Disney Buys Tapulous

From Tapulous Blog, founder Bart Decrum:

As part of Disney Interactive Media Group, we’ll develop more games, more quickly and with the resources of the world’s leading entertainment company.

Congrats on the exit, it appears Tapulous went in the right direction after former co-founder Mike Lee left. Lee’s vision of useful apps, (remember FriendBook and Twinkle?), was beat by numerous TTR clones.

Back?

It’s been a crazy couple months. The government finally approved our deal with Google after realizing that the industry changes fast. Our CEO, Omar, put everything into perspective when he pointed out that AdMob had been under scrutiny for roughly 15% of our entire existence.

There hasn’t been much on this blog but like any good engineer, it’s time to under promise and over deliver! Therefore, I’m never updating this blog again.

Google’s investment of SCVNGR is Genius

I’ve even playing another LBS game called SCVNGR recently and I realized what a genius move Google Ventures made when they invested in the company. Google’s mantra has always been to organize the world’s information. The most unstructured information at the moment is places.

In fact, Google itself has a hard time of returning the right information for local businesses. It crowdsources this on Google maps itself and is in a constant war with user edited data. With a LBS check-in game in it’s portfolio, Google can use the data points from SCVNGR to sanitize this data. Places that have check-in data are legitimate. That local bar all of a sudden stops receiving checkins? They must be closed. New business opens up, not to worry, someone will create a new spot on SCVNGR.

However, that’s only part of the story. One of SCVNGR’s challenges is to take a picture of the place you’re checked in at. Now, imagine, hundreds of photos of the same place from different angles, inside and out. With enough if these, an “indoor” street view is just a map reduce stitch away.

Grocery Stores Should Email Receipts

I was at the Safeway the other day, purchased 10 some odd items, and out came this long paper receipt. My girlfriend remarked, “What a waste of paper!” (Image above technically not my receipt, I threw it away right when I got home.)

That got me thinking, why can’t Safeway just email me the receipt? After all they already have a unique identifier in the form of my frequent buyer card. It would be as simple as asking me for my email address and tying the two together. (Bonus, they get an email address to spam me later.)

This would safe a ton of receipt paper, broken receipt printers, time spent by cashiers refilling receipt paper, etc. If the customer still wants a paper receipt they could simply ask.

A quick Google search doesn’t reveal any information on any grocery stores emailing receipts. Is there something obvious I’m missing that doesn’t make this possible? It can’t be against the law not to give you a paper receipt. Apple does it. Square does it.

Thoughts?

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iPhone 4.0 and Multitasking

Back in Jan. I wrote the following about Apple’s view of multitasking:

Normal users do not want to deal with resource management nor do they understand it.

Today, Steve Jobs confirmed it by saying, “In multitasking, if you see a task manager… they blew it. Users shouldn’t ever have to think about it.”

The problem is that, neither webOS and Android have a task manager (although the first thing that most Android users download is a task manager). Also, webOS has a much better implementation of app switching than iPhone 4.0. Quitting apps on webOS is a simple flick of the finger up while you have to tap and hold an app in the taskbar to quit an app in iPhone 4.0.

By restricting backgrounded apps to one of 7 services, Apple has solved the problem of resource and battery management. The 7 services, audio, VoIP, location, push notifications, local notifications, fast app, and “task” completion, allows for 90% of what most users will need backgrounding for. Sadly, though 4.0 won’t be hitting the iPad until Fall, 6 months or 1/2 the iPad 1.0’s life cycle.

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Switching to Android/Nexus One from iPhone

After Google released the Nexus One with 3G AT&T compatibility, it looked like a perfect time to switch off the iPhone. Being able to use my current AT&T sim while maintaining 3g speeds pushed me over the edge (no pun intended). After a week of using the Nexus One as my main phone, here are some thoughts.

Top 6 Nexus One/Android Pros

  • Gmail – It won’t come as any surprise but if you’re a heavy Gmail user, Android should be your phone of choice. Labels, archive, search, and threads. Almost as good as the real thing
  • Hot Spot – with a simple rom replacement and wifi-tether, my phone is now a mobile hot spot. (Hello iPad 3G without paying an extra $20).
  • Widgets – News widget, foursquare widget, the homescreens of the Android are much more useful than the iPhone’s. Also, Maps has a live wallpaper that shows traffic for my current area, constantly.
  • Turn by Turn Directions – Built in turn by turn directions allows you to toss your GPS.
  • Widgets

    The power widget allows you to turn on/off power draining features of the phone from the homescreen. This is great since the Nexus One doesn’t seem to be able to make it through a whole day for me.
  • Google Voice – Full Google Voice integration… if you’re a Google Voice user. I won’t use Google Voice until I can port my existing number to it.

Top 6 Nexus One/Android Annoyances

  • Non-Gmail Email – I have serious issues with my company’s exchange account. For no discernible reason, the native Email app stops syncing mails. Refresh doesn’t help, deleting the account and recreating will solve the problem for a couple days. Infuriating. Also it’s not possible to search non-Gmail accounts. To top it off, there’s no way to access a Yahoo! mail account (except to pay for Yahoo! Mail Plus)
  • No Exchange Calendar Sync – No explanation needed.
  • Landscape mode only works turning left! – At first I thought many apps didn’t have landscape mode, but apparently turning the phone clockwise will not trigger landscape mode. This might be useful when reading in bed, but so far it’s been an annoyance.
  • Touch screen is inaccurate – in the browser, I find myself clicking on a link only to have the link below register the click. Reports of the Nexus One’s touchscreen being inferior are not exaggerated
  • No good Podcast listener – the best podcast app I’ve found is Google Listen. It auto syncs podcast but lacks double speed playback!
  • Missing Mint.com and Scrabble/Words with Friends – There is no native Mint.com or Scrabble or the Scrabble rip-off Word with Friends.

Over the course of a couple weeks, friends have asked me “Hey, is that a better phone than my iPhone.” I have consistently said absolutely not. You give up quiet a bit to go full Android over the iPhone. The pros just don’t outweigh the cons.

The only reason I could recommend a Nexus over an iPhone is if you’re heavily invested in Google apps, Gmail, Google Voice, Picasa etc. With that in mind, Nexus is competing against the iPhone 3GS, not the iPhone HD (or 4g) and iPhone OS 3.2. We’ll see what Apple has up their sleeve on Thursday and this June.

iPad, Multi-Tasking, Flash

The anticipation built, the hype was beyond anything we had seen, the announcement was made, and now we’re left to ponder what it all means.

Yes, the iPad can be distilled down to 2 words: giant iPhone, but today’s announcement was never about the hardware (aside from the custom A4 cpu) but about the software. iPhone 3.2 OS, essentially the same OS that will be running in the iPhone sitting my desk.

iPad, in that respect, is underwhelming.

The two most requested features of the iPhone OS are Flash and multitasking. Neither of these features are in the iPhone 3.2 and ostensibly will not be available when the iPad launches in late March.

I can see how Apple justifies not having either of these features; none of which are technical. Let’s start with Flash. It is a resource drain, source of countless crashes, and the source code is ultimately not owned by Apple.

However, the main reason why Apple doesn’t want Flash on the device is that it can’t be optimized. Flash sits on top of Safari which sits on top of the OS; essentially a VM. With the iPad, Apple has designed custom silicon optimized for their OS and applications built off of their SDK. Flash applications are not built off their SDK, unoptimizable.

Multitasking is another matter. It’s obviously technically possible (read: jailbreak) but Apple is holding back on it because it impacts the user experience. Normal users do not want to deal with resource management nor do they understand it. How many Windows users have you seen with 50 icons in their task tray and complain their computer is “slow”. That’s not the perception that Apple wants users to have of the iPhone, and now the iPad.

Background Mobile Safari playing a flash video and it’s welcome to SlowVille – population: lag.

Apple will eventually offer multitasking once the silicon becomes fast enough that it doesn’t impact the user experience. They could potentially approve certain apps to be backgrounded, putting a resource cap for backgrounded apps, or limiting the number of background apps.

Apple’s answer for Flash? HTML5 and native apps of course.

I will be pre-ordering an iPad sight unseen. I know I’m in the minority and all the uses I imagine are very niche. But, what I wouldn’t give to own a first gen iPod. I believe the iPad is a product of that magnitude.

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HTML5, Video, and Performance

YouTube announced an HTML5 version of the YouTube service a couple days ago. Now Vimeo is joining in and announced their new HTML5 player. This is great news for anybody that has an older computer, a slower netbook, or (like me) an older Mac Mini under your TV.

Watching an older flash video on the older YouTube, my CPU utilization from Safari and Flash is between 100 – 150% usage:

Watching the same video on YouTube HTML5 Beta, my CPU usage hovers around 20-25%:

Not a month into the new year and already one of my 2010 predictions is rolling along.

2010 Predictions

  • iPhone 4G – Just as the sun will rise, Apple will release a new iPhone every year. My only prediction is that the screen resolution will be more than the current 3G. They have to keep pace with the Droid, Nexus One, HTC HD2, etc…
  • First compelling HTML5 apps that will force people to get off IE – Native video support will be the driving force here. Imagine if every YouTube video was in HTML5. Native video support requires much less processing power than Flash video. All those low powered netbooks out there will finally be able to play internet video without stuttering.
  • Android market share surpasses iPhone – Enterprise will embrace Android over iPhone since Android is open. That coupled with free with contract Android phones, this is a no brainer.
  • Gowalla will be the dominate location based social “network” – Loopt will sink as foursquare and Gowalla gain. It’s too early to tell but to me it’s a coin flip between the two. However, I do think Gowalla’s model for rewards is much better than foursquare’s Mayor model. As time goes on, Mayors will be harder and harder to usurp making the “game” aspect less fun.
  • Facebook will IPO and not acquire Zynga – 2010 is ripe for IPO after all the ’09 M&A. Zynga will get left behind as Facebook will continue to grow at an outstanding rate.
  • Chrome OS won’t make a dent – How do you explain to a regular consumer that the netbook they’re about to buy is basically only a browser. “So you mean I only get Internet Explorer for the same price as this Windows (XP) machine?” I’m secretly hoping that it’s a raging success because it means WebKit gains more marketshare.
  • There will be an Apple tablet – I’m not going to say anymore. It’s all been said.

2009 Predictions Retrospective

2009 is ending, a year that started with Sequoia’s RIP: Good Times fresh in everybody’s mind. However, 2009 saw some major M&A activity.

I made some predictions at the beginning of the year, let’s see how they played out. Last year I was 50% correct…

  • Twitter will not be acquiredCorrect! Many people measure the success of Twitter in terms of traffic to twitter.com, but traffic isn’t what Twitter wants. Twitter is a platform and as Jack put it “Twitter’s a success for us when people stop talking about it”. I also predicted that Twitter would get their first sniff of revenue this year and they did in the form of search deals with Bing and Google.
  • Digg will not be acquiredCorrect! Digg’s appeal as an acquisition target went up threefold when they launched their innovate ad platform. No numbers have been released but as an avid Digger, the platform definitely works. I’ve clicked on my fair share of Digg ads simply because they appealed to me.
  • Apple will open up iTunes infrastructure to developers to start accepting micro-paymentsWrong! Apple did do something around payments, they enabled app developers to charge or in-app purchases in free apps. One step closer to opening up their payment platform. If Apple did this, Square would be belly up.
  • Android phones sales will not exceed iPhones, maybe in 2010Correct! AdMob’s latest metrics report, which measures ad requests not marketshare it’s clear Apple still has a substantial lead. Even based off ad requests it’s clear Android is no where near Apple and for this purpose, I’m calling it good enough.

    I guess I’m lucky that Google hasn’t released the Nexus One yet. Next year I definitely think Android will have a great marketshare than the iPhone purely based off the number of Android devices (low cost at that too) emerging.

  • Facebook connect will become more ubiquitous than OpenID as a way to login to websitesCorrect! Facebook says 80,000 websites have implemented Facebook Connect. The best number I can find for OpenID is 25,000. Yahoo will soon use Facebook for it’s social features, Facebook’s platform will only continue to grow.
  • IE6 marketshare will fall under 10% by years endWrong! IE6 still holds at 22%, and I still cry everyday.

Digging into PastryKit

If you haven’t already, go read the DaringFireball piece on PastryKit. Are you back? Good. If you’re the least bit like me, you’re probably a least a little bit intrigued. If you’re sorta like me you probably cut and pasted http://help.apple.com/iphone/3/mobile/dist/PastryKit-ug-compact.js into jsbeautifier.org. If you’re kinda like me you also dug into http://help.apple.com/iphone/3/mobile/javascript.js to see how PastryKit is used. And finally, if you’re exactly like me, you’ve probably already dissected the framework and won’t need to read this post 🙂

PastryKit, at least the one on the iPhone User Guide, contains (it’s possible their compiler strips out classes/functions their site doesn’t use)

  • PKUtils – collection of util functions (eg. degreesToRadians, objectHasMethod, etc)
  • PKClass, PKObject – classes that make inheritance easier. PKObjects to have observer methods for properties and PKClasses are able to synthetize properties ala ObjC.
  • PKPoint, PKSize, PKImage – self explanatory OOO objects for points, sizes, and <img>
  • PKAnimator – simple animator class taskrunner/setTimeout style. Even PastryKit doesn’t use WebKitAnimations since the API is fubar’d! As far as I can tell nothing in the framework or iPhone User Guide uses this
  • PKTransition – This is where all the real animation is done, including the scroll effect, has the ability to commit animation transactions.
  • PKView, PKContentView, PKRootView – View hierarchy, akin to one you would set up in Interface Builder. Very Xcode. I echo Gruber’s sentiments that PastryKit could show up in the next DashCode. Or at the very least the remnants of Apple’s web apps as an app strategy circa 2008.
  • PKScrollIndicator – The magical class that creates the DHTML scrollbar when a view is scrolled.
  • PKSearchBar, PKTableView, PKNavigationView, PKToolbar – the main view classes used to construct an actual app. (Along with PKScrollView, PKTableViewCell, PKNavigationItem, PKControl)

If you’ve built anything in Xcode all this seems very familiar. Applications are built by setting up a hierarchy of views such as:

// create a new navigation view
navigation = new PKNavigationView(); 
// set a size for the view
navigation.size = new PKSize(height, width);
// init some basic parameters about the view
 // add the view to the root view
PKRootView.sharedRoot.addSubview(navigation);
// build the rest of your views

I gave myself a couple hours to build a basic view app from scratch using PastryKit. It was painful and time consuming. There are plenty of methods that are required by the framework that you must declare unknowingly (eg. tableViewCellForRowAtPath vs tableViewCustomCellForRowAtPath dependent on what your table view is styled). Without proper documentation the framework is difficult to do any real work with. I’ll tinker with it some more but if you’re interested in a semi-prepackaged PastryKit and my work so far you can grab it here.

PKScrollIndicator is the best part of the framework, jQTouch should definitely look into “borrowing” this code. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for a documented official release of PastryKit.

Bonus: You can use the following to disable scrolling in Mobile Safari.

document.addEventListener('touchmove', function(e) {
  e.preventDefault();
}, true);

This coupled with window.scrollTo(0,0) is how PastryKit hides the navigation bar.

Update: Sorry, should be document.addEventListener() instead of window.addEventListener(). I’ve added a demo no scroll page here. Just view the source.

Streaming Cure for Digital Packrat

Two years ago I read this article from wired.com outlines how downloading has lead to a digital version of compulsive hoarding. I definitely had some sort of this disorder with hard drives and CD-Rs full of digital content – most of which I’ve never even consumed.

In the past couple of years that need to collect has faded. Why? Streaming.

With the advent of the streaming age (YouTube, Hulu and Netflix streaming for video, IMEEM and Lala for music) there’s absolutely no need to horde any longer. With every thing just a few keystroke away, there’s no need to download, catalog, store, organize, curate your own private digital collection.

Anybody else experience the same change in your downloading habits?

Bypassing Palm Pre’s Sprint Activation

Update: This whole process has been automated and “idiot-proofed” by Rod Whitby on his blog.

Last week, I went to pick up a Palm Pre sans a Sprint contract. The Sprint sales person had no problem selling me a $550 Palm Pre, but it was up to me to “Activate” the device. Sadly, I couldn’t find good step by step instructions on how to do this. The best I could find, still was very confusing because it never explained why I was doing the things it was asking me to do.

So here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to bypass Sprint’s activation for a Palm Pre. Hopefully you can use the webOS Internals tutorial and this to bypass activation. This will enable you to develop apps or use the Palm Pre as a wifi/bt device. Note, you will need to be comfortable with linux command line, tools, and editing files.

First, the goal of this “hack” is to bypass the Sprint Activation but also to enable WiFi so you can create a profile on palm.com without service. We are going to be basically hacking an additional menu item which then brings up the WiFi preferences pane.
Continue…

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Best Argument Against Government AppStore Intervention

The FCC is probing Apple, AT&T, and Google over the whole Google voice fiasco. Although I wish Apple would open up it’s platform, I definitely don’t think the government should get involved. Also is any precedence set for the government intervention? No, I don’t believe so. Everybody is comparing Apple and the iPhone to Microsoft and Windows. The argument is that the government got involved there so why shouldn’t they intervene and stop Apple?

The best counter I’ve heard to this was discussed three weeks ago on the Engadget podcast (start listening at 23:05). Instead of thinking of Microsoft and Windows, think of Nintendo and the Wii (or Sony/PS3, Microsoft/XBox).

Think about it. Nintendo controls what’s available for sale on it’s console system. They also have an AppStore where they disallow content (e.g. they would never allow an emulator that enables you to play all NES games). They censor games, take a cut of sales, and they have full control of the eco-system. Yet, there’s no government intervention asking Nintendo to open up their platform. We purchase these console fully knowing that they will never be open.

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, sadly Apple is just a victim of their own success.

From a Walled Garden to 1984

apple19845
Everybody, hailed the iPhone as the savior to set developers and mobile businesses free from the walled gardens of traditional carriers. At first, Apple instantly gifted developers with easy access to a mobile audience that bypassed having to deal with carriers. The ancient lumbering beasts that are Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile were out of the picture. Now we didn’t have to worry about being “on deck” or pre-installed onto phones to reach a mobile audience. All we had to do was submit our application to Apple and within a couple weeks, BOOM, someone with an iPhone would have your application.

Sadly, we all knew that we were climbing out of the walled garden only to land straight into 1984.

The problem is that Apple doesn’t need to explain why it removed Google Voice, NetShare, Podcaster, or Sling from the App Store. Developers can try to abandon the platform, but there are plenty of others to take their place. Developers and businesses can’t just turn a blind eye to the 30-40 million (depending on who you ask) iPhone install base. To put that number into perspective, when you factor in iPod Touches, it rivals one of the best handheld selling devices of all time, Nintendo DS, in yearly sales.

I’m going to predict that Apple doesn’t have to back down from it’s position any time soon and there will be nary a mention of abandoning ship from everybody attending the sold out iPhoneDevCamp this weekend.

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New Google Chrome OS

Google just announced that they will be releasing an OS based around Chrome. An amazing move for Google as this gets them instantly on a the radar of every netbook manufacturer out there.

Microsoft’s licensing fees for Windows are generally $40+ per copy. Manufacturers are barely eeking out a profit in the sub $300 price range and having to pay per copy of Windows kills that margin. There is already a ton of competition in this space from Moblin to Jolicloud to whatever is going to be on the CrunchPad.

At first glance, from a product perspective, I wonder why Google is not using Android? There is already an SDK out there, Android is already open source, and Android already has an app marketplace. Bifurcating their “OS” strategy seems like a bad move on the surface.

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Why Apple Needs to Make a iPhone Keyboard

Apple needs to introduce a physical keyboard attachment for the iPhone. With the 3.0, Apple gave developers access to the connector and it’s inevitable that devs will want to start supporting physical inputs in their apps. This would be so much easier if Apple said okay here’s the keyboard and here is a standardized API to use. Consumers and developers both win.

Let’s imagine Apple doesn’t do an OEM keyboard. A third party manufacture is going to fill the space but who will it be? Which apps support it? What if there are multiple keyboards that each work with different apps? Am I, as a consumer, going to have to decide which one to buy and hope my favorite apps support it?

The scenario above could be absolutely avoid if Apple puts out their own keyboard. If Apple is serious about the iPhone being a gaming platform then a gamepad would be nice too.

Palm Prē Impressions

pre
There are more than enough reviews out there of the Palm Prē out there so this won’t be one of them (I leave that to the professionals ;)).

I had a chance to actually play with a production Prē today and here are my impressions:

  • It’s small. Much smaller than an iPhone when closed
  • I almost cut my finger when I slid the keyboard down. I can’t believe they let those sharp edges out of the factory
  • screen is absolutely beautiful, crisper than my iPhone
  • Everything is rounded, almost to a fault.
  • It’s blazingly fast. Rendering a webpage is quicker than any other mobile device I’ve come across
  • In some cases they give no visual feedback that something has happened. For example if you click on a link in the browser, it just sits there. Something should happen on the screen to indicate that I’ve taken an action. These rough edges make it obviously the Prē was rushed.
  • Multi-tasking is huge. Once you’re accustom to switching apps without quitting, I’m not sure you’ll be able to go back to the iPhone way.

Only time well tell if the Prē catches up to the iPhone on the software/app front. The only leg up that the Prē has is multi-tasking which I’m sure Apple will eventually let out of the bag. (I think Apple will roll out “approved” apps that are approved to run in the background, it’s inevitable.)

On the hardware front, I think all the Prē reviews have been unfairly comparing the iPhone 3G against the Prē. The fair fight is the iPhone 3G S vs Prē and if you’ve read the reviews that hit the web today, the iPhone 3G S wins hands down.

Overall, I think Palm has a winner on it’s hands. Palm has a strong chance to second in marketshare behind Apple if they can deliver WebOS on multiple carriers and on multiple devices.

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Kindle DX

51fm0bpqzl_aa280_Disclaimer: The last book I fiction book I’ve read was probably in high school, and probably The Catcher in the Rye. However, I read. From technical books, to blogs, to magazines… to me reading is reading.

I’ll get straight the point since this post won’t carry much weight anyway. I don’t see the point of the Kindle DX. Let’s take a look at it from various value propositions.

Newspaper Replacement

Great. Let’s go green, get rid of the insanely inefficient newspaper delivery system. From paper, to ink, to delivery trucks, to ultra-wasteful fully stocked newspaper machines going digital will do everybody a whole lot of good.

Consumers get their news faster, the newspapers cut out fixed costs and go digital. WIN-WIN. The only thing I see missing from this picture is the advertising space that newspapers are missing. But that can be mitigated by selling more targeted ads, better ad targeting system, and geo targeted ads even. Right now there’s little or no metrics on ads put into newspapers.

This all sounds great, except for the fact that I already get all these newspapers digitally. nytimes.com, NYT iPhone app, it’s already here and it’s free. Why would I need a Kindle for this? On top of that, does the Kindle version of NY Times off the crossword puzzle?

Textbook Replacement

Textbooks cost, $80, and you have to buy them every year. There’s no pricing yet on Amazon’s digital versions but I’m going to go out on a limb and say they’ll be less than $80. Fantastic! Cheaper textbooks (forgetting the fact that the Kindle itself will be $489 unsubsidized) are a win for any college student. However, you’re missing the tactile feel of having a physical book. Dogging pages, highlighting excepts, scribbling notes on the sides. You’ll be missing all those!

What would be great would be a touchscreen notebook reader that OCRs your scribbled notes. That way you can get full indexing and search.

eBook Reader

Granted, I don’t read much outside of magazine or blogs. That might be because I have ADD but it might just be that I like my news and information in bit sized portions. If they made the Kindle color (which I think you need to properly absorb a magazine article) and offer me a subscription of magazines delivered digitally then I might just consider it.

In the end, Amazon jilted their Kindle fans, who most likely just purchased a Kindle 2 months ago by launching the Kindle DX. They got the pricing wrong, $489, when they should have worked with newspapers to offer some sort of subsidized version of the Kindle. They obviously didn’t get the textbook replacement since only a small handful of universities are taking part in the pilot.

But who knows, maybe piracy will save the Kindle.

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