Black Hole NASCAR

Yesterday we considered Felix Baumgartner and his strange, dysfunctional relationship with gravity, constantly challenging it to mess him up and regularly escaping from its clutches without injury.

Baumgartner’s latest attempt to give himself over to gravity and live to tell the tale is expected to happen this morning.

Meanwhile, in other gravitational news, we discover that the center of our Milky Way galaxy is dominated by a supermassive black hole which is pulling everything inward. The thing is so incredibly dense, when stars get too close even their light can’t escape.

Talk about dysfunction! Who could survive a relationship so completely confining?

That there is a Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way is an idea that has been supported by the research of UCLA scientist Andrea Ghez, who just last week identified a new star racing around the center at a breakneck pace.

This star, called SO-102, goes around the black hole once every 11 years. By comparison, our own sun also orbits the black hole – every 200 million years. Clearly this newly discovered star is a speedster, leaving us in the dust and going considerably faster than the next quickest orbiter, a star called SO-2 which makes the trip once every 16 years.

By watching these two stars, Ghez will be able to learn quite a bit about the characteristics about that massive invisible thing in the center of our galaxy – kind of like going to a NASCAR race and deducing everything about what’s happening in the infield by the speed and trajectory of the cars barreling by.

But ultimately, all this racing around in space ends the same way things wound up in Talladega two days ago.

Are you a good driver?

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90 thoughts on “Black Hole NASCAR”

    1. I keep telling her that my next book will called “With Hyacinth as My Co-Pilot.” But she has caught me more than once being a little stupid. I keep telling her that if she catches me being a little stupid every now and then maybe it will prevent me from being really stupid.
      Have only speeding ticket, in cheesy Nebraska. Have only been in two accidents, one caused by a 87-year-old woman who then surrendered her license. I intentionally took the fall on the second one.

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        1. PJ: as a great Dane, how’s your nose? From Wikipedia
          While studying at University of Rostock in Germany, on 29 December 1566 Tycho lost part of his nose in a sword duel against fellow Danish nobleman (and his third cousin), Manderup Parsberg.[12][13] Tycho had earlier quarrelled with Parsbjerg over the legitimacy of a mathematic formula, at a wedding dance at professor Lucas Bachmeister’s house on the 10th, and again on the 27th. Since neither had the resources to prove the other wrong, they ended up resolving the issue with a duel.[14] The duel two days later (in the dark) resulted in Tycho losing the bridge of his nose.[13] From this event Tycho became interested in medicine and alchemy.[12] For the rest of his life, he was said to have worn a replacement made of silver and gold,[12] using a paste or glue to keep it attached.[13] Some people, such as Fredric Ihren and Cecil Adams, have suggested that the false nose also had copper. Ihren wrote that when Tycho’s tomb was opened on June 24th, 1901 green marks were found on his skull, suggesting copper.[13] Cecil Adams also mentions a green colouring and that medical experts examined the remains.[15] Some historians have speculated that he wore different prosthetics for different occasions, noting that a copper nose would have been more comfortable and less heavy than a precious metal one.[2]

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        2. Anna, I’m so happy that there is someone in this world besides me that knows the difference between it’s and its!

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  1. I was a good driver when I was young. In a long lifetime of driving terrible winter roads on late season hunts, I accumulated just three minor fender benders (although the gas station in Willmar was never the same after my visit to it that day in December.

    What I think about, though, is how incredibly close I came to killing several people three years ago when my sleep apnea had not been diagnosed. That one incident will haunt me forever, although nobody was hurt.

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  2. Good morning. I think I am a good driver. The other day I found out that , at least on that occasion, I was not doing so good. I was on my way home and hurrying up so that I could settle down by my radio to hear one of my favorite shows, American Routes. As I drove into town I didn’t slow down enough and I noticed a car with it’s lights on at the side of the road. It occurred to me that that might be a cop and it was. He pulled me over and asked me if I knew the speed limit and if I knew I was traveling 12 miles per hour over that limit. Fortunately he gave me a warning without giving me a ticket. I walk my dog along that road and complain about people who go too fast, so I will have to admit that there are times when I am not the best of drivers.

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  3. My father is used to driving around wherever and whenever he chooses. I anticipate a fight when he goes home and wants to drive if he is admonished by the doctor that he shouldn’t. My mom is really worried that he won’t listen to her or anyone else on this topic. He’s going to be a hard guy to outsmart.

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    1. As I’ve posted before, there was a terrible fight when my grandfather hit his 70s and then began hitting garbage cans and various other objects. He fought like a tiger to keep his car keys. The real battle was that he used his car to get to a ring of girlfriends, and my grandmother knew it.

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    2. my dad had his lisence taken away at about 80. he was really bummed so he took the classes offered for codgers and studied real hard to pass the test so he could go to coffee with the other codgers in town 20 minutes away. to everyones total amazement he passed the test. his alheimers was advanced enought hat we were able to distract him whenever he thought about driving but it was touch and go for a minute there. my mom had to shuttle him but she had a tendancy to get him there late and need to whisk him away early on route to a day of errands she drempt up and added to as the day continued. poor old dad was a prisioner in the end and the delight of solving the worlds problems at coffee gave way to the sitting through the boredom of moving in and out of pick ups and drop offs in the multi modal transport my mom provided.

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      1. My dad has been know to take very elderly friends of his who failed the drivers test in Luverne up to Pipstone, where they were able to pass the test with no problem. It had something to do with the vision portion of the test. He’s a wiley one.

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        1. My dad voluntarily stopped driving when he was 88 or 89 years old. He knew he would not be able to drive safely due to old age and various health problems. At 71 I am already in a situation where some of my driving is restricted. My night vision is not as good as it should be. I can see the road and other cars, but I have trouble reading signs at a distance. It is really not a good idea for me to drive at night in an area where I might need to know what signs say before I am right on top of them.

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        2. I feel your pain, Jim. I have that same night vision problem. Also, my depth perception at night seems off; can’t gauge how close I am to things. I don’t drive at night in places I’m not familiar with, and only reluctantly in places I know.

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    3. My father caused five accidents and could not see how he did. In the last one it was pure luck he did not kill a family. Then I confronted him. Mankato is full of 1) rip-roaring college-age drivers and 2) very old pokey codgers and codgettes in over-sized cars they cannot get around corners right. Dangerous city, famous for very bad driving. I keep drilling myself and my kids that I will not hold onto my driving too long.
      My wife is, of course, not allowed to drive. I make a point of taking her anywhere she wants without complaint. But she does feel unindependent. We have had a very good marriage, in part because in much of our lives we had been independent of each other.She sometimes says she just wants to drive the mile to the mall on her own. She does still have a license.

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      1. On the way to a friend’s house in Mankato last night, I drove west on Madison Avenue. It’s improved since being resurfaced, but I cringed as I drove through every green light, expecting to be t-boned by a MSU student out on the town. For some reason, those big wide intersections scare me.

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    4. We were collectively amazed and more than a bit concerned when my father managed to pass his vision test after having gotten lost in the neighborhoods of Edina because he missed the turn into the county service center parking lot. Mom was worried when it was dusk and he was not back from an errand that should have taken an hour or so and had him home hours earlier – he had already been told he could not drive after dusk by my mother because of his macular degeneration, and we were approaching that magic hour. I was about to head out with infant Daughter in my car to search when Mom called back to say he had just pulled into the driveway (phew). He readily surrendered his keys shortly after that.

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      1. My mom hasn’t driven at night for several years. Dad does OK driving but Mom says lately he’s forgetting how to get places. I expect to be taking his keys away in the not too distant future…

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  4. I once was involved in a multi-car crash, but it was at slow speeds in road construction. Shortened my boyfriend’s Jeep by a couple of inches (he married me anyway, bless him…somehow managed to make the accident his fault even though I was driving in Mankato and he was in the Twin Cities at the time). The nice police person who came to the scene assured the four drivers that we were not the first to have such an accident in that stretch of construction – there was a stop light that you couldn’t see because it was just beyond a bridge that passed over the road, and frequently cars in the line crawling through the construction wouldn’t have enough warning that the car in front was stopping…pretty sure I would have been able to stop with the distance I had in front of me in a smaller car, but with a loaded down Jeep, clearly what felt like plenty of room was not enough, even at 10mph. Ah well. Like Talladega, no one was hurt.

    I can’t help but think of this clip though (time for Wapner…):

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  5. Rise and shine Baboons!

    I am a so so driver but very good in winter conditions. In grad school a very good looking young man in green velour jogging shorts and running on the River Road caused me to have an accident by distracting me! LET ME BE CLEAR IT WAS ALL HIS FAULT!

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      1. Not scared to drive in tough conditions, know how to get out of a skid, slow and patient on snow packed or slippery highway. My uncle was a driver’s ed instructor and drilled my driving skills in winter when I practiced with him. He also taught me to drive a manual transmission!

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        1. I also have some winter driving skills which keep me out of the ditch sometimes. The problem with winter driving is the slick spots that can send you out of control with no warning into a skid that can’t be controlled. If that happens you have to hope that your landing in the ditch will not be too hard and that you miss hitting other cars. I think front wheel drive cars are better for winter driving and small pickup trucks are not good. Those small pickups have no stability at all on slick roads from my experience.

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  6. The fact that I’m still alive and have driven hundreds of thousands of miles in 40 years implies that I’m a good driver. But, I’ve had three close calls driving a motorcycle long ago and have been run off the road twice in my car, one time luckily avoiding what could have been a catastrophe. A case could be made that I was partly at fault in two incidences, but the other times the other driver did the stupid maneuever.

    So I won’t pretend that I’m a great driver, but I think I’m at least above average. I’ve never had a speeding ticket or other moving violation, rarely exceed the speed limit by more than 5 mph ( who are we kidding? we all know what the de facto speed limits are), I don’t tailgate, don’t swerve in and out of lanes, signal my turns well before the corner, use my brakes as little and gently as possible, and drive defensively (in my mind, at least) every time I get behind the wheel.

    Chris in Owatonna

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  7. i used to have 3 speeding tickets on m record at all times i have mellowed a bit but there is always 1 or 2. i drive a lot and i dont always pay attention to the 30 mph signs in the neighborhoods. last one i got was one like that.
    i am such a good driver i wonder why others on the road dont look to me to see what speed and attitude ought to be the prevailing mode of the day.i am a bit impatient and this last couple of months where i have been a passenger due to an error in driving judgement regarding regarding how fast you should drive with one eye closed when you have too many beers i have had to bite my tongue as a passenger and come to the realization that everyone has their own idea of how to get there. different route different speed different merge techniques different everything.
    my mom is coming near the end of the driving portion of her life and it will be a big change in her lifestyle to figure out the bus lite rail schedules to get around. its a little scary to be with someone who struggles so hard to drive and yet doesn’t want to give it up.
    driving is different today with the onslaught of media infiltrating the cab. 4 million songs on the itunes portion of your phone, texting and ipad to distract you while you cruise at speeds that are determined by moving with the traffic flow more than the speed limit. phone calls keep you hookked up to the rest of your life at all times. i miss the ability to have a couple hours to think while you transport the old body from point a to point b. picking a favorite tape or cd was a neccessity driving across the tundra of north dakota or wisconsin on my old selling trips. today you have to stay focused on driving while all the options call out to you while you orbit the interstate system on route to the moving targets out there in mobile map land.
    i am glad i never got into stock car racing. i hung with motor heads early in my youth but escaped when i chose the vw van over the 442 with triple duces and the hearst shifter with thrush mufflers and krager mags on the air shocks that jacked up the backend on the high performance cars of the rest of that gang. they did end up racing down at raceway park and i had another friend who was a nascar wannabe who looked good and died young. come to think of it i had an email informing me of the 15 year old grandson of a georgia redneck friend who was the yungest winner ever of a nascar event in the biringham 200 last month.
    http://www.MasonMassey.com.
    pretty cool for a 15 year old. my office manager has his 7 year old getting ready for his 3rd motorcycle next spring. track racing is in their future too.

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    1. I also liked hot rods when I was a kid, but never had one. I think car racing is too dangerous and I don’t watch it these days. Years ago I was a big fan of the Indianapolis 500. I am surprised that no one was hurt in that big pileup. Apparently those cars are set up with a lot of protection for the drivers and the races might not be as dangerous as I thought.

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    2. tim, your comments about almost inevitable distractions from today’s devices brought to mind an article in Sunday’s Strib about traveling to Cuba. The author said that being taken to a society frozen in the past reminded him of how nice it was to not have everyone’s nose pressed to a phone wherever you go.

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  8. I totalled my Dad’s 1975 Olds Delta 88 the day after I got my license. In spite of the numerous accidents I’ve been in, I’m usually considered a very good driver. My last accident was being sideswiped by a kid that blew a .27 blood alcohol level.

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    1. Son, age 17, sheared the driver’s side mirror off his Cougar as he backed it out of the garage the first day he had the vehicle. Son has what I now know to be a mild case of left sided neglect due to his premarturity, meaning that he often doesn’t notice objects in his left visual field. He has learned to compensate, but driving with him until he figured it out was too scary for words.

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  9. In 45 years of driving, I’ve had two accidents. In the first one, 36 years ago, I was broadsided by a dude running a red light. Did quite the number on my sweet little Capri, but no one was hurt. Fortunately, a truck driver who was driving behind me stopped to confirm to the police when they arrived, that I did in fact have the green light (he was bout to pass me because he thought I was going too slow); the dude who hit me insisted he did. He was visibly drunk and rather belligerent, which didn’t help his case any. Of course, as it turned out, he didn’t have insurance or a valid driver’s license. In the second accident, about five years ago, I was rear-ended by a guy who was so busy yakking on his cellphone that he didn’t notice that traffic in front of him had stopped. His car was totaled; my trusty old SAAB had a small scratch on the rear bumper which I covered with a bumper sticker!

    I’m a pretty attentive and defensive driver; nonetheless, I consider it a minor miracle, that having driven the freeway between St. Paul and Minneapolis during rush hour for a good 15 years, I never had an accident during those commutes. This was before cell phones and texting became the distraction that they are nowadays; I wouldn’t want to push my luck in today’s rush hour traffic.

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    1. “His car was totaled; my trusty old SAAB had a small scratch on the rear bumper” -sometimes justice prevails!

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  10. I will be glad when we move to Minneapolis and I can make more use of public transportation or at least not have the need to travel about 90 miles one way by car to see my daughters and their families. I’ve been in the ditch a few times due to losing control on icy roads so I especially don’t like traveling under bad conditions in the winter. Unfortunately, if you are going to go any place in the winter in Minnesota you will have to put up with some bad traveling weather now and then.

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    1. I try to stay off the roads in icy winter conditions. Unlike Jacque, I’m not a confident winter driver. Just hate the feeling of slip sliding away.

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    2. Being a pastor puts you out at night and on bad roads. Pastors tend to be very good drivers and speeders. I wasn’t in the second category. But being a pastor on the North Shore does put you in peril now and then making a call.
      One of my church members was an old man who puttered along at 35 miles an hour in Castle Danger and down to Two Harbors, among the most dangerous roads in MN at that time. He got a couple of tickets for driving too slow, about which he got mad. His kids did not want to confront him. So I got a patrolman I knew stop him and require him to take a test, which he did not pass.

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  11. I think I’m a pretty good driver. I’ve had one minor accident, my fault, caused by inattentiveness. It only made me more aware of the importance of paying attention while driving. I haven’t had a ticket of any kind in over 15 years. I drive a lot. I used to work in St. Paul and commuted daily for a few years, 140 miles round trip. I still make regular trips to St. Paul for work. I also worked in Rochester for about a year and commuted daily, also 140 miles round trip. Waterville has very limited shopping, so I drive to Faribault at least weekly. I also drive to Mankato or St. Peter regularly because that’s where my friends are. I love road trips and don’t mind driving 200-300 miles without stopping. People who ride with me can’t believe I can drive that far without a break but I really enjoy it, especially if the scenery is nice. I drove out to Montana once, and wound up driving to Going-to-the-Sun Highway before the front axle fell out of my car. I could have kept going and going…

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    1. going to the sun road is one of the cooledst roads on the planet. that and beartooth pass both in montana (first glacier second yellowstone ) always come to mind. hwy in california … others anyone?

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    1. im less impressed now that i see hes jumping in a pressurized space suit. that takes the romance out of it for me. what fun is it going 600 miles an hour if your inside a balloon.

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  12. I don’t consider myself a good driver, but because I know my limitations, I pay pretty good attention to what I’m doing and try to keep aware of the myriad of things around me (other drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists – especially those who go the wrong way on a street, etc.) I listen to music on longer drives, but usually not in the city and don’t talk or text on my phone while driving. I’m just not talented enough to multi-task while driving. I’m not very good at parking, and bad winter driving conditions make me scared – hate, hate, hate driving on ice, and we seem to have more icy roads than we used to. Heck, I even get nervous if I’m driving in a downpour – the kind where you can’t see where you’re going and hydroplaning is a real possibility. I’ve never liked driving when I can’t see. And I don’t like driving in the dark, especially on an unfamiliar route or on the freeway. Yup, I’m just a driving wimp!

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  13. I think I’m an OK driver but not great and getting worse. I’ve been surprised too many times lately after checking both ways to have a car appear “out of nowhere”. So now I try to look right, left, right, left before I proceed (sometimes once more for good measure).
    I’ve been stopped but not ticketed twice for speeding. Each time I was going about 40 in a 30 mph zone. The first time was the first night I drove with my new license. Hadn’t learned to watch signs or the speedometer.

    I may have told this before: I was still a rather new driver going out to run errands with my sister and dog as passengers on a winter day. Less than 1/4 mile down the street, I saw my family’s other car by the side of the road. I decided to stop to see what was wrong. I stepped on the brakes but the slush carried me right into the back of the other car, nearly crushing my brother’s friend who was behind the car, checking something. Fortunately, he jumped out of the way in time. Deux voitures d’un coup. My sister and dog were traumatized.

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    1. I’ve noticed those cars that appear “out of nowhere,” too, Lisa. It’s kind of creepy. I hope I’m not starting to lose my vision.

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    2. I’ve also had a few cars come out of nowhere. I think my car is poorly designed so that when I look to the right the post on that edge of my wind shield blocks my vision just enough to hide a car coming my way if it is in just the right location

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      1. I will admit that when it happens at the end of my alley, it’s because just about no one has ever come down that street when I’m pulling out for 37 years and I assume there never will be.

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  14. I’m just like Chris in Owatanna’s second paragraph after “I’ve never had a speeding ticket or other moving violation”…

    I’ve caused a couple of accidents
    - the first year I had my license when I changed lanes and the car to my right was in my blind spot. Ran him off the road into a telephone pole, but miraculously neither he nor his car was hurt.
    - a few years ago I was visiting someone in the country up by Stacy, stopped at an intersection, looked what I thought was both ways, started up, and the car barreling toward me on my left slammed on its brakes, and did a full roll into the ditch. Again miraculously, she was shaken but not hurt. We were probably both to blame – she was speeding – but I’ve been a lot more careful since.

    Every so often when we’re in the car, my mother observes “It’s probably a good thing I gave up my car when I moved up here…” and we both shudder at the thought of her driving.

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  15. I’m kind of a white-knuckle driver. At least when there’s other traffic around. I like to leave a lot of distance between my car and the next guy. A few years ago I was having some eye problems and had two mishaps that resulted in claims to the insurance company, but up until then I had a very clean driving record – no insurance claims, no moving violations. Since eye surgery two years ago things have been better.

    Thought about posting a link for “I Can See Clearly Now,” but I think I’ll just do these instead…

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  16. Evening–
    I’ve gotten two speeding tickets in the last 30 years.
    I’ve had a couple fender benders but nothing serious. One on the way to my father in law’s funeral and it was -27 degrees. (We both stopped but just long enough to exchange insurance cards.)

    Let’s see… dating Kelly and fixing the brakes on my car, I had her get in to test drive it and I guess I didn’t have the brakes fully adjusted yet. She knocked off the drivers side mirror on a corner of the machine shed before she could stop. I still married her; my fault more than hers.

    The day I got my learners permit (I took drivers training in school) Mom picked me up from school so I could drive home. But it was snowing. Mom made me drive anyway; said I had to learn sometime. Wow. My mom is the best!

    Our country driveway (Uphill. Both ways!!) The rear wheel drive cars, we had to sit in the back and “..sit heavy!” dad would say. And when that didn’t work he went and got the tractor to push us up the hill. When we waited while he took the tractor back to the shop and ran back up to the car. Or we put chains on the truck. Front wheel drive solved that. My kids never learned to ‘sit heavy’.
    Dad also would spread manure on the driveway if it got icy. Seriously. It was OK after it froze. Or at least until spring time thaw… sure messed up my sledding though. And the older manure spreaders had a finer spread pattern than the newer ones. They were kinda ‘clumpy’. When I sold the cows I didn’t have that option anymore. We use sand / salt mix or lime.

    About a year ago, I stopped at the insurance agents office to pay dues. Got back in the car and backed into a post in his lot. Sigh.

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