Monday, October 31, 2011

Vegetation management

Here in Queensland there are numerous layers of legislation that affect what you can and can't do with vegetation on your property. This is particularly relevant for people with native vegetation (that hasn't been planted) or a large amount of land.

The Federal or Commonwealth government regulates vegetation through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. On the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website there is a search tool called the "protected matters search tool". This allows you to determine what protected ecosystems or vegetation communities do or might occur on your property. If you are going to have a significant impact on the vegetation community on your property, through its removal or by a particular activity, you need to "refer" your activity to this department for their consideration and potential conditioning or control of your activity.

The State government, in this instance Queensland, has several pieces of legislation protecting vegetation that occurs naturally on your block of land. This includes:

  • Vegetation Management Act 1999
  • Coastal Protection and Management Act 1995
  • Fisheries Act 1994
  • Water Act 2000
  • Nature Conservation Act 1992
  • Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002 
  • Wild Rivers Act 2005
  • Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993

Each of these pieces of State legislation are either managed by the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) or the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation. Their websites have useful information about permits, approvals and exemptions which are relevant to all of these pieces of legislation. And in the case of DERM you can seek mapping from their website for regulated vegetation (remnant and regulated regrowth) on your property.

Your relevant local Council may also have information within their planning schemes outlining areas of vegetation protection, as well as local laws either protecting significant individual trees or all native vegetation. Information on these matters are best sought directly from your Council, as these vary widely across the State. Pin It

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Greywater...what is it & where can you use it?

Greywater is an overarching term that describes water directed from your bathroom basins, laundry (both washing machine and basins), showers and baths. It is not from toilets and kitchen sinks.

Greywater has traditionally in Australia directed straight into the water treatment process (sewage system) and not utilised within the home.  However, now that Australia has been and in some parts still going through a drought, there is obviously a consciousness about water and how we could be re-using it for a variety of purposes.

Greywater diversion is the easiest and most convenient way to re-capture some of the water in our households. The best re-use of greywater is to divert the water from the sewerage system and utilise it for watering plants or lawn around your garden. Some people even use it for washing their car, other vehicles or even their house. This in turn, reduces your requirement to use potable (or drinking) water on your garden, leading to more efficient use of potable water. And it will also result in a cost saving for you, as you won't need the water from the water mains that you use to use on your garden and you therefore won't be charged for this water.

It is important to note, that diverting greywater for immediate re-use is considered non-treated greywater. There are systems which you can install into your house for greywater treatment, which allow you to store treated greywater water and utilise for a broad range of applications. As an example, treated greywater can be used for toilet flushing and washing your clothes (ie in the laundry). It important to note, if you don't have a treatment system for your greywater, you should not store it, as it will quickly turn septic.

Simple measures to divert your greywater for uses around your house, such as on your garden, include:

  • collecting it with a bucket, for example, when you're showering; or
  • connecting a flexible hose to your washing machine outlet pipe.
One important thing is to ensure that whatever you put into any of these input areas (eg laundry, bathroom) is appropriate to go onto your garden. Attempt to utilise products that have low nitrogen and phosphorous and salt levels. Inputs with either high levels of these or accumulation due to "over-use", can lead to issues in your garden, particularly if you have native plants.

So, let's all give it a go.

My initial problem, is that I will need to invest in a very long hose to be able to utilise my washing machine's water in my garden. But it will save me using my precious captured rainwater (see previous post) for garden purposes.

If you would like some more basic information on dos and don'ts of greywater and how to use it in your home, have a look at the Department of Environment and Resource Management's information page.

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Friday, October 28, 2011


In my transition between houses, I have been growing six tomato plants in a styrofoam box. I decided to grow them in this type of "bed" so that I could transporting them between houses, because I knew they wouldn't be ready to harvest before we left the last place. 

It was really just an experiment to see whether I could grow normal sized tomatoes, as I have never had any success. Always insect-bitten by the time the tomatoes were ripe. :( In this experiment I decided to attempt some heirloom varieties, which I just bought as seedlings at Bunnings. All has gone fairly well with the plants coping well in the positions that I have had them in and they have even managed to stay upright, with the assistance of some stakes and eventually flowered and fruited! Woo hoo. 

I have been watching the fruit for what has seemed like an eternity. They have been growing and growing and then stabilising in size but not changing colour. Green, green and more green. No orange glow, not a hint until last week. Yipppeee! 

I then had to go away at the beginning of the week with my partner charged with watering. (Not that I think this happened). As I drove out of the drive-way, my thoughts immediately jumped to my nearly ripe largest tomato and dread crossed my mind with the thought that it would be rotten on the vine by the time I returned home. 

Long story short. Tomato gone!  That's right, gone! 

Quizzed my partner. Didn't realise it wasn't there. All that was left was a small amount of flesh and the attachment point to the plant. Aaarrrrhhhh! I just hope whatever creature ended up consuming my tomato was well-satisfied with my excellent heirloom tomato. 

Oh well, better luck next year! Hopefully by then I will be able to plant so many tomato plants that there will be enough produce for both me and the creatures of my garden. 
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

1200 Building Initiative

The 1200 Buildings program is a building retrofit program in the City of Melbourne. It was generated out of a council idea to support commercial building owners to retrofit their buildings with measures that will increase a building's water and energy efficiency and reduce waste. It is also supports the Council's goal  for the entire Council area to become "carbon neutral by 2020". What an idea, particularly since the City of Melbourne doesn't own and cannot dictate these changes to these privately owned buildings. In reality, this goal will only be achieved through support, education and changes made by building owners.

How to achieve this? My goodness I can't even imagine. However, Melbourne city has come up with some very exciting ideas to achieve this, which include some new financial lending models. One of the imaginative models means that finance institutions can forward funding to commercial building owners for activities to achieve the goals set by the Melbourne City Council and then these funds are re-couped to the bank by having a charge in your Council rates to fund these "loans".

I don't know the precise details of how this finance model works, but it certainly seems like an innovative one and one that will break some of the dis-incentives for owners of properties, to undertake sustainability measures, when these buildings are rented out, and it is the tenant that in fact receives the cost-breaks through energy and water cost savings!

If you want to know more about the program have a look at the 1200 Buildings website.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reclaim your rights!

In a previous post, "Don't sit back", I discuss the requirement about the requirement for people to participate in public comment periods and become involved in shaping their communities. I just attended a conference which not only confirmed this thought pattern but took it one step further and discussed the requirement that people within the community need to start to participate as citizens.

What does this mean? Surely, by just occupying space within a community you are considered a citizen. I'm afraid not. We need people to start to participate in the political process to re-engage the politicians with their constituents and actually act on their (our) behalf rather than the large corporations that are currently hijacking the political process and our rights.

Stand up and be counted!

What can you do?

  • Contact your local political representative, at all levels of government (local, state and federal), and discuss your interests and express that as your elected representative (no matter what their party lines are) they should be representing you and your community! Bring your ideals, values and beliefs to the front and allow them to be counted and considered.  
  • Another thing to do is join up with some of the internet groups that represent your values (perhaps groups like GetUp, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Avaaz, etc) and sign their petitions. Politicians are beginning to take notice of these group actions and make decisions based on these groups'/peoples' interests. 
  • Engage with people in your community and make them aware of your concerns/beliefs. Your beliefs may seem a little different to many that you share them with, but eventually you will link up with like-minded people and all these individual voices together will add up and be heard. 
  • Stand up for your convictions. Don't be scared to rebut other people's opinions and create useful debate. With such dialogue, learnings can be made and challenges can be explored.  
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Story of Stuff

I just went to a lecture by Annie Leonard, author of the "Story of Stuff". What an amazing and awesome public speaker with a strong message as well. The Story of Stuff is a short animation that examines how things are produced and our patterns of consumption.

Have a look at their website: and if you have 20 mins have a look at the actual animation explaining where things come from.

Very inspiring and brings some reality to our western consumptive and obsessive behaviour! Pin It

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wisteria...a nightmare!

At our new home we have a wisteria vine that has been planted to block out the view of the rainwater tanks. I have never really come across this vine and at the time we bought and moved into the house it was in winter "hibernation". 

Since then, entering into the spring time, the wisteria has gone crazy. It has not only recovered its leaves on the "main bush", but sent out new trailing arms. These are attempting to latch on to nearby trees and vegetation. It has also got little "plants" coming up from the area surrounding the main plant and unlike normal new growth of many plants this new growth has established woody stems. This makes it almost impossible to pull them out by hand and a real likelihood of re-occurrence if you just chop off the top.

Having looked on the net to see what I can do to control this nuisance plant, it seems they are quite hardy and treatment (for removal) really means use of a chemical treatment (which I am trying to avoid). Trimming and significant pruning is apparently essential to maintain your plant within the confines of the location you plant it and complete removal can be tricky.

Looks like this plant will bring a significant burden to the garden, in terms of maintenance and the likelihood of me ever being free of this plant without chemical input seems unlikely. First step, hit the plant with a massive prune! Now, just have to wait for the rain to stop!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nature refuges - Queensland, Australia

Here in Queensland a solution to the limited funding available to government for conservation has been the establishment of the nature refuge program. This recognises the important environmental values that private lands hold and reduces the necessity for the State to own and manage these properties.

The Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) is the agency that administers this program and has useful and interesting information about this program available on their website.

The overall concept relies on a voluntary agreement between the landholder and the State government that "acknowledges a commitment to manage and preserve land with significant conservation values while allowing compatible and sustainable land uses to continue". This arrangement is recognised on the title of the land and is carried across to new owners if the land changes ownership, thereby protecting the environmental values and management ethos in perpetuity.

According to the DERM website, there is assistance to the landholder for management activities through the NatureAssist program. This program currently attracts some funding through the Blueprint for the Bush Initiative and is given out through "rounds" where property owners have expressed an interest in receiving funding for specified projects. How much money from these program actually travels through to the landholders I am not sure, although some of the projects that have seemingly attracted funding include:

  • control of stock; 
  • establishment of of-stream watering points;
  • identification and management of cultural heritage;
  • fencing;
  • revegetation or regeneration techniques aimed at improving water quality;
  • ecological surveys aimed at guiding management requirements;
  • weed control;
  • development of sustainable management plans; and
  • improvements to agricultural practices that will result in the improvement of conservation values on the property. 

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Organic weed control

When you next come across a patch of nasty weeds in your garden, instead of reaching for the nasty chemicals, organic controls or your hand tools, maybe you could try good ol' boiling water. Yep, that's right! Boiling water works a treat on weeds, but be careful not to get it on vegetation that you want to keep, as it is likely to kill that as well. Basically, it just cooks the weed in the ground.

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Water conservation tip...recycling

Some of you may have heard that rinsing your recyclable containers is a nice thing to do. This means that the containers that you recycle are therefore not so stinky and gross when they go to being sorted.

Instead of wasting clean, drinking water to rinse these out, collect up your containers that require rinsing each day and use the end of your washing up water to rinse them out.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Happy" World Food Day

The 16th October 2011 is World Food Day (celebrated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations).  This year's theme being "Food Prices - from crisis to stability". This theme reflects the precarious nature of food availability and how fluctuations in the price can significantly people in third world countries.

The objectives of this day are to:

  • encourage attention to agricultural food production and to simulate national, bilateral, multilaterial and non-governmental efforts to this end; 
  • encourage economic and technical cooperation among developing countries;
  • encourage the participation of rural people, particularly women and the least privileged categories, in decisions and activities influencing their living conditions;
  • heighten public awareness of the problem of hunger in the world; 
  • promote the transfer of technologies to the developing world; and
  • strength international and national solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty and draw attention to achievements in food and agricultural development.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

The idea behind Occupy Wall Street is to bring the 99% of the population together to protest against greed and consumption of the wealthiest people in the US (those that make up only 1% of the population). There are also going to be supportive protests here in Australia: Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane today. 

Some people are questioning whether it is relevant here because the American/Canadian movement commenced out of the impacts they felt as a result of the Global Financial Crisis. I personally think it is still relevant here in Australia, as most people here would probably be interested in supporting their fellow global citizens and also saying 'no' to the way the world seems to progressing. That is, the dominance of corporations and wealthy people and their influence over government process. 

I think there is definitely a ground-swell or movement where people are expressing that they are sick of this influence and would like the government once again to be an elected representative of the people rather than large corporations, wealthy people or their political party. 

I think this is a great conversation starter and allows you to introduce new ideas to people and also meet people of like-minded experience.

A "blog" that expresses the opinions and views of some of the 99% (American focus) can be found at: Maybe you could subscribe and add your story. Cool community spirit!

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Australian Carbon Tax legislation

Yesterday afternoon the Australian Federal government's lower house passed the carbon tax legislation. What a milestone! The vote was 74 to 72, with a number of independent and green members of parliament supporting the labour government to get the bill passed.

The legislation now goes on to the Senate. It is expected to pass through the upper house with little controversy, given the Green party holds the balance of power and they support the legislation.

What a historic day!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Grounded Rena off coast of New Zealand

On the 5th of October, a large (236m) cargo ship called the Rena ran aground on the Astrolabe reef, near the township of Tauranga. Tauranga is located on the "northern" coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The captain and the second officer of the vessel have now both been charged under New Zealand maritime transportation legislation for operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk.

From what I can ascertain there is certainly some level of oil pollution into the ocean and surrounding shore area and some impacts on the local wildlife, particularly marine bird life. Also as a result of the accident, approximately 70 containers from the ship have fallen into the water and from the photos of the ship at this moment, there is likely to be a lot more in the near future. Some of these containers apparently carry chemicals and potential pollutants.

Maritime New Zealand has ongoing updates about the progress of the "clean-up", the salvage and the consequences for those involved on their website.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Radiative forcing

I am reading a paper on links between native forest and climate in Australia and the first sentence states "There is very high confidence that the global average net impact of anthropogenic activities since the 1750s has contributed to an average radiative forcing of +0.6 to +2.4 Wm-2." I obviously understood the beginning of the sentence, but really had no idea about the end, particularly the concept of radiative forcing.

After a quick review of wikipedia I now understand radiative forcing as the net difference between incoming and outgoing radiation energy across sections of our atmosphere (particularly the troposphere and stratosphere) and measured in watts per square metre. The wiki page then goes on to explain that if the radiative forcing is positive, it means that the climate will warm.

Today has not been wasted. Pin It

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Things in the garden

I came across this "bug" when we first moved into our new home. I had no idea what it was, but it was quite large, approximately 3-4cms in length and distinctively white and furry with an orange "body".

A fabulous website for identification of creepy crawlers in south-east Queensland, is the Brisbane Insects website. From this website I managed to identify my critter as a Large Mealybug and likely to be a lady (due to her size and lack of wings). It also describes them as sap suckers, similar to aphids.

Fascinating! Next time you're in the garden see what insects you have in your garden and maybe you can identify some of them and what role they play. Pin It

Pineapple update

In early June I wrote about my quest to grow my own pineapple from a top of a pineapple I purchased on the side of the road. 

At the time of the post, I hadn't planted the pineapple top yet, but was letting it cure, as recommended by Gardening Australia. After the week of rest I planted the pineapple top into a styrofoam box (for ease of transportation) with some potting mix and sugar cane mulch and maintained as with any new seedling/plant, with a nearly daily watering regime. The tips of the leaves did brown off during the early stages, which concerned me a little and just prior to our move I thought it was going to give up. But I am pleased to announce there is new life in my pineapple top, in the form of new central sprouts since arriving at our new place. 

Now I just have to continue my maintenance program, worm wee every now and watering every few days and maybe in a couple of years I can tell you how succulent my pineapple is. Here's hoping! Pin It

Saturday, October 8, 2011

7 billion people

The planet Earth will be home to 7 billion people at the end of this month, according to UN projections. What an amazing and overwhelming number!

There are so many implications for the planet as we approach this number, including social, economic and environmental impacts associated with having a population of this magnitude.

The article that inspired me to write this post is available in Nature Climate Change and discusses the consequences of the locality of this population and the projected impacts of climate change. As you're aware, people are not equally spread across the globe and neither will the consequences of climate change and this article explores some of the research that will analysis such information. You can view the article I reference in this post at

I have many personal opinions on the planet supporting this number of people. Whether my opinions are factual or not I have yet to determine, but thought it important to share this amazing and important demographic fact with you all.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Want to know the truth?

As Doctor Karl Kruszelnicki says the Internet is " reliable as a drunk guy in a pub...". So where can you go on the Internet to get reliable information. The answer is Google Scholar.

Google Scholar allows you to search peer-reviewed literature, journals, legal information and patent. This will allow you to find a significant amount of information only available in the scientific journals, which are reputable and only contain information that follows scientific protocols. This ensures you only review information that you can have some certainty in.

Because much of the information that is on Google Scholar is only available through commercially available journals, it is quite often necessary to contact the authors of the paper directly to obtain a full copy. Their email addresses usually form part of the abstract. Just email them requesting a copy of their paper. I have never not received one from the author.

Another benefit of Google Scholar is there is no marketing or sales pitches attached to the information, as no one is selling anything and it is based on factual information. Give it a go and see what good comes from it.   Pin It

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What is greenwash?

There are numerous products on the market that claim to have some sort of environmental credentials. It appears that many of these companies and products are just trying to increase their market stakes by "cashing in" on the new trend of environmental consciousness by the consumer. This does however mean that many products labelled as "environmentally friendly" or "eco" are in fact no better for the environment than the traditional product or might even be worse in some cases. This green labelling of these products incorrectly or falsely is called greenwashing.

I saw an interesting take on what should be considered an appropriately environmentally friendly product. This angle considered that the entire life cycle of the product needed to be environmentally friendly. Now, what does this mean? The idea is that every step in its production and demise are appropriate for the environment or sustainable. The concept of cradle to grave is introduced.

Now actually finding a product that is sustainable and environmentally friendly may be difficult and lack of information also plays a part in the misinformation of the consumer. Best of luck. Pin It

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Food Matters

There is currently a Internet movie available free called Food Matters. It is only available until the 8 October 2011.

It is available at:

I have started to watch it and it certainly provides an alternate position about nutrients in your food and our food chain. The supposed experts tell you how the food that is commercially available is not all it is cut out to be, in that it doesn't contain the nutrients your body requires.

Also in the bit I have watched so far it mentions that our body isn't truly able to cope with cooked food and "raw" (uncooked) food is better for you. The figure mentioned in the movie is that 55% of every meal you eat should be raw. My understanding is the less cooked your food is the more nutrients available to you. This sounds reasonable to me, but I certainly don't practice this.

Watch for yourself and see what you think. Pin It

Monday, October 3, 2011

Solar hot water...things you need to consider

I have now had three commercial companies come and provide me with quotes for a solar hot water system for my house and I feel that it would be easy to get caught up in the sales pitch that these "environmentally-friendly" companies give you. So, here are a few things that I learnt about solar hot water systems and some of the greenwash or sales pitches I have heard.

Things you need to consider:

  • Size of hot water storage tank (this will depend on the number of people using hot water in your household)
  • Whether you want a split system or not (this is whether you want the storage tank on your roof or not)
  • Where you can and/or want to accommodate the solar system on your roof
  • What type of boosting system (gas or electricity) you want for your system
  • What orientation your roof has (use a compass to find out) and whether it will appropriately accommodate a solar hot water system (see previous post on Solar Hot Water).
  • How large your house is in area and where the areas that use hot water are (this will help you position your storage tanks and/or solar collection "panels" on the roof and whether a solar hot water system will efficiently deliver hot water to those areas)
  • How much money you have to purchase a system
  • What rebates are available to you from the government (if this an important factor)
  • What your climate is like and whether is it appropriate to a solar hot system
  • Is there enough open solar access for a solar hot water system to be effective and efficient at your location
  • The amount of structural capability your roof has and whether it can accommodate a roof-mounted hot water storage tank
  • Whether you want to show the world you have a solar hot water system (this will determine whether you are happy to mount the collector panels to achieve best orientation, if needed, or have a flat panel system on your roof)
Now here are some things I have learnt about:

  • for maximum efficiency and to increase the likelihood that I can get hot water all year round, I should be positioning my solar hot water collector panels to the north. This is particularly important for those winter months when I want to catch as much of the sun's energy as possible, when the sun is positioned further into the northern hemisphere
  • on my house this means mounting the panels on a frame, these are constructed to position my panels in a northerly direction, my problem with my position is that these potentially collector panels will still be shaded in some parts of the year and thus, boosting from either mains electricity or a gas system will be required
  • insulation of pipes between the collector panels on the roof and the storage tank below (if you're opting for a split system) will ensure maximum hot water is collected in your tank and therefore you don't loose heat through the transfer process
  • the storage tank is either boosted (from electricity or gas) or water re-circulated into the "panels" when the water is lower than sixty degrees Celsius
  • in a split system the water is pumped onto the roof with a small motor in the storage tank
  • you may require more than two "panels" on your roof if you have a particularly large family or have a significant hot water use
  • most of the storage tanks seem to have what is called a sacrificial anode, which corrodes overtime and requires maintenance approximately every five years (depending on the quality of your water)
Here are some things that I am a little unsure about and either smell of greenwash or just outright competition between businesses (there may be legislative requirements but can't seem to figure it out yet):

  • one company offers a titanium based panel which means that you can orient them outside of the optimum orientation (north) and not loose efficiency....apparently the titanium has the capability of heating hotter than the standard components and therefore can orient outside the optimum north facing 
  • consideration of winds if you are mounting your system on racks. Obviously this is important in some locations, but the amount of winds and strength that we have at my place i think is unlikely to impact on the system, but you should definitely get this checked out
  • the size of your storage tank needs to be the next size up from your current storage tank. Apparently, this is because solar hot water can only be generated during the day and not consistently and therefore for continuously available hot water, whenever you want you need a larger storage capacity. To me you just need to train your family to use hot water when available and not demand hot water anytime. 
  • If you are mains electricity boosting your hot water storage tank, you're not suppose to have this on Tariff 33 (the overnight/off-peak tariff). I am unsure about this and will have to contact my energy provider to see if this is true. The company that told me this said it was legislation. If this is the case and you only use this for hot water, again this company told me that I should have the meter for this tariff disconnected because the energy company would still charge me a service fee for this meter even if I wasn't using it for hot water heating any more.
  • the life span of these systems seem to be about 10 years, but no one will put a firm number on it and there is often the statement that the technology has improved so they are likely to last longer than this magic number. Also from the information I received from the companies it seems as if it is the storage tank that will need replacing first and this is just as you would with a traditional hot water storage tank.

A useful Australian government publication is the "Your Home: Technical Manual", which has a section on hot water systems and provides a lot of facts that you need to consider when deciding what hot water system is appropriate for you and has great tips and facts associated with solar hot water.

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