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Jan 13 2003


More and much better documentation

The main problems with Smalltalk and Squeak I have noticed from the beginning of getting to know them are the lack of good documentation and the animistic style of writing most Smalltalk documentation.

I have rather extensively written on this website about the last problem and corrresponded with several persons about it. Some agree and some don't but even those who agree seem not to be willing to do anything about it. I am willing and have tried, but got no cooperation while my health is bad and my time and energy limited. So for the moment I have given up on this topic.

The first problem is being attacked by Stéphane Ducasse. He works at the University of Berne (Switzerland) and collected a series of out of print books on Smalltalk that now have been converted to pdf and put on the web. Here is the link for downloading them:


This is very helpful indeed, and I will return to the books I have read when I have read them.

Note why this is helpful: I have access to the Dutch university library system, but it was hard to get Smalltalk texts. The ones I found and read where Smalltalk 80 by Goldberger and Robson (truly awful by my lights - and I am sorry, but such is the fact) and The Art and Science of Smalltalk by Simon Lewis that I liked. But others were not available, even if they once had been. Also, bookshops were no help, for apart from Smalltalk 80 every Smalltalk text was out of print.

Stéphane Ducasse has contacted the publishers and authors of out of print Smalltalk books and got their permission to convert them to pdf and put them on line. So there they are now, and I consider this a huge improvement, if only because I have been looking for decent documentation for more than a year.

Squeak News

I have earlier given links to Squeak News, which is or was a valiant effort to document Squeak commercially, on CDs. I liked it, but Squeak News seems to have totally disappeared, for which I am sorry.

Some months ago the original site was replaced by a notice "Coming up soon", but lately there was no connection whatsoever.

Developing Squeak

In earlier notes I have remarked on a rather fundamental change in Squeak: The people who designed Squeak (and Smalltalk), known as Squeak Central, that have been working on it since 1995, first for Apple, then for Disney, and since 2001 for themselves, seem to have given up on Squeak. Some seem to have entirely withdrawn, and some have switched their efforts to Croquet, which builts on Squeak and apparently tries to do what Java tries to do, only better and in 3D.

I have to write in terms of "seems", for lots of things about the social processes behind Squeak are unclear to me. And in fact, I have not even met one single person working in Smalltalk since 1986, and I have neither the health nor the money to visit gatherings of Smalltalk programmers. 

As it stands, some 6 or 7 prominent Squeakers have assigned themselves as Guides and try to continue Squeak. I hope this works, but I am rather skeptical, since over the year and a half I have been following and learning Squeak all efforts in the socalled "Squeak community" to get Squeak taught in universities, to document and popularize Squeak commercially, and to get some real legal foundation together to do what the original Squeak Central did simply have failed or got hardly anywhere.

This is why I am skeptical. There are some really good programmers working as Guides, but it takes other talents than hacking to put together a social organization.

Also, the "Squeak Community", so called, effectively is some 25 to 50 more or less regularly contributing persons, and some 1000 people receiving the developers list. From my own point of view it is a community only in name - a virtual community - since in fact the persons involved are mostly email adresses dispersed around the globe.

Maarten Maartensz
Jan 13, 2003


Feb 15 2003


The Squeak world and my own position in it

I first learned about Squeak on July 7 2002 and have documented my responses since on this site and am glad that I did so.

Indeed, this is the only site on which the responses of a newbie to Squeak has been given in some detail - at least to my knowledge. There may be sites in Japan where something like it has been done, but then this was done in Japanese. And there have been some efforts by others on some Swiki (a Swiki is a website that can be edited from the internet and is maintained by Squeak), but not at all in the same detail as on this site.

The fact is - as I wrote above - that the "Squeak Community", so called, effectively is some 25 to 50 more or less regularly contributing persons, and some 1000 people receiving the developers list.

I stand somewhat outside of it all, being ill, being pooor, being an alias on the internet, having many things to do besides Squeak, and having radical opinions on most things that are shared by few. (For more on this, see my whole site.)

This is not different with Squeak. The radical opinions I hold here are several of which I list three:

  • I believe Squeak is the most interesting thing in programming environments and programming languages that I know
  • I believe Squeak and its precursor Smalltalk are very badly documented
  • I believe that the Received Explanations for Smalltalk and Squeak in terms of animistic metaphorical prose are nonsense

So my own position is that I am going my own way and have to develop my own approach to Squeak, which includes properly documented and explained images, which so far have not existed, neither in Smalltalk nor in Squeak. (The best I've seen were Dolphin Smalltalk and Visual Works Smalltalk, but I didn't much like these attempts either.)

Since in fact neither Smalltalk nor Squeak EVER - in more than 20 years of existence - had a fully documented image (not to speak of: properly explained) it is not odd that I have not been able to produce one in 1 1/2 years of knowing of Squeak.

Even so, the images I run are by far the best documented I know of and since I am also getting better and better in coding in Squeak there will be properly documented and explained images I did put by me in the public domain, if I live.

Indeed, I hope to do so in 3 to 6 months.

Squeak in the Public Domain

In the last notes I explained that Squeak changed in that Squeak Central - being the original designers of both Smalltalk and Squeak - ceased to coordinate the developing of Squeak.

The task of Squeak Central has been taken over by six or seven developers from the developers list who call themselves Guides.

An interesting side effect is that finally Squeak is fully in the public domain - by which I mean that in fact it is owned by no one at all, free for every one, and can be developed by anyone who is willing to invest time and has the requisite type of mind.

This makes Squeak more like a natural language or like ordinary mathematics and less like commercially owned programs, and this is how it should be.

A new documentation effort on the developers list

There is a new effort on the developers list towards better documentation. The people involved in it seem to want to write something they call a "Magic Book".

As I indicated in the previous note I will not participate in it for reasons of health. Also my opinions on the animistic language used to explain Smalltalk are probably not the right ones to cooperate with others (and also I don't believe in magic).

This is not to say I am not documenting, but I am doing this privately, since I work much faster if I am not supposed to cooperate.

A little news on Squeak News

I have earlier given links to Squeak News, which is or was a valiant effort to document Squeak commercially, on CDs. I liked it, but Squeak News seems to have totally disappeared, for which I am sorry.  Some months ago the original site was replaced by a notice "Coming up soon", but lately there was no connection whatsoever.

The latest news on the Squeak News site is that "Coming up soon" works again. So maybe there is some life left in Squeak News. My own opinion is that it is probably not commercially viable, but I liked it a lot and would like to see it reappear.

A very tiny Squeak image that runs in a webbrowser

The image that comes with a standard distribution of Squeak is around 10 MB. This contains a lot - Smalltalk plus Morphic, in fact - and that lot is code that is heavily intertwined. 

An Argentinian called Alejandro F. Reimondo succeeded in pairing all of this down to 24.756 bytes (nearly 25 Kb: Tiny) and to retain an executable that runs. What this executable does is only one thing: It pops up fractal trees on a green background, but this it can do inside a webbrowser.

This is important in at least two respects:

  1. Such a tiny image can be used as the starting point for other images that include no more than is needed for specific purposes.
  2. This also means that Squeak can replace Java, at least in principle.

Here is a link:  http://netjam.org/relief  that demonstrates it (in MS Internet Explorer on Windows). It worked unproblematically on my Windows XP system.

Squeak Map

I have mentioned Squeak Map before and like to add here only that it works quite well in a 3.4 image #5169, which is the Squeak version I mostly use at present. (I have lots of images on my hard disk, but tend to work most with the latest images.)

What is it? A repository for downloadable code for Squeak. If you run a 3.4 image there is an option Package Loader in the World Menu which connects you to the repository if your computer is on line and then displays a list of packages with descriptions of their contents.

Honest Squeaking (and documentation)

Here are parts from two recent contributonsto the developers list. First, part of a message by Richard O'Keefe, who is - I believe - a somewhat elderly academic based in New Zealand:

*THIS* is the single biggest problem with Morphic and EToys: the steep
learning curve brought about by the truly dreadful state of documentation.

I have not a clear position on it but if I'm force to choose
I'll choose to work in the next paradigm shift.

If the next paradigm shift isn't any better documented than the last
one (Morphic, EToys) was, then BUGGER it.

I almost never swear.  I believe this is the first time I've ever used
a swear-word in e-mail.  But here I am, an enthusiastic Smalltalker, a
technophile, keen to play with things and to learn new ways to do things,
and very admiring of Morphic results that I have seen.  And I am just so

If only there was something like Brent Welch's Tcl/Tk book for Squeak,
*assuming* a basic knowledge of Smalltalk syntax and Collection classes,
explaining Morphic, EToys, Tiles...  A good How-To book with *all* the
information you need, right there in one place.  Something you can
actually get up to speed with, without having a veteran insider as your

I am getting a bit sick of this.
Scattered, disorganised, and out of date documentation
is, practically speaking, no documentation at all.
It is, at best, a sop to people's consciences.


The next time someone says "let's make a Swiki page to talk about
documentation" I'm going to vomit.

The reaction to this on the developers list was not too friendly, but then Alan Kay reacted as follows:

Hi Richard --

Well, I agree with pretty much everything you've said here -- this is why I don't complain about lack of adoption of these ideas -- if we don't document them so that others can use them, then we shouldn't be surprised at the rise of frustrations such as you describe. This has been a big problem even with the etoys which we have tried to document to some extent for http://www.squeakland.org.

I know you do appreciate that our Squeak work at Disney was a headlong rush of a small group to get a lot of things done and demoable to our sponsors. So we didn't have extra cycles to do documentation. Since Disney, we've been scratching along with our nonprofit Viewpoints Research Institute with a very reduced sponsorship, and we decided to take on a new research project to boot, which resulted in Croquet. This does have some documentation thanks to David A. Smith.

I've been trying to figure out a practical way to capture a lot of the "here's how you do x" in a form that others can use to make real documentation.
I've recently been really inspired by the Japanese response to the etoys stuff (and to new ideas in general). They have gotten very enthusiastic about the etoy approach and are starting to put it into schools in Japan. What they do is to attend talks that we give and use them as the basis for a really detailed summary of the ideas put forth. One example that really overwhelmed us is a website, mostly about the etoys stuff, done by Yamamoto-san (whom we haven't yet met) that has literally hundreds of webpages of documentation in Japanese and screen shots showing how to use etoys. This is so good and so extensive that we are in the process of translating the site to English in order to get this documentation!

The expansion of etoys has also led to a need for more project ideas at the Junior High and High School levels. And, as usual, we don't seem to have the time and energy to sit down and do the writing and layout that is needed.

So my thought is to try to imitate the Japanese process by doing demos, capturing them and distributing the rough video and transcripts on CDR's in the hope that someone who likes to document and is good at it (like Yamamoto-san) will take the content to a more usable level. I will start doing that in March and will encourage other Squeakers to do the same. Maybe this will help.

Perhaps it will, and I - for one - am curious about the translation of Yamamoto-san's webpages.

However, there remains one general difficulty that I see: In actual fact there are few people who have a deep understanding of coding in Squeak and they tend to use it to code and not to write documentation. And many of the explanations of aspects of Squeak I have read were written by people who did not have a deep understanding of coding in Squeak.

Maarten Maartensz
Feb 15, 2003



Mar 10 2003


Another book on Stéphane Ducasse's website

I mentioned Stéphane Ducasse's website above


which has a number of fine books in pdf to learn Smalltalk (and thus Squeak). He added recently another one: Practical Smalltalk, by Dan Shafer and Dean Ritz.

This is a download of some 12 MB, but well worth it - if you are already a bit familiar with Smalltalk or Squeak, and don't mind that Practical Smalltalk was written in 1991 for Smalltalk/V.

I don't mind for I am a bit familiar with Smalltalk and Squeak, and for me it turned out easy to convert the listed code to code that Squeak can run.

Documented Squeak

I am still working on Documented Squeak, and have now imported all class comments for
in the Helpsystem I made for comments.

and I am working on a neat image with introductions to Squeak and programming with Squeak. Several other people on the developers list have seen it and like it.

Since I am working in my free time and have invalidating illness I don't know when this will be fit for public release, but I hope to have a first version ready in 2 to 4 months.

Squeak News RIP

The latest news on Squeak News is from the squeak.org site. It says that Squeak News ceased to exist.

This is a pity, for it was a brave effort to do something about Squeak's lack of documentation.

Squeak 3.4 finished

As I have mentioned before, Squeak Central ceased coordinating the development of Squeak, which is now completely in the hands of the public. In practice and on the moment this means that a number of the developers from the Squeak developers list have been named Guides and have taken over from Squeak Central.

And so far this resulted in

  • a latest official release of Squeak, namely squeak3.4. This can now be downloaded and contains the fixes up to #5170
  • Squeak Map, which is a facility to download packages and projects from the internet

Let's say a little about the last item in conjunction with other things I have mentioned before in these notes on Squeak.

Squeak Map, Whisker Browser and Zurgle.

Squeak Map works tolerably well in a finished 3.4 image #5170 that I downloaded from the squeak.org site, but it has a few oddities and bugs, though perhaps part of this is due to my Windows XP.

I get to the internet with a 56Kb telephone modem on a Windows XP platform and it turns out that on this setup one may be waiting quite a while with larger downloads from Squeak Map without seeing much or anything. This seems mostly due to there being no progress indicators built in the downloadable files.

Another feature of Squeak Map that is a bit odd in my experience is that some but not all of the stuff I downloaded disappeared from the Package Loader - which makes sense when it gets installed directly, as I requested - but then the Package Loader seemed to loose count in that its left pane with downloadable items and right pane with descriptions got out of synch (the latter in fact displaying the previous item in the list on the former). This seems to be a bug.

What was pleasant to see is that the Whisker Browser can be downloaded and works unproblematically in 3.4 #5170. This is nice because it is a more pleasant browser to page through code.

Finally, Zurgle is an attempt by Jim Benson to provide Squeak with an interface that looks much more like Windows XP (in one of its themes) than does standard Squeak. This also includes a far more pleasant set of fonts. I have tried it before, but ran into a tedious bug and stopped using it.

The download into Squeak 3.4 #5170 still has the bug on my machine: After virtually anything I do in a Zurgle-image I get a walkback that triggers a walkback (ad infinitum, or at least a looooong time).


Maarten Maartensz
Mar 10, 2003



Mar 27 2003


And another book on Stéphane Ducasse's website

I mentioned Stéphane Ducasse's website above


which has a number of fine books in pdf to learn Smalltalk (and thus Squeak). He added recently another one: Objektorienterad programmering i Smalltalk, by Björn Eiderbäck, Per Hägglund and Olle Bälter. (In Swedish.)

This is a download of nearly 5 MB, but well worth it - if you are already a bit familiar with Smalltalk or Squeak, and don't mind that the book was written in 1995, and if you read Swedish (which I do).

Squeak News not RIP?

The very latest news on Squeak News is from the developers' list where it was claimed Squeak News will be resurrected.

Whether this is true remains to be seen. My own view is that at present Squeak News is not commercially viable but well worth preserving and resurrecting, since it offered excellent documentation and examples of Squeak, and that it will be commercially viable if Squeak gets more popular and taught in more universities.

The developers' list

One problem with the developers' list is that many feel called to write reams of e-mail about matters they aren't really well-informed about. A recent (and not so recent) example are the legal problems with the Squeak-license in the U.S. - but like to pretend they are. Unfortunately, all this interest of non-legal people in legal issues in countries they don't live in produces extra-ordinarily little result (other than confusion and reams of mail).

Thus, there is a Dutchman active on the list - Cees de Groot - who by now must have produced the equivalent of a (purportedly) serious treatise concerning the Squeak license, interspersed with his opinions to the effect that his "friends in Libya and Iraq" should also be able to get Squeak, and that he - Cees de Groot - lives in the freest country in the world, for which reason he apparently feels free to write endlessly on legal issues in the U.S. he doesn't know anything about and in spite of legally qualified U.S.-citizens and people far closer to Squeak than he is - such as Alan Greenberg and Alan Kay - asking him politely to stop. But Cees, a typical case of your average Dutch cloggie, chatters boldly on.

It would be nice if the developers' list tried to limit itself to developing Squeak.

Maarten Maartensz
Mar 27, 2003



May 13 2003


Squeak by itself: SM, MCP, KCP and some other efforts to improve Squeak

Squeak is now standing all on its own and works without Squeak Central. This means it is being developed by individuals from allover the globe working in their own leisure time. although quite a few of these individuals either work in the computer-industry or in a university.

The change is recent, and still produces a lot of mail on the developers list (which is the only one I follow), since nobody seems quite clear about where Squeak is headed and since there are in fact about as many points of view as individuals participating in the discussion. I say a little about it below, and now mention a few interesting results of Squeak-by-itself.

First, there is Squeak 3.5: The latest version, that looks a lot like the previous ones produced by Squeak Central, but was produced without it. The one I run at present is updated to #5580.

Second, there is Squeak Map or SM. This is the first major effort of Squeak-by-itself and is a code-repository from which one can download code for Squeak by Squeak. It works quite well and on the moment holds some 220 packages of many kinds and sizes. It will be very probably a part of release 3.6, which makes it easier for newbies. (Now one has to load it first from the server to start using it.)

Third and fourth, there are the Morpic Cleaning Project or MCP (see: http://minnow.cc.gatech.edu/squeak/3205) and the Kernel Cleaning Project or KCP (see: http://minnow.cc.gatech.edu/squeak/3083).

These are efforts by a number of seasoned developers who try to clean up the categories Morphic and Kernel, which indeed do include a lot of loose ends that have accumulated there over the years. This is fairly difficult - or at least needs more experience with Squeak code than I have - and is a work in progress. It will lead to better code, and also remove code that's fairly to very useless.

Fifth, there are Diego Gomez Deck's look-enhancements - SystemWindowEnh - which improve the looks of Squeak and especially of the world menu. This is nice. It can be found on Squeak Map.

Sixth: What also helps a lot to improve the look of Squeak are better fonts. There are several efforts for this, and what sofar worked the best for me was a package of Ian Piumarta called x11fonts. This adds Helvetica, Courier and some others and gives Squeak a slicker and better appearance. All one needs to do for this is find it on Squeak Map, download it, and install it, and it works.

There are some other packages for better fonts, but they require more work and may  not work all that well. There is an effort to have better fonts on Windows (which is what I use to run Squeak) which I will soon try out.

Anthony Hannah's new compiler

Anthony Hannah spend some two years to rewrite Squeak's compiler so that it can do full block closures. This will probably enter Squeak 3.6 or 3.7. Meanwhile, he is using his improved understanding to build something on Squeak he calls Squid that develops some new possible directions.

Steve Wessels' tutorial

There is a strong tendency on the developers' list to refer newbies and everybody else "to the Swiki" (see the above links to MCP and KCP on the Swiki) "for more information".

The problem with this (for me, at least) is that I use a telephone modem from outside the US, which means I have to pay for everything I look at (from a very small income) while there is a large amount of fairly to very useless stuff on the Swiki, since everybody can use it to write something on it, and many use it to write only their names and nothing else, or only "Boolean" or some such thing. Also, much of the information is years old and much of it is written by people who are new to Squeak or to programming.

So it's hard to find good tutorials - and I am glad I found one, indeed by way of the Swiki, although it is not part of it. It is by Stephan Wessels and here is the link to the first file:


If you are (fairly) new to Squeak this will help you a lot, for it is well-written, with lots of illustrations, and deals with a lot of important basics.

He also wrote quite a few enhancements for Squeak, which are listed here:


and can be downloaded from his site. (There are e.g. a better filelist for browsing images and quite considerable look enhancements imported from the Linux world.)

There is one small warning about Steve's look-enhancements: I filed in Diego Gomez Deck's look-enhancements mentioned above, and on top of this filed in some of Steve Wessels dittos - which undid the nice graphics in the new world menu Diego designed.

This leads to a useful tip: Test out new code in a fresh image, and don't pile it up in an image you are using that has other important information, for it may either crash that image or clash with code in that image. (Indeed, if you like the new code, you can improve it and file it out again to file it into other images. And if you don't know how to do this the abovementioned tutotial by Steve Wessels will explain it.)

Squeak's growing pains

As I mentioned above, Squeak stands completely on its own these days - there is no Squeak Central and no Apple or Disney in the background. Squeak's further development therefore completely depends on the efforts of private individuals.

This is a good thing for open source development, but the last month or so there has been a lot of discussion on the developers list about the direction Squeak should take and about who should do what.

Part of the problem is that Squeak Central had a vision - indeed, the vision that inspired and created Smalltalk - whereas the persons who took over from Squeak Central and who call themselves Guides have so far not articulated a vision that appeals to everyone "in the Squeak community", as the phrase goed (see below), and this lead to a lot of discussion on the developers' list.

My own point of view is that these discussions are fairly useless, because what needs doing is to develop Squeak; document it properly; and get it adopted in many more universities than it is - and this last end requires a well-developed and properly documented Squeak.

The Squeak Community

Let me say something about the Squeak community - which is a phrase I like to write with scare-quotes, because I personally don't much believe in internet-communities: I want to see people in the flesh and talk to them spontaneously before I make communities with them. Also, I have problems with "the", especially when some person I never met mails me with great apparant confidence that "the" "Squeak community" "does not want" ....

However, there is no Squeak without lots of people collaborating by means of the internet, and I may have more skepticism about communities and the (ab)use of language than most. So let me outline what this Squeak community really is at present:

  • 25 to 50 persons spending daily some hours on Squeak and writing to the developers list
  • around 1000 persons receiving the developers list (which clocks in at 50 to 150 messages a day)
  • between 25.000 and 50.000 persons who used or use Squeak at some point, for some end

The numbers I list were also recently given by Ingalls and Kay, and the first two entries are easily checked.

More on my own documentation for Squeak

If you read more of my site you know I have a rather unpleasant disease. It doesn't kill, but it makes one feel tired and muscle-ached all or most of the time. I had some more trouble with this lately, so I have not progressed much with my own documentation efforts, although at present I am converting all I have to Squeak 3.5 and New York 15 point font. If I have done this I will put it on the Squeak Map, so others may have a look at it.

Maarten Maartensz
May 13, 2003



May 22 2003


Tinker in Squeak

I know of Squeak now for almost 2 years and have done some basic simple programming in it, but not much, in part because Squeak has a bad documentation which makes it hard to learn; in part because such documentation as there is I find often very difficult to read (it being animistic and metaphorical at precisely those points it shouldn't); in part because so much of Squeak interdepends so much with other parts; in part because I don't like the Standard Explanations of Squeak and Smalltalk; and in part because programming in it is rather different from the other styles of programming I know.

There are more reasons I have not progressed much beyond simple programming (such as my bad health) and indeed most newbies find it difficult to get to grips with programming in Squeak.

But now I am busy with redoing something I call "Tinker" in Squeak. This is something I did formerly in Prolog and allows the doing of a kind of free and general logic on databases of strings.

This is not trivial (apart from the fact that it is mostly limited to manipulations with strings and textfiles, which does simplify matters) and it is a good way for me to learn more about programming in Squeak, since this is a non-trivial program I did - a long time ago - in another language.

I expect to have this soon working in Squeak, which will be pleasant and convenient for my own research concerning logic and reasoning with the help of a computer. Also, when it does work it will be better than what I had in Prolog, because anything that works in a Squeak Environment has all the added possibilities of Squeak.

All I can say at present is that this is progressing fairly well, and I can confirm two points others also found

  • I need far fewer lines of code in Squeak than in Prolog for the same sorts of results
  • it remains more pleasant to program in Squeak because one has more possibilities to do things and has more tools

The main problems I found are listed in the initial paragraph of this note.

Maarten Maartensz
May 22, 2003



May 30 2003


Announcing Squeak Help

Finally I found the right format for a decent helpsystem for Squeak that I call Squeak Help. It is written html that can be browsed by Squeak's html-browser (that's called Scamper), which means that any Squeak code in it can be run inside Squeak when Squeak Help is browsed inside Squeak.

It is in the process of being uploaded, and the beginning - the first part of the first part -  is here: Squeak Help. It will at least take another week for me to get a first decent version uploaded but the interested can take a peep now.

Maarten Maartensz
May 30, 2003



June 1, 2003


Very good explanatation of Squeak's syntax

The best explanation of the syntax of Squeak (the programming language) that I have read so far is here:

  • http://www.iam.unibe.ch/~ducasse/Web/Books/Syntax.pdf

It is by Stéphane Ducasse, on the same website where you can find - at present - 10 books in pdf format about Smalltalk and Squeak, including Mark Guzdial's latest books on Squeak. All it will cost you is the time and trouble of downloading and reading them.

The listed Syntax.pdf file is a chapter in a forthcoming book by Stéphane.

One of the books on this site I liked is, somewhat unfortunately for those who don't read Swedish:

  • Objektorienterad programmering i Smalltalk

If you read Swedish, you get a fine no-nonsense explanation.


Maarten Maartensz
June 1, 2003



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