IN THIS PREMIUM ISSUE:
0. EDITORIAL: How to surf with complete security Part 2
Last month I showed you how to use the free VMWare Player to make your web surfing totally secure.
This month I'd like to show you another way of achieving the same thing by using a Linux "live" CD. For users with modern PCs and straight-forward broadband connections, it can be a simpler option than using VMWare yet delivers much the same security benefit.
A Linux live CD is a bootable CD that contains a special version of Linux that runs from the CD rather than your hard drive. It runs completely independently from your Windows installation and has no affect on it at all.
To run Linux from the live CD, you just put the live CD in the CD drive of your Windows PC and reboot. The CD installer will set up a fully working Linux session on your PC, complete with a web browser such as Firefox.
When you have finished your browsing session you can just shut down Linux, remove the live CD from the tray and reboot into Windows. Your Windows installation will be restored and not be affected in any way as no files from your Linux session will be left on your PC in a form recognizable by Windows.
This means all traces of any surfing from your Linux session will be erased when you reboot into Windows. Hence it's not possible to infect your Windows PC with spyware or any other nasty that you encountered while browsing the internet using Linux.
This sounds very attractive but I'm sure many readers will be wincing at the thought of using Linux. That's something they associate with techies and geeks.
There is an element of truth to that perception but luckily the latest Linux live CDs can be used by pretty well any experienced Windows user. You don't have to know anything about Linux commands or configuration to use the CDs as the installation routine handles just about everything automatically.
Unless that is, you have dial up connection, a complex networking setup or an old PC with non standard hardware.
Dial-up connections you'll have to set up manually. It's not too daunting though the unfamiliar Linux environment makes it seem harder than it really is. Ditto for complex networking.
Complex networking and hardware problems are however, far more challenging.
My advice is to try a live CD. If it works first-up on your PC then fine, you have an easy solution to secure surfing. If not, you'll have to decide whether it's worth effort to try and sort out the problems.
You have nothing to lose as you can get Linux Live CDs for free. Actually, there are lots of choices, covering dozens of different flavors of Linux.
For most Windows users I recommend the Ubuntu LiveCD. It's got a well sorted out automatic installation procedure, has a desktop that's recognizable to Windows users and has Firefox already installed.
For many users with standard systems, installation should be trouble free. Once the installation is completed all you have to do is to click the FireFox icon on the Ubuntu Gnome desktop to start your secure browsing session. It doesn't come any simpler than that.
The Ubuntu organization will send you a free LiveCD on request. They will even pay the shipping costs.
They will actually ship you two CDs: a full Ubuntu Linux Install CD and a LiveCD as well. Unless you want to get seriously into Linux I suggest you forget about using the full installation CD and just use the LiveCD.
When I boot from an Ubuntu LiveCD it takes only about 3 minutes to set up a Firefox session from the CD. That's not much slower than booting Windows from my hard drive!
Using Firefox from within Ubuntu is just like using Firefox from within Windows so there is no learning curve involved. Your surfing however, is completely safe and cannot affect your Windows PC.
Now that's a nice feeling.
You can request your Ubuntu CDs online from https://shipit.ubuntu.com/. Note that you have to create an account first.
See you next month.
1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 The Best BitTorrent List
list is simply sensational. It not only lists lots of sites but categorizes them under
headings such as: Educational, Trackers, Private Trackers, Sports, Television and more. A
mandatory bookmark for torrent fans.
1.2 Smart Cookie Management
hard to surf without accepting cookies as many sites simply won't work unless you have
them enabled. You can overcome this in Internet Explorer by employing a little known
technique based on a customized privacy import file. With such a file you can do all
sorts of fancy tricks. One of my favorites is converting all cookies into "session
cookies" i.e. cookies that are erased as soon as you leave the site that created them.
This gives you the best of both worlds: you have full access to all sites but have no
cookies left on your PC. Subscriber Vic Laurie shows you how to do this at his excellent
computer education site. It's easier for Firefox users; just go to Tools / Options /
Privacy / Cookies and set "Keep Cookies" to "Until I close Firefox."
1.3 VPN the Easy Way
 is a free Virtual Private Network system that's getting a lot of attention because
it's relatively easy to set up. It's even easier if you use this guide .
1.4 Google Introduces Chat from Within GMail
is progressively rolling out to USA-English users, a beta version of a new GMail chat
feature that allows you to talk with anyone connected to the Google Chat network or
compatible network. The integration works very well; To contact someone, just hover the
cursor over an email or contact and a window pops up asking whether you want to chat or
email the person. If you select chat, an invitation is sent to the recipient. If they
accept, a green ball appears next to their name and a special chat window pops up. You
don't even need the Google Chat client installed to use the service though it is required
for voice contact. Chats can also be saved and searched from within GMail, just like
email. Quite impressive really. To use Google Chat you'll need IE6 or Firefox 1+. If you
use the later you may have to disenable the AdBlock extension as it interferes with the
1.5 The Ultimate Shared Web Calendar?
Jim Kelly writes "Any of your subscribers who are into social calendaring should check out
30boxes. If you and your buddies sign up, you can each set on an individual basis, what
events on your calendars you share. It also features integration with Flickr, MySpace and
other web sources." Nice find Jim; it's got a simple user interface, an expanding list of
third party plug-ins and it's free. I do wish though, that it offered an integrated
reminder system along the lines of BackPackIt . Readers interested in web calendaring
should also check out Plaxo .
** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **
1.6 Outstanding Set of Free Web Development Resources
recently got an email from Vitaly Friendman about the latest release of his Web Developers
handbook. I'd never heard of this but when I checked out the web link, I found Vitaly's
site to be the most extraordinary collection of web developments tools, tutorials, tips
and other resources. Vitaly, a 20 year old student, provides free access to his material
and you can donate towards the site upkeep. I did and you might like to donate as well.
Such an effort should be rewarded.
1.7 How to Uninstall Internet Explorer 7 Beta
number of subscribers have written seeking help uninstalling the IE7 beta. You can get it
1.8 Rootkits - The Musical
great video parody of rootkits by an Aussie rock band of the same name.
1.9 How to Send an SMS Text Message via Google
U.S. phone numbers only.
2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Free Utility Improves Your Wi-Fi Security
Wi-Fi networks are notoriously insecure; so insecure that I wont use them. The classic way
to improve your Wi-Fi security is to set up a virtual private network (VPN) connection
but this isn't easy to do. A new and simpler alternative is to use TorPark, a
pre-configured version of the anonymizing program Tor, combined with the Firefox browser,
that's setup for operation from a USB Flash drive. I tried it out on my laptop and found
it surprisingly easy to use though, as with all anonymizing services, my browsing speed
through the network of chained Tor servers was slowed considerably. Another restriction is
that TorPark won't currently help with your email security. That apparently is planned for
an upcoming version. Overall, it's a very useful free security product that is well worth
trying. A warning: please don't use a TorPark Flash drive at Internet Cafes or public
terminals with the expectation that it will protect you from hardware keyloggers. It
won't, simple as that. Freeware, Windows 95 and later, 8MB
2.2 Free Utility Fixes PC Problems
is an interesting product that bundles together a large number of fixes to known Windows
problems as documented in many different Microsoft Knowledgebase articles. These problems
fall into five specific areas: Scripting, the Windows Installer, Windows Update, Secure
site problems and Program registration. The last area includes specific fixes for Windows
Explorer, Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player problems. If you have problems in
any of these areas you should check this utility out. I've now used it successfully on two
machines with IE problems, so it's become a standard item in my tool kit. Note though,
that this program is intended to be used only on machines with known problems in the
designated areas, so read the online notes before using. If your PC is running fine, you
don't need it and may risk actually causing problems. Recommended for experienced users
only. Freeware, Windows 9x and later, 261KB.
2.3 How to Print Lots of Documents Easily
Steve Duncan recently wrote "Gizmo I work at a school that has over 700 students that need
individual reports printed. As you can imagine printing 700+ word documents takes ages.
So I found this free program, Print Conductor that allows you to print large numbers of
individual files, without opening each document. It even allows you to change settings on
the printer before it runs the print job and even better you can save the list of
documents that need printing and later on import the list back into the program. It
prints Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word DOC, Microsoft Excel XLS, Autodesk AutoCAD DWG, and
Microsoft PowerPoint PPT. It's also great for converting large numbers of documents to
PDF using a virtual printer. Hope you find this of some use to your subscribers, it has
changed a 2 day process for the schools admin down to a couple of hours." Great find
Steve, I'm sure a lot of readers will be able to put this to good use. Freeware, 548KB.
2.4 Get JV16 PowerTools 2006 for Free
started life as a free registry cleaner but has been expanded over the years to become a
complete commercial system utility suite comprising of a registry editor, registry
monitor, a file cleaner, duplicate file finder and more. The latest 2006 version is now in
late beta testing but is available for public download on a 30 day trial basis. It
contains full working versions of 23 separate tools though the centerpiece remains the
excellent registry cleaner. At $29.95 the final version will be very competitively priced,
but you may be able to get it for free if you participate in the beta program. You can do
this by subscribing to the beta tester's newsletter . It's up to the company whether
they accept you as a beta tester but it's well worth a try. Remember this is only a beta
version so don't carry out any critical operations such as registry cleaning until the
final version is released. All versions of Windows, 1.09MB
2.5 Free Service Rates Web Site Safety
number of subscribers have written in about a new web service called SiteAdvisor that
helps surfers assess the safety and security of sites they visit. The company claims to
have compiled information on more than one billion sites by visiting the sites and
checking whether any download from the site contains spyware and other nasties. They also
sign up to any email offering from the site and then monitor for any subsequent spam. To
access this database you will need to install a free Internet Explorer add-in or Firefox
extension. Then, whenever you visit any site, your browser will display a color coded
security rating for that site. More details about the site are available by clicking on
the warning bar. A really nice feature is that the site ratings are also shown alongside
Google or Yahoo search results. This really helps you avoid accidentally visiting
dangerous and hostile sites when surfing. I've been using it for a couple of weeks now and
for a beta, it works very well. Yes, some sites are unrated and yes, I quibbled with some
of the ratings given and yes, it could slow browsing for users with slow connections. That
said, SiteAdvisor offers a valuable contribution to browsing security and is a must-have
for many users. The service is currently free, though you need to register. It's also
currently without ads but I suspect it may not stay that way. A word of warning: however
useful SiteAdvisor may be, it's best employed as an additional security measure and
shouldn't be seen as a replacement for primary security or plain old common sense. Don't,
for example, feel free to download a "free toolbar" from a site just because that site is
rated OK by this product. That's asking for trouble.
** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **
2.6 Free Utility Helps Create a Perfect Group Photo
when you photograph a group of people, one or more of the subjects frowns, blinks or
moves, thus spoiling the whole shot. This free utility called "Group Shot" from Microsoft
Research overcomes this problem by allowing you to splice together the best bits of
several different shots. It's also good for removing unwanted objects in the background,
like a passing car or pedestrian. Of course it's only useful if you have sequential shots
of the same scene. Free, 1.3MB
2.7 Free Internet Traffic Monitor
in issue #127 I mentioned a free utility called Network Traffic Monitor  that allows
you to identify the source of any unexpected internet activity on your PC. Unfortunately
soon after it was mentioned in the newsletter, the author decided to charge for the
product. Recently subscriber Jean-Denis Marx wrote in to tell me about Netlimiter 2
Monitor , a free program that does much the same thing. The user interface is actually
better than Network Traffic Monitor with a clear identification of the all programs on
your PC generating internet traffic as well as the file name and location. It even shows
hidden programs. Freeware, Windows 2000 and later, 1.98MB.
2.8 Free Utility Allows Voice Based Logon
something a bit different; a free utility that allows you to logon to Windows, encrypt and
decrypt files, access password protected files and more, by simply using your voice. The
product, WinDentify, is actually a full fledged commercial biometric identification
program that handles voice, face and fingerprint recognition, but the free lite version
handles voice only and with a lesser level of security than the full version. I don't have
a decent mike at the moment so I haven't tried it but it sounds like a real neat way to
logon to Windows. Thanks to regular contributor JW for letting me know about this. Free
beta, Windows 2000 and later, 8.8MB
2.9 Best Free Parental Filter
Dan Briggs writes "I read your posting on the best free parental filter and I agree with
you that there is not much to get excited about - in fact most of it is junk. However, I
did find a very good free package that I have been using for a while and it works great.
As far as I can tell, it is very good regarding what it blocks. It blocks what it should
and doesn't block what it shouldn't. It's called K9 Web Protection by Blue Coat Systems.
You'll want to check it out. " Well Dan I did check it out and you are quite right, it's a
first class product and definitely the best free filter available. It's a web based
service that uses a special driver installed on your PC to redirect all your browsing
through K9's servers where it is filtered for content. This means that the filtering works
for any browser installed on your PC. The actual filtering itself is highly customizable
from a password protected control panel at K9's web site with over 15 selectable
categories plus the ability to restrict or permit individual sites. Full reports on sites
visited are also available from the control panel. The filtering seems quite accurate; I
only found one site in an hour of browsing which I felt should not have been blocked. I
also liked the optional blocking of Spyware and Adware sites. I tried a few obvious ways
of crippling the filter such as uninstalling the product or disenabling the driver, with
no success, which is comforting to parents. I suspect though, that a determined tech-savvy
teenager might eventually find a solution. The only real downside was the slowing down of
my browsing as a result of it being re-routed through the K9 servers. That aside, it's an
effective free filtering solution that can be heartily recommended.
3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security
released seven new patches in February as part of their regular monthly cycle. Two of
these are rated critical. The first is a cumulative Internet Explorer Update that fixes a
problem in the Graphics Rendering Engine that could allow remote code execution by simply
viewing a specially crafted image file. This flaw has been known for a while and it's
comforting to see that it's finally been fixed. The second critical fix repairs a serious
flaw in Windows Media Player versions 7.1 through to 10 that could allow an attacker to
take control of your PC. Full details can be found in the MS Bulletin . Patches for
both flaws are being distributed via Windows Update. If you are in any doubt whether your
PC has been patched please visit the Windows Update service  now.
3.2 Microsoft Antispyware Beta 2 Now Available
new beta version of MS Antispyware has just been released under the new name Windows
Defender . I haven't had a look at it yet but according to MS the new version has
enhanced performance through a new scanning engine, a simpler interface, a warning system
that rates the severity of threats plus improvements in Spyware detection and removal.
Sounds promising but I'll know more next month after I've had a chance to test it. PC
Magazine has done its own tests on a pre-release version and their reviewers were not
impressed . Free beta software, Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP SP2 , 64 MB - 14.3 MB
3.3 Microsoft OneCare Public Beta
has also announced the public beta release of its new all-in-one OneCare security product
that includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, a firewall, backup and more. The final version
when released in June this year will be sold on an annual $50 subscription basis but you can
try the beta for free. My advice is don't. The reception has been uniformly bad with
reports of broken systems, false positives and missed detections abounding. Worse still,
it appears to be just a kludging together of separate products rather than the unified
security solution promised.
3.4 Serious Flaw in WinAmp
the maker of the popular WinAmp media player has released a patch for a serious flaw in
versions 5.11 and 5.12 of the player that could allow an attacker to take control of your
PC by simply playing specially crafted songs on a WinAmp playlist. There are a number of
malicious websites already exploiting this flaw. Anyone running an affected version of
WinAmp could have their PC compromised simply by visiting one of these sites. All users of
WinAmp should upgrade to V5.13 immediately
3.5 Firefox V1.5.O.1 Released
latest update includes fixes for memory leaks, improved stability plus a number of
unspecified security problems. Unfortunately within a few days of the release someone
reverse engineered one of the security fixes and created a working exploit that is now
circulating on the web. It doesn't affect V22.214.171.124 but earlier versions are vulnerable so
make sure your PC is updated. Most Firefox users will have had the update automatically
downloaded to their PC. If not, visit the Mozilla site and download the latest version
3.6 The Fastest Browser Now Updated
K-Meleon browser is a slimmed down cousin of Firefox that's optimized for Windows. Of the four browsers I use regularly, K-Meleon is the fastest loading and along with Opera, the fastest for surfing. On the downside there are only a limited number of add-ons and plug-ins available so you are pretty well limited to the features available in the standard product. The latest 0.9 version was released on the 18th of January. This updates the product to the Mozilla 1.7.5 code-base and adds a whole batch of new features including an RSS reader and privacy plug-in. If you are the type of person who prefers performance to bells and whistles you should definitely try K-Meleon. Freeware, all Windows versions though early versions may require a library update, 6.0 MB.
3.7 New Preview Version of Opera 9
second Technology Preview release of Opera 9 adds a whole batch of new features including
BitTorrent searching and downloading, content-blocking, widgets, enhanced CSS support and
much more. I've been using it on one of my PCs and have been really impressed; if this thing
gets much better I'm going to have to give away Firefox!
3.8 Top Process Viewer Updated
Process Explorer has long been one of my favorite free process viewers. The latest V10
release includes dozens of small enhancements rather than new features. The result is an
outstanding free product that leaves Windows Task Manager looking brain damaged by
3.9 New Version of Top Free RSS Reader
the latest V2.13 release, BlogBridge, one of the top free standing RSS readers, just got
even better. Despite the unimpressive looking version numbering, the 2.13 release is
actually a major upgrade. The most important new feature is the addition of "Reading
Lists" which are collections of items that you can share with others. Also new is a
cleanup wizard, better synchronization across several computers plus a host of usability
and interface improvements. If you haven't yet tried RSS, BlogBridge is a great way to
investigate the medium without spending a cent. Free, Open Source, BlogBridge, Windows XP,
Mac OS X, Linux, 3.8MB.
3.10 Azureus BitTorrent V2.4 Released
latest version of the top rated Azureus BitTorrent client includes various performance and improvements, basic support for WebSeeds plus high speed LAN transfers. However the most important enhancement is the ability to encrypt data between Azureus and other compatible clients. This provides better protection of data and can help overcome the blockages and restrictions imposed by some ISPs on peer-to-peer traffic. Free open source software, requires Java JRE 1.5, 7.4MB.
4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Charge Your Cell Phone or iPod Anywhere
Solar Style SC003 is a PDA sized solar panel designed to re-charge mobile devices. Even if
there is no sun you can recharge your devices from the internal battery, which in turn,
can be pre-charged from a car cigarette lighter or from a wall socket. The SC003 comes
with lots of different connectors for Samsung, Sony-Ericsson, Nokia, and Motorola products
and more. The MRP is $35.99.
4.2 Modifying Your iPod
page from WikiPedia offers a terrific collection of iPod hacks "to aid users in using
their iPod more efficiently, or to customize their product, making it more individual or
for novelty purposes."
4.3 RAW Format Explained
format is widely used in more expensive digital cameras and offers serious snappers some
real advantages over JPG and other compressed formats. If your camera supports RAW, you
should check out this wonderfully informative article from Adobe. It's a PDF file so right
click the link and select "Save as .."
4.4 Practical How-to Meditation Guide
you want to get the benefits of meditation without the mumbo-jumbo, then check out this
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
of the fun with this game  is working out what to do. Once you do, it's totally
addictive. The next two links ,  are to simple Flash games each so captivating that
I fear the national productivity index is destined for a sharp decline.
** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **
4.6 How to Trace an Email
you'll find detailed instructions (with photos) for most of the common email clients.
4.7 SpyBot's TeaTimer Explained
resident monitor is scantily documented. If you've ever wondered exactly what it does then
you'll find some of the answers here.
4.8 Hidden FireFox/Mozilla Options
nice listing here of some obscure settings. Not for beginners.
4.9 How to Speed Up Your BitTorrent Downloads
are two guides: the first is for uTorrent and the second for Azureus:
5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Work With Audio CD .CDA Files
If you view the contents of an audio CD from Windows, you'll see that it contains a number of .CDA files each corresponding to a song track. (CDA BTW, stands for Compact Disk Audio)
I regularly get letters from subscribers asking why they can't copy these files to their PC rather than first having to rip them to .WAV files.
It's a good question with a simple answer: there are no .CDA files on a CD. In fact, from a Windows perspective, there are no "files" at all.
An audio CD differs greatly from your hard drive or floppy disk drive in the way information is stored.
These devices store data in concentric rings called tracks. In contrast, audio CDs store data in a continuous spiral starting from the inside of the CD and ending at the outer edge of the CD. Kind of like a vinyl LP in reverse.
The format of the data stored on CDs is also quite different; it's a raw 16 bit digital PCM stream rather than a format that can be recognized by a Windows PC.
So what are .CDA files that you see on an audio CD?
These files are created by the Windows CD driver. They are simply representations of the CD audio tracks and are not actually on the CD.
Each .CDA file is a kind of a pointer to the location of a specific track on the CD and contains no musical information. They are all 44 bytes in length and each contain track times plus a special Windows shortcut that allows users to access the specific audio tracks.
So if .CDA files contain no musical information, what happens if you "copy" a .CDA from an audio CD to your hard drive and then double click it?
If the CD is still in the drive then the corresponding track will play from the CD. If you remove the CD you will get an error message. That's because the .CDA file contain no music, it only point to where the music is located on the CD.
work with audio files on your CD you need first to convert them to .WAV, .MP3 or another
file format that computers understand. That's what a CD ripper does and that's why you
must use a ripper before you can work with your audio files. Simple as that.
6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 A Free Utility for Customizing the Places Bar
Here's a simple utility that only performs one task but boy, is it useful.
The Places Bar is a productivity enhancement added to Windows ME and present in all Windows versions since. It's the left hand pane that appears in the standard Windows File/Open-Save dialog. If this doesn't ring a bell, try opening Internet Explorer and select File/Open/Browse. Once you see the Places Bar you'll recognize it immediately and realize that it's used by many different programs, not just IE.
Now by default the Places Bar contains shortcuts to History, My Documents, Desktop, My Computer and My Network Places. There is however, no option offered to customize these options to include your own favorite folders or places.
You can do this manually by editing the Windows Registry, using the Group Policy Editor or from TweakUI tools. However the easiest way is to use the free PlacesBar Constructor utility, which allows you to substitute folders of your choice for any of the default folders by using a simple click and point interface.
Using PlacesBar Constructor I've changed the default "History" folder to my "Program Files" folder, which I use more often. I've also changed "My Network Places" to the "My Webs" folder for the same reason.
These simple changes save me multiple clicks every time I open a document or save a file. Further, there is no performance penalty or other downside. That's why PlacesBar Constructor is such a gem.
Two notes: First, be aware that Microsoft Office documents have their own Places Bar. You can't change this with PlacesBar Constructor but you can change it from the Office Tools menu.
Second, it's useful to be able to change the Places Bar, but it would be even more useful to be able to change the Other Places folder in the Common Tasks pane in the normal Windows XP folder view. Alas, I've never been able to find a way of doing it.
If any one knows how, please write and I'll publish it. You'll get ever-lasting fame plus a free lifetime subscription to the Premium SE Edition of this newsletter ;>)
Constructor, freeware, Windows ME or later, 460KB.
** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **
6.2 The Best Free Video Conversion Program
Wouldn't it be neat to be able to convert any kind of video files to a format you can use on your PSP, iPod or mobile phone?
"Super" is a free utility that allows you to do pretty well all of these things and more.
It has two great strengths: first it's relatively easy to use and secondly it handles a large number of different file formats. It handles 3gp/3g2 (Nokia, Siemens, Sony, Ericsson), asf, avi (DivX, H263, H263+, H264, Xvid, MPEG4, MSmpeg4 etc), dat, fli, flc, flv (used in Flash), mkv, mpg (Mpeg I, Mpeg II), mov (H263, H263+, H264, MPEG4 etc), mp4 (H263, H263+, H264, MPEG4), ogg, qt, rm, ram, rmvb, str (Play Station), swf (Flash), ts (HDTV), viv, vob, and wmv.
It also handles audio file format conversion including ac3, amr, mp2, mp3, mp4, ogg, ra, wav, and wma.
I impressed? You bet; I've seen commercial software with fewer features selling for
over$100. Be aware though, that video conversion by its very nature requires a lot of
processing power and can be very slow on older PCs. Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 18MB.
Got some top sites and services to suggest? Send them in to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
7.0 MANAGE YOUR SUBSCRIPTION
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