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JBond

Nagra Stories Sound-men won’t ever tell

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Another long weekend at work, so I might as well fulfill JBonds wish for descriptions of a (small) variety of Nagra IS models.

Mainly there are three versions of the IS: The non-pilot version, the pilot version and an intermediate model, which is non-pilot but prepared for pilot head and circuitry. As my machines are primarily radio recorders, they are all non-sync versions; I hope that I will eventually get a sync-version also...

The versions I have are:

IS-TLSP (2 P48 mic.inputs, prepared for pilot i.e. with pilot indicator installed)

IS-D (Only dynamic mic. inputs, no pilot indicator)

IS-DT (1 x P48, 1 dynamic mic inputs), no pilot indicator)

IS-DE (2 P48 mic. inputs)

 

The different types are almost identical, except the described differences. The IS-TLSP is also prepared for ALC (Automatic Level Control), shown by the (disabled) ALC control.

Age-wise there are also some variations, just like on the larger types: Older recorders have all-steel tape guides, newer types has all-ruby guides; I guess that the even newer ruby/ceramics guides came later than the IS. On some of the machines a playback head shield is fitted, on others there is no shield. On the IS-TLSP the left tape roller has a rotating plastic part, where the D-types has a massive aluminium roller. All in all: Small and not very significant changes, but it still shows, that is was a model with a very long active career.

I have attached pictures of IS recorders, and (I can´t help it, I am a technician) a couple of pictures of the inside of the IS. As you can see the mechanical and electrical build quality is the same as the larger types, so the IS is by no means a discount product (like the Nagra E). It is tightly packed, but still very serviceable, and high quality parts are (mostly) used. Unfortunately the rotary switches are not really great, and I have had to spend some time getting them to work properly, but apart from that there has been very few age-related problems. 

All my IS recorders has female mic. input "ears", but in some cases male XLR input connectors were used. It might be that there is a swiss parallel universe where microphone cables end in female XLR connectors but I have yet to meet one...

Hidden underneath the battery compartment is a cut-out in the cabinet, usually covered by a metal plate. On one recorder it was covered with a sticker labeled "Only for use with large reel adapter", which is quite intrigueing, because I have never seen or seen any reference to such a "IS-QGB" anywhere. Perhaps they feared that a large rell-capable IS would cannibalize their market and dropped it before even releasing it. But it would have been a great addition.

Later note: I have just found a picture of the missing label, showing the reference to the lost reel adapter. I have added it to the enclosed pictures. It is obviously an early version, so it seems that right from the start an adapter was planned, but was never made.

I can´t help thinking that the IS partly was an attempt to make a design upgrade to the Nagra series, and if it had been sufficiently well received, the changes would have been introduced in the IV/4.2 series (or rather: A successor to it). As it happened, people preferred the simpler 1-motor design, probably because it was a very stable, time proven design, and thus the brilliant IS solutions were never used on other recorders. Nikon made a similar gamble when they introduced the electronic F3 to replace the tank-like F2; users were nervous that it would be unstable and ureliable, and moaned a bit about that. It turned out that the F3 was a brilliant camera and became an instant classic...

 

 

 

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Nagra IS label.jpg

Edited by dela
I found a eBay Nagra IS picture showing the missing label still attached

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Very nice dela,

Thank you for doing that. Could you add one more picture to your post?  One picture showing the different front panels with the units stacked on top of each other and show the complete front panels. Thank you very much.

Very nice write-up. 

I would like to add your excellent writeup of the IS to the post index.    Nagra IS differences by dela

You can access the Post Index from any page by using the back arrow.
The back arrow looks like this <<       
It's in the page number section at the top and bottom of every page and looks like this <<    PREV    17    18    19    20   
Hit the back arrow and it brings you to the index. From there, one click in the index brings you right to the post you wanted to see again. 
Example: Where are the pictures to the Nagra SN copy?  Click the Back arrow, Click The Nagra SN (Copy) in the index. 
It works well on a laptop or desktop, but for a cell phone It gets a little condensed and jumbled because I don’t have it in a single list or column,  but it still works. 
 
 

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I admit even the simplest parts of the Nagra fascinate me. The battery image in the Nagra III battery compartment is so stylish. Could Monsieur Bond and Dela please share the battery graphics in their Nagra collections for reference.

So far this is the one I would hang one my wall.

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 9.01.17 pm.png

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I don't have to check, I know already nothing else stands out like a Nagra III in every respect. Sorry

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I recall everyone in the location audio biz being very impressed with the IS, but that very few people bought them.  It may be that Nagra had already sort of saturated their market (at least in the USA), or that since most Nagra users could own just a single machine they went with the one "do-all" 4.2.  The local guys I knew who bought them were mostly travelling doco-style recordists, who didn't need the 4.2 features and had to keep gear weight as low as possible (think tiny airplanes, etc).    Also, most of us bought our Nagras used, to save money, and there were no used IS machines available.

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 I can imagine that it would take some persuasion to make a customer change to a new recorder that forces him/her to change the entire range of accessories, and at the same time is limited to 5" reels. I don´t know the price point of the IS, but my guess is that it would be in the same rage af the 4.2, perhaps a little lower, but not much. So yes, a niche product more than a universal tool...

 

I have been stacking up the machines today to show the front plates (and ears) of the different models. As you can imagine there is not much difference, but there are some. Mainly they are:

- Right ear: The recorders prepared for pilot system has a pilot signal input socket (as the pilot board is missing, it doesn´t do anything)

- The pilot indicator: Same as above

- The ALC switch: Interestingly enough the very neat mechanical parts are installed in the ALC-prepared recorders, but the two-way knob is replaced by a blocking cap that prevents you from operating the switch. As with the pilot-prepared machines, you could modify the machine quite easily by replacing the ref. generator board with a board containing both the ALC and the ref. gen.

On the "group photo" of the IS recorders, the different types are:

Left side:

Top: IS-DT

Middle + bottom: IS-D

Right side:

Top + bottom: IS-TLSP

Middle: IS-DE

 

After I took the pictures and wrote the list yesterday I found a Kudelski brochure listing the different subtypes, and most of mine are listed there (the TLSP is missing), and I can see that the difference between DE and DT is that the DT is (as the only non-sync) a two-speed recorder, the other ones are single speed. Not the world most significant fact, but still a difference .

And speaking of insignificant but still a bit intriguing details: I dug a bit in the service manual, and in there the unmounted connector in the cabinet cut-out is marked as for "accessories". It is placed on the reel motor control board, and the control bus signals for the tape transport (in- and outputs) are led to the connector pins (along with a power output). This just about confirms my thought that a large reel adaptor was planned, but never materialised. Sadly enough...

 

For illustration I have enclosed a picture of the IS compared to its smaller and larger siblings. They say images don´t lie but, as JBond writes, when you see the IS in real life, the IS seems much smaller that the (in comparison) bulky and clumsy-looking 4.2.

The 4.2 in the picture is, by the way, a work in progress: The electronics had been severely water damaged (the transistors just fell off like ripe fruit when you touched them), and I had actually given it up. But stubborn as I (sometimes) am, I have been nurturing back to near health, which is a great joy, remembering how it looked before...

 

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16 hours ago, dela said:

They say images don´t lie but, as JBond writes, when you see the IS in real life, the IS seems much smaller that the (in comparison) bulky and clumsy-looking 4.2.

As another example even the picture above of the stacked units look different in size with each other. The top left looks bigger the bottom left looks smaller.  To me anyway.  Notice how they kept trying to find a place to put the Nagra IS name.

It's a one of a kind recorder. 

Also the brass jacks are earlier recorders,  your can correct me if I'm wrong.

dela you have yourself a nice little IS collection going there. Only three left to go to complete your collection,  the pilot Soundman Model like Rachel's, the ISN and the ISS.

My Nagra contact used to tell me those ISS's were used as door stops at Nagra.  Yet to find one. My three letter contact has one, so I'm told.  Just to see if anybody pays attention,  anybody know what I call the ISS? 

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Paying attention: I hadn't heard of the ISS until you posted the beautiful picture. I was actually about to reply to your recent previous post on "if I could keep". Well, I have the IV-S and the IV-SJ and I can't really choose between them, but I might actually push for the SJ for fx use - although I think of my IV-S/IV-SJ with banana-din cable as a single unit (for 1-100/ 100-1 analogue speed changes).

I lost my QSJ? Or B? speed changer which made it an even more incredible tool - but I'll replace that eventually.

As I said, I was going to reply in the wider sense 'if I could have only one' I was going to plump for the TI - I was well familiar with the T from working in dubbing studios but later discovered the TI.

Now since I'm reminded of the wider options what would it be? A Nagra I? A prototype SN? An ISS?

Happy to own two. Rachel, your IS looks gorgeous! Dela, what a collection - thank you for the new pics! And the info.

Jez

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Jez,

Unfortunately, I had to sell my absolutely mint Nagra IV SJ.   I did keep the center plexiglass cover over the extra controls though. I sold it to help get some money to buy this Nagra II below.

I decided it would be easier in the future to buy another IVSJ than it would be to come across another 1957 Nagra II in good shape that's for sale. I kept the plexi cover from my SJ because this nifty center cover is usually missing. So someday,  I'll find another. A problem is when I do see one there is always more important things on my mind.  Did I make the right choice? 

 

 

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Oh you could have done worse! When all the iDevices have burnt up all the lithium from Planet Earth we'll be wishing we hung onto our wind up recorders! That is a beautiful machine.

My SJ is actually pretty basic without either the MKH or BK amplifiers (so I actually have two BK adapters and a BK preamp which I keep thinking I should sell) - my options to record onto it are 1: via the IV-S with leads (awkward) 2: external BK unit line in (for instrumentation) 3: (mono only as yet) via a David Lane Nagra preamp (a little beauty, I discovered it's pin allocation allowed it to be a preamp for the SJ) 4: line in from my Sound Devices 302.

In practice though I would only record onto the SJ if I was looking at a 10x speed change upwards - ie recording at 1.5 ips to playback at 15ips. The 10x speed change (in the analogue domain) is why I love the SJ - and the 100x either way when cabled to the IV-S. Which is why I probably couldn't part with the SJ. I love the size ('Stellavox') of the IS ... did it record 15ips though or max 7.5 like the E? I also wouldn't part with my Sony Pro, too many happy recording memories, although I grant it is not an SNS!

Jez

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It's perhaps apt that I'm watching the kimono making process on BBC4 (Made in Japan ep 2) whilst watching videos of a Nagra 2 and a dentist's chair!

I feel it's safe to assume you are not familiar with the (animated) films of Harry Smith, more famous perhaps for his Anthology of American Folk Music? They are well worth looking for. His 1960s film Heaven and Earth Magic has the protagonist (? ...) ascend to Heaven in such a dentist chair.

I once had the chance to 'walk away' with a large 'arc' surgery light that the hospital next door were about to chuck in a skip. My brother DID pick up all the old telephones and put them in his bag - he actually hoped the police would stop us and ask what 'we had there' to which his reply would be,

"sacks o' phones"!

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On 6/16/2017 at 5:05 AM, dela said:

Rachel: Congratulations with the IS; it is a really nice little recorder. Small, but in every aspect still a Nagra. In Denmark (where I live) it was almost exclusively used for radio, so it is rarely seen in the pilot version here. For film work the 5" reel limitation was a problem, but many a Radio Denmark journalist loved not having to carry a IV/4.2 around. I can also imagine a journalist would hate having to transcribe an interview with the rudimentary tape winding system on the IV/4.2; here the IS motor controlled transport really shows its strength.

I have been looking in my manual archive, and I have found an IS user manual, unfortunately only in german. I have an english paper version, that I can scan at work this weekend, if your german isn´t up to scratch. I also have a service manual, and that is in english. If you send me an email address, I will send them to you. They are quite informative, as you would expect from a swiss company..

Thanks dela, for the helpful information on the IS. I didn't know it came in a non-pilot version. Interesting, and I can see how it would have been a fav of the radio crowd. I wonder if that was the case here in the states?..I mean, radio stations using these? The 4.2's are heavy by comparison. And yes, thanks so much! I would love to get a copy of the IS manual. I'll send an email address by PM here at JWS.

I'm also looking for a bag for it, as the cowhide one is coming apart at the zipper seams. I might just take it to the local luggage repair, as this classic leather carry bag is in fine shape for repair. But it seems to lack padding. Perhaps a used (discontinued) Porta-brace bag for it to live in? That is, if I can find what model number they used for the IS, since it's a bit of a lower profile recorder... 

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I don't recall ever seeing a Nagra being used by USA radio reporters.  I recall seeing a lot of Uher 4000s (with the Uher handheld mic with the "roll" switch on it) but they went to cassette recorders as soon as portables became available in the early '70s (like before Dolby B was added).  Also, USA reporters often read stories over the phone to a recorder at the station.  USA commercial radio was very not as concerned about audio quality for news vs Euro radio at all...

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Regarding the bag, I have only seen two types: The original Kudelski-bag, which is fine except the zippers (as you found out) and a custom made bag, that Radio Denmark used in some cases. It was dark brown leather and much more sturdy that the beige original, but I have only seen one of them in real life (I have one...). It was actually distributed by the father of one of my collegues, but they are probably now long gone... So I would go with replacing the zippers on the original bag.

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What are the dimensions of the IS? I wouldn't be surprised if bags by Portabrace or my KT Systems ones were a snug fit ... about the same size as a PD6 or a PDR2000?

Or you could just get a posh one made by Kortwich??

Many years back when I flew back from Beijing with my IVS my pal picking me up at the airport offered immediately to help me carry the Nagra just because it was such a stylish thing. He's a fireman but I'm sure he still complained about the weight after a few minutes though ha ha.

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Absolutely love the look & features of the IS model. This is the one I would get if I had a chance, due to its smaller size & weight.

Have to be content with my Uher Report Monitor 4000 for now at least....

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8 hours ago, The Immoral Mr Teas said:

What are the dimensions of the IS? I wouldn't be surprised if bags by Portabrace or my KT Systems ones were a snug fit ... about the same size as a PD6 or a PDR2000

It's 8.5 x 11 x 3.5 inches. Strangely, it's roughly the size of a sheet of printer paper. Maybe not so strange if you think about it. But this is not counting the ears, which take up another 1.5 x 2 x 2 inches, and pass through a partition on the classic leather case, where I'd input the XLR's - and the output cable on the other side. 

I'm sure there's a bag out there which would work for it. If not, I'm perfectly happy to have these zippers repaired on the cowhide bag, and maybe have them update it with some internal padding, as well. The slight bit that it had, has turned to powder long ago, but fortunately, the recorder wasn't kept in it. 

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13 hours ago, JBond said:

Ahh, bags just hide the beauty.

So true. But I actually hope to use it from time to time. I want to protect it in the van and the field. Incidentally, I was just putting it away, but was stopped by a girlfriend of mine, who noted that beauty, and wanted to know all about it. Though I was pleasantly surprised, I wondered where to start. 

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She did this pretty well, so while this was being filmed were there any soundmen there? Was music playing? 

I'm sure the soundtrack was done later but was there some sound recorded during filming of this scene? 

 

 

 

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JBond, I am amazed at how fine the Nagra II sounds in your video. How frequently do you have to wind it up? Love those reels.

Regarding the IS, I do not own one, but they look very beautiful. Did they ever come out in stereo? Congratulations!!

 

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Mark, I will tell you a long held secret because you asked.   The Nagra II playing is just an illusion made possible by

1) Video starts, the recorder is off.
2) Turn on the recorder and the reels start turning.
3) The sound comes on but is soft. 
4) Then I turn up the volume. 
5) Showing the speaker makes it seem like the sound is coming from the speaker.
6) Shutting it off in the end after the music stops.
  
The windup Nagra II is just turning the reels by the spring wound motor inside, No other power. The sound is coming from my iPhone on me under the camera.
In the end, the tempo of the song slows down and so do the reels, almost to a stop. I liked that part it matched the music.
I liked the video and the song but there were many mistakes that I thought I could correct to make it a better and more realistic video.
 
I attempted to redo the video but I was not happy with the outcomes. There was always something and if it was not that it was something else. There were parts that I could not duplicate in the original video. After each try, I had to rewind the tape by turning the Nagra over with the rewind crank in the bottom.  Then windup the motor again. each time was a complete re-setup. After everything I ended up using my first attempt the video you see.
 
It was my attempt at being the writer, producer, director, cameraman, and Soundman. There were so many arguments between the group.  Sometimes the takes ended at turning on the recorder and sometimes it wasn’t until almost the end I would yell cut.  As the song goes, I started drinking alone.  I quit and walked off the set in a heated exchange of words.  
This line of work is not for me. Having many recorders does not make you a Soundman. I have been happier ever since.  
 
As for the IS
Yes, they did have a Stereo IS for Law Enforcement only.
 

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15 hours ago, JBond said:

She did this pretty well, so while this was being filmed were there any soundmen there? Was music playing ? 

I'm sure the soundtrack was done later but was there some sound recorded during filming of this scene? 

Scenes that have music and singing on camera it is often difficult to determine how they were done. Typically, playback tracks are used, tracks where vocals and music have been recorded in a studio and then these tracks are played back on set and the actors sing to the playback vocals. Singing is also done, quite often, live, and in these cases the singing voice is recorded on set (the production sound department) just as one would record the speaking voice (dialog). This live singing may be along with a pre-recorded music track that is often fed silently to a hidden earpiece. If the source of the music is on camera, a band for example, the whole scene may be recorded live including the band playing. There is also the possibility that several techniques are employed, one scene may require playback, another scene may have live vocals up against pre-precorded music, etc. When viewing the final result (the audience) the techniques employed should not be obvious and should serve the overall tone and feeling for the project --- it is only the experienced and knowledgeable sound person who will be able to take apart the scene and speculate on how it was done.

There is a whole lot more that can be said about music and singing and how it is done for movies and television. What I have stated above is just a rough overview in response to JBond's question about the video clip.

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JW covers current technique on this kind of shooting pretty well (I would only add the "thumper" technique, which would not have worked in this scene anyhow), AND the point that with talent @ the level of these folks "all of the above" would be expected to be available as-needed or as-requested.  If you haven't already, do check out Steve Morrow's interviews about how he recorded "La-La Land"--he used pretty much all of these techniques at one point or another on that film.

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When I saw a Nagra 4.2 IRT on eBay a couple of weeks ago I immediately became intrigued by it, and as luck would have it, I managed to buy it for an OK price. Fortunately the owner is also from Denmark, and he even shipped it for free. So now I have an IRT, and I have begun finding out what is so special about it. Apart from having green knobs...

First of all I have been on a hunt for information on why it is named "IRT", and soon I found out that the IRT stood for Institut für Rundfunk Technik. This led me on what I presume is actually a wild goose chase, because I have now found out two things:

- The modification is not necessarily made by IRT

- The IRT does not denote the manufacturer but rather the type of timecode it accepts.

The last point is actually quite interesting, because I thought that the only timecode in play here is the SMPTE TC (as in the Neil Stone and Harvey Warnke mods), but there was also another, lesser known, timecode format, (briefly) known as the IRT timecode.

The IRT timecode format was meant as a way to create a timecode information that could be printed directly on the film in the camera (16 mm). It predates the somewhat more advanced Aaton timecode, which was widely used, but at the time of its conception, the technology was not so advanced that a great deal of metadata could be written and read. The creators of the IRT TC settled for marking one frame each second, because then they could write a complete set of metadata once a second (time, date, camera number etc). The information was printed between the perforation holes, 4 bits between each set of holes. This gave them 80 bits to work with, the remaining empty spaces were used for synchronisation. To cut a long story short: Both the camera and the recorder had TC generators, and they could then be synced using an external master clock generator. It was clever and not too hard to implement, but it did have one major drawback: If you were to make an edit within an image sequence of the 25 frames, the individual frame number would be lost... That, and of course the fact that the better/smarter format does not always guarantee success, meant that the IRT was not very used.

But back to the present, and back to my 4.2: 

When I opened the recorder and checked the large "unoriginal" card mounted, I was a bit surprised to find out, that it was actually just a quite large carrier board for a normal Kudelski 50/60 Hz crystal generator. As you can see in the photo of the connector board, only a few of the pins are used. Another interesting thing is that the underlying connector board is also quite unusual. It has, in the best swiss and german tradition, all connection names printed on the board, indicating that signal-wise there are a lot of extra potential functionality hidden in this machine. If you have the proper IRT TC board... 

In the pictures the two original Kudelski boards (a synchroniser and a clapper control board) are removed to show the base board, so normally this recorder functioning as a standard 4.2.

It seems that the Kudelski/IRT/whoever people who devised this modification made a rather costumer friend design. They knew that the IRT TC function would not always or rarely be used, so making an expensive recorder that was tied to an experimental TC format would be a commercially very expensive experiment. It would probably leave a lot of costumers quite disappointed, should the IRT format die a quiet death, making you an owner of a very expensive non-sync 4.2 So they made the modification optional and user-interchangeable: If you use it as a normal pilot/crystal controlled 4.2, you use the simple generator board. If you want to use it with IRT TC, you put in the dedicated IRT module. In that way your investment was safe whatever happened. I have recently seen another 4.2 with green knobs and stereo heads, and in this recorder a normal Kudelski generator board was somewhat unceremoniously put in to replace the custom carrier board. So I guess that the missing IRT TC boards is testament to the failure of the IRT format, and that most IRT recorders lived as normal 4.2 recorders.

And this brings me to the next question: Does anybody have a IRT TC board? And who produced it? I hope to find out; not because I would have any use for it, but I always like to know more about all these deceased formats, that are left as roadkill along the technological highway.

The attached pictures are just meant as illustrations, but one detail should be mentioned: On the picture of the main control switch, you can see an extra LED marked "Zeitcode Ein". It seems that this LED would flash if the TC generator was working properly, and it had been synced recently. So in this case, a flashing red light actually is a sign of safe operation...

I know that this is a bit nerdy (my wife certainly thinks so), but I hope that at least a few people are also thrilled by the adventures of reverse engineering and information gathering, not on the Dark Internet, but certainly on the not so sufficiently lit areas. And in a few years some of the history is lost completely; I would like to do my bit to at least scratch the surface and document what I find out...

 

Added note: I have just noticed that the part no. format on the carrier board is the same as the one used by Kudelski. So it might be an actual Kudelski product.

 

 

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Edited by dela
I found new information since I write the post some hours ago

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