Tinkering School

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2013 session 4 - Juniors

Day Six - Very Functional

2013 session 4 - JuniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

We did it. Made from a drawing, raw creative energy, some 1x4 wood, a few bolts and plenty of screws. Today all 4 teams successfully send their rolling body suits from the barn all the way to the bridge. Megan takes her roll suit for a test run. P1110798

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72532807 w=500&h=281]

Nooi Successful test tun from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Her run ends smoothly P1110810

Campers are tied off so that collaborators can pull the emergency break. P1110828

Nooi celebrates a completely successful run. P1110847 P1110854 P1110853 P1110866

Nick learns that parachord will not make a great zip-line. To much give. D7K 9595 D7K 9600

Team Kablooi was still dealing with handling issues this morning. P1110870 P1110876

While team Panda realized they needed to lock their nuts in place to keep their wheels on. P1110905 P1110912

Nick gears up for his big run. P1110919 P1120003

Nick finds him self mastering the intricacies of his carts handling and comes careening down the hill with amazing confidence and speed.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72532808 w=500&h=281]

Panda Team, Successful Test 5 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Team Piki works on a new knee shield and breaking system. They are the only team without a successful run at this point. They refuse to be the team that didn't pull it off and muster up incredible focus for their final push. D7K 9652

Gretchen poses with team Kablooi's rolling suit. D7K 9665

Ana takes a very intentional and controlled run down the road. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72532809 w=500&h=281]

Kablooi Successful Run from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Joey goes for a smooth ride down the road. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72532810 w=500&h=281]

Nooi Successful Run 2 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

And predictably, after hours of pushing, rapid testing, team conflict and startling flexibility, Noah takes team Piki's fully functional cart for a wildly successful run down the hill.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72533401 w=500&h=281]

Piki Successful Full Run from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

And we celebrate the moment when every team has at least one successful run under their belt. D7K 9701

Bryn, energized by their teams success, takes hold of the steering mechanism and heads down the hill. D7K 9702

The controls are wonky, the strength required is startling but exciting. Bryn eventually gains control.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72533402 w=500&h=281]

Panda Team Successful Run, Bryn from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

And we celebrate. D7K 9710

Yoel is up next to brave the slopes. D7K 9714

He has control, but Josh is still very excited to have an extra way to stop him.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72533403 w=500&h=281]

Panda Team Successful Run, Yoel from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

And we celebrate. D7K 9716

Cameron joins the fray as he rides team Piki's suit down the hill. D7K 9720

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72533404 w=500&h=281]

Piki Successful Full Run, Cameron from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Quietly, in the background, Josh, Oren and Christie has been laboring away at an adult sized chest piece. The adventure looks like to much fun. We use the what the kids built for our arm and leg pieces, and would have used their chest piece, but they were far to small.

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Oren prepares for his first run. D7K 9738

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[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72533405 w=500&h=281]

Oren the Collaborator dives down the hill from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Oren is a little bit larger than any of the kids, so the his breaking system takes a bit more damage than anticipated. D7K 9765

Josh joins the fun. D7K 9772

He stops by the tire swing to invite the kids to watch his run. D7K 9787

It goes incredibly well. The upper speed and control potential on these suits is spectacular. The handling provided by the arm pieces made by Kablooi, and the leg pieces made by Panda are precise.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72533873 w=500&h=281]

Josh's speed run from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

After a long hard day of tinkering and down hill lounging, we play. We swing, we celebrate, we tell stories and we play.




And to end our long and wonderful day we give the Junior Collaborators a spin on the body suits.

Kevin has an amazing time. D7K 9809

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72533874 w=500&h=281]

Kevin's Full Run from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Tomorrow we wrap up, show off to the parents and try and leave Elkus Ranch cleaner than we found it.

It's been an amazing week.

Day Five - Very Nearly Functional

2013 session 4 - JuniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

The morning hits like a ton of bricks. Beach Day is nearly as exhausting as it is rejuvenating. The day of play is balanced by the aggressive power of the sun. Either way, there is proper tinkering to be done as we find ourselves stuck on the precipice. "We are basicly done" becomes an anthem of both pride and frustration. On one side, its obvious we are so close. Only a few more adjustments and it will work. On the other side, we are desperate, losing patience, and "We are basically done" is a threat from the edge of engagement. How many more times can we head back to the barn to change one more thing?

Many more times.

Joey starts out assessing some potential problems. D7K 9294

Yoel starts what would become an incredibly productive and focused day. D7K 9295

Jonah and team Piki have a rough start and realize their break isn't living up to expectations. D7K 9310

Joey uses a propane torch to prepare a hot knife for cutting the synthetic fibers of the webbing. D7K 9318

Megan has a go at the hot knife. D7K 9330

Team Nooi put on their problem solving faces and make tremendous progress. D7K 9339

After a scrapped knee from playing tag (far an away our most dangerous activity), Gretchen and Christie walk in the garden. D7K 9348

Joey straps in for flat land testing. P1110608

The scenery is stunning. D7K 9351

Sometimes Tinkering School is about pursuing amazing and hard problems. Sometimes it just about using tools and supplies you've never used before. "Can I use a hand saw to cut some wood?" Yoel asks. The answer is "Of course" of course.

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Oren is visiting from Austin Tinkering School and helping us out. P1110612

Bryn does some hand saw cutting. D7K 9360

Rory straps in for some asphalt testing. D7K 9362

Yoel and Gretchen sort through our scrap in preparation for the biggest fire Tinkering School has ever seen. D7K 9371

Bryn, fully equipped in standing position. D7K 9382

Bryn ready to roll. D7K 9391

Bryn rolls. The camp first successful, in control, with breaks test run! [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72470111 w=500&h=281]

Panda Team, Successful Test from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Amedeo makes some cuts on the chop saw. D7K 9400

Megan on the jig saw. D7K 9404

Gretchen in her painting studio. D7K 9409

Piki gears up. D7K 9412

Yoel strikes a pose. P1110616

Team Panda is full of excitement as a major test gets underway. D7K 9464

Yoel takes our second fully controlled test run. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72470112 w=500&h=281]

Panda Team, Successful Test 2 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

And our third. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72470113 w=500&h=281]

Panda Team, Successful Test 3 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

And our longest, fastest run yet. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72470114 w=500&h=281]

Panda Team, Successful Test 4 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

In the end, team Panda is the first to cross a developmental threshold. No longer are they pondering what else they may need to do to make they cart work. Their body suit works, and they are simply making it work better and or repairing it after the abuse of testing. Fixing things to make something work again is much more fun than fixing them to make them work for the first time. The energy is spectacular. In their third run their wheel nearly fell off and their breaking system began to shred. They have many tweaks ahead, but the dream is in sight.

Thursday night is camp fire night. With a summers worth of scrap wood, we prepared to start the tallest fire we felt we could handle. It was a great opportunity to practice doing dangerous things well. We took a risk assessment. Where are the major concerns? How will the fire spread in each worst case scenario? How much water should we have on hand?

The kids come up with and answer all of these questions, and the staff takes precessions just a little further. A whole wheel burrow of water on hand. Several buckets. Metal shovels, and a big fall radius and we are set to start a proper bon fire.

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On more talk on how dangerous fire is. Unlike the drill press of the chop saw, there is no off button. There is no trigger to let go off. Unlike the chop saw or the drill press which can only hurt us, if we mess up we burn down Elkus. The kids take note. P1110632

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We make out own torches. Another dangerous thing to do well. Another risk assessment. P1110667


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We throw saw dust in the fire. Another risk assessment. P1110700





We smother the fire, play in the smoke and steam, and then head to bed.


Tomorrow we push through our limits and either meet great success, or spectacular failure.

Day Four - Beach Day

2013 session 4 - JuniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

There is a lot of love for our beach day tradition. This week we needed it. The tinkering required for our project is fine and full of little adjustments. Even with down hill tests underway, a break from the project is a good idea. It reduces stress, and makes room for the brain to do even better problem solving. At breakfast we set out the plan. Eat up, play with the chickens and and on the swing, make our sandwiches for lunch later, pack up, head out. Easy. After reminding the kids to bring their swim suit even if they don't think they are going in, double check that everyone has water, and triple check we all have towels, we head out the door.

Without prompt or explanation, the crew starts digging a hole.

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And soon, the project is abandoned. Beach day is just perfect for this kind of fits and starts creation. Try a thing out, explore its limits, engage, or don't.

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Our "fort" sufferes a similar fate. D7K 8804 2

The sun is out and we are lucky to have what might be the nicest beach day all summer. With the warmth promising us a cozy return, we dive into the frigid ocean waters.

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Many are quick to remind Josh how many times he had said "Don't forget your bathing suit" only to have forgotten his. D7K 8847

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Beach run

After so much splashing and playing, a little rest a a few naps, the tinkering spirit is renewed. A raft was in the future.

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Nik and Nick begun gathering the wood they will need for their raft. D7K 9042

Oren starts working on a prototype D7K 9043

Nik and Nick find a crab. D7K 9053

Bryn helps Oren prep some lashing. D7K 9103

Ana busts out some yoga. D7K 9111

Amedeo takes the stage as others prepare for another splash. D7K 9114

Christie, on of our amazing collaborators. D7K 9149

Nik and Nick imagining how successful their raft will be.

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Christie shows us how to make nearly-perfectly-round sand spheres. D7K 9194

The raft is ready for launch.

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[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72395866 w=500&h=281]

Raft Launch from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

The final result. D7K 9262

Our lashing technique needs some work. The most obvious lesson was that we needed more twine.

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Rory makes a sand sphere. D7K 9268

Josh finds a sweet cup rolling in the waves. D7K 9271

And on our way back, after we are back on campus and at a safe cursing speed, we enjoy a ride on the outside of the car. A long time favorite.

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Tomorrow, its back to work.

Day Three - The Tinkering Begins

2013 session 4 - JuniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

A slower morning greets us as we adjust to our new surroundings. Breakfast is at 7:30, but unlike yesterday, half the girls and all the boys have to be jostled from their beds. Lessons are learned fast as the few stragglers found themselves without bacon (thought plenty of everything else). Those who were up early and finished early head down to the chickens to let them out of their pen. Yesterday we had learned that all the animals are kept inside at night because of the ever present threat of mountain lions. The chickens are the one animal we are allowed to let out without a staff member present.

We head to the barn and get cracking.

Nik (not Nick) and Oren are already moving and thinking the moment we start the day D7K 8649

Ana gets right down to prepping the 5/16th's in threaded rod we will need to use as axels in out arm wheel boxes. D7K 8654

Nick (not Nik) hops on the drill press. An idea is bubbling in his brain and nothing this morning will slow him down or deter his deep need for a prototype. D7K 8660

Jonah and Nik have big dreams about how their break will work. They also have high hopes about testing those big dreams by this afternoon. D7K 8664

Cutting through steel is a Tinkering School special. We don't use to many fancy tools. We don't have an angle grinder on hand; nor a dremel. We take out hack saws and just start cutting. Every week the staff's intuitive assumption that steel bolts and threaded rod are just as changeable as wood always startles a camper.

Camper: "We need a bolt about three inches long or longer"

Staff: "I've got some threaded rod, you can use it"

*Staff member hands over a 3 foot long piece of all-thread stock.*

Camper: "This is way too long!"

Staff: "Just cut it"

Camper: "You can't cut steel."

Staff: "What? oh! Right. Let me introduce you too the hacksaw, I think you two may become friends."

Or something to that effect.

It's one of many less than subtle moments we hope for. One that shows the world is malleable. The shape of things is changeable, and best of all, you can be the agent of that change.

Cameron making best friends with a hacksaw. D7K 8666

Goat in their food tub. P1110562

Ana doing flat ground tests with Kablooi's new leg pieces. D7K 8677

Incase anyone was wondering, this is Piki's piece of wood. D7K 8681

Joey enjoys a chicken break. D7K 8686

The kids have named this chicken Rainbow. Everybody loves and respects rainbow. She is old and very colorful and pretty and the kids often tell each other to just leave her be. D7K 8690

In the younger groups all chop saw and drill press use is directly supervised. The kids have taken to this quite naturally. "Josh! Can you come watch my cut?" They don't ask for advice. They know the safety procedure. They don't look to us for approval. They simply take it as a matter of fact that we are there for their safety. Also, they always get it right.

Josh supervises Ana's cut. P1110564

Nick is confident about the teams new leg pieces. P1110571

Yoel changes the length of some threaded rod. P1110575

Rory hangs with the team. P1110577

The lighting gets dramatic and Gretchen strikes a pose. P1110581

Nooi is done with their braided strap and discusses their next action plan. D7K 8699

Yoel and Nick do some adjustments. The team is realizing that the torso piece doesn't fit everyone equally well. D7K 8702

Rory thinks through something interesting. D7K 8705

Joey and Megan play with a new idea. D7K 8713

Rory practices fire starting with a torch sparker. D7K 8716

This finger knitted paracord is both stronger and more comfy than the webbing. It is also much harder to make and use. D7K 8719

Tinkering is a tricky think to define. Gever likes to consider it the time between when you think you are done, and when it really works well. Josh likes the notion that tinkering is the process of finding increasingly interesting ways to fail. By either definition, it was not until midday today that the tinkering really begins. What was once a world of infinite and dream like possibilities is now one quickly hardened by the realities of supply constraints, time constraints, and skill limitations. Ideas are becoming things and things can be put to the test. Things can be rolled on the wood floor to see if they hold up. Things can be put on asphalt and unprotected knees can get scraped. Turning systems and brakes can be tested against gravity, only for everyone to be very happy they had someone standing by, ready to grab their harness when nothing worked quite right.

The first two days where struggling with making things. Today is about struggling with our things not working.

Nooi starts their first flat ground test. D7K 8720

Nick discovers he can't get back up without help. D7K 8724

Megan is delighted by the results of their first test. P1110586

Ana prepares for the first ever asphalt test P1110590

Gretchen follows suit. P1110603

Right now, it's best if the Piki team straps Jonah in while is in on the ground. D7K 8736

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[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72323314 w=500&h=281]

Piki takes a test run from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

The man, the myth, the legend himself shows up for a surprise visit. Gever stops in to say hi and see how the week is progressing.

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Afterwards we settle in for movie night. After a day of finding increasingly interesting and refined ways to fail, we are all exhausted and excited for a little distraction. The enchanting power of movies is made clear as all the kids sit in complete silence (only broken to laugh) and Josh accomplishes exactly nothing on the evening blog post. All so we can watch the growing and complicated relationship between a man and a rat while learning a thing or two about the power of food, friendship, honesty and how we decide our identity. (Ratatouille, for the curious).

Tomorrow is beach day. We are all excited for beach day.

Day Two - Rolling Body Suits

2013 session 4 - JuniorsJoshua RothhaasComment

On day 2 we wake up early. Struggling to sit calmly in bed as the excitement of a new place keeps everyone's energy levels high. With a younger group we are moving bed time up a bit, and having breakfast a little earlier than usual. After some turkey sausage, eggs and english muffins, we head down to the barn. The first hour of the day is a mix of finishing up our chairs and doing some open build.

Nick gets on his protective gear as he prepares to help some campers on the chop saw. D7K 8478

Megan and Kevin work on Megan's chair. D7K 8479

Yoel goes digging through our wheel collection. D7K 8484

Rory is working on various way to prop wood so she can work independently D7K 8508

Megan, Joey, Gretchen and Ana opted to make a 4 person bench instead of individual chairs. D7K 8525

Then we gather around to announce the teams and the project. Piki, Kablooi, Nooi and Panda teams are announced and every one sits with their group around the central table. Josh attempt's to build tension before the big reveal.

Instead of giving the idea a name right away. A picture is shown. "We are going to build this."

Photo 3

"Imagine it. A rolling body suit. You could just walk around until you find a nice hill, lay down and cruise."

Imaginations light up, pens hit paper and each team is off.

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Wheels are dolled out, wood limitations are explained, and the prototyping begins. Everyone quickly agrees that strap/webbing would be way more effective than rope so a hardware store run is done and each team is given 20 feet of strap.

Ideas come in and out of our heads while we look for one that will have traction. Cameron plays with different casters.

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Jonah makes a precision cut. P1110511

Yoel and Nick work on torso measurements for their chest piece. P1110523

Rory explores their first rough draft of chest piece. P1110533

After lunch Kathi (not Kathy, not Kathie, but Kathi) the science teacher on staff at Elkus Ranch gives us the animal tour. She explains how to treat each animal, who we are allowed to hang out with and pet. What animals eat what food.

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Kathi takes a moment to show us what happens to your teeth if you don't brush. D7K 8529

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Megan makes a connection with the goats. D7K 8566

Nick makes a connection with the chickens. D7K 8569

Joey embracing a new friend. D7K 8572

Gretchen works on her team's arm mounts. D7K 8594

Bryn Models as the first chest piece takes shape. D7K 8599

Joey and Greta hack saw through some threaded rod. D7K 8603

Then they take a break. D7K 8605

Our first prototype takes shape. As with all prototypes, it has some flaws. [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/72243057 w=500&h=281]

D7K 8612 from Tinkering School on Vimeo.

Even a rough start feels like success when you own every step of the process. D7K 8614

Ana shows off another team's prototype. D7K 8618

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This tying-things-on is catching on. I am curious if refinement with make it work, or if it will, out of neceessity, be left behind. D7K 8641

Bryn puts some final details in as the day wraps up. P1110560

Jonah tests another group's chest piece. P1110561

In just 3 meals, a tradition forms. "Josh! whats our mind blowing discussion for this meal?" asks Nick. Gever started, and Josh and the collaborators continue a tradition of heady philosophy and mathematical anomalies. Yesterday we tried to wrap our head around the idea that different infinities can be bigger or smaller than other infinities. We also debated when something made by humans goes from "natural" to "unnatural" (a very unsettled debate) and which Pokemon was the best. Today it was a long fable about an old boat that led to a discussion about where identity comes from. Some of these conversation stick, many don't, but they all engage in the moment and add to a culture and atmosphere where thinking is cool, debate is welcome, and the answers are not nearly as important as the process.

Afterwards, some kids head down to the barn with Nick (the junior collaborator) for some more open build time. Some head to the tire swings with Oren to wind down. Some stay here and play board games.

Then everyone heads to bed.

Day One - A Slow and Steady Start

2013 session 4 - JuniorsJoshua Rothhaas1 Comment

Day one is a nice slow day. Josh is back to take the reins from Gever for a week, but this time it's planned. No 1am text about pink eye and plan b. The parents and kids roll in slowly throughout the hour and the energy levels are controlled but full of anticipation. For all but a few campers, this is their first time at tinkering school and they don't know what to expect. For some, it is their first overnight camp experience.

We start the day on a serious note. It's designed to scare and impart a serious tone around the tools we use. The tools are dangerous. They are explicitly designed to cut through wood. We are much softer than wood. If we use the tools right, they will never hurt us. If is miss use them or underestimate them, the ramifications could be terrible.

Together we write our rules. Josh is a big nut for collective agreements over at the day camp. "Don't kill, or try to kill, anyone else" is a particularly straightforward one this week. We all agreed it was a great rule.

The pace on monday is sluggish, and these 8-10 year olds handle it with grace. We'll have the rest of the week to rush. We walk through some safety and use the chop saw's and drills.

P1110420 The kids line up to take their turn at the chop saw.

P1110425 Joey takes the first go with the most popular power tool.

P1110429 Gretchen on the chop saw.

P1110436 Megan has her hair safely tied back.

P1110444 Rory on the chop saw.

P1110448 Ana lines up a clean cut.

P1110451 Amadeo on the chop saw.

P1110456 Yoel on the chop saw.

P1110460 The group explores drills.

After exploring drills and driving some screws Josh starts the first of a series of demonstrations designed to jumpstart our intuition. How are screws strong? How can you connect 1x4 on edge and make it feel sturdy? The crowd favorite is Oren (one of our collaborators this week) and Josh's ongoing rant that clamps are your ticket to freedom. Clamps are like big adult hands without the adults. In fact, adults use them all the time. They allow for independence of creation. They are Tinkering Schools first major bridge into resiliency and self direction.

These problems are interesting, but over the years we've discovered that they are fundamentally slow to catch on without direct instruction. Clamps could go undiscovered for the whole week. Discovering the notion of pre-drilling could cost us half of our usable wood through split ends and week joint. We address these clearly and early on so that we might get to more interesting problems with stronger feedback mechanisms as soon as possible. Does the roller coaster go? Does the boat float? Can we break safely? and so on.

P1110471 Bryn does a pull up on our 1x4 model, demonstrating how much stronger wood can get by adding the right piece at the right cross section.

P1110473 Joey puts all her weight on the 1x4.

P1110476 Maybe we should do a week where we make gym equipment?

P1110481Josh joins the pull up fun.

P1110485 In a quick demonstration of the power of a lever arm, josh ends the pull up fun.

Form there we move to our first challenge. Build a chair out of no more than 12 total feet of wood. Tired of demos and safety lessons and eager to get building, the kids dive right in.

P1110487 Megan and Rory get measuring.

P1110489 Ana is very focussed on a big idea.

P1110494 Ana does yoga on Josh's hyper minimalist example piece.

P1110501 Oren and Yoel work out some details.

P1110504 Jonah takes his ticket to freedom, a newly found understanding of conner guesting, and get right on his way to making a sturdy chair.

After cleaning up we head up the the house for some amazing dinner with Herb, our chef. After a few rounds of Pass the Pigs, a game of spoons, and some spider hunting, we call light out and head to bed.

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