House 2.0 – Certificate of Occupancy

Just over a week ago, on Friday, March 31, 2017, we received the certificate of occupancy for our new house. (*lets out a huge sigh of relief*). This last week, the painters showed up for the final touch up, and to finish a few remaining items.

After years of planning and about 14 months of construction, House v2.0 is ready to move in!

Rather anti-climatically, the to-do list doesn’t seem to care about the much sought after government permit, and seems unaware that the CO is some sort of finish line. The hard-scaping (retaining walls and concrete driveway) still haven’t been started, which is making access to the house (and thus moving in) problematic. The project of getting internet properly connected is a seemingly never ending time suck. The loft ladder still needs handrails. I haven’t selected a backsplash tile for the kitchen. There are a few punch list items that need to be addressed. And so on (you’d be terribly bored if I listed everything). HOWEVER, we can move in any time! And so we will. Moving day is coming soon! Hurray!


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House 2.0 – wood floor finish, appliances, driveway grading

Here is a little update on House 2.0:

The wood floors were finished a couple of weeks ago. They look great, although the process was not without some minor damage to existing trim work, posts, and kitchen cabinets:

The wood floors are 5-in white oak, and we intentionally chose a lower grade at #2. I’ve been surprised at how the flooring contractor, floor finisher, and others have commented on the floors; they seem really worried about the color variation and knots. I keep having to tell them we like that, and did it on purpose. I guess the trend is to try and have “perfect” looking wood floors? What’s the point in that? Its wood, not a synthetic material. We specifically wanted a more “rustic” look, and are pretty happy with the result. The floors are not stained, just sanded and finished with an oil based poly.

As of this week, the appliances are delivered, and installed. Except for the dishwasher, which is sitting forlornly in its packaging in the middle of the kitchen floor:

Grading – Our home site sits on  a slope, so there was some grading work to do to make the water shed properly, and have the driveway make sense. We also had to run a few of the downspout drains underground. I really like the grading contractor, those guys are excellent at what they do. They really took their time with the laser surveyors level like they actually cared about making it right:

Other milestones: Both the unsightly construction dumpster and the construction power pole are gone.

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House 2.0 – electrical fixtures, bath vanities, plumbing fixtures, hardware, screen porch, end is in sight

The end of construction is finally in sight for House 2.0. The list of items required to get the CO is getting pretty short. Once the wood floors are finished (sanded and poly), I can have the appliances delivered and installed. Then the plumbers and electricians can come back to finish a few items and install the dishwasher. The HVAC system is still missing a couple of vent covers. But that’s it. Once those items are done, we’ll be able to call for inspection. The floor finisher should be able to start next week or the following, and then we’ll have to stay out of the house for almost two weeks. So, best case is the CO is still a month out.

The house has been slowly moving along. I’m struggling mightily to maintain patience with the contractor games at this point. They swear they’ll be done in the next (insert time frame here) amount of time, and then proceed to work 1 or 2 days that week (or 1/2  a day), and then not come back and finish. Our GC has cracked the whip this week however, so the electricians, HVAC, hardware, and plumbers have all been on site recently. Landscaping plans are also in the works.

The bath vanity counters were installed a couple of weeks ago. Most of the lighting fixtures and plumbing fixtures are in. (See the pics below, I may have had some fun with some of the lighting fixtures. We live on a timber farm, so pine trees are thematic:)  We now have door handles, door stops, cabinets pulls and knobs, mirrors and medicine cabinets, and the screen porch now has a screen.

Getting close!

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House 2.0 – wood stove, bath cabs, electrical in progress

Progress on the house continues slowly along:

  • The wood stove was installed this week. I’m really looking forward to trying that out.
  • My much delayed bathroom cabinets were completed and installed. They were made by the same local cabinet guy that made my kitchen cabinets, and they look great. The delay was mostly my fault, as I decided to have those cabinets made at the last minute, instead of just buying something off the shelf. I’ve learned that you can have cabinets built locally for much higher quality and better cost than from most stores, which has been a fun discovery. I have dates scheduled in the upcoming couple of weeks to measure and install the counter tops. So, it will still be 2-3 weeks before the plumbers can start.
  • Finish electrical work is in progress – interior and exterior light fixtures, outlets, and switches. The electricians put in about a day and half this week; they installed all of the can lights, a few fixtures, and started on the switches and outlets. They seem to do nice work, I just wish they would stay on our job site and finish instead of leaving to go to other jobs.
  • The HVAC guys are still at it, and seem to come by a little bit every week. My range hood exhaust duct is now plumbed to the outside (This proved somewhat tricky due to my range location).
  • The “barn” style door to the office was installed earlier in January. It still needs to be stained and finished. Barn doors are pretty trendy right now and becoming cliche, but I don’t care. Its fun, I like it, and where its located is a pretty reasonable place for a sliding door:)
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House 2.0 – HVAC – thermal smugness

We’re indulging in a little smugness. It feels good to be right:) What follows is an explanation of the HVAC system in our new house, and the success that comes from doing some actual engineering design, as opposed to blindly applying ill-fitting and poor standard practice. The TL;DR version is that you really should run Manual J calcs on any building, including residential buildings, to determine the appropriate HVAC specs for that specific site, or you risk ending up with a really bad design that costs more and doesn’t work as well.

Basically, we were right, and everyone else was wrong, and this post is a garrulous “I told you so”. (I can’t imagine this interests very many people, consider yourself warned).

For the HVAC system at our new house, Kevin specified 2 one-ton Fujitsu ducted mini split heat pump units, one for each floor. We were told by several people, including the HVAC subcontractor, that the system would not work as designed for two reasons: 1) it wasn’t enough capacity for the size of the house, and 2) the specified ducts were too large, and therefore the air would move too slowly to ensure proper mixing. Basically, the heat pumps would not be large enough to adequately heat and cool the house, and there would be hotter and colder spots within the house. He told them to install it anyway, and we’ll see who’s right after the system is running.

Continue reading

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Horses in the Snow

I love watching when the neighbor’s horses are first let out after it snows. They seem to delight in it as much as dogs or kids:) It also reminds me that action photography is hard; all that galloping, bucking, rearing, rolling, and general “horsing” around is difficult to capture.

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Snow Day

First snow of the season!

(Remember, click on the photos to see them full size).

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Happy New Year 2017! (and House 2.0 update)

Happy New Year!

Obviously, our new house is not complete by the start of 2017. (Its ok, I promise). The latest estimate is that we’ll be able to get the CO in mid-February. After that, there will be many punch-list items/final details to tie up before we’ll want to move, so we’re not expecting to move for at least two months at this point.

2016-12-16_dsc09474sHowever, construction is moving along, and for that I am grateful.

  • The interior painting and staining is complete, which was a very large project. I’m very happy with the work they did, it looks great.
  • Once the few remaining lighting items have arrived, we’ll be ready for the electricians to come back to install outlets, switches, and lighting fixtures. Things I have to make decisions about this week that I’ve never thought about before include trim rings for recessed can lights.
  • We have heat! Sort of. One of the two mini-splits works great, the other has some sort of issue that needs to be resolved. The good news is that the single one-ton unit has been able to keep the house warm with temps down into the 30s, so that’s nice.
  • Gutters were installed earlier this week. Those are one of those functional things that’s not very exciting, except for the reason they were brought to our attention. Our site is often windy, and the installers apparently didn’t use enough straps to anchor the downspouts to the house. They stay in place just fine (I know where you thought this was going), but they vibrate like crazy in the wind. The downspouts are a giant Aeolian Harp (ready for your daily physics lesson?), which would be cool if it weren’t on the side of our house. Its surprisingly loud. So yeah, vibrating downspouts are a thing that needs to be fixed.
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House 2.0 – Interior staining and painting, garage doors

For those who are asking about updates: I haven’t updated on the house because there hasn’t been much to share. Progress has been very slow. We figure no one was at the house at all for five out of the last eight weeks or so. However, starting last week, several subs were on site working, and its exciting to see progress resume.

Here is the house as of this weekend:

  • The garage doors are installed (still need to be painted).
  • The interior painters have started. I don’t envy their job: they had to clean and sand the entire frame and ceiling by hand, and then apply a finishing oil to the frame (I think this was sprayed on).
  • This week, the painters are working on staining the interior trim and doors: baseboards, window trim, door trim, and all of the interior doors.
  • Some of the interior walls are primed for paint

Needless to say at this point, we will not be in by the end of the year (and that’s ok). Right now, two of my bath vanity cabinets are delayed (a bit my fault), which will delay fabricating the vanity counter tops, which will delay installing the plumbing fixtures. I think that is the limiting factor. Perhaps we will be in by the end of January, which will be exactly 12 months (which is what we were told to expect), although I won’t be surprised if we don’t move until February. Regardless, we’re getting close!

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House 2.0 – Soapstone Kitchen Counters

The kitchen counters were installed yesterday! The pics below don’t really do them justice, partially because they are covered in dust and I haven’t cleaned them.

The kitchen counters are soapstone. For those not familiar, it is a natural stone that has been used for counter tops for over a hundred years, in farmhouse kitchens especially, and other industrial applications. When choosing a kitchen counter top material, I vacillated back and forth between quartz (industry term for man-made stone), and soapstone, and ended up doing a lot of research about the pros and cons of each material. At this point, I am really happy that I chose soapstone, as the counters are gorgeous, and I really like the way soapstone feels to touch. The counters are really, really nice.

If you are curious about soapstone, here are some pros and cons, supported by a few links at the bottom:

Continue reading

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Snappy Lunch

I enjoyed this article on the history of a local favorite:

Snappy Lunch’s Famous Pork Chop Sandwich
It’s the only Mount Airy business ever mentioned during the eight-year run of The Andy Griffith Show. And it’s not only the show that endures. The celebrity-endorsed pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch has a storied résumé all its own.

snap-lunch-pork-chopWe may or may not have taken a long lunch yesterday to ride up to Mt. Airy (aka  “Mayberry”) in sunny 75°F  weather on the motos specifically for this sandwich.

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House 2.0 – Exterior paint, kitchen cabinets, railing, hearth

House construction is moving along nicely:

  • Exterior painting finally happened. The crew did not mess around, and was done in 2-3 days. We’re both very happy with the results.
  • The kitchen cabinets are installed! I am absolutely delighted, the cabinets are very, very nice. They were custom made by a local cabinet shop, which was something I was surprised to learn would fit in my budget.
  • Trim carpentry continues, and is nearly complete. We now have stair railings.
  • The hearth for the wood stove is in


Fyi, the camera plays tricks with colors. On my monitor, the house looks more green in the above photo than I think it does in real life.

Continue reading

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House 2.0 – screen porch, stone

Happily, work on the house is picking back up again after another slow down in October; essentially nothing happened on the house for over two weeks.

Here are some pics of some masonry work in progress on the front porch, and recently constructed back screen porch:

Some of the delays are our (mostly my) fault;  we’re so busy with work (or, you know, being on vacation), that we’re (I’m) behind on providing the GC with the decisions he needs to move forward. Then there’s been what I consider typical construction/project management stuff: It turns out our little moto trip/vacation coincided with the finish/trim carpenter’s vacation. A couple of subs had scheduling issues or were just simply behind schedule. The GC made a rare mistake and didn’t estimate the painting budget correctly, and has also had a hard time lining up a painting contractor (so this line item is both over budget and “behind schedule” (ok, not really), thankfully not a regular occurrence for our GC).

Fortunately, we’re not under much time pressure. Everyone we talk to asks when we’re going to be in the house; the answer is I don’t know, and I’m not worried about it. It’ll get done eventually, and I’d rather it take longer and be right than push for some arbitrary finish date. We were told to plan on 1 year for construction, and it looks like we’re still on track, and very probably going to finish sooner than that. (Perhaps we’ll be in by the end of the year?)


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2016 Moto Alabama – Oak Ridge TN to Home

Oak Ridge was more or less “on our way” back from Alabama, and the riding in eastern TN is always something to look forward to.

The American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, TN, while touting the area’s history and modern research applications and nuclear technology, is mostly the Manhattan Project Museum.


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2016 Moto Alabama – Birmingham, and Huntsville US Space and Rocket Center

After the noise and chaos that was the very fun Barber Vintage Fest, neither of us really wanted to spend time in a city, and would have preferred to camp somewhere quiet for a night. However, who knows when we’ll be near Birmingham, AL again, and we wanted to see at least a little bit before leaving town.

Birmingham, AL

First up – the Sloss Furnace:

Birmingham exists because it was an ideal place to site the Sloss Furnace to produce iron. Now a National Historic Landmark, the site offers self guided tours, and is also apparently a venue for events and concerts (and in October, a most excellent haunted attraction). Per the website:

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2016 Moto Alabama – 12th Annual Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival

2016 marks the 12th Annual Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama.

The Barber Motorsports Park is home to an excellent road-racing track, as well as the annual vintage festival, which has become a very large and fun event, drawing many tens of thousands of people.

20161007_dsc08590sBarber is also home to the famous Barber Motorsports Museum, which is basically the greatest tribute to the history of motorcycling possible. Its the stuff of fantasies. People have told us for years that we need to go see it, and while we believed them, words just cannot do it justice. You need to go see this place!

After changing the front tire on Kevin’s bike in Birmingham in the morning, we arrived at the motorsports park sometime in the afternoon on Friday, the first official day of the three day festival.

It was somewhat difficult to get the obligatory “in front of the museum” photo amidst the large crowds at the vintage fest:


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2016 Moto Alabama – Home to Barber Vintage Fest

Somehow, we managed to squeeze in a week+ long moto trip into 2016 after all.

The Barber Vintage Festival is an annual gathering at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama. Word has it that the festival has become quite the event, and since Barber is also home to the the famous Barber Motorsports Museum (more on that later), we’ve had it on our radar to attend the festival and see the museum for some time.

We committed to the trip earlier this year by buying our tickets and camping passes (which sell out quickly!). With so little seat time this year, I was really looking forward to this trip, and just elated as we loaded up the bikes, and rode south in beautiful and sunny October weather.

10/5/2016 – Obligatory start of trip photo, loaded up and ready to go:


Continue reading

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House 2.0 – flooring, trim carpentry, interior doors, HVAC

House construction as of this week:

  • Wood floors are installed, including stair treads, and are ready to be finished
  • Tile flooring is installed, still needs grout
  • Trim carpentry has started, and they are making remarkably fast progress. We’re very happy with the quality of this work, which includes baseboards (w/ trim cap), window and door trim, closets, as well as some custom built-ins. It all looks really nice.
  • We have some interior doors!
  • The outside units for the mini-splits were installed. We’re very close to being able to condition the inside of the house, just in time for fall in NC, when we don’t actually need heating or cooling.


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House 2.0 – drywall finishing, grading, trenching (well, power, comms), flooring

Updates in house construction –

Drywall finishing was completed faster than I thought it would take. They did a really nice job too:

Some finish grading around the house to drain the water better, and to prepare for the driveway, landscaping, and a bit of lawn:

Kevin has been putting a bunch of time into what we’re calling the trenching project. Our house is located quite a bit back from the road, so bringing in services is more of a challenge than if we were closer. (Although the electric utility brought in power for free, which we were not expecting. We just barely came in under their cost limit for installing new service). For water supply, we’re using an existing well on the property, which naturally is located no where near the house. We have to trench some distance to pipe in water. We’re also planning for a future ground mount solar array that’s not next to the house, as well as a powered vehicle gate up by the road.  So, Kevin spent some design time to figure out how to run water, power, and comms (fiber and ethernet) between all the various locations to make it all work, and spent a lot of time on site during installation. We bought a LOT of conduit:

Lastly, our wood flooring was delivered, and installation started this week!



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House 2.0 – Drywall!

It only took two days for the drywall crew to hang the entire house this week. I’m sure finishing will take a bit longer.  Its exciting to get to this step, the house is starting to look just as we imagined it would.

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We Need More Automation Engineering Degrees

I think its hard to overstate the rising importance of automation today. Automation in manufacturing has been having an impact on society for a long time now, but in recent years, the pace of technological progress has been accelerating, which is accelerating the affects those changes are having on the types of jobs that are available. As with so many other areas, our education system is lagging. This article really hits the nail on the head:

When will we see more four-year U.S. degrees in automation engineering?

The whole article is worth reading, and describes what I’ve been saying for years:

“If Americans want to strengthen our manufacturing base, we need more engineering graduates who are focused on automation. Many schools have degrees that touch on the needs of manufacturing, but they don’t really do a deep dive into automation.”

While the article is focused on manufacturing, automation is spilling over into so many other areas. I’m telling you, if you are a young person and want to be guaranteed employment, go into automation.

The main point that really gets at my frustration:

“From my experience, many members of the higher education establishment view automation as an associate’s degree, technician-level program. They are underestimating the complexity of designing and integrating automated systems on a plant-wide basis. Automation is more than just programming or electrical engineering or mechanical engineering. It is all of these and more.”

Modern automation needs to be understood as an entire engineering discipline on its own. The subject includes mechanical and electrical engineering, programming, higher math concepts, technical knowledge of sensors and actuators, and often databases, computer networking and various internet related technologies, and more. Systems integration requires engineering design, and cannot be accomplished at the two-year technician level of training. The view of automation as a technician wiring some relays together or maybe writing some simple ladder logic is laughably outdated.

These last few quotes describe my personal experience fairly well:

“A large percentage of the recently graduated college engineers we have hired over the past five to 10 years did not specifically set out to become automation engineers…”

“Automation-related degrees aren’t adequately described. I visited one website that explains all the different possible college degrees. Automation engineering was listed as a subset of industrial engineering, which is not where most people interested in an automation career would look. It also said that pursuing a degree in automation engineering would “open up a number of career opportunities in maintenance, repair and robotics.” Again, this may be what the associate degree would prepare you for, but not the bachelor’s degree.”

“Maintenance and repair” is misleading, and would not have attracted me to automation. This was written by someone who does not understand what automation is, what it does, or how its created. Maintenance and repair of existing systems is certainly important and part of automation engineering, but someone has to DESIGN the systems first. It really is the difference between being an automotive engineer and being an auto mechanic. Both are required for the system to work.

“The only related offering in that university’s entire engineering program was one class on control system theory. Talking to one of our engineers who had taken the course, he said that it had no real relevance to the automation and controls work he is now doing for our company.”

I also had exactly one class on control system theory, and it also had almost no relevance to the work I am doing now. I strongly agree with this conclusion:

“We also have to get over the notion that automation can only be learned with hands-on experience on the job, and that it’s not possible to teach it in college. With the proper investment in labs, it can be taught, and automation engineers can come out of college without large gaps in their automation abilities (gaps either on the electrical, mechanical or programming sides).”

By working in automation, I know I have a biased viewpoint. However, what I see from my limited view within a small, niche corner of the industry, is a rising tidal wave of demand for automation. That demand won’t look like industrial automation historically has, going as far back as the 1950s.  Technology is changing rapidly, and enabling new applications and and entire categories of knowledge that could not have even been conceived before recent advances. Previously separate disciplines in mechanical, electrical, computer engineering, are joining with more modern mechatronics, robotics, data management and analysis, computer networks, software and web technology platforms. The knowledge required for modern automation systems is beyond cross-disciplinary, and in my view, has become its own entire field of engineering.

Gaining the knowledge required to work in automation is often prohibitively difficult, both via the traditional education system, and for those trying to self teach. Automated mechatronic systems are showing up in more and more applications outside of manufacturing, and the complexity  and scope of industrial automation is rapidly increasing along with demand. We need more automation engineering degrees.

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Moto Day Ride – Reed Creek Mill

Of course its a hydropower site visit, made even better because we took the bikes. On a hot summer day, we look forward to riding at higher elevations. Twisty roads in slightly cooler air in the mountains make for a great day.

I bought a top box/trunk for my TR. It looks super dorky, but is really useful. I even carried home leftovers from dinner out last night. I’ve never had one before, holding off out of principle. Top boxes look ridiculous, and my idealistic aspiration is the biker as minimalist who doesn’t need to have so much stuff. Except that both of us are well beyond any chance of looking cool, and I seem to use the top box on Kevin’s bike all the time. He wouldn’t have bought a top box either, except he bought the Multi used, and it came with one. In the years since, he’s been lured by its convenience, and has now drawn me in as well. I just finally gave in and got one for myself. Putting weight up high like that negatively affects handling, but as long as I keep the weight light while riding, its going to be nice to have a place to lock up my stuff. Yesterday was my first ride with it, and I’m glad I hardly noticed it back there.

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House 2.0 – Inspections, insulation, septic, porch

Lots of progress on the house this week –  We passed the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, framing, and septic inspections. Rough systems are done!  That meant the insulation crew could start. They only needed two days, since most of the house is SIPS. They insulated the garage, the room over the garage, mudroom ceiling, between floors (including some in the crawl space, which was already mostly insulated from superior walls), and some interior walls between rooms to help with noise attenuation. The crew installing the septic system was done in one day, including the inspection. The porch slab also got poured – no more stepping on a bucket to go in the front door:)

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MSF – Intro to Trail Riding

Despite not having any time lately for anything but work or house build related activities, I’m really glad we made time last weekend to travel to Georgia for another moto riding clinic.

2016-07-31_MSF ITR A_sI’ve been pretty good about sticking to my “at least one moto riding class” a year goal. This year, since off-road riding is definitely my weakest area, I wanted to find an off-road oriented class. Its harder than you’d think. Most dirtbike classes are for kids, or are more moto-cross oriented, which is a bit different than what I am looking for. Trail and/or adventure riding is a slightly different skill set, and there are now several famous courses that are all available in various western states. Since we can’t make a western trip happen this year, I thought I was out of luck. Then I discovered that the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) has an Intro to Trail Riding class. That’s exactly what I was looking for. The MSF requires students to take the CRE class first, so I found some dates where we could take both classes back to back. It worked out great; we had a great trip, rode motorcycles, learned a few things, and really enjoyed our little mini vacation.

About the Classes
Day 1 was the CRE (Closed Range Excercises class), held on the fenced dirt range. Continue reading

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House 2.0 – electrical, plumbing, HVAC, systems

While there has been an occasional burst of activity on the house construction, recently there hasn’t been much progress. Over the last three weeks, our chimney for the wood stove was installed, a minor amount of plumbing and HVAC was completed, and as of this week, the electricians are mostly done with the 120vac wiring. I expect that plumbing and electrical will be ready for the rough in inspections this week or next.

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