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(506) 2223-1327                       Published Friday, June 1, 2012, in Vol. 12, No. 109                           Email us
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When appliances fail, expats lose bargaining power
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expats are highly vulnerable when a product fails, be it an automobile, a refrigerator or a television  set.

The quickest way to get a bad deal would be to call at random from the telephone directory or from one of those pieces of paper someone jammed into the mailbox or porton.

Certainly there is an expat tax when a repair person must be called. There is no secret that First World foreigners pay more. Most would be happy if the device worked well again.

In every case recommendations of Costa Rican friends are vital. If the problem is with an automobile, having the friend drive it to a repair shop avoids the problem of faulty Spanish and the Gringo tax.

That's not easy to do when the problem is a refrigerator, a washer or dryer. These are not easily portable.

The first problem in calling repairmen to the home is the uncertainty that they will actually show up in the general vicinity of the agreed time. Or the agreed week.

Clearly, expats have to establish the ground rules beforehand. How much and how long?

Several Central Valley repairmen routinely charge expats 50,000 colons or about $100 for a house call. Repair parts are extra. Even some of their colleagues wince at that price. A fair rate, one repairman told a reporter is from 15,000 to 20,000 colons, and perhaps a bit more if there is a lot of time or labor involved or a long distance to travel.

At least in the Central Valley there are shops that carry a wide variety of repair parts, and the tecnico, as they are called, should not charge extra for dashing out to obtain a part. Nor should there be money paid up front for repair parts. Paying up front is a good way to guarantee that the workman never will return. They will be down at the cantina laughing about the foolish Gringo or Gringa.

Repair parts can be expensive, particularly if the refrigerator or washer is one of the new digital types. A single computer board may cost 100,000 colons or $200 at the sources. Some devices have a handful of such boards. When a digital microwave fails, the cheapest action might be to buy a new one.

The good news is that some of these devices can tell the repairman what is wrong if the tecnico is
repariman


sufficiently schooled in the necessary skills. Similar to computers, the device can give an error message on a repairman's hand-held device.

Personal recommendations are vital to avoid the possibility of inviting a crook into the home. And the recommendation is only as good as the person making it. Some robbers pose as repair people simply to gain access.

Once the job is finished, the expat has to check out the device to make sure it is operating well. Guarantees are only as good as the workman, and none wants to return to do a free second repair job. So once the tecnico leaves, there is not much recourse.

In additionn to personal recommendations, the Web site quienpagamande.com can give guidance on some topics. For example a recent posting recounted the trials of an automobile owner whose vehicle was sequestered for eight months in a repair shop.

The site is operated by Hazel Feigenblatt, who was an award-winning reporter with La Nación. She is in the United States, but the site concentrates on failures in Costa Rican customer service. There is not a lot of information on home appliance repairs, however. The name of the site loosely translates to "he who pays rules."

Ms. Feigenblatt's location is important because libel and slander laws in the United States give broad protection to commentaries on criticism of products and services. Many of the comments would generate court cases in Costa Rica. She also has a Facebook page.

The United States also is home to many consumer friendly television and radio shows, too.

Ms. Feigenblatt has her own list of shame, led by Citibank with 84 negative votes and Amnet with 38.


Judicial statistics show a 10 percent drop in murders
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There were fewer murders in Costa Rica in 2011 than in the year before, in part because there were fewer arranged hits.

The Poder Judicial's Sección de Estadística said that there were 474 murders last year, a reduction of 53 or 10 percent from the year before when there were 527.

There were 40 cases in 2010 that investigators characterized as murders for hire. In 2011 there were 17.

The nation's overall murder rate in 2011 was 10.3 per every 100,000 of inhabitants. That is down from 11.5 in 2010. However, there was a wide range of local rates. In the Province of Limón, for example, the murder rate in 2011 was 24.6 for every 100,000 inhabitants. The province saw 111 murders, including 24 in the canton of Pococí alone.

The province of San José with its higher population led the list with 171 murders, but the Poder Judicial reported significant decreases in the troubled, low-income communities of Los Cuadros, where murders declined from 19 to nine,  La Carpio where there were nine murders in 2010 and just four in 2011, León XIII where murders went from 11 to two and Guararí where the number went from nine
to three.  Tejarcillos de Alajuelita showed an increase of three from six to nine.

This is only the second time this century when the number of murders declined. In 2004 the number dropped to 290 from the 300 of the previous year, according to the statistical report.

Based on the statistical report, murders have increased in the country some 69.3 percent during the seven years since 2004.

The report said that 99 persons died in 2011 as the result of robberies. That was 16 fewer than the year before. Eight persons died because a robber wanted their cell telephone, according to the data.

Investigators attributed 51 murders to disputes among members of drug gangs. Some 154 persons, 14 fewer than in 2010, died because they were involved in some illegal activity, said the report.

Law officers killed 42 in various situations in which individuals resisted authorities, the report said.

The majority of those killed, 378, were Costa Ricans, followed by Nicaraguans (55) and Colombians (14).

The report said that 300 of the deaths came from firearms, mainly handguns. Knives killed 91 persons.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 1, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 109
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Costa Rica Expertise

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Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


Residency experts

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Do you need a Land Surveyor?
Call Rene Sanchez, Cadastral maps of subdivisions, contours, etc.  More than 30 years of experience. Licensed by the Engineering Bar Association of Costa Rica (CFIA), E-mail ojoche01@yahoo.com
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Todotico
Screen shot of new device

Tourism chamber launches
mobile device application


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Cámera Nacional de Turismo has launched a mobile operating system that is designed to connect users to various members of the chamber that offer services to tourists.

The application is called Toditico, and it runs on Android and Apple systems.

Some 40 firms are offering promotions via the free device, the chamber said.

The application appears to be a way for the tourism chamber to supplement its Web site, which is listed at 651,438th in the world by Alexa, the Amazon company that tracks Web usage. The Web page, which carries ads by chamber members, ranks 960th in Costa Rica. Nearly half the visitors to the page get there by searching canatur, which is the acronym for the chamber. These probably are not tourists.
Http://www.alexa.com

By contrast a Web site for El Diario Extra, the popular Spanish language newspaper, is listed at 41,701st in the world and 37th in Costa Rica.

The new application is available at Google Play and Apple Store, the chamber said.

Quakes hit along Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two quakes estimated at 3.7 magnitude took place today, Friday, along the Pacific coast.

The Laboratorio de Ingenieria Sismica at the Universidad de Costa Rica said the first  took place at 9:45 a.m. about six kilometers north northeast of Damas, Quepos, Aguirre, on the central Pacific coast. The quake was felt in all the way to San Pedro, the agency said. The estimate placed the epicenter just a few miles inland.
 
Just a minute after 1 p.m., the Laboratorio said a quake took place east southeast of Montezuma on the tip of the Nicoya peninsula. The estimate puts the epicenter at the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya, a location of frequent seismic activity. The quake was felt strongest on the tip of the peninsula, the Laboratorio said.


 
Find out what the papers
said today in Spanish


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here is the section where you can scan short summaries from the Spanish-language press. If you want to know more, just click on a link and you will see and longer summary and have the opportunity to read the entire news story on the page of the Spanish-language newspaper but translated into English.

Translations may be a bit rough, but software is improving every day.

When you see the Summary in English of news stories not covered today by A.M. Costa Rica, you will have a chance to comment.

This is a new service of A.M. Costa Rica called Costa Rica Report. Editor is Daniel Woodall, and you can contact him HERE!
From the Costa Rican press
News items posted Monday through Friday by 8 a.m.
Click a story for the summary













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Jacó will see a Las Vegas-style pagent Saturday afternoon
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those who enjoy beauty pageants can visit the Most Beautiful Latina Central American Finals at the Hotel Cocal Beach Resort and Casino in Jacó Saturday.

The event runs from 2 to 4 p.m. and is open to the public. 

Organizers noted that the winner Saturday will participate in finals in Las Vegas Oct. 4 to 7. Two Costa Rican beauties have won the title in the past. They are Angie Quesada, who won in 2009, and Kimberly Chaves, who did so in 2010.

Some 26 models from 18 Latin countries participated in the event last year.

Participants in the Costa Rican semi-final have been involved in events all week in San José.

There are money prizes for those who place in Las Vegas as well as a number of items and prizes presented by sponsors.
beauty pageant
Participants wear distinctive costumes.


Tip leads to discovery of about $1 million in cash
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers received a tip Thursday that allowed them to detain three persons and discover what may be as much as $1 million in cash in a cabin in Colorado de Abangares in Guanacaste.

Officers said that they were told about the money via an anonymous telephone tip. They kept an eye on the dwelling until a Mexican man, his Costa Rican girlfriends and another
person left to travel by vehicle. Police stopped the vehicle nearby and detained the three, they said.

A subsequent search of the cabin revealed a safe in a closet. Within the safe was a briefcase containing stacks of bills, said the Fuerza Pública.

Officers clearly know more than they have told reporters. They said the investigation was one of money laundering and was being handled by the Judicial Investigating Organization.


A conversation with someone who was very close
In August 1993, I was sharing a large three-bedroom apartment in Barrio Dent.  I wrote to my brother Mike in response to our telephone conversation.  We were five years and one day apart, but I felt as if we were twins in our thinking and doing.  Like me, he was something of a maverick.

You said. “If you don’t like what you’re doing, stop doing it.”  Good advice. Maybe it brought me to my senses.  That’s an interesting phrase. Perhaps when you are in touch with your senses you’re experiencing life on the most elemental, be here now level, aware of what you see, hear, taste, smell, and touch (note, I didn’t include think). Maybe that’s the way to go.

I went downtown, planning to have a snack and then to the movies.  I wanted to see a new Steve Martin film that my roommate, Meredith, didn’t like, although she likes Steve Martin.  I am not fond of Steve Martin.  Just as former roommate Ann and I were so alike in our habits and likes, Meredith and I are almost exact opposites, so I figured I’d like the movie.  I forgot that on weekends the theaters change their films to something suitable for children, and the lines were long with mom and dad and the kids. 

The center of town is just a 20 minute walk, and I enjoy it because I do some of my best thinking then (obviously, I am not entirely into my senses.) I love naïf or primitive paintings.  I like the genre in general, but it is those brightly colored tiny sometimes faceless people with animals, buildings, whatever, that I think of in Costa Rica.   It occurred to me that the artists have to paint them tiny and simply to convey what they are depicting – lots of humanity interacting with each other and their environment.  And I wondered if most of this naïf art comes from Third World countries. 

This thought came as I entered the Plaza de la Cultura next to the Teatro Nacional, and saw dozens of people selling their wares of handmade and other stuff to hundreds of other people who were eating and laughing with their children throwing seeds and chasing the pigeons, and generally making a naïf spectacle of themselves, one I wish I could paint.  Did you visit the Plaza de la Cultura when you were here?

I used to shop in the Mercado Central more often but going into town during the week is not as much fun as it was.  The area around the market is dirty and noisy, and certainly crowded, but I enjoy the vitality of the people and the energy and good will they project.  I live just a few blocks from an AutoMercado and a fish market, so I’m getting lazy.  Fish and seafood are expensive because they have begun to export it. The cheapest fish you can get is mako or shark, which I happen to like.  When I lived in New York City I found more beautiful, delicious fruits and vegetables than I had ever seen in California or Florida, which is where they came from.  I am afraid that is going to happen here. 
Butterfly in the City
 
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@amcostarica.com

Jo Stuart
obituary

Recently I have been reading my old journals with the idea of making a story out of some of them.  People who have written memoirs have said that the most valuable part was getting to know oneself.  They don’t mention how painful it is to learn how petty, silly, callous or pitiful we can be.  Anyone who has written an honest memoir must emerge with great humility. 

Then I thought about that man, remember, the clothing factory owner, who was kidnapped and kept in a hole in the ground for 12 days and who ‘wrote’ his autobiography in order to stay sane?  I knew he didn’t just think about his life, he was mentally composing it and writing it down, punctuating it.  Can you imagine the experience of going over your whole life in detail, knowing that the accumulation of all that you have done or been is ending up in a hole in the ground?  What am I saying?  He was rescued. 

That man was a hero, just as you were heroic when you got yourself out of freezing water and back on your boat with a broken shoulder.  You said you weren’t a hero, just a survivor.  To my mind, a hero is someone who has survived something others can’t imagine overcoming  But then, we don’t know, do we, what challenge will be more than we can survive, until we are faced with it?

My brother faced that challenge 10 years ago, and I miss him.

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A.M. Costa Rica's Fourth News page
San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 1, 2012, Vol. 12, No. 109
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Forecast says that Sunday will see better weather all over
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

June is the month with the heaviest rainfall in the first half of the country's wet season. But those who can hold on will see the Veranillo de San Juan around June 23, said weather forecasters.

The veranillo is a return to drier conditions. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional noted that winds from the north are weakening now, and humidity is pouring into the country from the Pacific every day. That is why there are late morning and afternoon thunderstorms.

Late in this month, the winds will get stronger, and rainfall will diminish, said the weather experts.

The weekend forecast contains more of the same. Hot humid mornings setting the stage for afternoon storms.
The bulk of the rain will be on the Pacific coast, in the Central Valley and on the Caribbean and northern zone mountains.

The weekend forecast holds out hope for a reduction in the rain for Sunday all over the country.

The rain already took its toll on the nation's highway system. Ruta 142 that connects La Unión and Quebrada Flores suffered a washout Wednesday night. A slug of water took out the roadway and water lines. This is the highway that goes along Lake Arenal and crosses the dam to the community of Arenal. The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad said crews were working on what it called an important tourist route.

The weather forecast noted that the Atlantic hurricane season begins officially today. So far both the Atlantic and Pacific were clear of storms, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center.


U.N. chief calls on work to fight tobacco company attacks
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Top United Nations officials Thursday called on governments to resist the increasingly aggressive steps taken by the tobacco industry to undermine efforts to diminish use of the substance, which kills almost six million people every year. 

“The interests of the tobacco industry and of public health are directly opposed,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his World No Tobacco Day release. The day is observed annually on May 31.

“While governments and the international health community try to implement effective measures to contain tobacco use and protect the health of people, their efforts are being aggressively opposed by an industry whose products kill people,” he added.    

The World Health Organization’s theme for this year’s World No Tobacco Day is tobacco industry interference. It focuses on the need to expose and counter what it calls the tobacco industry's brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine global tobacco control efforts.    

In his message for the Day, the U.N. chief noted that tobacco takes a pervasive, heavy toll, hindering development and worsening poverty: “Tobacco and poverty create a vicious circle since it is the poor who smoke most and bear the brunt of the economic and disease burden of tobacco use,”  he said.

He added that money spent on tobacco cannot be used to pay for food, education and health care. And tobacco use is
growing fastest in low-income countries that are least equipped to deal with its consequences.     

“Tobacco control is essential to achieving our global development goals,” he said. “If we do not step up our efforts to control it, tobacco could kill up to one billion people this century.”     

Among the tools the world has at its disposal to fight tobacco use and protect public health is the World Health Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. With 175 signers, it became one of the most rapidly embraced treaties in U.N. history after it entered into force in 2005.     

“I urge all governments and civil society to prevent the tobacco industry from derailing the implementation of the Framework Convention,” the secretary general said. “Let us resist the industry’s attacks and pursue our vision of a tobacco-free world.”    

According to WHO, more countries are moving to meet their obligations under the Framework Convention, with governments working to create 100 per cent smoke-free, enclosed work and public places, to inform the public of tobacco harms through large and strong pictorial warning on tobacco packages and to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.     

Meanwhile, the tobacco industry is working to undermine the treaty, including taking governments to court, the U.N. health agency noted. Currently, the Governments of Australia, Norway and Uruguay are battling tobacco industry law suits in tehir national courts.



Readers invited to express their political views
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

This is another presidential election year in the United States, and plenty of expats here have opinions on who should win.

The choice is between the incumbent, Barack Obama, and the Republican hopeful Mitt Romney, although a reader wrote Wednesday to say that Ron Paul still has a chance. There also is Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

The main force behind the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is political speech. Readers are encouraged to express their views, tightly and clearly. A.M. Costa Rica is not a discussion list, so readers have just one chance to express themselves on this topic.

Discussion is good. Personal attacks are bad. Readers should try to focus on facts to support their argument.

The election is Nov.6, but most expats here will have filed their absentee ballots long before that date. So A.M. Costa Rica will cut off discussion of the candidates and their positions Oct. 15.

Shortly thereafter, this newspaper will publish its opinion and endorsement.

This is the same rule that applied in 2008, but 
elections


some readers, miffed at the newspaper endorsement, became enraged when told their letters would not be published.

So if readers have something to say on the presidential or congressional elections, they should say it before Oct. 15.

Of course if someone wishes to insert political advertising promoting one candidate or another, the newspaper will happily accept money at the printed rates. The ad must contain a line of type saying who paid for the message.

This message will be repeated as the election draws near.


Expats have many options to register to vote Nov. 6
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. expats have plenty of time to register to vote in the Nov. 6 federal election. They have a right to do so no matter how long they have lived overseas.

Several organizations exist to help expats register and obtain their absentee ballot. Probably the best known is the non-profit Overseas Vote Foundation that also operates Youth Vote Overseas mostly for U.S. students in foreign countries and several other initiatives. The Arlington,Virginia, based organization is non-partisan.

The Democratic National Committee also has a program to help overseas voters, be they expats or military. It is Vote from Abroad.
The U.S. government has the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

All have set ups so that expats and others eligible to vote can register at their designated state and submit requests for ballots. Some states allow online registration and online ballot requests.

In some states, the primary election already has passed. In others, there still is time to vote in the party primaries. Every site appears to have detailed information to answer any questions expats may have.

Local organizations affiliated with the U.S. political parties also have staged voter registrations in the past and will likely do so again this year.


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Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Flame virus report sparks
some expert skepticism


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Flame computer virus unleashed in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries is being described as unusually large and powerful. Some experts, though, are questioning the seriousness of the threat.

A Russian-based computer security firm, Kaspersky Lab, found that the Flame virus could record keystrokes, capture screenshots, and record conversations using microphones built into computers.

The greater part of the infected computers were in Iran.
 
"We think that this is one of the rare examples of cyber weapon, and it actually illustrates the fact that there are some cyber warfare operations going on there secretly," said Vitaly Kamluk, Kaspersky's chief malware expert.

Flame is much larger than the 2010 Stuxnet virus, which is believed to have shut down uranium enrichment facilities in Iran. As with that virus, suspicions now point to Israel and the United States. But no one has claimed responsibility, and the Iranian government said this week it has produced an antivirus program that stops Flame.

James Lewis, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the new virus was a collection of existing cyberespionage tools.

"What Flame was was somebody took a lot of existing techniques, and glued them all together, which are kind of fun. But none of this is what you call cutting edge stuff," said Lewis.

Kaspersky's investigation was commissioned by the International Telecommunications Union. Russia wants the U.N. agency to extend its regulatory authority to the Internet.

And Lewis suspects the Moscow-based company is helping in that effort.

"Kaspersky entered into an agreement with the ITU, first to do some sort of global cybersecurity project, and second the ITU asked Kaspersky to look for malware in the Middle East, and that's how they found Flame. Boy, that's a strange set of coincidences when you line them up," he said.

The ITU's 193 members will meet later this year in Dubai. And viruses like Flame will surely be part of the debate over how the Internet should be governed.


New York's Bloomberg seeks
ban on large, sugary drinks


By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in an effort to fight the city's rising obesity rate.

Bloomberg's proposal would be the first of its kind in the United States. Restaurants, delicatessens, movie theaters, sports venues, and mobile food carts would be barred from selling sweetened beverages in containers larger than 473 milliliters, including energy drinks and iced tea. Diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks and alcoholic beverages would be exempt from the ban. The amount is just short of 16 ounces.

New York City's Board of Health has to approve the measure. All of its members have all been appointed by Bloomberg.

A spokesman for the New York City Beverage Association criticized Bloomberg's proposals as over the top and zealous, and called on health officials to seek solutions that would actually curb obesity.

Bloomberg has taken a number of public health initiatives during his time as mayor, including a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, which has served as template for similar laws across the United States. He has also launched a campaign to eliminate unhealthy fatty ingredients from restaurant dishes and a law requiring that franchise restaurants list the calorie counts on their menus.

In the past, Bloomberg has tried unsuccessfully to curb New Yorkers' appetite for sodas and other sugar-laden drinks. His push for a higher state sales tax on soda failed in the New York state legislature. The federal government turned down his idea to restrict the use of food stamps to buy sodas.

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Space X
SpaceX photo
The SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle floats in the Pacific Ocean after splashdown.

Dragon capsule back home
after space station hookup

By the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
news staff

SpaceX completed a landmark mission Thursday that saw its Dragon capsule deliver half-a-ton of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station and return safely to Earth.

The flight made history as the first privately built spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station. Its true impact is expected to be seen in coming months as the company sends regular re-supply missions to the orbiting outpost and continues work to launch astronauts into orbit in a few years.

"We are hoping to continue working with NASA and hopefully flying crew within three years," said Elon Musk, the founder, CEO and chief designer for the Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX. "This was a crucial step and makes the chances of becoming a multi planet species more likely."

NASA engineers worked closely with SpaceX throughout preparations for the uncrewed demonstration mission.

"As a country, we should be very proud," said Mike Suffredini, NASA International Space Station program manager. We took a capability that this agency has nurtured over many years, combined that with a different thought process in spacecraft design and created a team that worked very well. The SpaceX team learned a lot and so did our NASA engineers."

SpaceX launched the Dragon capsule on top of the company's Falcon 9 rocket May 22 to begin the chase of the space station.

Astronaut Don Pettit guided the historic link-up a week ago when he reached the station's 32-foot-long robotic arm, Canadarm 2, out to the Dragon as it hovered near the station.

Reversing the process a few days later, Pettit pulled Dragon away from its port on May 31 and released it to fly on its own again. As planned, the Dragon fired its thrusters to move away from the station's vicinity. Dragon released the trunk and its solar arrays before turning its heat shield toward Earth for the fiery plunge through the atmosphere.

Descending under a canopy of parachutes, the Dragon splashed down hundreds of miles west of Baja California to be recovered by ships and taken to port.








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