of specific points of scientifically derived knowledge that is arranged to come to computable ends, likea bridge, or a house. He looks at the buggy spaghetti code spewed out in a c

  • by RailGunner ( 554645 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @02:02PM (#10954374) Journal
    Linus Torvalds has a Masters Degree in Computer Science, and a "real job", and yet he's a "Pro-Am?"

    Alan Cox has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Applied Mathematics, and a "real job", and yet he's a "Pro-Am"?

    I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Texas and a "real job", and I'm a Pro-Am when I contribute to open source projects?

    I feel insulted by this article, and I strongly disagree with the point that it makes. While it is true that there are Amateur OSS contributors, when you look at the major players (note: I'm not claiming to be a major player.) they all have advanced degrees in Computer Science, Math, or another Engineering method. These are some exceptionally bright people, and to dismiss them as "Professional Amateurs" does them a pretty great disservice. Just because an OSS contributer is not getting paid does NOT make them an amateur anymore then a laywer doing pro-bono work is an amateur.

  • Do what you love (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 5n3ak3rp1mp ( 305814 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @02:02PM (#10954380) Homepage
    Isn't this simply a corollary of "do what you love, and the rest will follow"?
    • Problem: Most people love to do nothing. Or the something they love to do is so popular (sports) that they'll never make any money doing it.

      Very, very few people make enough money at what they love to live off of it. And most of them are very good.

      So the phrase should be "Do what you're best at, or what nobody else will do, and the money will follow." If that happens to correlate with what you love, all the better.

  • The BBC article mentioned something interesting:
    • Calling them "Pro-Ams" - amateurs who pursue a hobby to a professional standard - it suggests such people should receive government funding to "promote community cohesion".

    Fishing for the details in the report []..

    • In sum our main policy proposals for promoting Pro-Am participation include the ideas listed below.

      • The government should launch a Pro-Am fellowship programme, investing small sums in community Pro- Ams. This might be modelled on localised versi
  • by randall_burns ( 108052 ) <> on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @02:04PM (#10954401)
    Is there is a need to have means of rewarding inventors and researchers that include the Pro-Ams, part time pros and others that are not affiliated with the existing research establishment. What I'm thinking here is a system of prizes similar to the Longitude prize and the X prize-but something that would impact a lot more people.

    What I personally think would be optimal is a both some major prizes for achievement of significant milestones(i.e. creation of the viable first fusion reactor [] or a cure for AIDS) and a series of smaller prizes that would involve smaller lifetime payments(work out a set of criteria that would be used to award small lifetime stipends to researchers/inventors on the order of maybe twice what social security pays so these folks don't have to mess with the mundane realities of just scraping by--and have thousands of these awarded every year so that a big chunk of Pro-Ams can expect to get one once they've showng themselves to be serious contributors). Frankly, if the government wants to be anything but a deadbeat, they ought to start giving out these prizes because a lot of agencies could barely run without free software!

  • by mogrify ( 828588 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @02:10PM (#10954451) Homepage
    if isBurning($building) {
    foreach $person (@trappedPeople) {
  • by FlukeMeister ( 20692 ) on Tuesday November 30, 2004 @02:12PM (#10954475) Homepage
    First off, I should point out that I'm the guy who was interviewed by Demos for the report, and also the same Seb Potter that the nice people at the BBC interviewed for their piece. Please excuse any rambling in the article, I was interviewed very early in the morning, before coffee, on the day after the wedding of two close friends, and my brain was most definitely not fully engaged.

    The first thing that I notice on here is a lot of detracting comments from people who haven't read the full report, but are just going on the headline. I'm not particularly surprised, as, of the several members of the press that interviewed me, only the BBC actually wanted to try to present the story in a positive light. Others just wanted to regurgitate the press release and get some nerdy quotes about not having a social life, for which I was happy to disappoint. No member of the press that I spoke to had actually read the port as far as I could tell.

    Strangely, nobody wanted to publish my photo, because I don't look at all like the stereotypical image of a trainspotting nerd. I feel sorry for the other 5 people who were put forward by Demo as being examples of what Demos calls the "Pro/Amateur" economy, as the press ignored them completely.

    So guys, remember that when you're pressing that submit button, you might be coming off as no more intelligent than a tabloid journalist.

    I'm pretty encouraged by the report and what Demos are doing with it. For those who don't know the background, Demos is a think-tank organisation that provides policy advice to the british government. In this case, their advice has been obscured behind a knee-jerk press reaction, a reaction that I especially wouldn't have expected from the audience that the report praises.

    You might need to know who I am, that I have the nerve to represent the community in this way. Well, I'm a 27 year old programmer from England. I've held a series of successively senior roles in several companies over the last 8 year, that has led to my current position as the Technical Director a company called Getfrank ( []. Along the way I helped get Battle.Net started in Europe when I worked for Sierra/Vivendi running their online presence back in the 90s.

    6 years ago, almost to the week, I was one of a handful of people that started an online community called evolt ( []). Actually, the wedding I was at this weekend was for 2 of the most prominent members of that community. I'm about to dump most of my time over the next couple of weeks to work on a complete rebuild of the technical architecture behind the community.

    About 2 years ago I started working with the Plone project [], and became a core developer through working myself silly helping to get the 2.0 release out of the door. I don't get to contribute to the community as much as I would like at the moment, but that's mainly because everyone there is pretty damned good at what they do.

    I have a steady girlfriend, but then, so do nearly all of my geeky friends, except the married ones. I have a social life that can best be characterised as amplified. I code about 50 hours a week at work for clients (on OSS projects), and about 30 hours a week for fun (on whatever the hell I like, but mostly little Torque Engine-based games for fun).

    The point about the Pro/Amateur thing isn't people making a living out of their hobbies, it's mostly about motivation, and the availability of expertise and knowledge outside of the traditional bounds of "professions". In fact, it's one of the first indicators that many sections of the economy are noticing a move back away from the protestant work ethic, and back towards concepts of social responsibility and pride in self-directed achievement.

    It's all small steps, and getting a report like this published and noticed in the press is just the first tiny step towards change, but it's definitely going to be an interesting journey.
  • It's a serious question, why would you be insulted if you were called pro-am? It wasn't meant to be derogatory, slanderous, or condescending. I think it was used because it's trying to describe _all_ the contributors as a whole -- whether they're professionals in the field or not. What other field can any joe go in and start contributing right away? A mechanic can't walk into the operating room and start surgery -- but a mechanic can definitely start programming for OSS. Let's not get stuck on the word Pro-
  • Since there is proof that good science can be done by Pro-Am's in astronomy, it seems like it would be a good idea to create programs that helped promising pro-ams with resources for research. Other fields could have a larger base of dedicated Pro-Ams if they fostered the idea more.
  • Tolkien & Lewis (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ProteusQ ( 665382 ) *
    I wondering if they considered the "ProAm Effect" in literature. Tolkien and Lewis were operating well outside the mainstream of their time and without a budget (at least at first, even though the roylaties of "The Hobbit" could never have been a driving force to write something like "The Lord of the Rings.") Alternately, their contemporaries were feted and lauded by the Powers That Were, given grants, scholarships, professorships, etc.

    Now, the works of Woolfe, Joyce, and hundreds of authors who are mos

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