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San Diego's Fireworks Show Over In 15 Seconds 241

Posted by timothy
from the san-antonio's-went-right-to-plan dept.
First time accepted submitter fotoguzzi writes "Garden State Fireworks is investigating how the entire Fourth of July show was launched after a signal was sent to the barges that would set the timing for the rest of the show after the introduction. Can anyone suggest how such a trivial step could go so disastrously wrong?" It's not the first time such a thing has happened, either.
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San Diego's Fireworks Show Over In 15 Seconds

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  • Wasn't there... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    But what an awesome 15 seconds that must have been!

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:37PM (#40553035) Journal

      But what an awesome 15 seconds that must have been!

      Yep, just like my first time ... she didn't seem to think so though.

    • Well.. it's better than reading the idiot comments about it on Twitter...

    • But what an awesome 15 seconds that must have been!

      Awesome 15 seconds, but 30 minutes of driving, 15 minutes to find a parking spot, 30 minutes of waiting, 1 hour of fighting traffic to leave... (the better viewing places get overwhelmed with people on the 4th). I'm sure some people were bummed even though It would have been awesome to see. I bet there's a few people who were looking the wrong way too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sarysa (1089739)
        The people who think a fireworks display is worth all that wasted time would probably be fine with such a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, being laid back as they must be.
        • Re:Wasn't there... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sarysa (1089739) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @02:47PM (#40555099)
          Welp, I don't normally respond to a cynical mod-down, but I'm dead serious with this one.

          Lets face it, we all draw a line somewhere when we decide to attend something, right? I won't drive toward the beach (bay area) after 9am or so because that's when traffic becomes molasses, or stand in a long line for a slightly faster phone, or anything like that. Other people will. It takes a certain personality type to have the willingness to do so and I don't have it.

          The intent of the above quip wasn't to disparage those who do, but I can only imagine that if I'm the impatient type who times recreational activity around minimal wasted time (traffic congestion, staring at loading bars, waiting in lines), those who are willing to do these things are either
          A. much more laid back, or I suppose...
          B. doing it for their kids. Maybe I should've mentioned that before.

          In either case, a laid back person would think it's funny. A kid would think it's awesome. Kids haven't developed the sense of aesthetics needed to appreciate the rhythm and choreography behind the display -- they're just thinking "awesome, big explosion! Do it again!"

          So if you're so pissed off by my statement that you feel the need to hit Underrated in the popdown, maybe you're not laid back enough for such recreational activity. :P
          • by roothog (635998)

            Welp, I don't normally respond to a cynical mod-down, but I'm dead serious with this one.

            So if you're so pissed off by my statement that you feel the need to hit Underrated in the popdown, maybe you're not laid back enough for such recreational activity. :P

            "Underrated" means that they were modding you up, not down. The mod down is called "Overrated".

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      But what an awesome 15 seconds that must have been!

      Plot for new Hollywood thriller - Gone In 15 Seconds

      • by camperslo (704715)

        Yeah, go to the movie and discover the trailer you already saw was the movie.

        The sped-up aspect of it is sorta like Blipverts.

        The smoke must have been dense. Perhaps one could have bounced signals off of that. I recall that when a power failure hit during a large California fire, I discovered that some reflected out of town FM and tv signals were quite strong

        Smoke isn't the best way to get those weak DTV signals, but the deadline for rural low power analog tv stations to have applied for a subsidy refund

      • The porn industry already beat you ...

        Gone in 60 Seconds --> Cum in 60 Seconds

        http://www.listal.com/list/porn-versions-famous-movies [listal.com]

    • Re:Wasn't there... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Adult film producer (866485) <van@i2pmail.org> on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:09PM (#40553529)
      Watch for yourself

      http://youtu.be/lrPCEubDZ9A?hd=1 [youtu.be]
    • Re:Wasn't there... (Score:5, Informative)

      by milbournosphere (1273186) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:49PM (#40554223)
      I was, up on the hill at USD. The sound-wave alone was AWESOME. Probably far more memorable than the actual show would have been.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:37PM (#40553049)

    ...premature Californication....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:38PM (#40553061)

    I hear that happens to every fireworks show at some point in its life. It just needs to relax, take some stress off and not worry about how it performs. Just enjoy the show.

    • So you're saying that the pyrotechnician should have put on a second condom before starting the show.

    • Worse is when you can't get the fuse to light, no matter how hot and sweaty the crowd is with anticipation. Much, much worse.
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:38PM (#40553063)

    The idea sounds awesome. The videos look awesome. They've all had probably a once in a lifetime experience. And the one guy in the article was complaining about having to pay for parking?

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:02PM (#40553413) Homepage Journal

      I took your word for it and went to watch the video.
      Can't really see what was so awesome about a big cloud of glowing smoke.

      It might be awesome into you're into seeing things get blown up or are easily impressed with anything that goes boom. But when entire families spend their day camped out on the waterfront after a drive of who knows how long and paying the exorbitant parking fees, you can bet your ass they'd be upset.

      They were expecting an artistically choreographed fireworks show -- not a Redneck BBQ.
      The only once in a lifetime experience I see here is that they can fondly look back at the year the 4th of July was a complete ripoff.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:12PM (#40553589)

        They can see an artistically choreographed fireworks show next year. They probably saw one last year. Around here they do one every Thursday, all summer. How often do you get to see what happens when all the fireworks go off at once?

        "The only once in a lifetime experience I see here is that they can fondly look back at the year the 4th of July was a complete ripoff."

        Strange how people getting a fireworks show for free can feel ripped off. Quite the sense of entitlement, hey?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Roachie (2180772)

          My sentiment exactly, Ordinarily I would refuse to sit in traffic and get all bunched up with lake people and their little cracker spawn for some shitty fireworks show.

          Now, if they would have said, "This year, we shoot the whole god dammed thing at once, just to see what it looks like". I would have driven to San Diego.

      • I did think it was awesome! So it doesn't matter if it lasted 15 seconds or 15 minutes. And I say that coming from a city that boasts one of the top 10 firework displays in the nation. Ours lasted 30 minutes exactly and the finale was similar to that 15 seconds (though slightly longer). I'd prefer it be slightly shorter b/c you do get tired of the routine after a while.
      • by glassware (195317)

        It looked really cool in person. The glow was magnificent. It went on for what felt like much longer than the videos show.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        a _big_ cloud of glowing in color smoke. it looks shit on video sure.. but I'd rather go to see that than a regular fireworks show.

        paying for fees to see a fireworks show though.. they got scammed. but technically they paid for parking - not the show . "haha". however the whole fireworks show was just a small bit of their whole day anyhow.

      • by SlippyToad (240532) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @03:36PM (#40555757)

        Can't really see what was so awesome about a big cloud of glowing smoke.

        The Universe is pretty awesome, IMHO.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:38PM (#40553069)
    Now I know how my wife feels.
  • SMPTE timecode (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    One possibility is that the show was run by SMPTE timecode and someone mistakenly either started the code at a late point in the show causing the firing system to "catch up". Another possibility is the timecode was played back at fast forward instead of normal speed.

    • by tiberus (258517)

      Anyone know which firing system was being used? Was any part of it wireless? Were the barges tethered to tugs with their radars on?

      Even if you go with the assumption that the show was programmed and loaded correctly, there are a number of things that could have gone wrong both internal to the system and environmental that could have caused this. I'd be very interested to hear what the findings are of the 'investigation'. My money would be on being they never find out what caused the show to go all at on

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:43PM (#40554089)

        I have designed the electronics and software of a fireworks firing system for a company that does regular shows here in Catalonia/Spain.

        Believe me, experienced people are very cautious in everything they do, but unexperienced people can make big mistakes if they are overconfident in a black box system that will do everything for them.

        In one point specifications said:

        -The firing system must make an autotest for each circuit for the team to check all connections are in place.

        They test the firing circuits of the fireworks several times before the show to fire all the material. In our case it was done exciting the fuses (sorry I'm not native english) with a safe very low current to see if the fuse is electrically present, and the inspections does a check of a circuit every 0.05s, so you can check the entire show in a few seconds.

        For me this seems the check was done with full current on the circuits which fired all the fireworks during this test procedure.

        It's quite surprising to have someone design a system that lets this happen from my point of view, in our case we made the circuits impossible (due hardware to redundant hardware switches and circuits) to excite to fire during the test (there are various physical limiter).

        So... it seems someone who had not enought experience with fireworks managed to build his system and convince this people to use it... but its surprising, it's a pretty conservative people, at least the ones I know.

  • FIreworks displays always run too long, that one sounds like it would have been great.

    You could set them off over a period of 15 days, or 15 hours, or 15 minutes, or 15 seconds. How does is not get better as the time reduces?

    • by SomePgmr (2021234)

      I think a white ball of fire and smoke seems a bit boring. And judging from the youtube videos, it was.

      There's craft in doing a good show that's exciting enough, but also long enough to be impressive.

      You're right though, some try to spread too few fireworks over too long a show by choreographing it all really thin.

    • by tiberus (258517) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:00PM (#40553387)

      Not always. Most customers (the folks who pay for the shows) want the longest show for the least money. I've worked show where we were launching one shell every three seconds in order to meet the show duration requested by the customer. Think this turned a nice 5 minute show into a painful 30 minute experience.

      How does is not get better as the time reduces?

      As time reduces you approach what we call a sky puke. Okay it's a lotta boom but, you really don't get to see much.

  • Orban, UK (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ginger_Chris (1068390) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:42PM (#40553139)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-15611160 [bbc.co.uk]

    I'd rather watch these short ones than be stood out in the rain (England) for hours.

  • by BMOC (2478408) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:42PM (#40553147)

    ...for fireworks to be like that, just constant rockets and explosions non-stop for 10-20 minutes. Why do fireworks shows limit their bursts to a Grand Finale?

    Put me in charge of destroying money like this, and I'll create a number of bursts that keep you watching for the entire show, leading up to a ridiculous ending worthy of shore shelling from the Iowa.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Debris and smoke

    • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:00PM (#40553375)

      Depends on the show. Those that are simulcast to music might have limitations on when/if they burst. Also I've done/seen shows that does ground effects at different times.

      Generally the budget I've seen is for a small city, one minute == $1000. Depending on the pacing at least one shell is being launched every 3rd second. That's 20 shells minimum if there are no multiples firing at the same time. $50 per shell including labor materials, other costs, etc. is what it boils down to. For a 30 min show, that's 600 shells.

    • by tom17 (659054)

      Stand at the top of Olympiaberg in Munich at midnight on NYE.

      The *entire* city is lit up with fireworks from pretty much every street, and it goes on for almost an hour.

      Beats *any* display I have ever seen or heard of, it's truly awesome.

      • by BMOC (2478408)
        I live in Los Angeles, all you need to do is find a hill. There's so much civil-disobedience around here w.r.t. lighting off rockets/mortars on the 4th that I'm suspecting most law enforcement is starting to just give up trying to cite people.
        • by tom17 (659054)

          Thing is, in Munich, it's legal so the density of fireworks above the city it immense. Also, there are no skyscrapers there which just adds to the effect.

          Are there any hills in LA that would tower over even the highest skyscraper there?

          • by BMOC (2478408)

            Well, there's these mountains only to the north that get Snow each winter. The tallest of them topping out at 3300 meters or so. They're about 20km away from Downtown Los Angeles, but easily viewable from anywhere on a clear day.

            Also, Los Angeles skyscrapers are a tiny island surrounded by an ocean of single family homes. They don't tower over the city, the city expanse dwarfs the skyscrapers.

            There are quite a few hills interspersed in the municipalities, but the rich people have generally claimed them

            • by tom17 (659054)

              Interesting, then it could work I suppose.

              The mountain thing would not work though, tooo far away and too high! With the Munich idea, Olympiaberg is right in the thick of it :)

    • by pjt33 (739471)

      Have you ever visited Valencia, Spain, in the third week of March? I think you'd enjoy it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:43PM (#40553163)

    Ok! Ok! I must have, I must have put a decimal point in the wrong place
    or something. Shit. I always do that. I always mess up some mundane
    detail.

    • by hey! (33014)

      That'll teach you to write system control code in archaic Fortran, a language which has both auto-declared variables and space intolerant keywords. That's the only language where you can write (do10i=1.100) (assigning new float variable "do10i" a value of 1.1) when you meant "do 10 i = 1,100" (repeat line 10 with i taking values from 1 to 10).

    • by 0racle (667029)
      No, it would appear that you replaced a 't' with an 'e'
  • by PRMan (959735) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:48PM (#40553235)
    Maybe the timings were in milliseconds instead of seconds (or a new version of the software suddenly thought they were). Now, 30 minutes of fireworks gets done in 1.8 seconds. But since fuses take a couple seconds and some are longer than others, you get a total of 15 seconds.
    • by Idbar (1034346)
      You just need to keep up... fast times we're living in!

      They probably sync them all [youtube.com] through a blasting fast cloud computer!
    • Or perhaps it just demonstrates the well-known fact that concurrent programs are hard to debug.
    • by Locutus (9039)
      from what I read, they uploaded a configuration right before the show which sets the timing sequence for the entire show. On 3 out of the 4 launch systems which received the upload the control system immediately launched everything at once. The originating timing software could have saved a sequence file with incorrect seconds timing but what is obvious is that they do not test or validate the sequence file before accepting it. At the very least they don't check for out of bounds events like launching more
  • I wonder if you were able to slow the playback of the audiences ooooohhhhhhs and aaaaaaahhhhhhhs, counted them, would they have been perfectly synchronized and in lock step with each burst?

  • People make mistakes, and nothing is perfect.

    Next.

    • by jd (1658)

      The easy solution is to have 30x as many fireworks and then run it at this speed all the time.

  • . . . or it was an Imperial Units / Metric System mix up again.

    Metric System: meters per second.

    Imperial Units: furloughs per fortnight.

    I always buy Metric System fireworks . . . that go up to 11.

  • Saw it happen once (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @12:55PM (#40553321)
    When I was in college I saw something similar. It was a sticky hot 4th of July evening. Just as the show was starting a big thunderstorm moved in. When they shot the first couple of rockets up, big flashes of lightning arced through the clouds in response. It was pretty impressive. They decided to shoot everything off at once, one after another; fireworks, thunder claps, lightning, all at once. It was totally awesome. Then it started to rain and all the braless coeds in tee-shirts had to walk back to campus. One of the better displays I've ever seen.
  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:00PM (#40553377)

    San Diego fireworks show exploded in 15 seconds, ruining show

    Well.....

    Best part about #bigbayboom fail is that EVERYONE has always wondered what would happen if all fireworks went off at once," tweeted @richandcreamy.

    There we go. That's more accurate, lol. I think "ruining the show" is a bit harsh :-P

    By the way...

    "I waited 3hrs in the cold and payd $12 for parking & got one little explosion?" tweeted @aj521z.

    What ****ing planet is this person from?! It is NOT COLD in San Diego at the moment at any time of day.

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      > What ****ing planet is this person from?! It is NOT COLD in San > Diego at the moment at any time of day.

      answer: San diego

      I assume you don't know many people in hot climates. I used to chat with some people in Florida. Every year they would be talking about how cold it is and needing to "bundle up" because its so cold..... then I would check and it would be just under 70 F down there... while I am going outside with the wind whipping 20 F air at me.

  • by fotoguzzi (230256) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:08PM (#40553501)
    (Submitter here.) I should have put quote marks around the portion of the sentence about signals and introductions. I meant to, but after multiple previews I still forgot. It took me fifteen seconds to submit this story....
  • Launch All Zerg

  • by weiserfireman (917228) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:15PM (#40553651) Homepage

    Electric matches on the circuits take 5 milliamps to ignite them.

    After the fireworks are loaded and wired up, testing is done to identify matches that aren't wired up right. Is there a chance that the testing process failed. On computer systems, it is pretty automated and happens fast. If the test resistor wasn't in the circuit properly, it might look like that.

    Notes
    I am a BATF licensed pryotechnician.
    I assist with a small show every year (our last night went flawlessly)
    I have never worked with a computer fired circuit

    • by PPH (736903) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:33PM (#40553943)

      Electric matches on the circuits take 5 milliamps to ignite them.

      That's a bit low (see: http://www.pyromate.com/Basics-of-Electrical-Firing.htm [pyromate.com]). 5 mA sounds like the test current.

      It's going to be an interesting investigation. Most modern pyrotechnic controllers incorporate a shorting system to keep the squibs from being fired inadvertently by static electricity or single point control failures. To fire each circuit, the safety shunt must be removed and then the firing voltage applied. That's two failures at the lower level of the controller. And on every circuit simultaneously. I doubt it.

      From the video, it appears that the fault was common to three separate sites. They almost certainly used (at least) one controller at each location, tied together through somee communications network to a central control unit handling the timing. My money is on a software failure at that central point.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CatBandit (866637)

        Agree on this. This is a test procedure with firing currents instead of test currents.

        I designed the electrical and sofware part of a Firing System, and the matches needed much more than 100mA to fire, the 5mA seems on the test range.

        In our case our circuit tested the whole show in just a few seconds like this (each match every 0.05 or 0.1s). So if firing current (>>100mA) was applied a faulty test would do this.

        But because of this (this is also an economical disaster for the company), the test proced

        • by CatBandit (866637)

          Just add that this is an economical disaster, but more important a security disaster, imagine someone near the fires looking for the cabling when they did the test.

          • by 91degrees (207121)
            But nobody was, and this isn't surprising. Pyrotechnics people have a very belt-and-braces approach to safety. If you're going anywhere near the explosives, the power is off.
            • by cusco (717999) <<brian.bixby> <at> <gmail.com>> on Thursday July 05, 2012 @03:59PM (#40556133)
              Depends on your pyrotechnics people. When I lived there Traverse City, MI, used to go withe the lowest bidder for their Cherry Festival fireworks. We lived two blocks from the National Maritime Academy pier where they launch from, and would walk down and watch the fireworks from the park there. In either '95 or '94 the bozos they had contracted somehow trashed their control board and proceeded to run the whole program by hand. This consisted in a guy walking up and down the pier with a FLARE setting off random fireworks in no particular order.

              This was amusing to watch, and even more amusing to hear the idiots nearby commenting on how wonderfully they were choreagraphing the fireworks to the radio station they were listening to, until all of a sudden the guy tossed his flare in the water, covered his head and ran like hell. A few seconds later one of the larger shells went off **in the mortar**, showering us with sparks and setting off a dozen or more fireworks at once. That turned out to be our "finale", except for those of us who were close enough to the company's trailer and got to listen to the worker tell his bosses to go fuck themselves because he was NOT going back out on that dock with another flare.

              I think they've abandoned the lowest bidder habit, at least for the fireworks display.
              • by g1zmo (315166) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @04:36PM (#40556691) Homepage

                I'm a licensed pyrotechnician (FPO) in Texas.

                (Hand-fired) reload shows are still done to this day, mostly because they are cheaper and the customer naturally wants to pay as little as possible. It's also how it was done when my grandpa first got into the business in the 50's.

                The last two shows I did were reload shows, and yes, it is basically just the shooter walking up and down the line of mortars buried in the ground touching a fusee (a.k.a. road flare) to the quickmatch fuses. Running behind the shooter are his helpers with armloads of live shells, dropping them down into the empty mortars that often still have smouldering paper in the bottom. It's quite a rush, and although I personally prefer an electronic show, there are plenty of adrenaline junkies who won't do anything other than hand-fired shows.

                Starting in the 70's you would see shows fired electronically, with a master control box where the shooter hits a switch for each shot in the show. This was the era when choreographed shows starting becoming possible. Many shows are still done this way. Nowadays lots of shows are computer-controlled with a laptop and an RS-232 (or other) connection in place of the shooter and switch panel.

  • Voltage exerted on a ground wire can do silly things to pyrotechnics.
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:21PM (#40553759) Homepage

    Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took - I might have known!

  • by csnydermvpsoft (596111) on Thursday July 05, 2012 @01:34PM (#40553963) Homepage

    Among the accomplishments [gardenstatefireworks.com] listed on the Garden State Fireworks (pyrotechnics company responsible for the show) web site:

    Statue of Liberty Bicentennial Celebration

    That time, they managed to shoot off the show a whole century early!

  • Fire One (Score:5, Informative)

    by smurd (48976) * on Thursday July 05, 2012 @02:24PM (#40554765)

    A am a pryotechnician that works exclusively with computer fired shows. From what I'm hearing on the mailing lists so far, they were using the Fire One controller. We also use them (we have over 100 modules at $795 each). I haven't been involved in the "Loading" of the show into the embedded controller for the past few years, but I was called into action about 3 years ago when we had the same problem with our "semi automatic" shows (press a button for each event). I found there was an additional step when downloading the show from the PC to the firing controller called "Assign Delays" that had to be manually entered when loading. Without that step, all shells for each event fired immediately. I don't know if Fire One ever fixed it because it's now part of our written checklist for loading and we haven't had a problem since, and Fire One is notorious for fixing a problem with one customer, updating the firrmware but not telling the rest of their customer base that there is an update.

    If you are using Fire One, you can thank me for the new Line receivers in the new modules, I had to go to the plant and show them the problem.

    • Fire One is notorious for fixing a problem with one customer, updating the firrmware but not telling the rest of their customer base that there is an update.

      Glad I'm not the only one that does that. Our emails to customers typically go along the lines of "this update contains several changes and bug fixes, some of which you might notice."

      • Re:Fire One (Score:4, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 05, 2012 @04:27PM (#40556545)

        While looking at their web site I found this quote:

        "FireOne is the only system in the world capable of firing multiple firing modules and multiple cues completely simultaneously - zero time dispertion between firings. The system can simultaneously fire any number of Firing Modules"

        Found at this URL: "http://www.fireone.com/system_spec.htm"

        • Re:Fire One (Score:5, Informative)

          by smurd (48976) * on Thursday July 05, 2012 @05:03PM (#40557063)

          Yeah, Don't get my above rant wrong, Fire One is the best system, really the only system out there for firing large shows. I use all of the others, but they are the only ones out there that can handle large pyromusicals (I.E. > 2000 cues).

          It has more then enough juice to fire an entire module (32 cues) at once, and that is a good thing for mine fronts, set peices etc... We need and want that feature.

          I'll be back at the magazines tomorrow and want to run a test - I'm thinking if you either forget to assign delays, or assign them twice for a fully scripted show, you will have the same result.

          As far as I know, there are no commercially available products out there that will let you test ematches with firepower on (the Capacitive Discharge circuit) powered, so I'm pretty sure it's not a testing issue.

          Even though Garden State is a competitor, I feel for those guys, We've had our share of learning curves too.

  • I wonder if they were thinking minutes but programming in seconds.

    All they needed to fix it was a bunch of people dancing around really fast. Nobody'd notice.

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