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Chicago RHoK Dec 4/5 Event a Success!!

Wow Chicago!! 

Chicago tech community,  and our out of town guests, you did something good this past weekend.                   

Sponsor CNA Insurance Welcomes RHoK to Chicago

Sponsor CNA Insurance Welcomes RHoK to Chicago

Experiences that change our lives.  Its been 48 hours since we wound down our Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) event in Chicago, and with this bit of time to reflect, all I can say is WOW!!!!!  WOW to the hacker participants, the volunteer organizers that supported them, the sponsors, the judges, the RHoK founders, the event location host CNA Insurance, the world wide collaboration, and finally, the 6 awesome projects which were completed at Chicago RHoK.  All in the name of driving innovation through hacking for humanity, and making the world a better place.   I am proud to be just one member of this community.                  

The Chicago snow view from RHoK event

The Chicago snow view from RHoK event

Our first snow storm of the season didn’t discourage the die-hard hackers (hackers for good are ethical technologist who tinker with technology for good).  Chicago was one of 21 total cities around the world that participated in this event, and one of 5 ‘main stage’ events.  In just one weekend, we were able to build a global community of some of the best and brightest in technology, and to apply our collective skills in solving real problems that haven’t been solved yet for disaster and crisis risk mitigation and response.  80 participants and volunteers attended the Chicago event, and joined over 1000+ developers and fellow geeks around the world, all doing their part to make the world a better place and use technology to help save lives.  Feedback has been positive: hackers loved the facilities, the vibe, the collaboration, the food, and want to do this again.  Many were inspired by the ‘tech4good’ and hacking-for-humanity message, and will continue this journey.  We welcome you.                     

Here Is Our Chicago Story

NPR did a great story on the NYC event, this is our story.                  

The Reception – Museum of Science and Industry, Dec 3rd

The Chicago RHoK event started out with a welcome reception on Friday, Dec 3rd, at the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lakeshore drive.           

Nandita (Microsoft), Garrett (Nasa), and Kathleen (MSI) at the U505 Sub

Nandita (Microsoft), Garrett (Nasa), and Kathleen (MSI) at the U505 Sub

RHoKers and their supporters were welcomed with a buffet reception, including private tours of the U505 Submarine.  The RHoKers were greeted to the Museum by Kathleen McCarthy from MSI (reception sponsor), and Stu Hanney and Robert Allen from CNA Insurance (main event sponsor).  RHoK founders core team members from Microsoft (Nandita Pinisetti and Brian Gorbett) , Yahoo (Avni Khatri), and NASA (Garret R. Fitzpatrick), also psyched up the crowd.                 



Lionell Mitchell from Chicago OEMC

Lionell Mitchell from Chicago OEMC

Chicago also had local disaster and emergency response experts on hand to provide local perspective and encouragement to the RHoK attendees.  Lionell Martin, speaker and project manager from the Chicago Office of Emergency Management & Communications (OEMC), was on hand to share information about disaster preparedness, and encoured the hackers to think locally.             

Jackie McCarthy Chicago Red Cross

Jackie McCarthy Chicago Red Cross

Jackie Mitchell, Director of Marketing and Communications, American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, spoke about ideas on how technology could help in connecting folks after a disaster, and bridging into technology community volunteers.  And her story of doing good was inspirational to many.



The Hackathon – Saturday, Dec 4/5

RHoK Chicago Event Photo Streams: , and  (Dave Kelly, Veronica Ludwig, et al our event photographers)

RHoK Chicago participants were greeted on Saturday morning with a breakfast at CNA and short kickoff to the event, a quick review of some candidate RHoK problem definitions, the Chicago RHoK wiki and other collaboration tools, and broke into teams to start work on these projects.  

Friendly CNA volunteers setting up to welcome RHoKers

Friendly CNA volunteers setting up to welcome RHoKers

 Some whittling down of projects happened throughout the day (sahana and certs joined forces into one, some initial problem definitions were started on but did not leave the concept phase), and Chicago settled on 6 core projects that were either started new, refinements of existing solutions, or leveraging open source capabilities which were extended.                   



The process:                  

The teams worked hard, many throughout the night, on their solutions, and each and every one of them completed a solution from concept to coding to deployment, in less than 26 hours.  Many collaborated with other teams throughout the world.  The work completed by each and every team was amazing!!  As main event organizer,  I had support and help with other CrisisCamp/CrisisCommons RHoK organizers (my peeps), and worked closely with Toronto RHoK (Heather Leson and Melanie Gorka) and Boston RHoK (Monika Adamczyk and Thom Goodsell) , and our wiki and irc support in the UK (Chris Foote) .  Throughout the event, we streamed the live feeds ( from other cities, including Seattle, Bangelore, Atlanta, Boston, Toronto, and Naroibi, to name a few, and collaborated globally via IRC and Skype.  CNA volunteers made sure that the participants were well fed and oriented.                  

By Sunday at noon our teams had to submit their projects to be reviewed by our judges: Locally, Shelly Mujtaba (Software Architect for Autodesk), Peter Morano (CIO of KeyLimeTie), Pek Pongpaet (VP of SpotOn), and from Nasa, Garret R. Fitzpatrick).   Each team was able to present their solution for 5 minutes, and then participate in some short Q&A with the judges (the team presentation materials and video to be posted soon).                   

Awards were provided by (1st place) Microsoft (Kinects and Windows Mobile 7 phone), (2nd place) Museum of Science and Industry (yearly subscription packages), (3rd place) Museum behind-the-scene passes,  KeyLimeTie  via Peter Morano (gift certificates, all levels), and Artisan Talent  via Veronica Ludwig (gift certificates, all levels).  Thanks to all our sponsors for this event, including popChips.  And special thanks to CNA Insurance, our event facilities host, that also provided 2-days of food to the attendees to keep them charged up.                  

The following summarizes the work completed on the 6 Chicago projects.             

Each project had a talented and diverse set of team members.  Our hackathon participation was also 35% women, higher than than 20% target for the global RHoK events.  A particularly special moment was that some members of the Chicago CERTs team also attended to seed one of the teams and a local partnership was forged.  Here are the summaries of the Chicago projects and the winners:

USAR – Urban Search and Rescue (1st place):                 

USAR team works googlewave/appspot

USAR team works googlewave/appspot

This team developed a set of technologies to assist urban search and rescue teams in the data collection and gathering of important information that is part of the urban search and response INSAGAG methodology.  As USAR teams search a building, a spray painted marking system is used to provide key information data points about that search, including data, agency, number of people, and conditions.  This information is often then manually transcribed on paper to be collected centrally site later.  Problems with data quality, completeness, timeliness, etc., can result in delays in response, and impede overall situational awareness reporting for coordinating efforts.  This team developed an mobile phone app to assist in the capture of data points, including the location, team, and a picture of the searched-site, can work in unconnected or connected mobile mode with cached maps, and data ultimately is uploaded to a central server where it can be further transcribed and decoded.  This was developed on Android mobile phone, with google app engine as the server, and will be made open source. (Team members: Alissa Feldman, Sonia Franckel, Eugenia Gabrielova, Kelly Knight, Dan Krol, and Francesca Slade).   USAR team project presentation. (Presentation video to be added later)     

 I’m OK, I’m not OK Next Gen (2nd place):                 

Lwin and Min working mobile app

Lwin and Min working mobile app

This team worked on an existing problem statement which they took in a new direction, regarding how to report your status after a disaster or crisis, and provided a new perspective to its applicability.  The target audience is for friends and family after a disaster, NGO relief aid providers, Incident Command Response crews (like CERTs), college students, or DOD contractors.  Developed as a mobile application, for both Android and Windows Mobile, it allows you to predefine on your mobile device a set of contacts, and methods, for notification ‘in an emergency’.  Configuration of notifications of IM OK, or IM NOT OK (and what type of help needed or condition reported) are provided, and ‘beacon signal’ which help can be sent, with a guaranteed delivery mechanism.  This solution also delivered a web-app interface which simulated the mobile app, and allowed for extended system administration.  The application will be converted into an opensource platform. (Team members: Min Maung, Lwin Maung).  IMOK team project presentation, and demo.  (Presentation video to be added later)           

Person Finder (3rd Place):                 

People finder team linking to twitter

People finder team linking to twitter

Person Finder was developed in response to Haiti earthquake to assist families with both finding a missing person, as well as reporting information about a missing person.  Its main goal is to help with family reunification.  Since then, this platform has been adopted by Google, and used to assist in Chile and Pakistan crisis, and has since been made opensource.  The Chicago team further extended this platform in two ways: The first was to further extend the full-text search and indexing capabilities of the google appengine platform to address some limitations, so that searching on various attributes can be achieved, resulting in higher probability of matches.  A second track was the twitter (robot) interface, which allowed the person finder application to leverage twitter search results about ‘named people’ into their platform via an api and webapp, to assist in ‘finding’ people in a disaster. (Team members:  Alice Bonhomme-Blais, Ross Helfin, Chen Li and his UCI Students, Will Robinson)  PeopleFinder team project presentation. (Presentation video to be added later)  

 CERTs Sahana Platform:                 

Chicago Certs working with Sahana team on design

Chicago Certs working with Sahana team on design

Community Emergency Response Teams are locally trained and certified citizen volunteers who can help their emergency response agencies in support of a crisis or emergency event.  The RHoK solution is a regional, cross-jurisdictional operational and response management system, which creates a central registry of CERT team volunteers, across cities.  Additionally, the solution assists with the operational disaster response reporting to the incident commanders for volunteer task management, and assists with volunteer deployment in a regional area based on registering volunteer geo-locations, as opposed to per-jurisdiction registration.  Allows for more regional flexibility in the deployment of these volunteers.  They leveraged the Sahana Eden opensource platform to build their solution, and collaborated with cities worldwide for Sahana community expertise, as well as direct team collaboration of the Chicago CERT teams. (Team members: April Hann, Laura Lanford, Rich Frizelis (CERT), and Avni Khatri, Miguel Colon, Malveeka Tewari, Mike Ewing, Natalia Vinnik, Nico Preston, Prince Rehman Manjee, Ted Freeman) .  Cert team project Presentation.   (Presentation video to be added later)       

 Mossaic – Landslide Risk Prediction and Reduction system:                 

Landslide Risk team remote working with St. Lucia civil engineer

Landslide Risk team remote working with St. Lucia civil engineer

Their solution built a platform to enable local crowdsourcing of  landslide data collection to inform risk decision making in new construction, and other applications,  for landslide risks, particularly in developing areas where data is unlikely to have been collected.  Their platform, developed to be open source, allows groups to create projects for the collection of landslide risk factors, including susceptibility to landslides based on slope, hazards, and other variables.  Information about communities is gathered, including geo-located data, and this data is centrally collected and validated, the upload and verifiability of data is built into the solution, enabling better data quality.   They worked with a Civil Engineer, Anna in St. Lucia during the RHoK event to gain real time user feedback on how this data will inform decision making for new construction to help reduce future landslides in developing areas.  (Team members: TBD).  Mossaic team project presentation. (Presentation video to be added later)

 Open Data project – use of NASA aerial data:                 

Open data team reviewing NASA datasets

Open data team reviewing NASA datasets

The use and promotion of Open Data streams to assist with solving problems around disaster risk or response was a theme throughout the RHoK event.  The Chicago team analyzed a data set previously made open by Nasa containing aerial imagery, and assessed it’s applicability in disaster management, including identifying pre-event conditions, assessing extend of impact, and assisting in developing a birds-eye strategy for disaster response.  They created data retrieval interface strategy for retrieving this large data set from the Nasa MODIS system,  pulled subsets of imagery ‘tiled’ data into a tile server, and created a visualization of this data in both a traditional and mobile web interface, using the Open Layers open source platform, to be displayed in a user friendly manner, and where the user can interact with this data, in before and after scenarios, and can drill down and capture.  This team collaborated with a subject-matter-expert from Nasa on the open data set, and some folks on OSM. (Team members: Matthew Rocklin, Miftachut Ekasetya, Michael Miranda, Chris Lubinski, Ji Lucas, Tomas G. Besore)   OpenData team project presentation. (Presentation video to be added later)       

CrisisCommons/CrisisCamps – Want to Continue the Journey Chicago?


CrisisCamp Chicago - Haiti - January 2010

CrisisCamp Chicago - Haiti - January 2010

I’m Deborah Shaddon, the Chicago RHoK event organizer, and a core member of CrisisCommons, and have run or participated in several CrisisCamps in and from Chicago, including in response to Haiti, Chile, Nashville Floods, Oil Spill, and Pakistan Floods, through my CrisisCommons community.   Like most everyone else that attended, I am a volunteer with a (separate) full-time job, and coordinate these efforts in my free time.  Even though it is hard work, I feel lucky to be part of RHoK and CrisisCommons.

CrisisCommons and RHoK are partners with similar ideals and missions, to unite volunteer technology communities and response organizations to solve problems and apply technology innovation to disaster and crisis response, and ultimately, alleviate human suffering.  RHoK focuses on a series of hackathon ‘events’, geared to unite folks and foster innovation in small sprint events, whereas CrisisCommons, and the CrisisCamp events, seek to build long term sustainable relationships with the volunteer technology communities (including RHoK), response organizations and NGOs, promote a research-based agenda of technology applicability in a disaster, and foster ongoing and long term community and partnership engagements.                      

In this way, CrisisCommons  and the many volunteer technology communities that participated in RHoK (including Sahana Foundation, Open Street Maps (OSM), Ushahidi, Frontline SMS, Geeks Without Borders (GWOB), Code4Crisis, Humanity Road, etc.), compliment and collaborate with each other.   CrisisCommons seeks to unite and connect all these communities through a ‘commons’ mele (ala CreativeCommons, GeoCommons, ScientificCommons), for crisis and disaster response technologies in an ongoing, and sustainable way, through a series of CrisisCamp events, more barcamp than hackathon, which bring local cities and the global community together to provide education on open crisis and disaster technologies (so we, as technology volunteers, can be informed and ready to respond), and promote a dialog between partners.  And in the event of a disaster, we are able to mobilize our technology CrisisCamp community to work on a specific event technology response efforts, often through crowdsourcing and other informational data-collecting technology support.                  

If you want to stay connected to this community and have a local voice that is tied into the global community, please contact, or twitter: @CrisisCampCHI, @CrisisCamp, @CrisisCommons, or join our ‘CrisisCamp Chicago’ facebook group.

Posted in CrisisCommons, Opensource, Technology Communities.

Want to do Tech for Humanity Chicago? RHoK 2.0

Random Hacks of Kindness 2.0 (RHoK), Dec 4/5, 2010.

Chicago is honored to host a main-stage event for Random Hacks of Kindness 2.0 (RHoK), on December 4 – 5, 2010.  This is the first RHoK event in the Midwest, and the 3rd global event.  The event kicks off with a reception (Friday PM, Dec 3) at the Museum of Science and Industry, followed by 2-days of open collaboration hosted at CNA Insurance (generous event sponsor, located in the loop).  It’s a free event, just bring your brain.

Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a “community” of developers, geeks and tech-savvy do-gooders around the world, working to develop software solutions that respond to the challenges facing humanity today.  It’s about making the world a better place, and building a community of innovation.  This progressive initiative, founded by Google, Microsoft, World Bank, NASA, and Yahoo!, brings together volunteer hackers, and other tech folks, with experts in disaster risk management, for a weekend-long hacking event to create software solutions that can help mitigate, or respond to, disasters and crisis around the world.  Ultimately, these solutions could, save lives.  RHoK is platform agnostic and encourages the development of open source software solutions.  A RHoK Hackathon event brings together the best and the brightest hackers from around the world, who volunteer their time to solve real-world problems.

Good company: Chicago will be joined in the US by Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. International locations are Toronto, Canada; Aarhus, Denmark; Berlin, Germany; Bangalore, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Nairobi, Kenya; Lusaka, Zambia; Bogotá, Colombia; Sao Paolo, Brazil; Berlin, Germany; Birmingham, UK; Mexico City, Mexico; Lusaka, Zambia; Tel Aviv, Israel; Singapore  .  This is truly a world-wide event, and we hope to have worldwide collaboration.



Calling all Brains

We will need hackers, storytellers, software engineers, programmers, university students, marketers, web content creators, emergency planners, disaster relief specialists, international policy and development students, mobile technology specialists, teachers, librarians, videographers, event planners, organizers, project managers, social media gurus, usability experts, graphic designers, and YOU.   Anybody can help to round out a team and a solution, coding skills not required (but a laptop is usually required).  Creating humanitarian software and solutions in a hackathon is a very special collective collaboration. 

Participants can select from a number of problem definitions created ahead of time (being refined up to day of event), or brainstorm to develop your own.  In true hackathon style, once the problem statements are introduced, the participants self-convene, and you follow your interest:  join a team, start your own, engage in lively discussions, and/or network with others. 

Video screens and online tools like IRC, blogs, wikis and more tools will connect Chicago with the world. You could be collaborating with any of the countries to solve problems and brainstorm. Yes, there is even some healthy competition in store, as teams will compete for prizes.


Register for RHoK Chicago, USA
*You must register, and show legal photo id, for entrance to the reception or main event.

Date: December 3rd, Reception 6:00pm-9:00pm, Museum of Science and Industry.  December 4, 2010: 9:00am – December 5, 2010 6pm.  (ALL NIGHT for any die-hard hackers).
Location: CNA Insurance, 333 S. Wabash, Chicago, 60604

Swag? T-shirts and food will be provided.  And prizes awarded to the best solutions.

Want to Help us by Sponsoring?

We are looking for food and beverage sponsors for the RHOK 2.0 event. We will need food and drinks for 200+ volunteers, for 6 meals total.

Please contact Deborah at deborah.shaddon (at) gmail (dot) com,   @deborahshaddon

Thank you

Thank you to CNA Insurance for providing event hosting:

CNA logo #CC3333 small


Please contact Deborah at deborahshaddon (at) gmail (dot) com,   @deborahshaddon, for local event information.

For RHoK general, and global information, please contact:  Todd Khozein, (505) 264-2348,

Also, follow along on twitter (#RHoK #2, @randomhacks), and you can join the ‘Random Hacks of Kindness’ group on facebook:

Posted in Opensource, Technology Communities.

A CrisisCommons Girl Continues Her Journey – Starts Chicago CERT Training (Part 1)

*(Deborah Shaddon has been a core member of CrisisCommons since January, 2010 – Blog crossposted on

Yesterday, Oct 26, 2010, I was so excited to start my first day of the Chicago CERT (Community Emergency Response Training) program.  For some of you, this is old hat.  Some of you even do this for a living.  But for me, I’m still new to this.  As I sat in the room at the central Chicago OEMC (Office of Emergency Management and Communications), with 30 other like-minded, but diverse volunteer members of my community, I had to hold my breath and reflect on the path that brought me here to this unlikely moment.   (I’ll brief you on the CERT experience in a minute).

Like most of you, I started my relationship with CrisisCommons in response to Haiti.  My day job is in IT as an Enterprise Architect for a large Property & Casualty Insurance Company in Chicago.  We know something about catastrophe and hazards when we assess the risk of underwriting insurance policies.  We know something about damage assessment when we address claims against property.  But nothing, NOTHING, in my prior experience, personally or professionally, prepared me for what I would encounter through running four CrisisCamps in Chicago.  I was just an IT girl from the Midwest with a day job, some tech and organizational skills (and some heart), who really knew nothing about the crisis and disaster response, but I was willing to help out where I could.  Pretty much like most of us.

What I didn’t expect is that this event would change my life, dipping my toes in to help Haiti introduced me to a world of community volunteer technologist that wanted to ‘do good’ and had heart like me, but who also wanted to ‘do cool’ and learn and try new things.  I’ve been an active and observant core member of CrisisCommons ever since, and in the past 9 months, I’ve learned so much from this community.  And one of the biggest things I learned is how little I know, and that I have so much to learn about crisis and disaster response if I really want to follow this path, as I am humbled by those around me.   And while all this working on a global scale is good, I’ve always felt like I needed to find some balance by connecting to my local community too, that I wanted to be prepared to help if something were to happen here in the Midwest.  This led me to find CERT.

For those not familiar with the CERT program, essentially this 20 hours of training will certify me with the necessary skills to work as a volunteer with my local emergency response agencies when a crisis or disaster occurs, as a force multiplier to their staff.  Not unlike the surge-capacity model of a technology CrisisCamper, but instead of crowdsourcing mapping data and the like, in this model, I could actually be directing traffic, distributing supplies, helping evacuate people, working with at-risk members of the public, doing light search and rescue, etc.   In a steady-state, I could be called to help educate others, participate in mock drills, or help in other preparedness activities, or I could continue my education in other more specialized project areas (like marine or aviation rescue, cpr, etc.).  Not unlike a CrisisCommons steady state model.  At the end of 7 classes and upon passing the field test, you get an awesome “disaster kit” that includes an official badge, a hardhat, flashlight, gloves, whistle, vest, mask, etc., so you can be ready to be deployed directly into the field.  And while this is a very practical and hands-on curriculum, the experience I gain here I believe will provide me with a much stronger foundation and perspective in which to continue my CrisisCommons and CrisisCamp efforts, in analyzing project requirements, technology needs assessments, or in engaging in dialog with partners. 

CERT is a US based program, although I’m sure that there are similar programs in other countries, and at least some of the training is actually similar to what you might receive as a volunteer in the Red Cross or Salvation Army.  In the US, ‘CERT Chapters’ can provide the training, in Chicago, this is the Chicago CitizenCorps, part of the Chicago OEMC, although many suburbs also offer training.  Basically, it’s all part of a larger federation of local, state, and national emergency response agencies, and the program is governed (in terms of material requirements, content, and some funding) through FEMA/Department of Homeland Security.  Any citizen in good standing (they do a thorough background check) can participate, and it’s free:  I would encourage many of you to seek this out and signup, if, you know, you are into that kind of thing (you know who you are).  There are even some online courses.  This will make you truly a disaster geek. 

What I learned in the first class was about how emergency management operations works in Chicago: a centrally coordinated command structure bringing together a bunch of government and non-government agencies, each with clear understanding of each other’s operational procedures, and roles and accountabilities, in response to unexpected disruptive events and full out emergencies.  OEMC is pretty much the operational connector between groups, like CrisisCommons aspires for technology, and their own procedures often address gaps in those of others.  How they all operate together is pretty much a set of predetermined operating procedures (not figured out in the disaster), that are continually refined with after-action-reports.  They are an information driven organization, flows of information from traffic, websites, blue-light cameras, radio, news, 911 and 311 dispatch, weather, etc., are constantly monitored (both manually and in automated ways) within a central command room, both for event discovery and management.  They information streams are both inbound and outbound, in that they are also an information provider, to other agencies, as well as the community.  It’s all very much a hub-and-spoke operations, and leverages low tech solutions, such as PAWS (Public Alert Warning System), which is a WW2 siren system installed along Lake Michigan, and some higher-tech solutions such as AlertChicago (, which allows citizens to register for types of alerts, via voice mails, text messages, or emails.   There is much to be learned about how these models of operations work, how the technology works (or doesn’t), how the community models work.  I was beginning to feel connected to how I might be able to plug-in to my community.

We almost didn’t have the first class, as Chicago, the Windy city, experienced a ‘weather’ event yesterday, in that we had 60 mile an hour winds, and our instructors had warned us.  Wind is not something we take lightly here, and it can be pretty damaging, but in this case damage was not wide spread, and so the class continued.  We learned that in the Midwest, the focus of disaster preparedness is around Hazardous Materials, Thunderstorms, Tornados, Floods, Heat, Fire, Winter Storms, Terrorism-Violence, and Earthquakes.  Yes, Earthquakes.  One of the biggest fault lines in the country is the New Madrid fault in Missouri, and in the 1812, an 8.0 earthquake struck and caused the mighty Mississippi river to flow backwards for ½ a day, imagine the power.  The potential damage range of this single fault is bigger than the entire state of California (something about the bedrock carrying the signal farther).  In April of 2011, there will be an 8-state earthquake response exercise called ‘Shakeup the Midwest’, that will be a mock simulation of a response effort if a big quake hit (both online, and with real time volunteers across 8 states).  Although Chicago itself wouldn’t expect too much physical damage, the potential influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from devastated Southern Illinois, stuck between two rivers, would certainly be where Chicago would help.  I’m sure that CrisisCommons folk will want to participate (smile) in this mock drill:

I will post some more nuggets and lessons as the class continues.  Stay tuned for Part 2!! 

Posted in CrisisCommons, Technology Communities.

MookyTech Launched – 09/07/2010

Ok, I just launched this thing….content to be posted soon!!

Posted in General.

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