Waterfront Athena is a Week Away!


Greetings, Athenians!

On May 30th in the warm confines of San Diego, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) will be hosting the fifth Waterfront Athena Project event at Societe Brewing Company.  We’ll gather at noon and kick off presentations after everyone’s had a chance to mingle and grab their beverage of choice.

Everyone is invited to this casual forum, whether it’s just to attend and vote on Sailors’ projects, or to present an idea of your own. For those of you new to this site, or unfamiliar with Athena, here’s a rundown of how it works:

The Athena Project is basically a Shark Tank-meets-TED Talks event that showcases deckplate ideas and innovations from the Fleet, giving Sailors a voice and connecting concepts with scientists and engineers from industry who may be able to help them come to life. Presenters are given five minutes to make their pitch – usually including the problem they’ve identified, a creative solution to remedy it, and a plan to make it happen. After that pitch, there’s a five-minute question-and-answer session from the Athenians in the crowd, who then vote on the ideas based on Idea Quality, Actionability and Presentation. At the end, we’ll tally the votes and crown the winner of the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage – a title that earns Athena support to make the idea happen over the next quarter.

For pitches, prototypes and visuals (posters, pamphlets, etc.) are certainly encouraged, but there’s NO POWERPOINT allowed. And for anyone interested in pitching an idea, registration is still open, just e-mail ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil or message us on Facebook or Twitter (@AthenaNavy).

Automated celestial navigation - coming soon to a ship near you!

Automated celestial navigation – coming soon to a ship near you!

Ideas from previous Athena events are really taking off, which is part of the magic of The Athena Project.  Several concepts have been prototyped by our friends at Lockheed Martin, SPAWAR and the University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies to name a few, and we have a few ideas that have gained funding to be created, including CosmoGator – a FY15 CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell project – and the Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN), the winning idea from Waterfront Athena Three. Other Sims Award-winning concepts, such as PartnerShips from Waterfront Athena Four, are going live soon.

Unlike some innovation initiatives in the Department of Defense and beyond, ideas pitched at Athena actually go somewhere, and the bridges that we’ve built through this project are strong enough to support the wait of a bevy of brilliant ideas to come. For Waterfront Athena Five, we’ll have boatloads (pun intended) of folks from cutting-edge technology, energy, academic and defense organizations in attendance, so who knows: Maybe your idea will be then next to take off!

That said, the greatest part about The Athena Project is not the shiny widgets that come from it, but rather the growing culture of creativity fostered through our Athenians. It’s always been the goal of Athena to build a cadre of creative (sometimes disruptive) thinkers who can solve problems in unique ways. With this cadre of bold, forward thinkers, we can make the Navy better.

As John Ruskin once famously said: “The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” 

So, I’ll leave you with a call to arms: Come join us! Present your big ideas (or your small solutions that have been hiding in plain sight) and be a part of the movement for a more innovative Fleet. If you don’t have an idea this time around, that’s cool too: At least some and connect for some creative thought, awesome ideas and great food and drink!

See you there!




Getting Back To It!

By: LT Dave Nobles


It’s been a cool month since our last event and The Athena Project is back!  During our time away, there’s been quite a lot of traction on several of our projects, both from the last event and our previous shindigs. Let’s take a quick moment to bring everyone up to speed by highlighting the progress on a few of the projects:

The Admiral Sims Winners! PartnerShips!

PartnerShips: The Admiral Sims Award-winning idea from Waterfront Athena 4 is well underway. Amidst a flurry of interest, we’ve had loads of innovators sign up for this networking program, designed to connect creative and industrious Sailors with scientists and engineers at various DoD and industry firms. The prototype Web site is almost off the ground and the PartnerShips team has been working diligently to pair up the folks who’ve already signed up. Once our first participants receive their introductory e-mails, the flood gates will open up for tours, updates and networking opportunities that will surely pave the way to the next batch of great ideas to make our Fleet better! Registration is still open and ongoing! If you’re interested in participating, either as a Sailor or as a Scientist, e-mail the team at navypartnerships@gmail.com.

BENFOLD University CLEP Courses:  Leveraging the strength of an awesome program and the supercharged intelligence of some enterprising Sailors, this idea from Waterfront Athena 3 is getting some serious legs. BENFOLD University is a program aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) that gives Sailors a chance to teach their shipmates about any topic that they’re interested in – because learning is cool. Since it’s inception, there have been classes on photography, Spanish, welding, writing and Japanese, but a few enterprising Sailors have put together a curriculum to teach Algebra and Calculus to prepare their fellow surface warriors to take CLEP courses for college credit. The finely-tuned course will begin aboard the ship in April.


CosmoGator: The second-place finisher at Waterfront Athena 3, CosmoGator is a candidate for funding from the Office of Naval Research in the new batch of programs from the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.  The CosmoGator team is knee-deep in preparation for upcoming cavalcade of briefings to a series of ONR Subject Matter Experts, a cadre of Flag Officers and ultimately the CNO himself at the end of April all in an effort to bring automated celestial navigation to reality.  For newcomers to this blog or The Athena Project, CosmoGator will provide precision fix data to ships’ Inertial Navigation Systems by taking a snapshot of astronomical bodies in the sky and using a database of starts to accurately turn multiple lines of position into fixes that can enable ships to continue missions in the event of a GPS outage. The team has been working with NASA, SPAWAR and the Naval Observatory to transform vision into action.

Software Systems Integration: Another project from Waterfront Athena 4 was a vision to integrate typical Sailor functions like maintenance, replacement part ordering and training into one intuitive system on a mobile device. This type of idea has been kicked around various circles for some time, and was a running theme of a few projects at the last event. Well, our friends at Lockheed Martin share the vision for the functional alignment and integration of these systems and have reached out to the Athena team to begin work toward a solution to the frustrating problems plaguing Sailors on the deckplates. A meeting is scheduled next month to discuss the way forward.

ODIN: The winning idea from Waterfront Athena 3 is alive and well. The sharp Fire Controlmen who presented the idea and the geniuses at SPAWAR have been volleying optical information back and forth over the last quarter and are nearing completion of a prototype database and algorithm to leverage the data from EO devices for surface ship recognition and classification. The team is planning another session to synthesize the data and push the project along later this month.

Tankless Water Heaters: This idea from Waterfront Athena 4 caught the immediate attention of representatives from iENCON that were in attendance. Currently, water is heated onboard ships within two 430-gallon tanks, which is a huge drain on energy usage. In this project’s vision, water would be heated on-demand, by way of heating mechanisms within the piping, before the water gets to the end user. The first stage in getting a project like this running is measurement of actual energy consumption, and the team has acquired Fluke meters with a data logger from SPAWAR to gain the data necessary to move toward the development of the new heaters. The team plans to meter the two electronic heaters for the tanks and the two hot water pumps to conduct a life cycle analysis to determine the simple payback. Building on the data already obtained from other DDGs, the team has determined that the cost to operate the current heaters is upwards of $150K and that the new system will save the Navy over $100K per ship, per year.

And that’s just a few of the many ideas that are in various stages of development right now. Other popular ideas are gaining headway as well, like the employment of MILES technology for Navy training and the outfitting of crew-served weapons gunners with Heads-Up Displays. The cool part about all of that, is that despite the fact that these ideas didn’t win the Sims Award at their events, the driven Sailors that pitched them are still committed to making them happen. Kind of like how a singer doesn’t have to win American Idol to grab a record deal, if an idea from a Waterfront Athena Event is good enough and it’s champion is passionate enough, the Navy can still get better.

The future is going to hold some pretty cool stuff for Athena, too: From Design Thinking workshops to field trips and join-ups to focused ideation efforts called Athena Spears, The Athena Project will be growing beyond the quarterly waterfront sessions into a something much bigger, all while staying true to the vision of creating a cadre of creative thinkers focused on making a stronger Fleet for tomorrow.

More to follow on the Future of The Athena Project soon… Stay tuned!

LT Dave Nobles is a Surface Warfare Officer assigned as Combat Systems Officer aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

Like us on Facebook and follow @AthenaNavy on Twitter! Interested in creating an Athena Project of your own? Message us!

Project Pulse: Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN)

ImageAs we approach our next Waterfront Athena Event – February 13th at the Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room in Little Italy – we’re going to showcase some of our past projects here on the blog. Both to give everyone an update on what our Sailors have done, but also to stir up some creative juices from any would-be presenters out there. What better place to start than our last winners? Enjoy!

-The Athena Team

When USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) deployed last year to the US Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility, she spent an awful lot of time in the Arabian Gulf. The ship, like most Ballistic Missile Defense destroyers deployed to that AOR, spent that time conducting a plethora of mission sets while waiting to be called upon for any exercise or event that would require the use of the specialized mode of SPY radar.

As any Sailor who’s spent time in the Arabian Gulf can attest, it is a high-traffic environment. While steaming around the area, from mission to mission, watchstanders FC2(SW) Robert VanAllen, FC2(SW) Michael Owen and FC2(SW) Lisa Stamp became frustrated with the way the destroyer identified ships in her vicinity. With the available systems and tools, BENFOLD managed to effectively identify nearby ships, but the three Fire Controlmen collectively felt that the process was ripe for improvement.

Fast-forward six months later, the team got wind of The Athena Project and put together a presentation on a system that could remedy the process. They called it the Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN).

“Millions of dollars of technology and thousands of hours of training were put on hold as watchstanders played advanced ‘Pictionary: Warships Edition’ attempting to identify visual contacts,” said FC2(SW) Owen, a CIWS Technician. “Watchstanders flipping through a Jane’s catalog in the middle of this environment is one of the most ridiculously, inexplicably inefficient sights in our modern Navy. The expertise and technology already exists for us to do better, and we sought to codify that with our ODIN presentation.”


A great resource, to be sure, but is this really the best way to identify surface contacts in a tension-filled AOR?

And codify they did. In their pitch, the team proposed using software (not unlike the facial recognition software resident on nearly every smartphone) to pick out easily-identifiable aspects of nearby ships – mast location, heat signatures, size and aspect, etc. – and narrow down the list of ships that a contact could be down. By their assertion, simple algorithms could do the lion’s share of the legwork using visual data already being collected by ships.

Well, their pitch was clearly top-notch, because these three junior Sailors won Waterfront Athena, taking home the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage.

Shortly after the event, the team began working directly with a group of individuals at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) working a project called RAPIER that would use overhead imagery to identify surface contacts. The marriage of the ODIN and RAPIER teams was smart, as many of their efforts would work toward the same goal: Building an accurate Recognized Maritime Picture that all could use.

The RAPIER team, led by Ms. Heidi Buck in the Advanced Analysis Systems Branch at SPAWAR has been interfacing directly with the three BENFOLD Sailors on a path to make their idea from Athena a reality. The teams have exchanged media, had several meetings, and have arranged for an upcoming ship tour to give the scientists at SPAWAR a better view of the challenges Sailors face at sea. In fact, the Learning Warfighter Needs Workshop was born through the continued, strong relationship between The Athena Project and SPAWAR!

Currently, the SPAWAR team is sifting through the hours of imagery that the ODIN team has sent over. Soon, they expect an algorithm to be built to demonstrate proof of concept – an important step for any project.

“The response to our ODIN presentation has been really encouraging- scientists and engineers are interested and increasingly invested in a solution presented not by admirals, or master chiefs, but by the very people these technologies are intended to aid,” Owen said. “I sincerely hope anyone else out there with an idea sees what we’ve accomplished so far with ODIN and finds a way to come forward, be it via Athena or another format, and help shape their Navy and the Navy of generations of future Sailors.”

The road to realization for the ODIN team is still a long one, but the three FCs are speeding down it, with their phenomenal idea in the passenger seat!

And they aren’t stopping anytime soon!

The Growing Wave of Creativity in the Navy

By: LT Dave Nobles


Since our first event, The Athena Project has been focused on developing the Navy’s young thinkers, giving sailors a voice and a platform to have their ideas heard and spreading the culture of creativity and intellectual curiosity throughout the Fleet!

As LT Jon Paris has pointed out on his excellent blog post on the Center for International Maritime Security‘s page the motivation to create and innovate throughout the fleet is often hurt by our own lack of agility. Great points all, and certainly something that we’re trying hard to improve.

We’ve heard it often: Execution really drives innovation.

What LT Paris said is spot on: Our organization would benefit by listening to the ideas on the deckplates, then pulling the trigger to make those ideas happen.

For the individual, creativity is a conscious decision, and the same applies for organizations. After all, an organization is merely a collection of individuals. Once the Navy commits to creativity at all levels, then true innovation can be born.

And that’s exactly what we aim to do: Harness the creativity within our ranks in hopes that we’ll shift that culture. That said, we’re talking about a culture shift here, and that requires a bit of what Warren Bennis calls “Courageous Patience.”

Shifting an entire culture takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, of course. To change the way that the Navy fundamentally thinks about creativity and innovation is going to take time. And, what it’s going to require is a series of “wins” from the deckplates, by the deckplates that show that the organization values the ideas of its Sailors. The way we do that is by rapidly executing these visions and implementing the great ideas across the fleet — and fast.

The cool part about an initiative like Athena is that we’re starting to see the forward progress that’s going to make these wins happen. A great example is the work that the last Athena event’s winners, a team of Second Class Fire Controlmen, are doing in concert with SPAWAR engineers to make their project a reality. Since the Waterfront Event, the Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN) team has been working in conjunction with SPAWAR RAPIER team engineers to develop their concept. They’ve participated in several meetings, shared information and organized a workflow and their idea will soon be a reality. That’s the power of Athena.

One of the coolest moments from the last event happened after these guys pitched their idea – and it’s something that I talked about in the recent podcast I did with my fellow member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, ET1 Jeff Anderson. These Second Class Petty Officers presented their idea to improve a frustrating process they found on a deployment, and then during a break, they were swarmed with engineers from various organizations talking about how to make their idea happen. It was truly an inspiring sight, and things like that motivate me to keep pushing the ball down the field.

I hope they do for you too.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the fire is there. There are Sailors out there (and you may be one of them) who want to make a positive change and make our organization better. And, as a service, we owe it to them to listen, just like LT Paris said. Beyond that, we need to demonstrate our implementation agility to keep this fire alive.

We’ll be stoking the flames in February at the next Waterfront Athena event in San Diego. So come out and join us! Bring your best ideas, bold innovators, and let’s make some magic happen!

All Engines Ahead Flank.

LT Dave Nobles is a Surface Warfare Officer assigned as Weapons Officer aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil!

Waterfront Athena Roundup

By LT Dave Nobles


We cross-posted this article a few weeks ago with our friends at CIMSEC.org. Recently, I’ve gotten quite a few questions on many of the projects presented, so I thought it would be appropriate to post this on our blog in an attempt to connect the dots of ideation across the fleet. Message Athena on Facebook or Twitter at @AthenaNavy to learn more about any of our projects!

A month ago, a group of young innovators met in a brewery in Point Loma trying to change the U.S. Navy.

We hosted our third installment of The Athena Project at Modern Times Beer on October 25th and for the first time, we opened it up to the entire waterfront. Even though the presenters were predominantly from USS Benfold, the birthplace of Athena, a few change-makers from other commands presented ideas. About 15 different commands represented in the crowd, many coming from the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) here in San Diego. In addition to the Navy contingent, representatives from the University of Southern California (USC) Institute of Creative TechnologiesSPAWARDisruptive Thinkers, and Harris Corporation were among the more than 70 in attendance. We had a phenomenal turnout – better than we expected. It feels like just the beginning, though.

Before we get into the roundup of our last event, here’s a quick summary of how The Athena Project works. Presenters are given five minutes to pitch their projects to the crowd, who vote on each idea based on quality, actionability, and presentation. We’ve found that the short pitch time and lack of powerpoint forces each presenter to get to the heart of their idea quickly and to distill it down to the essential points. After every presentation, the floor is open for five minutes of questions and comments from the crowd. When all the projects have been presented, votes are tallied and the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage is announced.

The winning project gets to form a small functional team and receives command backing to make their idea happen over the next quarter. That, and of course bragging rights.

So, we had our friends from USC select the first name, and away we went. Here’s a summary of each of the ideas presented:

Idea 1: Psychology-Driven Division Officer Assessments – LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell, USS Benfold

The foundation for LTJG O’Donnell’s idea was trying to help junior ensigns develop their leadership skill set. She proposed working hand-in-hand with the Human Systems Integration department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, to generate a survey that could be given to an officer’s division to evaluate leadership traits. LTJG O’Donnell envisioned a breakdown similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to give young officers feedback and action items for strengthening traits.

Idea 2: Hydro Wave Power Generator – ET2(SW) Erika Johnson, USS Benfold

Petty Officer Johnson and her husband proposed utilizing cranks and netting in littorals to build a network of power generators that would double as a passive sonar system.  She explained the technology, then offered multiple design-types leveraging materials currently in use.

Idea 3: Peer Resource Sharing – LTJG Sarah Eggleston, Destroyer Squadron ONE

Citing a great deal of frustration in maintaining version control of current instructions and guidance, LTJG Eggleston proposed a sharepoint-like system in which naval personnel could share lessons learned, updated messages, and recent notices among other information. Feedback from the crowd suggested utilizing current channels such as Navy Knowledge Online to grow the database and function as a type of Navy Wiki.

Idea 4: Benfold University CLEP – STG2(SW) Gina Stevens, USS Benfold

Onboard USS Benfold, there is a program called Benfold University in which Sailors who have a passion and knowledge base for any topic can teach their shipmates about the subject. Since its establishment in early 2013, the program has hosted classes in writing, welding, photography, Spanish, finance, nutrition and Japanese. Petty Officer Stevens, the program’s first teacher, proposed using free resources provided by Navy College for the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) to teach Sailors the knowledge necessary to gain college credit for a course.

Idea 5: Active Sonar Defense – ENS Joshua Corpus, BDOC

A game-day addition to the presentation list, ENS Corpus proposed taking technology found in noise-cancelling headphones – reciprocal noise generation – and applying that concept to ships’ sonar to act as a defense against active prosecution. ENS Corpus defended his assertion following his presentation as engineers in the crowd questioned the technology. During a break in the action, the concept was a hot topic, bringing several innovators together to discuss the feasibility of the idea.

Idea 6: Optical Database and Information Network – FC2 Robert VanAllen, FC2 Michael Owen and FC2 Lisa Stamp, USS Benfold

The winners of the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage, this group of Petty Officers dominated the peer voting in every category with their presentation. The group proposed building an integrated database that would combine information from existing sensors to assist in identification of surface contacts. Characteristics from ships such as radar cross-section, electromagnetic emissions and heat signature would be combined with new visual-profiling software to build an electronic profile. That profile could then be compared to a database of surface ships and ranked by probability, resulting in rapid identification of long range surface targets. They also gave many examples on how the system could be developed in future iterations, including integration with seaborne drone systems and crew served weapons mounts. The pitch was well received and engineers from USC immediately pounced on the idea, offering to work with the team to develop a rapid prototype for proof of concept.

Idea 7: Electronic Division Officer Notebook – LTJG Isaac Wang, USS Benfold

Trying to solve the problem of maintaining paper records for Sailors, LTJG Wang suggested leveraging existing technology, like Neat Scanners and handwriting recognition software, to digitize the contents typically kept in Division Officer notebooks. Documents like counseling sheets, signed evaluations, history forms and the like could be scanned and kept together. Many in the crowd viewed this idea as “low hanging fruit” and claimed it would be simple to implement onboard a ship. LTJG Wang took the recommendations in stride and aims to institute his plan onboard BENFOLD.

Idea 8: Cosmogator – LT William Hughes, USS Benfold

LT Hughes, the navigator onboard Benfold, developed a concept for a system that would automate celestial navigation. He proposed that the system, consisting of optical sensors and a database of stars, could provide accurate positional data to the ship’s weapons systems in the event of a GPS outage. LT Hughes tested several mobile applications through his research and claimed that the technology to make this system a reality was well within reach. The crowd agreed, and his project finished in second place overall.

Idea 9: SCAT Tactical HUD – ENS Robert McClenning, FC1(SW) William Steele, FC2(SW) Amanda Curfew, FC2(SW) Justin Lagenor, GM3 Jacob Niessen, USS Benfold

This large group finished third in the peer voting for their proposed solution to the problem of command and control for ships’ crew-served weapons mounts. Citing difficulty in communications between the Anti-Terrorism Tactical Watch Officer (ATTWO) on the bridge and the machine guns on the weatherdecks, the team suggested utilizing augmented reality (AR) headsets for gunners and a touch screen tablet for the ATTWO to optimize the process. The team said that the headsets would be simplistic – only displaying commands such as “fire” and “ceasefire” – and would have to be hard-wired because a tactical wireless system would be easily exploitable by potential adversaries.

Idea 10: Metal Alloys for Energy – GSM2(SW) Robertson Acido, USS Benfold

The second of our game-day additions, GSM2 Acido proposed taking technology that’s being developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota to augment the power needs of surface ships. The engineers developed a new alloy that converts heat into energy. GSM2 Acido suggested using that alloy onboard ships – on anything the exhaust stacks for engines to solar-heated panels – to save fuel by allowing ships to have sufficient power without running their generators. GSM2 Acido formed a small team at the Athena event, including BDOC officers and SPAWAR engineers, to shape his pitch before presenting.

Overall, the event brought forth some tremendous ideas from the deckplates and provided some great networking opportunities, but the best part of it all: We had fun. The feedback on all the voting sheets was incredibly positive, and the support from the diverse crowd was amazing. It’s encouraging to know that there are so many people out there who want to make a difference.

We’re looking into scheduling the next waterfront Athena event for this spring, and hope that the innovation wildfire continues to spread – not only on the West Coast, but throughout the Navy. As The Athena Project continues to grow, so grows the chances that we’ll uncover the next big thing.

As Ben Franklin, among others, famously said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

Challenge accepted.

LT Dave Nobles is the weapons officer aboard USS Benfold and a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Waterfront Athena Winners: Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN)


FC2 Robert VanAllen, FC2 Michael Owen, FC2 Lisa Stamp and ET2 Erika Johnson pitched the concept of ODIN at today’s Waterfront Athena Project and won the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage in a landslide!

Their project is a concept for an integrated database that combines information from existing ship’s sensors to assiste in identification of surface contacts using EO technology, radar cross section, heat signatures and electromagnetic emissions to build an electronic profile of the ships. The results would allow watchstanders to rapidly identify long-range surface targets, providing increased tactical awareness and decision time.

Coming in second was LT Bill Hughes and his project Cosmogator – a celestial navigation application. Third Place went to a team of USS BENFOLD sailors that pitched a concept for Augmented Reality goggles and tablet-based Command and Control for the ship’s small caliber weapons systems.


LT Bill Hughes pitches his Cosmogator idea. In a bowtie.

There were about 75 innovators at Modern Times Brewery today to take part in the event, including Sailors from more than 15 afloat and ashore Naval commands as well as innovators from the University of Southern California, SPAWAR, Harris Corp, Disruptive Thinkers and the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

We had a great time opening up the proverbial flood gates for ideas and creating strong bridges between organizations. Thanks for all who took part in The Athena Project and helping us grow! Can’t wait for the next one! 


You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

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