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The GNU Cooperative Has Begun; An Update

By lucas in Technology
Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 10:16:10 PM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

As a follow-up to my original story, Dawn of a GNU Cooperative, I am pleased to announce today that the GNU Cooperative, Spindl3top, has been launched as promised and in the form that I envisioned four months ago here on Kuro5hin.

Was it easy to come this far?

The readers of Kuro5hin asked me to give an update when I wrote the original article; I am keeping my promise to them and writing about my experiences.

The ideas about Spindl3top were born on the pages of Advogato, but they solidified and grew up on Kuro5hin. Quickly. It's what drew me to the Kuro5hin community; the fact that people could take an idea that I had milled about in my head, make helpful comments on it, and give publicity to it by posting so that others can learn from it and have a discussion.

For me, it was a fantastic discussion which assisted me in planning... just as I hope this article will produce some interesting perspectives that I can learn from.

Soon thereafter, it was picked up by Slashdot and my network connection and server were pretty much useless for 24 hours as over 200,000 hits logged up. Inoshiro helped out by posting to Slashdot and redirecting the traffic over to Kuro5hin. I had hoped that the Slashdot article might produce interesting ideas; instead, RMS' affiliation with goat.cx and the communist party were discussed.

A day later, press approached me, users called wanting to buy something... anything... they left messages on the Spindl3top voicemail system. One person was so incredibly frustrated that all he could do was shout. "Dammit! How are we supposed to buy anything if you don't have anything for sale!"

Keep in mind: this was only an idea.

I had unknowingly walked into the frenzy of the pre-collapse "dot-com world", where speculation about the "Next Biggest Thing" was an obsession. Yipes. I was a little angry, actually, because if all of this attention could be paid to me and I didn't have anything, it seemed to say something about the hype and propaganda from other projects or enterprises.

I didn't know what to tell the press, so I did my best fielding their questions. You can see the results in this Wired article or in the Boston Globe. I e-mailed Bob Young of RedHat to tell him thanks; I was misquoted as saying they were the "bad guys" in one article and here was Bob Young, President and CEO of RedHat, vouching for me in Wired.

I formed an ad-hoc mailing list to deal with the inflow of mail, eventually switching to PHP-Nuke. It was a good decision, but I didn't have anyone to assist in sysadmin'ing. It was too much of a response, too soon.

So, I did what anyone else would do and began to put my money where my mouth was, one day at a time. I had been planning to wind things down by the end of the year and get ready to visit my family...Instead, I was busy trying to figure out how the heck we could implement this, work out the kinks, and get things off the ground. People involved were extremely patient with me, and I thank them for this, because I was completely overloaded.

I decided to build some testing Blackbirds and finalized the source, which was one of my ideas -- make some sort of "shopping list" for people. I personally assembled testing Blackbirds which were bought and tested by Misha Dynin and Carl Soderstrom. I named the first model Blackbird-DYM as thanks for Misha's help (DYM are his initials, spelled backwards), as he gave a lot of assistance.

After I shipped these final Blackbirds off, I took a much-needed vacation. It wasn't without some degree of struggle, however. My ISP, Flashcom.com, went under... leaving me with two options: UUNet or <snip> <snip> (otherwise known as, "your cables will be cut and you'll have to wait another 6 weeks for another DSL provider").

The day after Christmas, they switched over Spindl3top's lines to UUNet while no one was in the office.... there are times when you could just *kill* to be at the console. UUNet claimed I wasn't in their databases and that I wasn't even a customer. A week later, a tech calls from UUNet, giving me the new IP address.

When I arrived back home, the real work began. Josh and I had to write an entire backend for PHP-Nuke that would allow things like item shopping, shopping-carts, and realtime FedEx shipping calculation. I couldn't have done it without free software, since I was able to access the PHP-Nuke code and change certain things around, interfacing it with the shop program.

This past week, we completed (and are using) the code. It took us a month to write and test hundreds of lines of code before placing it "live" and having people entrust their information with it. This was the final and most complex hurdle to overcome. Currently, we have stuff on order and have put what we have right now into the inventory catalog.

We've come so far, and yet there are still many avenues that I would like to explore aside from cooperative buying, including forming something of a "services" guild (or informal union) of people who have certain specialties that can contribute to an integrated whole. My example is Beowulf clustering; if someone wants to cluster Blackbirds (which are great for clustering), I'm not the greatest at this. The guys at MIT's DeBUG (Debian Beowulf User Group) love to do this and Spindl3top can pass the job over to them. It's the same thing with Synecdoche, a cooperative, non-profit webhost and ISP -- if someone wants to colocate their BB, we pass it over to them and they are able to work with the user to support it because they are a part of the project and know how to work with the BB and Debian. Certain people are great coders, experts in security, etc.

Another idea I have is to create an open certification program which is very low-cost and affordable. Having seen the expensive nature of RHCE and how employers salivate over certs, I think this would be a Good Thing if we can get together as hackers and come up with our own, freely published standards that we expect people we work with to have. My preference, of course, is that we might certify based on Debian GNU/Linux, but it probably should be distro neutral.

My central goal is to keep Spindl3top end-user focused, fair, and of a continually progressing nature. As in any open-source project, of course, it's not utopic and there are bugs that have to be worked out. Some ideas suck and just won't work no matter what. It is and I hope always will be an experimental project supported by hackers and advocates of free software and the open flow of ideas.

I want to thank the Kuro5hin community once again for making something positive like Spindl3top a reality. The "K5 way" does work and, if nothing else, the existence of Spindl3top is living proof of this. I can only hope that I can repay your generosity by continuing, day by day, to make these ideas into a reality while still keeping them low-profile, uncluttered, and un-hypeadelic.

Sincerely yours,
& Fellow K5'er


Voxel dot net
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What matters most to me in a box is...
o Raw Performance 45%
o Economical Price 28%
o Aesthetic Looks 10%
o Ease of Upgrading 15%

Votes: 57
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Slashdot
o Kuro5hin
o Dawn of a GNU Cooperative
o Spindl3top
o Wired
o Boston Globe
o inventory catalog
o Synecdoche
o Debian GNU/Linux
o Also by lucas

Display: Sort:
The GNU Cooperative Has Begun; An Update | 55 comments (55 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Great, but... (4.42 / 14) (#1)
by fluffy grue on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 07:16:20 PM EST

What's with that name?

I mean, what kind of idiot puts an eleet-looking number into a serious site's name?

"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

maybe (3.00 / 2) (#2)
by spacejack on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 07:22:52 PM EST

spindletop.org was taken. Actually it's not a bad way to get a semi-recongizable url.

[ Parent ]
Well, duh :) (3.33 / 3) (#3)
by fluffy grue on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 07:45:57 PM EST

I was just joking. Though I'm wondering why lucas insisted on the name 'spindletop' if it was already taken... I mean, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with a GNU collective.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Why the URL spindl3top.org (3.00 / 1) (#26)
by Michael Leuchtenburg on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 02:40:16 PM EST

Why the URL spindl3top.org? Because no one could think of a better one, at the first meeting or on the list. (which reminds me, I should get back into spindletop a bit).

[ #k5: dyfrgi ]
[ TINK5C ]
[ Parent ]
Why "spindletop" (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by flieghund on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 10:32:14 PM EST

From www.spindletop.org:
The Lucas gusher, discovered in 1901 on a little hill in Beaumont, Texas affectionately called "Spindletop," prompted an oil boom in America unlike any the country had ever seen before. A long and colorful history and an international interest in the following industrial age left a legacy of hope, discovery, promise, fortune, and industrial development...
Just a theory, but damn cool if true.

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
Fantastic! (3.55 / 9) (#4)
by rusty on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 07:55:49 PM EST

I love when cool things get born here. OpenNIC, now Spindl3top. Is anyone keeping a list of these?

Oh, and when the media interviews you, make sure you mention K5 as much as possible. ;-)

Not the real rusty

OT: What the heck is this ?? (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by retinaburn on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 10:05:57 AM EST

Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org . TINK5C. AYBABTU.

Its at the bottom of the page ...Are you using K5 to front some sort of terrorist-spy-infiltration scheme ?

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
mwahahaha (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by rusty on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 10:23:25 AM EST

I was wondering how long till someone noticed that. Come on, you read the site enough... you know what those acronyms mean. :-)

Ok, for those totally not in the know... "There Is No K5 Cabal. All Your Base Are Belong To Us."

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

LOL (3.00 / 1) (#52)
by retinaburn on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 09:29:20 PM EST

How long has it been like this ???

Since the dawn of time man has yearned to destroy the sun, but he will do the next best thing. Control a weblog [music:bah bah bahhhhhhhh].

I think that we are a young species that often fucks with things we don't know how to unfuck. -- Tycho

[ Parent ]
Wow (4.50 / 2) (#5)
by Skippy on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 09:01:40 PM EST

Lucas, that is the coolest thing I've seen in a long time. I like the idea of a hardware co-op and I'd LOVE to get one of those Blackbird cases. I'll probably follow all your recommendations but I'd like to make a couple of suggestions.
  1. I couldn't find anyplace to suggest alternative hardware other than as a comment to an article
  2. While I admire your adherance to a Free (libre) software ideal, please don't shut out other OS's. I really prefer FreeBSD over linux and I think the free (gratis) unix folks ought to stick together.
I also have 2 questions. Where do you order one of those badass cases (I found the order link but didn't see the cases on there) and do you forsee people having building parties at LUGs and such?

# I am now finished talking out my ass about things that I am not qualified to discuss. #
Agreement (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by Arker on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 11:52:49 PM EST

There is still some work to be done on the site, that is obvious and should go without saying. I'm personally amazed at the progress Lucas has made, and I'm sure he'll deal with the cases soon.

I have to agree with you about the focus on Debian, while I am a huge fan of Free Software (not that Open Source watered down bullcrap) and really appreciate the ideological side of Debian, I also find that Debian just doesn't suit my needs technically. I like FreeBSD, but I've managed to find a middle ground between the technical and the ideological in Slackware. I've brought this up on the Spindletop website myself, and the consensus as I remember it was to focus on Debian but support all Free OS as much as possible - which I think is a very fair and impartial decision. If you happen to know a lot about what hardware would work with Debian but cause problems with other linux distros or one or more of the *bsds, please post it... I know I would appreciate it, I'm quite certain Lucas and the rest would as well. You might just get drafted into maintaining part of the FAQ... *evil grin*

[ Parent ]
Free Software licenses >= GPL (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by bignose on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 01:37:43 AM EST

While I admire your adherance to a Free (libre) software ideal, please don't shut out other OS's. I really prefer FreeBSD over linux and I think the free (gratis) unix folks ought to stick together.

Free Software licenses, as defined by the FSF, includes many different licenses, the current BSD license among them. A computer built using only Free Software does not exclude the BSDs.

[ Parent ]
I guess I knew that (3.00 / 1) (#42)
by Skippy on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 12:18:22 PM EST

But I still think of the BSD license as having the advertising clause and thus being a non-Free license. There's also the XFree license, the Apache license, and a couple of others that are counted as "Free" by the FSF.

The problem lies in the the mindset that some people have. They'll tell you, to misquote Mike Meyers, "If its not GPL, its CRRRRAAAP!" It leads to a lot of bad feelings between people who should be cooperating.

# I am now finished talking out my ass about things that I am not qualified to discuss. #
[ Parent ]

GNU Union (4.42 / 7) (#6)
by mdavids on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 09:07:22 PM EST

Congratulations! I've been wanting to set up a somewhat similar co-op for a while now, so when I saw your original post, my heart skipped a beat (damn near wet myself with excitement, to be honest). It gave me the motivation to get involved with a few projects, out of which I'm hoping something lasting will evolve.

On the subject of a union/guild to share skills/resources, I'd like to recommend/urge/invite you to join the Industrial Workers of the World. My conception of the co-op I've wanted to set up has always been a GNU/IWW co-op, and not just out of a perverse desire to concatenate acronyms. The idea is to broaden the "free software" concept into "free work". The much-hyped "hacker ethos" is as far as I can see just another expression of the natural desire to engage in useful work that one can be proud of, to have the freedom to determine what you work on and how this work should be carried out, and to share the benefits of this work as widely as possible.

In case you're not familiar with the IWW, it's a non-political organisation built not on enraged manifestos, but a minimal set of moral principles centred around industrial democracy and solidarity. The objective is not just to struggle for greater "fairness" in our present society (the focus of traditional trade unions), but to work towards building a genuinely democratic society, by democratising the major part of our lives; that part spent engaged in some kind of work. In that sense it can be considered "revolutionary". The organisation itself does not have policies or opinions, but serves as the mode of organisation enabling communication and co-operation between it's members. All policies and opinions come from the membership. (Discalaimer: that's my interpretation of how the IWW works. Some fellow Wobblies may disagree. That's democracy. I'd be disappointed if they didn't. There is no "party line".)

Many of our members are already engaged in IT projects such as the East Timor Community Computer Project and the Yellow Network Coalition. However these sorts of things are primarily volunteer-based. To me the area in which the IWW can be especially useful is in forging links between enterprises like yours which demonstrate that workers can sustain themselves and satisfy community needs out of free work.

The advantage to people within these organisations of joining the IWW's "One Big Union" structure is that the links are not simply between people within one industry or area of expertise, but between all. So you can not only call on an expert in Beowulf clustering, you can find someone to re-wire your building, help with administrative stuff, whatever. And you know that the other organisations you work with are operating under the same principles as your own. Supporting each other and encouraging the formation of other IWW (and GNU/IWW) co-ops has something like the "viral" effect of the GPL.

I'd like to hear what you think of this

Why not a sister site? (4.33 / 3) (#7)
by winthrop on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 09:33:51 PM EST

There are certainly plenty of people who use free software in Australia and need machines to run it on, right? It would be madness for all of them to order machines from Spindl3top Boston, why not set up a Sydney version and the two could share information?

I don't know what everyone else thinks, but I think that would be damn cool...

[ Parent ]

Why not indeed... (4.33 / 3) (#8)
by mdavids on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 10:30:03 PM EST

What I had in mind here in Australia is not quite what Spindl3top does, but I think it's worthwhile, and we could definitely get some cross-fertilisation of experience and expertise going with Spindl3top and others elsewhere around the world. And crucially, it's cheaper to get going.

Something I'm involved in at the moment is a project to set up "Community Technology and Digital Arts Access Centres" out in the western suburbs of Sydney. The exact definition of the project changes from day to day, as the people running it jump through various hoops chasing funding. The basic idea is picking up some of the junked computers that Sydney is awash with at the moment (plenty of Pentiums out there), and put them to good use out in the community. (My local area is not the most affluent - unemployment's at about 20%.)

There's no shortage of hardware, no shortage of prospective customers, just a shortage of skilled people to do the tech stuff. I would say that given enough people, we could sustain a co-op like Spindl3top serving partly paying customers, part barter and 'pro-bono' (giving back to the community in the free software spirit), and pay ourselves enough to make a reasonable living (for whoever wants to take it up more or less full-time).

I was expecting that getting the critical mass of people together would have to wait until we could spin-off a co-op from the volunteers working in these Access Centres, but if enough people are interested now, we could find plenty of customers straight away, and I'd be ecstatic.

Incidentally, this is a good opportunity to get free software out among the people. I've been testing various setups on an old Cyrix 6X86 at home, and Debian (potato) with Sawfish, Gnome, and even Mozilla 0.6 runs quite acceptably, given at least 48 meg of RAM. The same machine used to have NT4, and it was a painful experience.

[ Parent ]
Plans of Spindletop (5.00 / 3) (#49)
by Michael Leuchtenburg on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 02:16:04 PM EST

We have actually discussed this. Spindletop wants to work with LUGs to lessen shipping charges on any hardware. Thus, in getting hardware to Australia, instead of shipping things to each person individually, we would make a single really big shipment to a LUG (Sydney's, perhaps), who would then ship to other LUGs, who would then distribute the hardware to the masses. ;)

One of the major utilities of Spindletop is in getting lower prices on hardware, whether through negotiating with vendors or through simply purchasing in larger quantities, thus qualifying for bulk prices rather than the high prices charged for single items. Spindletop hopes to have a low enough overhead to be able to do this cheaper than a company does. The lack of profit motive helps too. ;)

[ #k5: dyfrgi ]
[ TINK5C ]
[ Parent ]

Egads! It's the Zeitgeist! (4.00 / 2) (#14)
by Simian on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 01:05:02 AM EST

I noticed this story when it flew by a few months ago, and just didn't have time to comment.

I'm in the middle of setting up a technology cooperative (much more software-oriented) in Madison, WI, USA. So far it's quite larval, but I've got a few talented and dedicated friends involved, and we're starting to really move. I've been thinking for some time about how to apply the genius of GNU to organizations, and worker-owned cooperatives are the answer I keep arriving at.

I hope to ramp up our cooperative to the point where it can seed other projects. We won't ask for equity, but we will ask for a percentage of profits the new organization makes--until such time as it seeds another organiztion, and that "child" spawns in turn.

Basically, I want a return on the investment until it "matures" in the way that really matters to me--until it becomes a "grandparent". Once an organization hits that level, it should be completely unencumbered. I've done some figures, and there's no reason that parent organizations can't see a substantial return on their investment in a reasonable timeframe. So that is reason to spawn, as well as the promise of freeing the organization of its startup obligation.

I've thought of ways around the problem of dividing the "equity" among members of the parent organization. I'd place one more requirement on child organizations as well--they must be democratically organized. This doesn't mean that everyone has to sit around voting all the time, but rather that everyone has the right to question, participate in, and shape the managerial/organizational features of the cooperative. It can be run as a monarchy or a republic, so long as people agree that that's the way to get business done.

The analogy to GNU, if I'm being unclear, is that the originator of the work/organization retains rights in the property/equity only insofar as such rights guarantee that the property/equity remains "free" (as in speech :). How else can GNU be applied to capital in the same way as it is to intellectual 'property'?

I'm interested to know if anybody finds this an interesting idea, or if I'm completely off my rocker.


"As I would not be a slave, so would I not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy." Abraham Lincoln
[ Parent ]
IWW still exists? (3.00 / 3) (#15)
by Delirium on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 02:19:55 AM EST

Is this the same "Industrial Workers of the World" that was (in)famous for its rather radical activites during the late 19th and early 20th centuries? I wasn't aware that the "Wobblies" were still around...

[ Parent ]
Yes, they do. (3.50 / 2) (#17)
by Eric Henry on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 04:19:26 AM EST

Yes they do in fact still exist. Here's the US Industrial Workers of the World. There's also the Communications & Computer Workers Union Local #23, which may appeal to some of the people here.

Eric Henry

[ Parent ]
wow, that's not true! (4.40 / 5) (#19)
by streetlawyer on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 06:52:08 AM EST

I think the award for "Not quite the whole truth" can be awarded!

In case you're not familiar with the IWW, it's a non-political organisation built not on enraged manifestos

Which is odd, as the preamble to the Wobbly constitution includes, among other choice "non-political" nuggets:

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."

It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

I actually have a lot of time for the IWW and they do good work. But I've never been of the opinion that anyone can do well by pretending to be something they clearly aren't.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
Non-political (4.25 / 4) (#31)
by mdavids on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 06:59:09 PM EST

Well, that depends on the way in whether you you the term 'political' in a fairly narrow sense, or a broad sense. When the IWW was formed in 1905, the premable spoke of (from memory, so don't quote me) "organising in the industrial as well as the political sphere," meaning that it was indended for the IWW to involve itself in parliamentary politics, put forward candidates for elections, etc., just like the Communist Party or whoever.

In 1909, the majority of the IWW decided, rightly I believe, that traditional political agitation was pretty pointless, and the IWW subsequently split into two factions; the 'Detroit', or 'De Leonite' IWW, which soon disintegrated, and the 'Chicago', or 'non-political' IWW, which is the organisation that carries on to this day.

The thinking behind this is pretty much common sense. Most of the decisons that affect our lives are investment decisions - what gets done, who does it, and how - and these decisions are generally not made by governments, they are made by corporations. When the real problem is abuse of economic power, why concern yourself with political power?

So in the sense that conventional party politics is an area that the IWW does not attempt to address, it is a "non-political" organisation. If you want to press the matter and say that any organisation that has a set of principles and a strategy for implementing them has a "political agenda", in my view you're using the word political so loosely that it's worthless. You could say that the Girl Scouts is a political organisation, or the Catholic Church. Plenty of people probably would, but to my mind doing so is pretty silly. If every organisation is inevitably political, what purpose is served by calling something "political"? Most of the time you hear that someone has a "political agenda" it's just an exercise in social FUD.

If you maintain that people ought to control the decisions that affect their lives, that structuring the society in such a way that the majority live as wage slaves is immoral and unjustifiable, that the proper thing for a moral person to do is work with others to correct this state of affairs, that's not a political position, but a philosophical assertion, based on your undertanding of human nature and moral resonsibility. Maybe if such an assertion were made within the political arena, with some ensuing debate, you could be justified in calling it a current "political issue", but I don't think we need worry about that happening any time soon.

[ Parent ]
don't be silly (4.33 / 3) (#37)
by streetlawyer on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 02:00:13 AM EST

If you want to press the matter and say that any organisation that has a set of principles and a strategy for implementing them has a "political agenda", in my view you're using the word political so loosely that it's worthless. You could say that the Girl Scouts is a political organisation, or the Catholic Church. Plenty of people probably would, but to my mind doing so is pretty silly. If every organisation is inevitably political, what purpose is served by calling something "political"?

It's a socialist organisation. To call it non-political is silly. It is not using the word "political" loosely at all to say that an organisation which aims to bring down the current political system by revolution is a political organisation.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

errmmmmm (1.78 / 14) (#9)
by jann on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 10:53:20 PM EST

like what am I missing?

this guy comes up with a way to flog black computers to people who like linux ... by making them into GNUputers.

I think that this is a crock of shit ... you want a cool computer you can buy any number of them ... with linux / BSD support ... from people who do not have to use lame assed marketing tactics to take your dollar. Seriously ... what is the difference between this and a box that meets the "supported hardware list" on the back of your debian CD ... apart from the fact that it is black and is in support of "free software"

an open source computer my arse ... a marketing gimmick more like it

The differences (5.00 / 5) (#13)
by winthrop on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 12:05:52 AM EST

Lucas can probably answer this better, but I'll do my best:
  • Open Design. Spindl3top computers, starting with the Blackbird, have an open design. If you didn't want to order from Spindl3top, you could build your own Blackbird based on the specs on the site and have the benefit of the entire Spindl3top community's knowledge of potential problems with the hardware, past performance of the hardware with free software, etc.
  • Bargaining power. A lot of free software users build their own boxes (I would think, at least); Spindl3top gives them a way to bargain from power with component makers both for lower prices and for more open specs.
  • Trust. Spindl3top isn't in it for the money. It's a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) and while I wasn't paying that much attention during the discussion of the legal trivia, an LLC is much more restricted in the way it can act than a public or private corporation is. That means you can trust it more than you can, say, Compaq, because they won't drop you as soon as you become unprofitable.

    That also means that the designs of the computers are built with the users' needs in mind, not the profitability of the entity. For example, the machines are built to be easily upgradable so you won't have to keep buying new ones.

It's really a very cool project; I hope you will take another look.

[ Parent ]

LLCs (4.75 / 4) (#23)
by drgerg on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 10:22:47 AM EST

[It will come as little surprise that I'm not a lawyer, but I have done a lot of reading about the LLC/Corporation thing in preparation for starting my company.]

The fact that they formed an LLC does not provide any evidence whatsoever that Spindl3top is not be "in it for the money". It does show that they are smart enough to want to stay out of trouble though.

Structuring a small company as either a corporation or an LLC is desirable because, under most circumstances, they limit the personal legal liability of the employees/founders. This is, of course, a big win. Many people choose the LLC form over a corporation for their small business because it's much easier to create an LLC and the paperwork required to run one is much much simpler.

One "disadvantage" of LLCs, which may be what the poster was referring to, is that they cannot issue stock. So Spindl3top LLC is not going to be raising the big bucks by going public. They'd have to switch over to a corporation to do that.

Nolo is a good source of information on this topic: http://www.nolo.com/encyclopedia/sb_ency.html#Subtopic16

[ Parent ]

well ... I am studying to be a lawyer (1.80 / 5) (#30)
by jann on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 05:32:54 PM EST

but I know nothing about corporation law ... and I am in Australia so I know nothing about American law ... but this is still a piece of shit.

spindletop is humping a dead GNU. Wanna run linux ... check out the supported hardware list. Wanna run serious free Unix computing ... install free/open/netBSD.


[ Parent ]

Fonts (2.16 / 6) (#10)
by mcelrath on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 11:21:22 PM EST

I love the idea of the GNU Cooperative. One detail though:


This message brought to you by potential customers with high resolution monitors, and the letters 'p' and 'q'.
1^2=1; (-1)^2=1; 1^2=(-1)^2; 1=-1; 2=0; 1=0.

You know... (2.20 / 5) (#11)
by regeya on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 11:42:09 PM EST

I almost rated that lower than I did. If you can give me a good reason, just <I>one good reason</I>, why the people reading this need to see this (in other words, why this was a more effective way of communicating such a thing instead of posting an offtopic message in the story) then I'll remove my rating. Seriously, I will.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

You know... (3.00 / 1) (#20)
by mcelrath on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 09:47:52 AM EST

Your post makes no sense. What, the kuro5hin nazis don't want offtopic posts?

But I don't care how you rate it. As long as one of the spindletop guys sees it, my purpose is served. Absolute font sizes are an abomination. <font size=3> is what the user has his browser set as what he wants to read. <font size=1> should not be used for large blocks of text.

1^2=1; (-1)^2=1; 1^2=(-1)^2; 1=-1; 2=0; 1=0.
[ Parent ]

Fixed it... (3.50 / 2) (#27)
by lucas on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 03:21:34 PM EST

Ok, it should be fixed...

[ Parent ]
Monster images (2.33 / 3) (#16)
by mystic on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 02:44:41 AM EST

I hate unnecessary graphics.. and I was appalled by the size of the 'section graphics' on Spindl3top's site. Please reduce the size of those monster images.

change the acct 'theme' to an icon-free one (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by lucas on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 01:08:11 PM EST

Yeah, you should be able to change the theme to an icon-free 'Spindl3top' one I've been working on. It is yet another thing I have to do... bring the images into the GIMP and reduce their sizes... I just made them a day ago and haven't had a chance to work with them.

[ Parent ]
I'd like to see a strong linux curriculum.... (4.25 / 4) (#21)
by yankeehack on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 09:58:38 AM EST

Another idea I have is to create an open certification program which is very low-cost and affordable.

Not only looking at possible cert development, the community should be also looking towards a strong curriculum. I've witnessed a disturbing trend in the IT community that somehow studying for a cert is an acceptable subsitute for an education. (MCSE anyone?)

One of my upcoming projects within the next year or so will be to develop a linux curriculum for the program I work for. (Along the lines of developing effective lesson plans and computer lab projects.) I would gladly work on a project where my individual work would contribute to a larger goal. I would also appreciate the ability to collaborate with folks who have more technical experience than I do.

To give you some perspective, where I live in the states, only *one* business (a cert farm) in my metropolitan area is even offering a linux course today (to boot, I think its RH). Many colleges/universities and other IT educational facilties are not teaching linux. We linux users need to do this because telling people to go RTFM (or O'Reilly book) is just going to push folks towards the easy solutions.

No one who was bad in bed has ever been good in life (i.e. liberals, I've never had sex with a liberal woman who knew how to use her body.) Keeteel :-P I'm *right*!

You're project... (3.33 / 3) (#28)
by ragabr on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 04:00:46 PM EST

I'll be happy to do research and help flesh out with your "lesson plans", just email me when you get the chance.

And my tongue would be made of chocolate. Mmmmm. Chocolate.
[ Parent ]
Response to "What's the Truth About..." (4.42 / 7) (#29)
by lucas on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 05:04:01 PM EST

For those of you who missed my response to the article, "What's the Truth About the GNU Cooperative", before it was shot down, I'll post it here.

If Spiers had read anything I wrote, he would have seen that what is on the site is preliminary and done by me. Don't quote from it like it's the Bible because I fuck up sometimes in my wording. No, there's no conspiracy.. and I haven't played up the stuff about donating because I do it because *I* want to and NOT FOR PUBLICITY. I see it as an ethical responsibility, but it is MY choice and not REQUIRED. As Rusty said, a cooperative and a charity are not the same things.

I actually did some research into this way back when and found that it is not even legal to be a charity and "resell" things unless you are something like the Goodwill and resell donated stuff. I chose LLC because it is not a corporation, there's no stock (or stockholder), no board of directors, and it's kept small.

I don't believe in dumping money (yah... like I have any) on people as a show of benevolence or for publicity. And, if I get into details about "how much" and "who gets what" and "who is favored" and whatever else, not one person is going to agree, anyway. Is there a good way to do it? Help me implement it, then. Personally, I like Debian and the FSF; however, I informally allow anyone do send whatever to other LEGAL projects -- this is because it is all tabulated at the end of the year. Just drop me a line. No, I didn't put this in the FAQ... yes, it should be in there... Would you like to help?

The main gist of it is that I don't disagree with Spiers, and he is more than welcome to help out and add these things. I'm listening.

It's easy to criticize and make up elaborate conspiracy and scare-theories; please just chill out and if you're that scared, please call me up and ask whatever question you want.

why "GNU"? (3.25 / 4) (#34)
by Delirium on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 09:57:54 PM EST

While I don't see a basis for most of the points he raised, I do agree that calling your project "the GNU cooperative" is a bit puzzling. You do realize that GNU is the name of a project (the main project) of the Free Software Foundation, don't you? It's not just a catch-all term meaning "free software." Does your project actually have any affiliation with the GNU project that would justify using their name?

[ Parent ]
Here's why, though if you have a better one... (4.50 / 4) (#41)
by lucas on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 10:42:42 AM EST

Actually, I was at Project GNU last night at MIT; I saw RMS and some of the other people there. AFAIK, they don't have a problem with it. If they did, I would certainly not use it.

The official name is Spindl3top; that's not a problem. The whole "GNU Coop" thing has been put out before, so I decided to use it. I changed it for the posting of this article, but later on, the official slogan will probably go back to what it was before. I don't talk about it other than "Spindl3top" in my everyday language, so if you're concerned that I might be pimping or tainting the brand... no, it was just for this article and just to make ppl remember what I talked about before.

Do you have a better slogan or description? Again, I'm listening. If you can clarify it better than I can, I'd be quite happy and would use your alternate.

[ Parent ]

So in other words, he's right. (4.00 / 4) (#39)
by streetlawyer on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 07:29:15 AM EST

I see it as an ethical responsibility, but it is MY choice and not REQUIRED. As Rusty said, a cooperative and a charity are not the same things.

And neither are the same thing as an LLP which is owned by you. The current ownership of the surplus generated by reselling is: Lucas owns it, and does with it as he sees fit. That to me, doesn't look like a co-operative. It looks like an LLP. You should certainly not describe this as a co-op until you can come up with some explanation of who are the members of the co-operative, how outsiders can join and gain shares, and so on.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Well, would you like to help? (3.80 / 5) (#40)
by lucas on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 10:05:22 AM EST

Well now, Streetlawyer, would you like to volunteer your services and help me do that? It costs a lot of money from lawyers to do this which is why I haven't already.

[ Parent ]
no (3.50 / 6) (#46)
by streetlawyer on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 12:56:05 PM EST

I think it's a half-assed idea, and that the "free software" thing is a gimmick (you're also infringing on the GNU trademark, if they've bothered to register it). I would however, be interested in the answer to the follwoing question: Why is the owner of spindl3top.org listed by Network Solutions as "SPINDLETOP INC." rather than "SPINDLETOP LLC"?

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
While you're at it... (4.00 / 4) (#48)
by regeya on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 01:57:07 PM EST

...make sure to email Linus Torvalds and have him send a threatening letter to the GNU Project for their use of the name GNU/Linux. Linux is, after all, a registered trademark owned by Linus Torvalds.

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

christ, you're stupid (2.00 / 4) (#53)
by streetlawyer on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 02:14:02 AM EST

The relationship between Linus and GNU is very clear, and Linus wasn't, the last time I looked, asking people for money for GNU-related products. If you're going to make smart-ass comments, they'll need to be a bit smarter than that.

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
'Cuz it takes NSI 4 - 6 weeks to do it... (3.66 / 3) (#50)
by lucas on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 02:52:41 PM EST

Yeah, well I have... it takes NSI 4-6 weeks to do it.

I shouldn't have used NSI in the first place, but,
of course, that's a different story.

[ Parent ]
that's a non-answer (3.66 / 3) (#54)
by streetlawyer on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 02:17:10 AM EST

I don't understand how it can be the fault of Network Solutions that you are using the GNU trademark while having an ambiguous connection at best to the Free Software Foundation. And I'd still like to know what "SPINDLETOP INC." is, and whether any of the money posted off for these computers will end up on its balance sheet. For that matter, it'd be interesting to know why this incorporated entity wasn't mentioned at all despite having paid such an integral role in the start of this "co-op".

Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
Thoughts (3.00 / 2) (#32)
by kagaku_ninja on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 07:01:24 PM EST

Whoa... that is one honking big-ass case. I tried looking at the website for Casetronic, but couldn't find anything black and cube shaped. I assume it is at least the height of a conventional mid-tower, and twice as wide.

The parts list looks pretty conventional. Not sure why I am paying $1500 - $2000 for something a Linux-savvy individual should be able to assemble with no great difficulty.

All black... looks cool, but is probably increasing the cost. Black parts seem to cost more, even though they are identical inside.

Server Case (3.00 / 1) (#33)
by supine on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 08:04:27 PM EST

If you look at the centronics site, on the "server case" page, in the photo is a cube like case similar to what these guys are getting their hands on. Just no details to accompany the tiny picture... :(


"No GUI for you! Use lynx!!!, Come back, One year!" -- /avant
[ Parent ]
Repost of a story submission (3.55 / 9) (#38)
by spiers on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 04:41:01 AM EST

[This is a repost of a story submission, which I was advised to resubmit as a comment to this story. If nothing else, the site should not be allowed free promotion on kuro5hin or other sites until it can prove it is a bona fide registered charity. If I started a company promising great service, or Linux expertise or whatever (VA Linux systems, say), I would not expect to get free advertising on that basis. If what I was operating was charitable in nature OTOH, I would expect goodwill, but only when I had demonstrated that my project *was* charitable in nature, and had formalized that accordingly.]

This whole project has received an enormous amount of goodwill from those in the open source community, with almost universal praise for it - commenters on Slashdot called it a Free Hardware Foundation, and implied it was of equal merit as the Free Software Foundation.

I have my doubts.

I have no objection to the idea of a charity supporting free software (although I believe there are are better destinations for charitable donations than software (such as those starving literally to death in countries such as Ethiopia, or those whose legs are being blown off in one of the dozens of countries worldwide that are effectively war zones)), but this is not a charity. In fact, it is quite unclear as to what this is.

The essential *effect* of lucas' posts thus far has been that the project will support the open source community, with the vague implication that donations or contributions will be made to good causes. As it turns out, however, the site's obligations in respect of free software-related good causes are precisely $0. If you read the FAQ on the site, you will find certain facts:

  • 'volunteers' working on the site or on activities related to it will be paid
  • spindlerope as a site will take 'some' of the rest of the money.
All statements in respect of actual money or help for good causes are vague - implying that money will be given, when in fact there is no reason for the site to do so.

This project, in operation at least (since there is no proper statement of intents, charter or contract, the modus operandi is all we can comment on), is like one of those 'charities' occasionally shut down for exploiting the public (e.g., by paying little or no money to good causes at all).

The project is exploiting people's goodwill towards the open source community. At this stage you should avoid giving it any money, and you should not do so until it provides a proper statement of its aims, and full details of its obligations. I would not contribute any money towards a charity unless I knew that charity was registered under law, and was required to make public its accounts. If this is not a charitable venture, kuro5hin should charge the going rate for commercial advertising.

Be warned. Until there is proper accountability (for example, when I buy something from a shop that supports a charity, it will say, for example, that 10 cents from every sale goes to the charity in question; similarly, a pledge might be made to donate a certain percentage of turnover to the organization in question), you should avoid this site. Here's why:

  • There's no contract
  • There's no statement of intents (strangely, the link to the social contract on the homepage is non-existent)
  • There's nothing saying where the money will go
  • There's nothing to tell us who is making money out of it
  • There's no kind of regulation
I also would like answers to the following questions:
  1. If this site is going to support free software-related organizations, why doesn't it do so on a transparent basis? Why doesn't it support the FSF's existing efforts in any way?
  2. Why doesn't the site extend or somehow relate to the FSF's existing commercial activities
  3. Why doesn't the site say who is profiting from it?
  4. Why is it so sly as to exactly what it's doing?
  5. Why isn't the site properly registered - why isn't a charity - and why does it have no accountability or obligations to anyone under than the bank balances (it might be that in practice, that it has other beneficiaries, but it has no obligations to help anyone at all)?
  6. Why is the site using the GNU name without any affiliation to the GNU project?
Until such time as all of these questions are satisfactorily answered and resolved, it seems inadvisable to support this site in any way.


POST SCRIPT. In the original comments to the story, I was accused of conspiracy theorizing. This is far from the case. In particular, I have not made any allegations that there is any conspiracy at all. What I have said, is that the project's status is currently far too unclear for anyone to pay any money into it, and therefore that you should avoid it until such time as its status is made clear. Upon such time as it is stated clearly, I will be happy to endorse

This is not a conspiracy theory, and indeed is no different to the actions of government and investigative organizations in advising the public to steer clear of unregistered charities; the lack of regulation and guarantees of actual money going to any good cause means you would be better off giving money to a reputable organization (such as, in this case, the FSF).

Response to allegations (4.20 / 5) (#43)
by Michael Leuchtenburg on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 12:36:22 PM EST

I was at the first meeting of Spindletop, in Cambridge, so I feel I'm qualified to answer some of your questions.

If this site is going to support free software-related organizations, why doesn't it do so on a transparent basis? Why doesn't it support the FSF's existing efforts in any way?

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by this. The FSF is one of the organizations that will be donated to; once spindletop has money to do donations. Significantly more money has been spent thus far (on an office and a net connection) than has been made (by selling limited amounts of hardware; production is definitely not in full swing).

What exactly do you mean by "a transparent basis"?

Why doesn't the site extend or somehow relate to the FSF's existing commercial activities?

Why should it have anything whatsoever to do with that? Frankly, I think those prices are inflated, and would never pay them. If I'm going to support the FSF through donations, I'll do it through real donations; not by buying overly pricey merchandise.

In any case, I don't see why Spindletop should connect with that. I find it difficult to even imagine a way that it could do so.

Why doesn't the site say who is profiting from it?

As of now? Nobody. Lucas has sunk some of his savings into it, which he does hope to recoup. There are, as of now, two employees of the Spindletop LLC; Lucas and JoshO.

Why is it so sly as to exactly what it's doing?

Because Spindletop is not very well organized. It's not an intentional slyness; it's just a failure to put out enough information quickly enough to satisfy you.

Why isn't the site properly registered - why isn't a charity - and why does it have no accountability or obligations to anyone under than the bank balances (it might be that in practice, that it has other beneficiaries, but it has no obligations to help anyone at all)?

Charities are very hard to set up, and come with some legal requirements such as "accepting everyone and letting them help decide the course of the entity", which is not something we wanted to happen.

Keep in mind that an LLC is very different from a normal corporation. It can't accept venture capital, or issue stock; it has a limited period of existence (30 years, according to the FAQ). It is, however, a corporation, and can thus accept legal responsibility for things, thus protecting its members.

I don't recall the specifics; I'll tell lucas to put it in the FAQ.

According to an email I just got from lucas, he does want to turn spindletop, legally, into a co-operative (which is indeed a legal entity), but only hasn't because of price problems. If you look at these comments, you'll see what he quoted to me in the email.

Why is the site using the GNU name without any affiliation to the GNU project?

Because it's a good name. And because the GNU doesn't object; at least, RMS doesn't, and people tend to accept his word as the word of the GNU.

Hopefully this makes a bit more clear what the goals of spindletop are.

[ #k5: dyfrgi ]
[ TINK5C ]
[ Parent ]

wow... how stupid that sounds (3.00 / 1) (#44)
by Michael Leuchtenburg on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 12:41:53 PM EST

I just realized how incredibly wrong this is: "accepting everyone and letting them help decide the course of the entity", which is not something we wanted to happen.

That actually is one of the goals of Spindletop. What was I thinking when I wrote that? I wish I knew. Please disregard it.

[ #k5: dyfrgi ]
[ TINK5C ]
[ Parent ]

Detailed Response (groan) (3.71 / 7) (#51)
by lucas on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 03:00:34 PM EST

>promotion on kuro5hin or other sites until it can prove it is a bona fide
>registered charity.

This was not free advertising. It is a follow-up story about my experiences. I'm glad you feel as if you should make up these criteria for the K5. Advertising, to me, is an MLP posting that begins with "Cool.. check out this killa widget !"

I'm not sure why I should be forced to conform to whatever idea you have about what it should be. Why don't you start your own thing? Why don't you put the effort down? Let's see you do 77/78's of what I've done and then you can flame me all you want. Otherwise, you can kiss my ass.

>I have no objection to the idea of a charity supporting free software

Again, this is not a charity... it's an attempt to get decent hardware at decent prices and decent boxes for free software... and make the ability to build them open enough so that people can do it themselves and upgrade when they need to without updating the whole entire computer.

Free software doesn't depend on money. It depends on people. It depends on WORK. This includes people to build and maintain decent boxes for the people who use it. I'm taking the ideas that we use in OSS and trying to put them to use in hardware.

Give me a break, what will my crap pocketchange per video card or whatever do for the FSF? Nothing. They get a lot of money from other places, grants or whatever. I feel an ethical responsibility, but NO organization has to do ANYTHING if it doesn't want to. What makes you think that some sort of stupid, puny contract will stop corruption? Are you that naive?

You cannot (and I repeat: cannot) make ANY money from selling most hardware these days. If you could, it would be great. Small companies are dead because the average consumer can buy shit cheaper on Pricewatch. Dude, if I were solely interested in the money, I sure as hell wouldn't be doing this... much less fielding questions or allowing myself to be prodded. I haven't made much, that's for sure. I could be making a lot more doing what you're doing, WHATEVER it is.

Now... We would "support" ATI, for instance, if we (as a group) felt that they had decent free software drivers and a decent product. We incorporate it into our source and say, "hey, these guys make a pretty good performing product, the drivers are solid (or whatever), and etc." It is collaboration. Those of us who work with hardware appreciate it because using computers in the different settings we do is a lot different than coming up with a marketing plan like Dell does and saying "we're going to sell to ppl x, y this model, etc."

The project uses its "entity arm" to buy shit, but you don't *have* to buy stuff.

As far as I'm concerned, this issue has been overkilled. I don't know why you reposted this and added more text to it to dig yourself deeper.

Like I said, I don't disagree with your polemic. Spindl3top is in the early stages and your posting is still ignorant of anything I've written, at best.

Your presupposition is that I have the:

  • a. people
  • b. money
  • c. time

    to just make these things magically appear before your very eyes.

    We're also handling a lot of stuff behind the scenes.

    As I said before, I'm willing to implement any of your ideas if you'll lend the help to do it.

    P.S. You're also the fuel behind why the site was trolled with repulsive images that I've spent half a day cleaning out our databases and rewriting code for-- check out your pirated comments on geekizoid.com, the goatse.cx people.

    [ Parent ]

  • Long response, ignoring the simple question (5.00 / 2) (#55)
    by streetlawyer on Mon Feb 26, 2001 at 11:28:06 AM EST

    Errrrrmmmmmm .... that's an awfully long response to have made, without once addressing the main point which is, as they say, 77/78ths of the reason why people are suspicious of you.

    Why are you claiming to be a "GNU" co-operative when there is no evidence available at all that you have any connection with the GNU project?

    A related question is my own of "Why are you claiming to be a co-operative of any sort when your organisation is not a co-operative?", but that can wait.

    Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
    [ Parent ]

    Overzealous Doctors a Problem (1.33 / 3) (#45)
    by DigDug on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 12:54:20 PM EST

    Overzealous doctors, especially surgeons, will be a big problem with the idea of parents being prosecuted for denying treatment to their children. Who decides whether or not the child needs treatment?

    Remember, medicine, especially in the U.S., is almost entirely a business. The doctor will recieve very little compensation from an office visit. Surgery, various tests, and treatment, however, will bring in a lot more cash.

    I have been a somewhat remote witness of a person dying from totally unneeded surgery. She felt that it was unneeded. Everyone she talked to felt that it was unneeded. The three doctors that she went to told her that she could die any day now if she didn't have it. She died a week after the surgery. (The doctors didn't tell her exactly what was wrong, because they didn't know.)

    I have also witnessed "untraditional" treatment give results after "traditional" medicine had given up long ago. (I am skeptical to the bone, and at times cynical.)

    Watching The Exorcist will give you a good idea of what the medical community was like when the movie was made. It hasn't changed much since.

    Yavista - if you haven't found a nice homepage yet.

    Sorry! (3.00 / 1) (#47)
    by DigDug on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 12:58:24 PM EST

    I'm really sorry for posting this to the wrong article.

    Yavista - if you haven't found a nice homepage yet.

    [ Parent ]

    Updated FAQ (none / 0) (#56)
    by lucas on Thu Mar 01, 2001 at 03:24:54 PM EST

    Just wanted to point out the new FAQ (v2) is located here. I was able to cover a lot of people's questions (and some questions that weren't asked, as well).

    The GNU Cooperative Has Begun; An Update | 55 comments (55 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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