Kickstarter

Zhiyun’s Smooth-Q2 aims to be the most portable quality smartphone gimbal available

Posted by | Bluetooth, Camcorders, cameras, contents, dji, equipment, Gadgets, Gimbal, gimbalstabilization, hardware, iPhone, Kickstarter, osmo, smartphone, smartphones, TC, technology, United States, Zhiyun | No Comments

Zhiyun has been steadily rolling out new gimbals for smartphones and dedicated cameras for a few years now, and the company’s quality and feature set has improved dramatically over time. Now, it’s launching the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 smartphone gimbal on Kickstarter, with the aim of delivering a “truly pocket-size” gimbal that has all the bells and whistles you could ever want or need.

The Smooth-Q2 is indeed a portable powerhouse — the company sent me a pre-production unit to test, and though it’s not the final shipping hardware, it already works and feels like a polished, quality device. The first thing you’ll notice right away about the Smooth-Q2 is its size — it can indeed slip inside a coat or pant pocket, though you’ll need a fairly deep one to make that work. Even if you don’t necessarily have a compatible pocket, it’s hard to beat the Smooth-Q2 for sheer portability, and that’s bound to save you some packing space when you’re getting ready for your next trip.

Smooth Q2 1

There’s another recently released small-size smartphone gimbal on the market — the DJI Osmo Mobile 3. That has a clever method of folding down for easier packing, but the Smooth-Q2’s design, while similar in overall footprint, means it’s much easier to put in your actual pocket (or pack in a bag’s side pocket) than is the DJI version. And while both are incredibly easy to balance even if you’re a gimbal novice, I found the Zhiyun was actually the simpler of the two.

The Zhiyun Smooth-Q2 also feels more solidly constructed, though its simpler controls (it doesn’t have a trigger around or a zoom lever) may leave some creators wanting. There are some other advantages here, too, however — a quick release spring-loaded clip means you can detach your smartphone quickly for other uses without unbalancing the gimbal, and go right back to shooting when you’re done. Plus, you can connect via Bluetooth and control your smartphone’s native camera app directly, instead of relying on their ZP Play app — which you can still use for features like object tracking.

The Smooth-Q2 offers 16 hours of battery life, so you should easily make it through a day without requiring power, and it can do time lapses, with or without programmed motion, and a vortex mode for capturing crazy rotational footage. It has an aluminum body that should be able to withstand less-than-careful stowage in your bag.

In terms of quality, the Smooth-Q2 really delivers in early testing with my iPhone XS Max, and I’ve included two quick sample clips so you can see for yourself. These are shot in the gimbal’s basic PF mode, in which the camera pans as you turn the gimbal side to side.

Zhiyun’s crowdfunding these, but the company’s history and reputation mean that you can count on them to deliver. The entry-level price is set at $109 U.S. for backers, which is a $30 discount off the planned retail cost, and they should ship to backers in October, according to the company.

Smooth Q2 2

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This charming little camera prints instantly to receipt paper

Posted by | cameras, Crowdfunding, Gadgets, hardware, Kickstarter, Photography, TC | No Comments

I’m a big instant camera fan, but the film is expensive and the digital printers just aren’t very good. So I was delighted to see this alternative seeking funds on Kickstarter: the Alulu camera, which prints photos in black and white on receipt paper. Why did no one do this before?

The idea is so simple that you’ve already gotten it — no explanation necessary. But because explaining things is my job I am going to do so anyway.

The Alulu is an idea incubated by three friends as they left college, each heading their separate directions but looking to take a shot at making this cool gadget a reality before doing so. Right now it only exists in prototype form (they only thought it up in May), but it works more or less as intended, and it’s as silly and fun as I wanted it to be; I got to test one out, as it happened that one of the team members happened to live in my neighborhood.

The camera is a little box about the size of a fat point-and-shoot, with charming little dials on the top to select exposure mode or a 10-second timer if you want it, and a shutter button that’s hard to miss. On the side is the charge port and a button to advance the paper. And the back has a little frame that flips out and helps you set up your shot — very loosely, I hardly need add.

viewfinderbrtr

Inside the 3D-printed, acrylic-plated exterior, the guts of the camera are simple. An off-the-shelf camera stack that does all the hard work of actually taking a picture — but don’t worry about the megapixels, because they don’t matter here. The camera sends its signal to a custom board that prepares and optimizes the image for black-and-white printing.

To be clear, we’re talking black and white, not shades of grey. The printer inside the camera is a standard receipt printer, which uses heat-activated ink that’s either transparent or black and nothing in between. You feed paper in via a little chamber on the bottom.

alulu

Thankfully creating the appearance of shading in 1-bit imagery is old hat for computer graphics, and an algorithm dithers and tweaks the picture so that more or fewer dots in various patterns create the illusion of a wider palette.

The results are… well, photos printed on receipt paper. Let’s keep our expectations in line. But they’re instantly printed (with a little stutter like a dot matrix printer) and charming little artifacts indeed. You can even use receipts you’re given at stores or restaurants, if they fit, and you can always fold it over a bit if it’s too large.

receiptrow4receiptrow2

(By the way, if you’re worried about being poisoned by receipt paper, don’t be. The stuff with high BPA content was generally phased out a while back, and you can order non-poisonous rolls of paper easily and cheaply.)

I think this thing is great, though I’m afraid that the projected $99 retail price might be too high for what amounts to a novelty. The idea, I was told, was to drive the price down with mass manufacturing, but until they do so they want to be honest about the cost of the parts (the printer itself is the most expensive piece, but like everything else the price goes down when you order a thousand or more).

Whether it makes it to the factory or not, I think the Alulu is a great idea. We need more weird, one-off devices in this world of ours where every function seems to devolve to the smartphone — and I’m tired of my phone! Plus, it can’t print on receipt paper.

The Alulu is currently looking for backers on Kickstarter. Go give it a pledge.

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The Geesaa automates (but overcomplicates) pourover coffee

Posted by | Coffee, coffee maker, Crowdfunding, food, Gadgets, geesaa, hardware, Kickstarter, Reviews, TC | No Comments

Making pourover coffee is a cherished ritual of mine on most mornings. But there are times I wish I could have a single cup of pourover without fussing about the kitchen — and the Geesaa, a new gadget seeking funds on Kickstarter, lets me do that. But it’s definitely still a ways from being a must-have.

I’m interested in alternative coffee preparation methods, low and high tech, so I was happy to agree to try out the Geesaa when they contacted me just ahead of their Kickstarter campaign going live (they’ve already hit their goal at this point). I got to test one of their prototypes and have used it on and off for the last couple of weeks.

The Geesaa is part of a new wave of coffee makers that make advances on traditional drip techniques, attempting to get closer to a manual pourover. That usually means carefully controlling the water temperature and dispensing it not just in a stream powerful enough to displace and churn the ground coffee, but in a pattern that’s like what you’d do if you were pouring it by hand. (The Automatica, another one with a similar idea, sadly didn’t make it.)

Various manufacturers do this in various ways, so Geesaa isn’t exactly alone, though its mechanism appears to be unique. Instead of using a little showerhead that drips regularly over the grounds, or sending a moving stream in a spiral, the Geesaa spins the carafe and pours water from a moving head above it.

This accomplishes the kind of spiral pour that you’ll see many a barista doing, making sure the grounds are all evenly wet and agitated, without creating too thin of a slurry (sounds delicious, right?). And in fact that’s just what the Geesaa does — as long as you get the settings right.

Like any gadget these days, this coffee maker is “smart” in that it has a chip and memory inside, but not necessarily smart in any other way. This one lets you select from a variety of “recipes” supposedly corresponding to certain coffees that Geesaa, as its secondary business model, will sell to owners in perfectly measured packets. The packet will come with an NFC card that you just tap on the maker to prompt it to start with those settings.

It’s actually a good idea, but more suited to a hotel room than a home. I preferred to use the app, which, while more than a little overcomplicated, lets you design your own recipes with an impressive variety of variables. You can customize water temperature, breaks between pouring “stages,” the width of the spiral pattern, the rate the water comes out and more.

Although it’s likely you’d just arrive at a favorite recipe or two, it’s nice to be able to experiment or adjust in case of guests, a new variety of coffee, or a new grinder. You can, as I did, swap out the included carafe for your own cone and mug, or a mesh cone, or whatever — as long as it’s roughly the right size, you can make it work. There’s no chip restricting you to certain containers or coffees.

I’m not sure what the story is with the name, by the way. When you start it up, the little screen says “Coffee Dancer,” which seems like a better English name for the device than Geesaa, but hey.

When it works, it works, but there are still plenty of annoyances that you won’t get with a kettle and a drip cone. Bear in mind, this is with a prototype (third generation, but still) device and app still in testing.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the temperature seems too low in general. Even the highest available temperature, 97 C (around 206 F), doesn’t seem as hot as it should. Built-in recipes produced coffee that seemed only warm, not hot. Perhaps the water cools as it travels along the arm and passes through the air — this is nontrivial when you’re talking about little droplets! So by the time it gets to the coffee it may be lower than you’d like, while coming out of a kettle it will almost always be about as hot as it can get. (Not that you want the hottest water possible, but too cool is as much a problem as too hot.)

I ran out of filters for the included carafe so I used my gold Kone filter, which worked great.

The on-device interface is pretty limited, with a little dial and LCD screen that displays two lines at a time. It’s pre-loaded with a ton of recipes for coffee types you may never see (what true coffee-lover orders pre-ground single-serve packets?), and the app is cluttered with ways to fill out taste profiles, news and things that few people seem likely to take advantage of. Once you’ve used a recipe you can call it up from the maker itself, at least.

One time I saw the carafe was a bit off-center when it started brewing, and when I adjusted it, the spinning platform just stopped and wouldn’t restart. Another time the head didn’t move during the brewing process, just blasting the center of the grounds until the cone was almost completely full. (You can of course stop the machine at any point and restart it should something go wrong.)

Yet when it worked, it was consistently good coffee and much quicker than my standard manual single cup process.

Aesthetically it’s fine — modern and straightforward, though without the elegance one sees in Bodum and Ratio’s design.

It comes in white, too. You know, for white kitchens.

The maker itself is quite large — unnecessarily so, I feel — though I know the base has to conceal the spinning mechanism and a few other things. But at more than a foot wide and eight inches deep, and almost a foot tall, it has quite a considerable footprint, larger than many another coffee machines.

I feel like the Geesaa is a good coffee-making mechanism burdened by an overcomplicated digital interface. I honestly would have preferred mechanical dials on the maker itself, one each for temperature, amount and perhaps brew style (all at once, bloom first, take a break after 45 seconds, etc). Maybe something to control its spiral width too.

And of course at $700 (at the currently available pledge level) this thing is expensive as hell. The comparisons made in the campaign pitch aren’t really accurate — you can get an excellent coffee maker like a Bonnavita for $150, and of course plenty for less than that.

At $700, and with this thing’s capabilities, and with the side hustle of selling coffee packets, this seems like a better match for a boutique hotel room or fancy office kitchen than an ordinary coffee lover’s home. I enjoy using it, but its bulk and complexity are antithetical to the minimal coffee-making experience I have enjoyed for years. Still, it’s cool to see weird new coffee-making methods appear, and if you’re interested, you can still back it on Kickstarter for the next week or so.

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Seven years later, the OUYA is dead for real

Posted by | Gaming, Kickstarter, ouya, Razer, TC | No Comments

Remember the OUYA?

As a cheap Android-powered game console, it was pitched as being able to “open the last closed platform: the TV.” It was one of the first huge Kickstarter campaigns, raising nearly $9 million on the site in 2012. Even half a decade later, it remains one of the biggest campaigns Kickstarter has seen.

Outside of Kickstarter, the $99 console never really found its audience. OUYA was split up by 2015, its software assets and team acquired by Razer.

Razer kept the OUYA store running post-acquisition, a ghost of its former self. On June 25th, 2019, they’ll pull the plug once and for all.

In an FAQ on its site, Razer says that the OUYA store will be shut down by the end of June. The game store for the Forge TV (a similar attempt at an Android-powered console built by Razer itself) will also be shut down.

If you’ve somehow still got funds in your OUYA account, you’ll want to use them quick — the FAQ suggests that come June 25th, those funds will be more or less gone.

But what about the games you’ve already bought? Will those continue to work? That’s a bit more complicated. Writes Razer:

You will be able to play games via the OUYA platform until June 25, 2019. Once it has been shut down, access to the Discover section will no longer be available. Games downloaded that appear in Play, may still function if they do not require a purchase validation upon launch. Contact the game developer for confirmation.

In other words: some games will work, some won’t. They do note that the download servers will also go dark on June 25th — so if there’s a game you want to keep for the long term, make sure you’ve got it saved on the console.

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This little translator gadget could be a traveling reporter’s best friend

Posted by | Crowdfunding, Gadgets, hardware, Kickstarter, machine learning, TC, Translation | No Comments

If you’re lucky enough to get to travel abroad, you know it’s getting easier and easier to use our phones and other gadgets to translate for us. So why not do so in a way that makes sense to you? This little gadget seeking funds on Kickstarter looks right up my alley, offering quick transcription and recording — plus music playback, like an iPod Shuffle with superpowers.

The ONE Mini is really not that complex of a device — a couple of microphones and a wireless board in tasteful packaging — but that combination allows for a lot of useful stuff to happen both offline and with its companion app.

You activate the device, and it starts recording and both translating and transcribing the audio via a cloud service as it goes (or later, if you choose). That right there is already super useful for a reporter like me — although you can always put your phone on the table during an interview, this is more discreet, and of course a short-turnaround translation is useful, as well.

Recordings are kept on the phone (no on-board memory, alas) and there’s an option for a cloud service, but that probably won’t be necessary, considering the compact size of these audio files. If you’re paranoid about security, this probably isn’t your jam, but for everyday stuff it should be just fine.

If you want to translate a conversation with someone whose language you don’t speak, you pick two of the 12 built-in languages in the app and then either pass the gadget back and forth or let it sit between you while you talk. The transcript will show on the phone and the ONE Mini can bleat out the translation in its little robotic voice.

Right now translation online only works, but I asked and offline is in the plans for certain language pairs that have reliable two-way edge models, probably Mandarin-English and Korean-Japanese.

It has a headphone jack, too, which lets it act as a wireless playback device for the recordings or for your music, or to take calls using the nice onboard mics. It’s lightweight and has a little clip, so it’s probably better than connecting directly to your phone in many cases.

There’s also a 24/7 interpreter line that charges two bucks a minute that I probably wouldn’t use. I think I would feel weird about it. But in an emergency it could be pretty helpful to have a panic button that sends you directly to a person who speaks both the languages you’ve selected.

I have to say, normally I wouldn’t highlight a random crowdfunded gadget, but I happen to have met the creator of this one, Wells Tu, at one of our events, and trust him and his team to actually deliver. The previous product he worked on was a pair of translating wireless earbuds that worked surprisingly well, so this isn’t their first time shipping a product in this category — that makes a lot of difference for a hardware startup. You can see it in action here:

He pointed out in an email to me that obviously wireless headphones are hot right now, but the translation functions aren’t good and battery life is short. This adds a lot of utility in a small package.

Right now you can score a ONE Mini for $79, which seems reasonable to me. They’ve already passed their goal and are planning on shipping in June, so it shouldn’t be a long wait.

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Doogee is launching a rugged modular smartphone

Posted by | doogee, hardware, Kickstarter, Mobile, smartphones | No Comments

The week following CES is probably as good a time as any to launch a Kickstarter campaign for your strange new smartphone. After all, a company like Doogee is going to have difficulty rising above the din during a CES or MWC, even with an idea as interesting as the rugged, modular S90.

The Chinese manufacturer has no shortage of interesting concepts, of course. And while the S90 appears to be a bit of a niche, it’s already surpassed its (admittedly modest) goal several times over.

The product’s modular concept is pretty in line with Motorola’s Moto Z offerings, with a series of plates that snap onto the back of the handset, delivering different hardware features through a multi-pin connector.

Many of the mods should prove familiar, too, including an extra battery (5,000mAh) and a game pad. Though, in addition to the rugged handset, you’ve also got some add-ons specifically tailored to those looking for a device to use in the field. Among those listed are a night-vision camera and a walkie-talkie, which extends the handset’s communication abilities where cellular networks don’t reach.

Doogee is shooting for a February delivery for the new handset.

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Self-flying camera drone Hover 2 hits Kickstarter

Posted by | camera drone, drone, Gadgets, hardware, Kickstarter, zero zero robotics | No Comments

Two years after launching the original Hover, Zero Zero Robotics has returned for the sequel. In spite of landing a $25 million Series A back in 2016, the startup is going to the crowdfunding well on this one, launching a $100K Kickstarter campaign to launch the latest version of the self-flying drone.

Hover 2, which the company expects to arrive in April 2019, will feature updated obstacle avoidance, improved visual tracking and some updated internals, including a new Snapdragon processor on-board.

There’s a two-axis gimbal with electronic image stabilization for smoother shots that houses a camera capable of capturing 4K video and 12-megapixel photos. There are a number of different shot models on-board as well, including movie-inspired filters and music and a battery that’s capable of going 23 minutes on a charge.

Of course, Hover’s chief competition, the DJI Mavic line, has made some pretty massive leaps and bounds in practically all of those categories since launching the first Pro back in 2016, so the company’s got some stiff competition. Even Parrot has gotten more serious about their videography-focused Anafi line.

At $399 for early-bird pledgers, the Hover 2 is priced around the same as the handheld DJI Spark. That price includes a small handheld remote.

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Mobvoi launches new $200 smartwatch and $130 AirPods alternative

Posted by | Android, Apple, artificial intelligence, Asia, Assistant, China, computing, Gadgets, Google, indiegogo, Kickstarter, mobvoi, Qualcomm, smartwatches, TC, voice assistant, wearable devices | No Comments

Chinese AI company Mobvoi has consistently been one of the best also-rans in the smartwatch game, which remains dominated by Apple. Today, it launched a sequel to its 2016 TicWatch, which was a viral hit raising over $2 million on Kickstarter, and it unveiled a cheaper take on Apple’s AirPods.

The new TicWatch C2 was outed at a London event and is priced at $199.99. Unlike its predecessor, it has shifted from Mobvoi’s own OS to Google’s Wear OS. That isn’t a huge surprise, though, since Mobvoi’s newer budget watches and ‘pro’ watch have both already made that jump.

The C2 — which stands for classic 2 — packs NFC, Bluetooth, NFC and a voice assistant. It comes in black, platinum and rose gold. The latter color option — shown below — is thinner so presumably it is designed for female wrists.

However, there’s a compromise since the watch isn’t shipping with Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. Mobvoi has instead picked the older 2100 processor. That might explain the price, but it will mean that newer Android Wear watches shipping in the company months have better performance, particularly around battery life. As it stands, the TicWatch C2 claims a day-two life but the processor should be a consideration for would-be buyers.

Mobvoi also outed TicPods Free, its take on Apple’s wireless AirPods. They are priced at $129.99 and available in red, white and blue.

The earbuds already raised over $2.8 million from Indiegogo — Mobvoi typically uses crowdfunding to gather feedback and assess customer interest — and early reviews have been positive.

They work on Android and iOS and include support for Alex and Google Assistant. They also include gesture-based controls beyond the Apple-style taps for skipping music, etc. Battery life without the case, which doubles as a charger, is estimated at 18 hours, or four hours of listening time.

The TicPods are available to buy online now. The TicWatch C2 is up for pre-sale ahead of a “wide” launch that’s planned for December 6.

Mobvoi specializes in AI and it includes Google among its investors. It also has a joint venture with VW that is focused on bringing Ai into the automotive industry. In China it is best known for AI services but globally, in the consumer space, it also offers a Google Assistant speaker called TicHome Mini.

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Make your own phone with MakerPhone (some soldering required)

Posted by | Crowdfunding, DIY, Gadgets, hardware, Kickstarter, Mobile | No Comments

There’s no shortage of interesting electronics kits out there to occupy an idle Sunday, but with this one you get a phone out of the bargain. The MakerPhone is a kit looking for funds on Kickstarter that lets you assemble a working mobile phone from a number of boards and pieces, and the end result looks about as wild as you’d expect.

For about a hundred bucks, you get a mainboard, casing, LCD, wireless module, processor, and all the other pieces you need to make a basic smartphone. You’re not going to be browsing Instagram on this thing, but you can make calls, send texts, and play Snake. Remember when that was enough?

This is purpose-built hardware, of course — you won’t be putting it together cap by cap — but it’s not exactly plug and play, either. You’ll need a soldering iron, snippers, and some Python chops. (Not delicious python meat — Python the programming language.)

The MakerPhone microcontroller is Arduino-compatible, so you can tweak and extend it, too. But the creators (who previously shipped a similarly DIY handheld gaming machine) say you don’t need any experience to do this. It takes you through the absolute basics and there are pledge tiers that get you all the tools you’ll need, too.

I love the chunky UI, too. I like big pixels and I cannot lie.

Sure, this probably won’t be your everyday device (it’s huge) but it’s a fun project and maybe you could make it your weird home messaging machine. I don’t know. Be creative.

The MakerPhone is already well past its $15,000 goal, most of which was people snapping up the early bird $89 deal. But there are plenty available at $94, and it comes with a toolkit at $119.

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The Automatica automates pour-over coffee in a charming and totally unnecessary way

Posted by | Coffee, Crowdfunding, Gadgets, hardware, Kickstarter, TC | No Comments

Most mornings, after sifting through the night’s mail haul and skimming the headlines, I make myself a cup of coffee. I use a simple pour-over cone and paper filters, and (in what is perhaps my most tedious Seattleite affectation), I grind the beans by hand. I like the manual aspect of it all. Which is why this robotic pour-over machine is to me so perverse… and so tempting.

Called the Automatica, this gadget, currently raising funds on Kickstarter but seemingly complete as far as development and testing, is basically a way to do pour-over coffee without holding the kettle yourself.

You fill the kettle and place your mug and cone on the stand in front of it. The water is brought to a boil and the kettle tips automatically. Then the whole mug-and-cone portion spins slowly, distributing the water around the grounds, stopping after 11 ounces has been distributed over the correct duration. You can use whatever cone and mug you want as long as they’re about the right size.

Of course, the whole point of pour-over coffee is that it’s simple: you can do it at home, while on vacation, while hiking or indeed at a coffee shop with a bare minimum of apparatus. All you need is the coffee beans, the cone, a paper filter — although some cones omit even that — and of course a receptacle for the product. (It’s not the simplest — that’d be Turkish, but that’s coffee for werewolves.)

Why should anyone want to disturb this simplicity? Well, the same reason we have the other 20 methods for making coffee: convenience. And in truth, pour-over is already automated in the form of drip machines. So the obvious next question is, why this dog and pony show of an open-air coffee bot?

Aesthetics! Nothing wrong with that. What goes on in the obscure darkness of a drip machine? No one knows. But this — this you can watch, audit, understand. Even if the machinery is complex, the result is simple: hot water swirls gently through the grounds. And although it’s fundamentally a bit absurd, it is a good-looking machine, with wood and brass accents and a tasteful kettle shape. (I do love a tasteful kettle.)

The creators say the machine is built to last “generations,” a promise which must of course be taken with a grain of salt. Anything with electronics has the potential to short out, to develop a bug, to be troubled by humidity or water leaks. The heating element may fail. The motor might stutter or a hinge catch.

But all that is true of most coffee machines, and unlike those, this one appears to be made with care and high-quality materials. The cracking and warping you can expect in thin molded plastic won’t happen to this thing, and if you take care of it, it should at least last several years.

And it better, for the minimum pledge price that gets you a machine: $450. That’s quite a chunk of change. But like audiophiles, coffee people are kind of suckers for a nice piece of equipment.

There is of course the standard crowdfunding caveat emptor; this isn’t a pre-order but a pledge to back this interesting hardware startup, and if it’s anything like the last five or six campaigns I’ve backed, it’ll arrive late after facing unforeseen difficulties with machining, molds, leaks and so on.

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