Pharyngula

Who counted them? And how?

Sean notes without comment a piece on how Muslims should find Mecca when traveling in space. I am in awe of the mind that could write this.

A user-friendly, portable Muslims in Space calculator , could determine the direction of the Qiblah and prayer times on the ISS. Its essential feature would be the use of the Projected Earth and Qiblah Pole concepts. These are based on the interpretation of the holy house of angels in the sky above Mecca. The place is always rich with angels worshipping. As many as 70,000 angels circumambulate it every day. Thus, one virtual Qiblah pole can be taken as a universal reference to determine the direction of the Qiblah. When Earth is projected to the height of the ISS, every point on its surface is projected also, including the Qiblah point, which can be projected upwards and downwards along the Qiblah Pole. This allows the direction of the Qiblah to be determined in space and in the bowels of the Earth.

It’s got space stations and angels all muddled up in one paragraph. Can we get the ISS to fly directly above Mecca? Would we need to install windshield wipers on it if we did so, in order to clear off the angel splat?

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua
    November 29, 2006

    Maybe a big cowcatcher on the front or something to push the angel corpses out of the way. Wouldn’t want them slowing the ISS down, or it might fall out of orbit and crash on Mecca, and then where would we be?

  2. #2 Ginger Yellow
    November 29, 2006

    What a freaky coincidence. I stumbled upon a Pakistani media version of that story just yesterday when I was researching what Muslims in the Arctic circle do when Ramadan is in summer.

  3. #3 minimalist
    November 29, 2006

    MUSLIMS!

    IN!

    SPAAAAAAAAAAAACE!

    (surely I was not the only person to think of this)

  4. #4 craig
    November 29, 2006

    If the orbit is high enough, its easy. just pray down.

  5. #5 Mike
    November 29, 2006

    Since an orbit of the ISS takes about an hour an a half, would they have to spin as they pray? I don’t know how long a prayer is, but something like 10 minutes is 40 degrees of orbit, and depending exactly where you are, that translates to a lot of spinning. And spinning in microgravity I imagine is not easy to control. But it’s as worthwhile an experiment as anything they are doing there now.

  6. #6 George
    November 29, 2006

    (surely I was not the only person to think of this)

    Flying carpets. Ali Baba. Yup.

  7. #7 grumpy realist
    November 29, 2006

    Well, remember why astrolabes were originally developed. Doubt that this technology is as cool.

  8. #8 angel scientist
    November 29, 2006

    Silly, Angels don’t SPLAT, they BOUNCE! So there’s no need to worry about wiper blades.

  9. #9 Warren
    November 29, 2006

    I find it intensely ironic that they’re doing this so the devout can continue praying to a meteorite, which is what the Black Stone is.

    Yep. That’s all you’ll find inside the Kabbah. A fragment of meteorite. That’s Mohammed’s Holy Rock.

    Oh, but fortunately Muslims on the ISS will know in which direction to kowtow whenever it’s time to honor the bolide.

    Can a modern, world-spanning religion possibly get more bafflingly stupid than that?

  10. #10 George
    November 29, 2006

    Authority figure: “Hey you, kneel down on this carpet facing this rock and spout mumbo-jumbo five times a day.”

    Fool: “Duh… okay!”

  11. #11 commissarjs
    November 29, 2006

    What happens if they accidently pray towards Rome?!

  12. #12 Steve_C
    November 29, 2006

    In zero gravity how the hell do you kneel on a prayer mat?

    Do you velcro it to your knees and just float?

    And wouldn’t it be a waste of resources to have an astronaut doing no reasearch for hours a day because they have to pray? I guess it’s no different than a space tourist.

  13. #13 Nomen Nescio
    November 29, 2006

    commissarjs, presumably some muslims at any given time must be located on the extension of the Mecca-Rome line. maybe they take it to be a great circle, and just face the other direction, hoping to get their prayers to Mecca the long way around?

  14. #14 Tristram Shandy
    November 29, 2006

    Can a modern, world-spanning religion possibly get more bafflingly stupid than that?

    Surely a religion in which one kneels down before a representation of a torture instrument because it was the one on which their god died (but not quite) in order to save us all from the knock-on effects of two ancestors who never existed eating a magic fruit at the behest of a talking snake ranks right up there?

  15. #15 j.t.delaney
    November 29, 2006

    Can a modern, world-spanning religion possibly get more bafflingly stupid than that?

    Yes.

  16. #16 valhar2000
    November 29, 2006

    Surely a religion in which one kneels down before a representation of a torture instrument [...] ranks right up there?

    Oh, yes it does! It does!

    And when Muslim astronauts join the crew at the ISS they will wonder why ti is that their heathen coleagues get more work done AND have more free time…

  17. #17 Joshua
    November 29, 2006

    Can a modern, world-spanning religion possibly get more bafflingly stupid than that?

    Scientology.

  18. #18 decrepitoldfool
    November 29, 2006

    If the orbit is high enough, its easy. just pray down.

    Even on Earth you have to face Mecca, which in some places is “down”. I wonder what the maximum number of degrees of angular error is?

  19. #19 paleotn
    November 29, 2006

    Angels don’t go splat. They just pass right through, leaving nothing but a protoplasmic slim. Haven’t you folks ever seen Ghostbusters?

  20. Swell. You weren’t content with the Christianists flocking to the blog to bash the heathen?

  21. #21 Steve_C
    November 29, 2006

    We don’t discriminate when we point out religious silliness.

  22. #22 James Orpin
    November 29, 2006

    “What happens if they accidently pray towards Rome?!”

    That wouldn’t be a worry. Praying towards Jerusalem might, since Mecca was chosen by God, as the prayer direction, to distinguish Muslims from Jews and Xians.

    How they are going to work out prayer times is a mind bender. Prayer times are calculated according to the position of the sun. So thats five prayers every orbit!

  23. #23 commissarjs
    November 29, 2006

    Nomen Nescio, that does make sense. But if they don’t I bet the Pope is stealing those prayers.

    Also if they are going to be so literal about pointing to Mecca properly… Technically if you are over the horizon from Mecca wouldn’t you be pointing your prayers out into space? Unless of course prayers are affected by gravity, but then you would likely have to pray kneeling on a ramp to get the best trajectory to land on Mecca. Plus you would need to know the speed and mass of prayers.

  24. #24 chet snicker
    November 29, 2006

    i call takfir upon you!

  25. #25 Tukla in Iowa
    November 29, 2006

    That’s so complicated. All the Christians need in order to pray is a closet.

  26. #26 khan
    November 29, 2006

    I have heard that the Koran specifically says the world is flat.

    Anyone know if this is true?

  27. #27 hal
    November 29, 2006

    What do they do if they are on earth, at exactly the diametric opposition to Mecca? Stand on their heads?

  28. #28 DrBadger
    November 29, 2006

    No, the world is not flat.

  29. #30 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 29, 2006

    Now that is a disturbing thought. The wing feathers stuck in the splat will make such a mess.

    On the other hand, the halos will help power the solar panels. Perhaps they should aim to get as many as possible. Surely there are enough angels to dance on any pin head – as we all know the stupidities of religious ideas are boundless.

  30. #31 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 29, 2006

    Now that is a disturbing thought. The wing feathers stuck in the splat will make such a mess.

    On the other hand, the halos will help power the solar panels. Perhaps they should aim to get as many as possible. Surely there are enough angels to dance on any pin head – as we all know the stupidities of religious ideas are boundless.

  31. #32 Anna in Portland (was Cairo)
    November 29, 2006

    Most Muslims I know take advantage of the prayer-combining that is allowed when you are traveling and pray in airports because praying on a plane is kind of ridiculous, difficult, and of course you will be totally in the way of people trying to go up and down the aisles. (Also, it looks really ostentatious.)

    However, the article seems to be (as a lot of Muslim articles on practical science are) mostly focused on the “we can use neat new technology to do this and it CAN be done” angle. That it is mixed up with the esoteric stuff about angels is just what makes these articles kinda fun to read. There was a really funny “scientific” study mentioned in a Pakistani physics journal several years ago that purported to discover through experimentation the exact nature of jinn (genies).

    Muslims tend to find scientific progress really interesting and fun. Although you can rightly mock the funny article, I still feel our religion at least does not FEAR science as some others do and does not usually say that science is false (for example there are some Muslims who are against evolution but most of us don’t find it incompatible with our faith).

  32. #33 craig
    November 29, 2006

    “Even on Earth you have to face Mecca, which in some places is “down”. I wonder what the maximum number of degrees of angular error is?”

    hey, remember that Google Earth thing where you can see where you would come out if you dug down?
    Someone could come up with a similar thing to tell you the exact angle to pray at.

    Anyone know google’s APIs?

  33. #34 Jon H
    November 29, 2006

    Does prayer travel in a coherent beam, or does it spread? And if it spreads, how much?

  34. #35 Dustin
    November 29, 2006

    I think it travels in a coherent beam, since a prayer that disperses quickly as it propagates wouldn’t have the following effect (from an interview with Mikey Weinberg):

    Last April or May, after Weinstein started making the news with his agitating, he says a woman called him up asking for Mickey Weinstein. She claimed she was from Colorado Springs and wanted to let him know that she was a member of an evangelical church, and that her pastor had authorized a round-the-clock prayer vigil to put an end to Mickey Weinstein. I said, “Ma’am, are you threatening me?’ I didn’t have the heart to tell her, “Actually ma’am, it’s Mikey Weinstein.’ So I figure some ophthalmologist in Kansas City or somewhere named Mickey Weinstein is getting all [messed] up [because of those prayers].

    See? Prayer attacks are so deadly that they have to be authorized before use.

  35. #36 Dustin
    November 29, 2006

    Mikey Weinstein, I mean. That wass a sign from Jesus that it’s time for another pot of coffee.

  36. #37 jba
    November 29, 2006

    Jon H:

    I think it depends on how devout you are.

  37. #38 George
    November 29, 2006

    51.48 “And the earth, We have made it a wide extent.”

    51.49 “And the Muslim religion, we have made of it a spawner of doofi who find enjoyment in circling a frigging rock.”

    51.50 “And the Circling a Frigging Rock, we have made of it an opportunity to trample to death your fellow human beings.”

  38. #39 Mohammed
    November 29, 2006

    Folks, this praying several times a day business is really unnecessary. I apologize on behalf of Allah if the wrong message was sent to anybody in the past.

  39. #40 Kristine
    November 29, 2006

    If the orbit is high enough, its easy. just pray down.

    But if you’re far enough out so that Jupiter or the sun eclipses the earth…

    I’ve actually thought of this–for my second novel which will never be published (like the first).

  40. #41 Christopher
    November 29, 2006

    Huh.

    So if you’re on the opposite side of the world from Mecca can you just pray in any direction, or do you really have to aim straight down at the ground?

    And if it’s the former how accurate do you have to be?

    In fact, how accurate do you have to be in general?

    Even though I know this isn’t the proper forum, I’m seriously asking.

  41. #42 Dale Stanbrough
    November 29, 2006


    I still feel our religion at least does not FEAR science as some others do and does not usually say that science is false (for example there are some Muslims who are against evolution but most of us don’t find it incompatible with our faith).

    I’ve found most (all?) of the Muslim people I talk to don’t believe in evolution at all, based on what the Koran says (along with a good helping from Harun Yahya and his American creationist literature plagiarism) For some this will change, and like most scientific discoveries, will be hailed as being written in the Koran all along.

    I’m waiting for them to tell me that “He (allah) created man from clay” is a reference to the abiogenesis hypothesis of self replicating molecules on clay surfaces.

  42. #43 Anna in Portland (was Cairo)
    November 29, 2006

    Well, I lived overseas and am frankly not that familiar with US Muslims. So I may be totally out of touch with the community here on this issue. But I watched this issue in Egypt and evolution is actually taught in biology there (though not until 8th or 9th grade – which I guess may be similar to here). Without any silliness.

    As for the “man made out of clay” problem in the Quran there are other verses saying “man came from a drop” and it is in fact common in Islamic Quran exigesis to give these verses an allegorical or metaphorical meaning rather than a literal one.

    For the person who asked about the mechanics of prayer (seriously!) it seems funny to answer these questions on PG’s forum, but here goes:
    Huh.

    So if you’re on the opposite side of the world from Mecca can you just pray in any direction, or do you really have to aim straight down at the ground?

    I believe you can probably pray in any direction. But if you are one inch south or north or east or west of the exact opposite of Mecca you’d have a direction to pray in given that you are supposed to take the shortest distance. We use the surface of earth only for our measurements so no one would not aim straight down into the ground (which is impossible due to the nature of how we face when we pray – how could you go from standing to kneeling to prostrating if you were already lying on the ground?).

    And if it’s the former how accurate do you have to be?

    You can make an educated guess based on where the sun is or what direction the street is in. But you get more credit upstairs if you make more effort to be accurate. Some people now have automatic prayer direction thingies in their mobile phones. There is a website called “Islamic finder” that gives you directions based on the city you’re in. And you can also call a local mosque for directions.

    In fact, how accurate do you have to be in general?

    See above. However I have read that if you make a guess because you for example just got to a hotel and don’t have access to other means of information and later found out you were completely wrong, the prayer will still count becauseo f your intentions. After all we are praying facing Mecca but we are not praying to the city, or to the rock/meteorite/whatever you want to call the Black Stone, we are praying to God.

    Even though I know this isn’t the proper forum, I’m seriously asking.

    And I apologize for this digression into religious belief on an atheist forum.

  43. #44 Anna in Portland (was Cairo)
    November 29, 2006

    Re the Quran saying the earth is flat, as far as I know it does not say this exactly in those terms. There was a Saudi mufti who said the earth is flat. He was extremely ignorant of modern science and is mocked by lots of people for this fatwa. He is dead now. His name was Shaikh Bin Baz.

  44. #45 Nomen Nescio
    November 29, 2006

    by those standards, i suppose devout muslims won’t have any very serious difficulties until we open up an extraplanetary base of some sort. adjusting the prayer times for local faux-”day” periods would be straightforward and reasonable, but trying to kneel towards mecca when on the moon would get tricky… and trying the same when on mars would be downright vexing. in microgravitational environments, of course, it’s largely just an acrobatical issue… but then, most things are, there.

    (hmm, what’s the maximum declension of earth as seen from mars, now… likely similar to venus as seen from earth, i would guess? maybe smaller. but it certainly can get directly overhead, depending on where on mars you’re standing…)

  45. #46 Steve_C
    November 29, 2006

    I would think that once someone became an inhabitant on a far from earth station… or the moon even… concepts of “god’s” creation and human self importance might dwindle.

    Things like “it’s springtime on earth” don’t really work. Look at the image of the Satrun eclipse of the sun. The earth visible a tiny blue dot among the rings… praying towards Mecca would really lose its relevancy.

    We are just an infinitesimal part of the universe and of time.

  46. #47 Rhys
    November 29, 2006

    In the sci-fi/horror movie “Pitch Black”, there are a number of Muslim passengers on the ship that crashes. When praying after the crash, they simply stood in a circle looking upwards.

    At the time I thought this was a very cool way to deal with the Mecca Problem in space: due to orbital paths, any direction you face is going to be out of whack in a matter of seconds, so just pick something symbolic and use that.

    Of course, that would be too simple … and wouldn’t allow hucksters to make money selling Mecca locators.

  47. #48 natural cynic
    November 29, 2006

    What happens if they accidently pray towards Rome?!

    If you draw a rough line on a map (depending on the projection), that line roughly runs through Genoa, Paris, Dublin, Adelaise and Melbourne — so they are also praying toards Rome on purpose.

  48. #49 Dale Stanbrough
    November 29, 2006

    Well, I lived overseas and am frankly not that familiar with US Muslims.

    I’m not familiar with them either (not living in the US probably accounts for this).

    So I may be totally out of touch with the community here on this issue. But I watched this issue in Egypt and evolution is actually taught in biology there (though not until 8th or 9th grade – which I guess may be similar to here). Without any silliness.

    That would be good news. I heard an interview on radio done on the grounds of a Muslim school, and a question was posed about the teaching of evolution. A student replied that they were taught that, but she didn’t believe a word of it. My conclusion was that the school went through the teaching of evolution, but probably liberally interlaced it with reasons why it couldn’t be so.

    Given many people do say that the Quran denies evolution, who gets to decide on the “real” interpretation?

    As for the “man made out of clay” problem in the Quran there are other verses saying “man came from a drop” and it is in fact common in Islamic Quran exigesis to give these verses an allegorical or metaphorical meaning rather than a literal one.

    My problem with these interpretations is their flexible nature. Sometimes they are interpreted literally, and at other times as you say allegorically or metaphorically. I’ve seen many interpretations that seem particularly flimsy, and most seem to simply be hindsight based.

    You don’t need to do much searching on the web to find many different (contradictory) views on evolution. It would have been much simpler if the Quran had the literal bits in normal text, and the metaphorical bits in italics.

  49. #50 Jeff
    November 29, 2006

    Saturday in Grand Central Station, I was quickly walking to the train when I saw the Scientology tables offering “FREE STRESS TESTS” do passers-by. I glanced over and saw teenagers gripping those retarded e-meters and couldn’t stop myself from telling all of the kids what bullshit it was, and that they should watch their money. Those Scientologists fucking ripped into me and had I not been with a friend, I’m sure I would have aroused attention of police. Any thoughts on whether one should just keep walking, or confront?

    Thanks!

  50. #51 NelC
    November 29, 2006

    Praying in the ISS would be hard enough, but what if our Muslim astronaut was in a Von Braunian wheel-type station, as seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey? I imagine they might have to go up to the docking hub just to make the direction-finding a little easier.

    Seriously, though, I’m glad to read that Allah judges by intent rather than accuracy. I imagine that on station, one simply aligns oneself towards Mecca along the great circle that joins one’s position with that place at the beginning of the devotions, and merely stays in that alignment, regardless of how the station moves.

    As to Muslim astronauts wondering how their infidel companions have more time than they… well, they’re smart people, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. I’m sure it won’t take them long to come to whatever conclusion Muslims in infidel countries do….

    But still I’m filled with curiousity, how do Muslims at Antartica cope when Ramadan occurs during the local summer?

  51. #52 George
    November 29, 2006

    Question:

    “Just keep walking, or confront the scientologists?”

    Ms. Dewey said:

    “Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

    Hmmmm. Must be a religious nut.

  52. #53 Anna in Portland (was Cairo)
    November 29, 2006

    But still I’m filled with curiousity, how do Muslims at Antartica cope when Ramadan occurs during the local summer?

    While I don’t think any Muslims currently reside at the S. Pole, there are Muslims in Northern Finland and other places very far north and there was some sort of consensus on this a while ago (perhaps the OIC?) that north of a certain latitude they would just use Mecca time for Ramadan fasting.

    Muslims are extremely practical about this sort of stuff, you’ll find if you delve into it. I am a bit bemused by the questions here – I would think that most of you would find our practices not all that interesting.

    As for Muslims on the space station, I don’t know if there are any now, but there was a Muslim astronaut once (he was a Saudi royal, actually) and I don’t remember ever hearing about how he prayed. Hmmm.

  53. #54 Caledonian
    November 29, 2006

    Muslims are extremely practical about this sort of stuff, you’ll find if you delve into it.

    SO practical that they will travel halfway around the world in order to walk around a rock in the midst of a crushing crowd.

    That’s not as practical as the Jews, though. They’re SO practical that there’s one and only one place on the planet that they’re permitted to worship God, and they can’t use it. So they decided to simply ignore the relevant divine commandments.

  54. #55 William
    November 29, 2006

    While no fan of religion in general, nor in any way contending that it functions to the net advancement of human knowledge, I do want to point out something interesting and relevant to this discussion from mathematical history: the questions being asked were all of interest to Islamic theologians during the “House of Wisdom” years (Europe’s Dark Ages, when Persia was the center of mathematical knowledge in the world) and one of the areas where mathematics advanced during this period was in spherical trigonometry, inspired by just these sorts of considerations. It went into more detail than just finding the qibla, of course.

    The geometry of tessellations was also something that interested Islamic mathematicians of the day — geometric patterns and calligraphy featured heavily in decoration, since representations of natural objects were not allowed. I’ve always wondered if that prohibition extended to scientific texts; a work on gross anatomy or botany would be darned tricky to use without diagrams and sketches.

  55. #56 Caledonian
    November 29, 2006

    Yes, William, that prohibition extended to scientific texts. Many Muslim scientists had to put their lives at stake in order to secretly complete works on botany and anatomy.

  56. #57 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 29, 2006

    “Space, The Final Frontier! These are the voyages of the prayer mat Enterprise…”

  57. #58 Arun
    November 29, 2006

    Sci-fi of an Islamic future
    Donald Moffitt’s Crescent in the Sky and A Gathering of Stars.

    http://catb.org/esr/sfreviews/RR00002.html

  58. #59 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 29, 2006

    As for Muslims on the space station, I don’t know if there are any now, but there was a Muslim astronaut once (he was a Saudi royal, actually)

    Don’t forget this muslim:
    “Anousheh Ansari (Persian: ????? ???????, born 12 September 1966) is the Iranian-American co-founder and chairman of Prodea Systems, Inc. … On 18 September 2006, just a few days after her 40th birthday, she became the world’s first female space tourist[1], and the first female Muslim[2] and first Iranian in space[3].”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anousheh_Ansari

  59. #60 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 29, 2006

    As for Muslims on the space station, I don’t know if there are any now, but there was a Muslim astronaut once (he was a Saudi royal, actually)

    Don’t forget this muslim:
    “Anousheh Ansari (Persian: ????? ???????, born 12 September 1966) is the Iranian-American co-founder and chairman of Prodea Systems, Inc. … On 18 September 2006, just a few days after her 40th birthday, she became the world’s first female space tourist[1], and the first female Muslim[2] and first Iranian in space[3].”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anousheh_Ansari

  60. #61 Arun
    November 29, 2006

    Here be the answer:

    “When the Dajjal (literally the great deceiver) comes to mislead people, he will remain on the earth for forty days, the first of which as long as a year, the second as long as a month, the third as long as a week, and the remaining days as your normal days. One of the Companions rose to demand, “On the day which will be as long as a year, would it suffice to celebrate only five services of worship of the day?” The Prophet replied, “No, but calculate.”

  61. #62 Tommykey
    November 29, 2006

    If Allah is everywhere, then why should it care what direction you face when praying?

  62. #63 JW Tan
    November 30, 2006

    Anna said:

    “I don’t know if there are any now, but there was a Muslim astronaut once (he was a Saudi royal, actually) and I don’t remember ever hearing about how he prayed.”

    The article was written by a Malaysian, for the benefit of a Malaysian astronaut (Muslim, of course – no non-Muslim got picked for the final shortlist of 2). The Malaysian is supposed to go into space in 2007 or 2008 on a Russian shuttle.

    Quite ridiculous to devote time and resources to this, frankly, especially when there’s so much to be done in the country (like universal provision of electricity and running water). But that’s Malaysians for you.

  63. #64 mojo
    November 30, 2006

    Jesus and Mo have an interesting angle on this issue

  64. #65 ECB
    September 29, 2008

    Very ignorant and bigoted comments. Certainly others could construct similar satire or banalities about the excesses and backwardness of Christians (or Jews, Buddhists, etc) throughout time.

    Learn about Islam and the contributions of Muslim scientists and builders from pre-European Renaissance through today for yourself. If your hatred of Malaysians or Pakistanis is to strong to admit your narrow-mindedness, then at least give credit for Arabic numerals–of which binaries would not exist.

    Islam encourages independent thought and an insightful blend of spirituality and science. Don’t rob yourself of enlightenment: Stop believing the rubbish imposed on you from what you think are authorities in the religion. They are authorities only in their narrow idea of what defines Islam.

  65. #66 Owlmirror
    September 29, 2008

    Certainly others could construct similar satire or banalities about the excesses and backwardness of Christians (or Jews, Buddhists, etc) throughout time.

    This is Pharyngula. PZ does that all the time.

    Learn about Islam and the contributions of Muslim scientists and builders from pre-European Renaissance through today for yourself.

    Sure, why not?

    then at least give credit for Arabic numerals–of which binaries would not exist

    Well, only if you also give credit to the Hindus that the Arabs got the number system from.

    Islam encourages independent thought and an insightful blend of spirituality and science.

    And yet, apostates are still given a death sentence.

    So much for “independent thought”.

    Don’t rob yourself of enlightenment: Stop believing the rubbish imposed on you from what you think are authorities in the religion.

    Oh, I quite agree, and I would go further: Stop believing the rubbish imposed on you from any authorities of any religion.

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