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Pixels Don’t Care (2013) (warpspire.com)
287 points by jw2013 on Apr 16, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 99 comments

As an amateur programmer and a part-time freelancer, I didn't have a slightest clue about the value of my work. It was only 5-6 years back when I gladly did small gigs on Want-to-Hire forums for tens of dollars.

One particular gig was about scrapping data from a car sales website which I completed for $30 (should have cost at least 10x). The client discussed about the possibility of converting the phone numbers, which were obfuscated as plain images, to plain text. Without ado, I fired up my editor to explore the problem. It proved to atrociously difficult as I didn't have any background in anything similar but with the help from my brother, I was able to make a scrappy algorithm that worked.

I reported back my progress and asked for additional $25 for it but the client refused, saying that he hadn't given his final say. I was dejected but felt foolish more than anything else. Looking back, I can't help think how anyone would pain in giving something as meagre as $25 (at least, for someone in United States) for a someone's hard work.

If there is one thing I can glean from my story and author's is that businesses, at least most of them, are ruthless. It doesn't matter who runs them, it's just an unspoken rule that you don't give what you don't owe. You don't shower sympathy or, do things that aren't in business' best interest (long term / short term). The only thing you can—and should—do is be ruthless yourself. Negotiate for more confidently. Move on if you're undervalued. Never think of owing anything to any entity.

Whilst I've probably been in a similar situation at some point or another in my past (albeit in the UK), and can very much sympathise with your story, I can't possibly agree with your final premise.

Ruthlessness is not what makes for a happy work life.

You absolutely should call out the thankless and unappreciative! Perhaps they really are just poorly informed about how long things take or the knowledge that makes it possible (however unlikely)... that's still no excuse.

And to "treat others as they treat you" is a slippery slope that can quickly get you a bad reputation.

Don't be afraid to do things differently, you will be happier for it.

Doing things differently has consistently given me more and better opportunities than ruthlessness. In a way it makes me stand out from the crowd. I tend to be asked to lead teams with poor morale or interpersonal tensions. Usually I'm able to negotiate the power to be able to make the changes necessary for that team to perform better and have a better work experience. The company wins because the engineers perform better. The employees win because they have a better work experience.

In the cases where I am unable to negotiate such things I don't stick around. Any company that doesn't see the employee/employer relationship as a two way street is no company I want to work for.

I think understanding the value you're giving is key but it's somewhat of a black art. Freelance bidding sites that have something like 'build complete Facebook clone for $29.99' are a huge red flag to me. The client obviously has no clue what goes into something like that, even if you paid someone $0.99 an hour it would blow past their 'budget' almost immediately. On the backend when what you delivered was functional if it was Facebook scale with ad networks would likely rake in far far more than their budget. As a developer I can't expect to charge the expected revenue stream but there is an art to finding the happy medium.

I find myself in this even in a salaried position. If I'm constantly solving problems that brings the company I work for millions in revenue, my paltry salary that is lower than market rate starts to seem like a liability. I know there's a risk I'm not taking but in an ideal world I would be adequately compensated for any increase I'm directly involved with. I know we don't live in that ideal world but it would be nice to be somewhere close to it.

Communal workplaces are sprouting up around the US and I'm in the process of searching for one myself. Generally they act as consulting/freelancing/contracting firms. Ownership is shared by all workers in accordance to their level of participation in the firm. Profits above the time and materials required to build a project are shared by investing into communal assets or by distributing them as dividends to all members.

Yeah, I'll agree as an American that $55 for code which can do primitive OCR is probably really, really cheap. Your client should have treated you better.

> The only thing you can—and should—do is be ruthless yourself. Negotiate for more confidently. Move on if you're undervalued.

Well, try not to think of it as being ruthless. Plenty of businesses do well by helping others do well, too. But, at the end of the day, you have bills to pay and a lifestyle to support: you have to preserve that.

At a normal 9-5 job this sort of thing would take at least a couple of weeks to complete and is therefore worth around $3000.

The article is from 2013, the guy has gone to greener pastures since then, quite literally: he's "farming trees".[1]

[1] https://mobile.twitter.com/kneath

Interesting read from his blog: http://warpspire.com/posts/next

"Psychology, emotion, and interpersonal relationships play a far greater role in shaping policy than any objective fact. Unlike many, I don’t see this as a problem or a bug. It’s just how large groups of people make decisions. We are not robots. We’re leaky bags of meat that have no inclination toward rationality."

Pretty insightful thinking there for a programmer, if you ask me. As a group, we tend to focus on rational facts and ignore the emotional aspects all too often. I also quite enjoy reading Kyle's struggle with how to find happiness and fulfillment. I absolutely love writing software, but after 30 years of it, I'm also struggling to find happiness in it. It is starting to feel more like an addiction than a fulfilling pursuit of life that will help me grow.

> It is starting to feel more like an addiction than a fulfilling pursuit of life that will help me grow.

Exactly how I felt it. Addiction-driven development. I found a different purpose in life a few years ago (religiously inspired). I started investing time in other fields and in people, for example homeless people. The big (and not entirely unforeseen) disadvantage was that I felt that my knowledge was gradually aging, because I didn't keep up so well as before. This turned out not to be a problem after all, you don't need to be in the front lines all the time.

"Like a hammer who wants everything to be a nail, we are a barrel of oil designing the world with petroleum-tinted glasses."

Granted this is a mixed metaphor, but an excellent insight into 21st century civilization nonetheless. Captures a vague feeling I (and probably many others) had, but couldn't put my finger on.

That's so touching. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Just like in sports, you get paid more for what you have done vs what you could do.

Having a few really good pieces of work to show off is no guarantee that you'll consistently pump out good work, or that you haven't left clients high and dry before. Since a third party has no real way of gauging that except by your track record, they're taking more of a chance on someone with less of a track record. More risk means they need more reward, which means you get paid less.

Most of us COULD run a Fortune 500 company as well as the average CEO but we won't get the chance, nor compensation, until we have the experience.

I honestly do not think most of us could.

I hand out with three groups of people: geeks, hacks and lawyers. All of them often easily think they could easily do any other job. This includes the lawyers and journalists thinking that making software is easy. Based on that, I think we're as deluded as they are.

Perhaps there are a lot of people that are simply not very good at what they do, for instance because they don't care about doing a good job. If you then care about doing a good job, then there are a lot of jobs you can already do better than the people currently doing them. You will never be as good as the people with relevant training and experience that care about doing a good job, but you could be right that you could do a pretty good job.

Agreed. I know that "fudiciary duty" is a thing, but not what it involves. There are laws about accounting standards, but I can't even say what standard accountants need to rech to know those standards. I only found put a year ago that, in the UK, the (director?) of a Limited company can become personally liable for company debts if they trade while insolvent.

Import and export laws? Nope. Which parts of an employment contract are enforceable? Nope. Minimum standards for office temperature, cleanliness, health and safety? Nope. How much unpaid overtime you can make your employees do, and how that intersects with minimum wage rules. Nope.

Copyright, trademark and patent laws I think I get, but I don't know them inside-out.

All things that you list are very specific domains, you'd have dedicated people responsible for them in even a medium-size corporation. The thing you really need to know, is how to make sure these people do not lie to you and do their work honestly and responsibly. One of the options is having corresponding competence yourself, but that doesn't scale.

Delegation is a black art, that's what I mean, but without really mastering it you cannot manage anything with >10 people, especially in high tech.

But that's not what people mean when they say they could run a Fortune 500 company if given the chance. All of the things you list are things that are easily learned, the bigger question is whether in addition to that knowledge the CEOs of big companies have any particular character traits, unique skills or business insights or not.

Why do you think learning all of those things would be "easy"?

It depends on how you define "easy".

I have a feeling that if I took all the time and energy I've put into studying and working with computers my entire life and chose to put all that time and energy into studying and working with business concepts instead, I'd be able to run a business, possibly even a Fortune 500 one.

Alas I didn't spend all that time and energy on business, so I can't run a Fortune 500 company, but alternate universe me might.

Those are essentially solved problems for which you don't need to reinvent the wheel and can copy what any successful small or medium business does.

> Copyright, trademark and patent laws I think I get

Probably not :)

Even copyright law that's "simple" on paper gets sooo hairy so fast in practice - just look at all the FOSS licenses :)

I think I explained myself quite poorly, because I agree with you.

I meant "get" it in the sense that I can tell when I do or don't need a lawyer, rather than my friends and family who moan about Google for (c)-ing a photo of the sky ("They don't own the sky!") or what trademarks and patents are even for ("How did Apple get a patent on putting the letter 'i' in front of every product name?", to paraphrase).

I'm no expert, but I'm not a n00b either [that said, I think the monkey should own the copyright on their selfie, not the camera owner, but that's opinion not law. :)]

The rest if my examples, well… I don't even know enough to know if they are hard or easy. Which should be a good sign that I don't have the skills to run a business in its own right, so I'm not sure why other people are telling me I'm wrong about not being able to.

There ARE studies showing that CEO pay does not correlate with company success. Which I think implies a lot of big ships nearly run themselves. So I wouldn't say most of us could, but those with a sufficient enough business/managerial experience could, and many of those make a fraction of what a fortune 500 CEO makes.

I imagine a whole lot of people could do a better job than Yahoo's new CEO, for example. At that level, being the CEO of a corporation with that level of money that already runs itself, you could likely get by doing pretty much nothing/just going along with your advisors'/the board's advice to keep the company at least in the black.

It's often hard for people to appreciate the scale at which the CEO has an impact. As an individual engineer, if you're replaced by someone who's not an engineer, they are going to fail big time... But the amount of damage they can go to the company is very limited. Someone else will just pick up their slack, and the financial loss to the company is likely less than a million dollars.

At the CEO level though, even if you don't fill completely, even if you're 99% as good as the previous CEO, that 1% difference on a massive company translates to a loss of tens/hundreds of millions of dollars. And that's assuming you're 99% as good. If you're only 90% as good, the damage is even greater.

Can you scrape by as CEO without bankrupting the company? Sure. But there's a reason why boards are still willing to pay millions of dollars to hire the best possible candidate. Because when you're managing assets worth billions of dollars, scrimping on a few million is simply premature optimization.

> Most of us COULD run a Fortune 500 company as well as the average CEO

I appreciate your optimism; at the same time, I think it is somewhat unwarranted.

Running a 10-person company is challenging enough to have your shrink on the speed dial. As for Fortune 500 CEOs, those are superhumans on steroids (or cocaine and alcohol), who bend reality by their very presence. You have about the same chance of approaching their attitude as becoming an Olympic athlete.

Thankfully, there are other ways to achieve happiness (or make money, if you want something more quantitative) without becoming a big company CEO. One thing I know for sure: I don't envy them.

My original statement was a bit over the top, but the idea I was getting at is how little impact most CEO's have on company performance (https://hbr.org/2015/11/are-successful-ceos-just-lucky), and how their pay does not correspond to their performance (https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/06/16/the-highe... ). Along the same lines as the original post where performance doesn't match up with compensation, CEOs are just on the other end of the spectrum.

this kind of absurd lionization of the wealthy is part of the problem.

I've met some extremely wealthy CEOs, and they warp nothing around them. It's an elite career track and old boys club, that's it.

There is a substantial intersection between wealthy people and CEOs, but they're still employees, so they're not that wealthy.

I have no doubt that a lot of big-co CEOs are operating at the limit of human capacity, but that doesn't really have any effect on my opinion of trust fund kids.

CEO's, as such, are employees, but lots of them are capitalists and derive as much or much more of their wealth from capital as from labor income.

Trust fund kids do exist, of course, but those are usually not Fortune 500 CEOs (or at least not for long, unless they worked hard for that).

I met them as well. What industry are you referring to?

Extraordinary claims would do well to find some extraordinary evidence to support them, lest they collapse under the weight of their disproportionate grandeur.

That's great Kyle. I once worked for a German laser company where promotions to the highest positions were based mainly on physical height.

Bloody hell. What? Did that company do well? Is sounds like this promotion scheme is a fast way to bankruptcy.

Was Dirk Nowitzki[0] the owner or at least a board member?


I assume that usually applies during stand-ups. It's only natural.

I've experienced this too, not the discrimination in work, but the realisation that on the internet no one cares about anything but your work.

I've been a part of a lot of different communities. Hell, when I was a kid in a MW2 clan on the internet, no one there cared about anything but skill in the game. In programming and hacking communities, no one cared about anything but skill either.

It's a brilliant place you know. On the internet, you can be whoever you want to be and it doesn't matter.

The flip side is that as soon as you become more than just pixels on a screen it can change in an instant. Just ask anyone who ever experienced being dox'd. As long as all you are is pixels on a screen it's great. As soon as you become more than pixels on a screen the story can change really fast. It turns out the pixels only influence people opinion of you when there is nothing else to base it on. I'm not so sure that's necessarily something to celebrate.

This sounds similar to a post of a blind programmer.

Those are good arguments for privacy.

Sometimes you got something to hide. Not a crime but because you don't want to be discriminated.

Sad that it has to be this way.

To me, this is the main argument for privacy. When I hear people say "I've got nothing to hide, so I've got nothing to fear", I immediately think "Well aren't you lucky?"

Having nothing to hide is a privilege, but the weird thing about that mentality is that I think very few people actually have that privilege. How many people, for example, would not be negatively impacted if the text conversations around their last relationship breakup were made public?

We all have vulnerabilities, and privacy is about choosing who we trust to know them. So anyone who believes that they have nothing to hide is either unaware of how dangerous the world is, or hasn't properly taken stock of what could be used against them, and how. Discrimination is one of the most common ways that your vulnerabilities can used against you, but it's not the only one.

I've thought about, and used, two possibly opposing, strategies to make life easier for others:

(a) Insist on privacy especially when you have "nothing to hide". I once refused to send a photo with an application (which is still a thing with the really slow-to-adapt companies in my country). I'm square in the majority in any characteristic a photo may reveal, but I was hoping to give some cover to those who don't want to give a photo for whatever reason, and fear being judged just for that.

(b): I'm rather careless with some information that others would be afraid to reveal, hoping to normalize it ever so slightly. There are still too many things that are really really common, but taboo to mention because nobody knows how common they are because it's taboo... Examples may be mental health issues, being bisexual/poly/etc.

Also, if you are in high regard and can afford it, you can do everyone a favour by rejecting certain common but harmful practices: Are you no longer productive at 4pm because you didn't sleep well? Go home!

> Also, if you are in high regard and can afford it, you can do everyone a favour by rejecting certain common but harmful practices

While I agree, it's important that this is perceived as "this is how things should work" rather than "I'm high status so I can do this but you can't".

It's interesting that your two strategies are apparently opposed to each other, but I guess the distinguishing feature is that you reveal things that might disadvantage you, and hide things that wouldn't.

Talent and experience aren't the same thing, and they both affect compensation.

Talent can produce a better result than experience, but experience is almost always more consistent. There's added value in consistency for companies. That's not discrimination (ugh), it's a business reality.

Exactly this is why the client get's billed 20 times what Kyle earns.

It's just a lack of experience, if Kyle would man up and accept her place it would all work out.


They bill out 20x what he earns because they're not just billing for his time. They're billing for the time of the sales person who chased the lead, the time of the team who read the brief and developed the proposal, the time of the people who travelled to the client to deliver the presentation, the time of the secretary who handled the callback and the time of all the people who did all the same things the half a dozen other times where they DIDN'T get the contract.

He's claiming discrimination vs what his coworkers are being paid. What his agency bills his time at is a red herring that doesn't matter at all in his discrimination claim.

>>if Kyle would man up and accept her place

Kyle is a dude.

Good for him. I had a similar experience. Had to slog it out at low wages long enough to have a real work history with recognizable clients.

He seems a little more bitter about it than I was. Trust is part of the game, and people just naturally, and subconsciously look for signals that you're the real deal.

I think he would benefit from putting a little more thought in to why people might judge someone very young as being responsible enough/capable enough/etc. It is not just, or even mostly, prejudice.

For the first time in human history, its possible to be represented (almost) solely through the merits of your work.

Like anonymous works can't exist in the physical space?




This reminds me of my early years - I started doing in web dev work in High School and was excited to be making more than minimum wage!

I started freelancing about halfway through college and quickly learned to hide the fact that I was a student, and my age in general. I recall one of my early clients that had a very distinct negative change in how he treated me after he learned that I was still in college.

I can't complain too much, though, most clients treated me well and I charged enough that I was able to graduate debt free.

The author feels that his height counted against him, but did anyone actually say "sorry you're too short?". It would be strange client or employer who insisted on a tall developer while age I can accept is a factor for people out there, rightly or wrongly. I'm suggesting that it could be possible to project an inherent sensitivity about one's height onto a separate experience.

That may well be a factor in what's going on, but for whatever reason, there is evidence [1] of a height-based pay gap in hiring and compensation. We're seldom aware of our subconscious biases, but they still influence our actions all the time.

[1] http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/standing.aspx

I got the impression that using height was purely​ a rethorical move from the author referring to that when you're young you're shorter

it's not about height, it's about age

Pixels don't care, but businesses care a lot about who their vendors are. Specifically, business owners want to buy from companies that can provide more than a result.

They need to mitigate business risk so they look for vendors that will: 1. Exist as long as their solution is being used 2. Provide adequate support 3. Are legally accountable for their products and services 4. Have the proper processes in place for things like billing and invoices

Having raw talent is just part of the business puzzle. There are a lot of start-ups or freelancers that can "fake it until they make it" but it's because they really understand how a small business or corporation makes buying decisions.

Sometimes I want to take interns from minorities and teach them both technical skills and the network to get a job through the Internet.

Them I remember taking them as interns is part of the discrimination; and they'll be better promoted in physical companies where they can invoke anti-discrimination laws, rather than being only promoted by their skills.

Then remains those who are really discriminated against: Those who are neither protected by being good-looking nor by the laws, like the (short) author.

Pixels don't care, but next time you read statistics about how white people are paid more than average, remember which side this guy falls on, now that he succeeded. The strange world of statistics.

And this is why I think fulltime employment is the wrong way to go for many people today.

In fact the whole "we are an institution and you are a peon" mentality needs to be disrupted.

More companies should hire on a project basis and share the revenues. More companies should try holacracy and abolish a top down chain of command for everything.

Then people can really will be compensated on their merit, ie their contributions.

In our own company, I laid out how we do it https://qbix.com/blog ... would welcome your thoughts.

To be honest, I don't like the Qbix Compensation Model. One reason to work for someone else is that they are taking the risk. Within reason, no matter what I do at work, I'll get paid the same at the end of the month. Yes, there is the risk the company could go out of business (a form of job security I guess), and yes, I would expect a fair annual review, but ultimately, I'm able to plan in the medium term for a consistent income.

Stability at the cost of autonomy breeds complacency, which is the opposite of OP's attitude. Presumably he lived with his parents. But he wants to be paid for his work commensurate with his contributions.

Means tested welfare has the same problems as full time employment: people are so used to that paycheck that they are afraid to do rock the boat and work on something meaningful in ther lives. They just drive the same truck every day, until they lose their job.

In fact, even Adam Smith proposed the free market as a way to achieve equality among men. Even socialist anarchists like Oscar Wilde were most incensed by the degrading nature of the employer-employee relationship.

You don't need this model for everyone. Just for those who are sick and tired of playing office politics and pretending to work 8 hour days becauss they finished in 2 hours and can't be seen doing anything productive for anyone else, since the company can sue them.

What if we had stronger unemployment benefits and some form of UBI? I.e. if you take a risky job, the government insures some part of your pay (e.g. up to 2000$/mo), and if everything tanks you can still fall on a UBI and pay the bills and buy food.

> More companies should hire on a project basis and share the revenues.

The problem with this is employees being unwilling to take on risk. In general they want to get paid a good amount whether the project succeeds or not.

Not all employees are the same. A kid who lives with his parents (as the OP) or a person receiving UBI or a person in a country with universal healthcare may take more risks, and work on this basis. You don't need EVERYONE to work this way.

Furthermore, this can be done part time by existing employees.

For millions of people, FTE has the same perverse incentives as means tested welfare: they pretend to work, they play office politics, and most of all they are afraid to undertake anything in their own life for fear of losing the guaranteed cashflow. They practice learned helplessness in their life and do not advance.

While some people are ok with this, many like the OP are not.

>compensated on their ... contributions

Kiss goodbye to any kind of code hygiene.

>abolish a top down chain of command

You now have a squeaky wheel company. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

There's something wonderful to be gained by detaching from identities and considering only the work. Hard to do, but can be very empowering.

Great story. I came upon my current job in a similar fashion, and I love it.

Can a mod change the title to read (2013) since this article is fairly old, though?

I'm going to be downvoted for this.

While privacy is important, and a meritocracy is, well, meritocratic, these systems weren't formed overnight, and aren't even necessarily accepted as 'right' in many parts of the world. Historically, social barriers (e.g. discrimination against short people) are changed through exposure, discussion and sometimes fighting. Writing a post like this is only part of the answer. Taking the opportunity to understand the bias and discussing it with those who hold opposing viewpoints is another part of the answer.

Privacy is a right, don't use it as a crutch.

I don't understand what your point is. Is it that Kyle Neath should take a stronger role in the fight against (height/age/gender/race/....) discrimination? It is probably hard because if you are working full-time as a software dev, you don't have much time to also lead a social struggle.

Sorry, 2am haze. My point is that instead of accepting privacy as the answer to the discrimination issue, use the opportunity to make the case that this needs to be talked about. The post did part of the 'talking', but the conclusion negated this. I read it as 'we shouldn't be discriminated against, therefore let's not give them anything to discriminate against'. That's not how social change is brought about.

Just want to say, I appreciate this.

Loved the post. I've been through something similar.

Previously known as "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Internet%2C_nobody_know...

In the IoT age: On the internet, nobody knows you're a fridge.

Conversely: anybody knows what's in your fridge better than you do.

Author here. Hacker News has long ago blacklisted/blackholed my domain (I am often critical of YCombinator's investment strategies), but the original post can be found on my blog http://warpspire.com/posts/pixels-dont-care — with apostrophes!

I don't know the full backstory of why your domain was blacklisted, but if it's only because of your criticism of YC, that sounds wrong and I'm sure the HN moderators will be happy to remove your domain from the blacklist.

Also, what is the #caboose channel on freenode about? I tried joining to see what it's about, but it looks like it's invite only.

Caboose was an invite-only group of rubyists interested in rails early on. At the time I joined it was a group of decent humans who would answer your questions, share their work, and banter about the rails ecosystem. I haven't idled there in a long time, so I can't say I know much about it's current makeup.

Ok, we changed the URL to that from https://hackerfall.com/story/pixels-dont-care and banned that site since apparently it not only steals people's articles but eats their punctuation.

Your site isn't banned, and we don't moderate sites based on what they say about "Y Combinator's investment strategies". I'm not sure where you got that.

Your site was getting mildly downweighted. That could have happened for a number of reasons, including vote manipulation and/or too many lightweight articles. I've taken the penalty off.

Thanks for removing that! I'd be lying if your explanation didn't sound a little… Well hey, HN is always good for laughs.

Great story and I shouldn't nitpick this, but it really drags down a story for me when it's stated matter of fact like (rather than as a "memory") and yet has an obviously flawed timeline. "Eight years ago", aka 2009, is "long" after Facebook became publicly accessible and Twitter had existed publicly for about the same duration. Are either the point of your story? No, but it detracts from the point when readers know this and it makes you seem less credible when you shouldn't be.

This was posted in 2013. Maybe a mod should edit the title?

Yeah, I see that now. Must've been edited while I was commenting or I just missed it. Mea culpa! :(

The link from hackerfall to your page breaks due to the trailing slash. Probably something easily fixed on your server...

Was anyone else distracted by the lack of apostrophes?

I guess semantically they aren't necessary since there is no missing information but for some reason I found it distracting anyway.

Because it is an extract of the original page. This is the correct link, including the apostrophes.. http://warpspire.com/posts/pixels-dont-care

Yes. I stopped reading after two paragraphs because of the hiccups it caused in my parser.

And yet I didn't even notice the punctuation was missing until you mentioned it, since I enjoyed the story.

I found the swearing more distracting, but then I'm apparently old-fashioned...



Please don't sign your comments on Hacker News. It's against the site guidelines, and ultimately clutters the page.


I honestly thought it was a joke about being old fashioned.

Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I like to sign to remind myself I'm replying to a fellow human, so NOT signing will make me feel uncomfortable!

Maybe I should stop replying...

I didnt even notice.

... But we care about pixels. Particularly the few that make up apostrophes.

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