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July 10, 2005

'They're not just for hashbrowns anymore' — Things you can do with a potato

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A blog is only as good as its readers and I've got an estimable one down Mississippi way: Ms. Shawn Lea, grand panjandrum (panjandra?) of the fabuloso everythingandnothing.

Early this morning — at 1:12:55 a.m. (ET) — Shawn reported on her recent discovery of yet another use for the humble potato besides its role in forming part of the All–American breakfast.

Why wasn't she asleep at the hour?

I don't know and I don't want to know. But I digress.

She suggested that "we should begin collecting the ever–growing uses for the humble but hard–working spud."

Her wish was my command: I roused my crack research team from their collective stupor in front of their keyboards — you don't think they're allowed to sleep in a bed, do you? Surely you jest — and said, get on with it.

Only twelve hours later they have presented me with the following bookofjoe Version 2.0 version of "101 Uses for a Dead Potato — Abridged."

That's why it contains only 7 uses.

And now on the meat of the matter (wait a minute, that's not right...):

    1) Remove a broken light bulb stump.

    2) Make a "sponge stamp" — "Cut a potato in half and use a cookie cutter to cut out a design. The potato absorbs just the right amount of paint so as not to make your stamping look 'gloppy.'" [via Shawn Lea]

    3) A remailer utility (whatever that is).

    4) Mr. Potato Head. Read his history.

    5) As a poultice — Edgar Cayce advocated the use of potato peel scrapings to reduce inflammation of the eyes. "Do not use the new potato; that is, use the potato of the year previous, and scrape same and lay over the eye of evenings."

    6) To improve hair color and health — once again, from Edgar Cayce. "Peel the potato and make a soup of the peelings. Take this weekly."

    7) As a joke — Place a potato on the couch. When someone asks, "What's that potato doing there?," reply, "It's a couch potato." With the right audience, laughter will ensue. Well, it would here, anyhow.

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Hey — if you can't take a joke, find someone who can.

What does that mean?

"Babies, before we're done here you'll all be wearing gold–plated diapers."

"What does that mean?"

"Never question Bruce Dickinson."

July 10, 2005 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'Tommy, can you hear me?'

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I can't get enough.

Of "Tommy."

I am still on continuing replay of this magnificent 1969 album by The Who; today marks day 3 of my "Tommy"–induced spell.

The album is so powerful and mesmerizing, I decided to get a better playback device than my iMac.

So I went up route 29 north to the Crutchfield store yesterday afternoon to see what I could see.

That was after perusing the dismal offerings at Best Buy and Circuit City on my way.

I told the guy at Crutchfield I wanted an ultra–compact CD player that sounded great and had anti–skip protection so I could run with it.

Sound a little like "less filling v. tastes great," doesn't it?

Probably can't have it all.

But lo and behold the saleman brought forth the Sony D–NE10 (above and below).

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Talk about an alien spacecraft shrunk down into a CD player: this is it.

It uses a rechargeable flat lithium battery to allow its inner workings — the laser and electronics — to be crammed into a device three–quarters of an inch thick.

That's correct: it's 0.75" high.

It weighs 6.2 oz. with battery, as opposed to my old CD player, itself no giant, which tips the scales at 8.9 oz. with batteries.

An awful lot of technology in this baby: heat–resistant aluminum lid; magnesium back for strength and light weight; plays every type of CD known to man.

Comes with an unbelievably tricked–out, spacey–looking recharging stand (above) with these long prongs that go deep into corresponding openings in the player; I wonder if I could plug in too? But I digress.

The included earbuds are meant to work with the little inline remote (above), which features an LCD readout and a very cool volume control function: you turn the end clockwise for up and counterclockwise for down, all done easily by touch.

The sound of "Tommy" with this player is much better than it was with the iMac: the drums, the insanity of Keith Moon's powerful drums, just blows me back in my chair.

I'm so overwhelmed with delight now that I'm taking it to the next level: I ordered a pair of Shure E2C earbuds from amazon after reading a lot of reviews online.

You can get them cheaper here — $58.95 v 69.94 at amazon — but with amazon prime I get free two–day shipping; buying at Comp–U–Plus adds $14.95 for shipping, bringing the total to $73.90.

Oh, yeah.

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And now, back to the music.

July 10, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

An interview with Seth Goldstein — The inventor of Why Knot, the machine that ties a tie in 562 steps

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One of my most popular posts ever, making its way from this space to engadget and many other websites, was about the Why Knot (above), the near–miraculous machine built over a period of five years by retired mechanical engineer Seth Goldstein in the basement of his Maryland home.

It ties a four–in–hand in 562 steps over nine minutes.

But, like the dog that walked poorly on its hind legs, about which Samuel Johnson remarked, "The wonder is not that it walks poorly, but that it walks at all," so with this unique machine.

Vanessa de la Torre interviewed Goldstein in his Maryland home for an entertaining story which appeared in this past Thursday's Washington Post.

Alas, the pictures that accompanied the Post's article didn't make it online.

They probably didn't have enough space.

Anyway, here's the story.

    The Contraption That Can Really Tie One On

    "Okay, Why Knot, do your thing," Seth Goldstein says, stepping back with the flamboyance of a magician.

    We're in his Bethesda basement, lured here by word of a robot who can tie a necktie.

    It took about five years to design and build, and soon it will be in a Philadelphia museum.

    We watch.

    His wife watches.

    Seconds pass.

    Goldstein, who is 65 and has 12 patents (for such objects as a miniature catheter and a type of laser scanning microscope), steps forward and mouse-clicks on a computer displaying what looks like EKG readings, then returns to the spectator's position: Arms crossed, head jutted forward.

    "Do your thing, Why Knot."

    Or not.

    Occasionally the machine has precision issues, Goldstein says, since it is dealing with something so delicate as a polyester necktie.

    Once it gets going it'll be fine, says Goldstein.

    But let's dispel the fantasy that Why Knot whips out a standard four-in-hand knot in 2.3 seconds.

    It's more like nine minutes and 562 steps.

    It's not even a robot or some sort of cybernetic manservant, but a "kinetic sculpture," as Goldstein calls it, something you'd sort of expect a guy in the burbs to build in his basement from a big, bad Erector set.

    If there is a purpose to Why Knot and its July 15 public opening at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, it's showing that mechanical engineering -- and its friction, momentum and voltages (yee-ow!) -- can be titillating stuff.

    Because, really, there is no other point, says Goldstein.

    "Who's ever made a tie-tying machine?" he asks.

    "That's not something you can economically justify, but if you're a retiree, you don't have to worry about that anymore. I'm free! "

    After earning four degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and working more than 40 years as a mechanical engineer -- including three decades at the National Institutes of Health designing biomedical instruments -- Goldstein decided to create Why Knot "for the hell of it."

    Others have more lofty explanations, however.

    Tom Perry, managing director of education for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, whose foundation provided $30,000 for the project (including $10,000 for the development of educational materials) and arranged its permanent exhibition at Sir Isaac's Loft at the Franklin Institute, believes that Why Knot forces people to confront the complexity of the human body.

    "Just the mechanics it takes to reach up and scratch your forehead" is amazing, says Perry.

    Then you look at Goldstein's machine, and all those infrared lights and optical sensors and the 10 electric motors that propel a series of 562 laborious movements to tie and untie one standard knot -- all that shaft rotation and energy conversion, all that controlled motion and heat.

    Goldstein has named some of the mechanical parts that have dominated umpteen hours of his life.

    There is the Hooker, for example. Then the Grabber, the Breaker and the Finger.

    "You see, I don't get out enough," he says.

    And the Roller, formerly a toilet paper roll with a wire clothes hanger, is another favorite.

    Just see how it smoothly transfers the tie to the closest thing Why Knot has to hands. (The process has begun!)

    Next phase: Shaping the four-in-hand.

    The project started benignly enough: "Why don't you build a machine that ties a necktie?" asked Paula Stone, Goldstein's wife, over breakfast one morning in fall 1999.

    "Great idea!" said her husband, who had been seeking a spare-time project.

    When he retired in 2002, Why Knot became a full-time obsession -- and frequent headache.

    The original version took a year to organize, and many times he says he was thinking, "Forget this thing; it's never going to work."

    Like, how do you untie the dang tie after nine meticulous minutes of producing a four-in-hand? (Don't even think about asking Why Knot for a Windsor.)

    "I couldn't face the process," says Goldstein.

    He later solved it after walking around the block a couple times.

    But he was still forced to move the electric motors by hand, ensuring round-the-clock maintenance when machine parts would go "spastic," which was often.

    So Goldstein called in the geek squad.

    The key to the second, more successful version of Why Knot is the computer program, which was designed by electrical engineer Randy Pursley.

    Optical sensors detect the presence of reflected light at different points in the cycle, triggering voltage that is then fed into the system.

    The computer monitors this voltage, which signals whether the tie is in the right place.

    If it isn't, Why Knot can take corrective action or start all over again.

    Meanwhile, his wife has overheard all the failures and goofing off from upstairs.

    The swearing when he wrestles with numbers, the giggling when he develops shapes.

    The limb-jangling gong from his earlier Rube Goldbergesque machine, a lazy, plaid-shirted grungebot named Homer, who, after 30 seconds, lifts a cup of coffee.

    Stone sits cross-legged on a blue computer chair, smiling with a finger on her lips as she watches her husband from the doorway.

    Goldstein is giving a knot-tying play-by-play to a photographer.

    The process is at its five-minute mark, a little more than halfway.

    "It gets a little hypnotic," he says.

    "By the time something goes wrong I'm in this fog" -- he slumps and hangs out his tongue -- "and mistakes go by me."

    Suddenly a tiny widget slinks into view, creeping onto Why Knot's bicycle pedal.

    No, it's a tiny piece of nature: a fuzzy, yellow caterpillar.

    So young, so dangerously close to the rotating bike chain.

    Maybe we should help it, says Stone.

    No! Let it play out, we implore.

    Nature vs. machine -- we've been dying to know the outcome.

    Now back to the automated wonder of four-in-hand.

    The tie is red, wrinkle-free polyester, 60 inches by 3 inches -- which, Goldstein admits, is "a little narrow for today's fashion."

    He has bought a set of identical ties just in case one disintegrates after 1,000 knots a month.

    A striped Burberry silk tie won't cut it: the texture, the friction, the everything would be all wrong.

    Why Knot needs exactitude; it needs the precision of a Hershey factory, the one Goldstein visited at age 7, the trip that got him hooked on machines after watching them wrap that foil around the chocolate bars.

    "Okay, we're getting ready for the big one."

    The final knot-shaping maneuver.

    He puts a knuckle to his teeth.

    Why Knot goes:

    Ktchtchtchtchtch.

    "Phew! Yes!" (Goldstein exhales.)

    He has written a maintenance book for the museum to care for Why Knot.

    It has diagrams and instructions.

    "If I stay at this museum, I'm going to have a heart attack! I gotta get this thing out of here and have a life," he says.

    And then, moments later: "I may want to make that knot tighter."

    But it's too late, since the machine is already congratulating itself.

    Why Knot, a true creation of the 21st century, knows how to clap when it's finished the job:

      Thonk-thonk-thonk-thonk.

      Thonk-thonk-thonk-thonk.

      Thonk-thonk-thonk-thonk.

      Thonk.

    Stone's gaze lingers on Why Knot.

    "It's going to be sad to see it go," she says.

    "It's going to be traumatic," says Goldstein, who will drive his creation to Philadelphia next week.

    "Gonna be like empty-nest syndrome."

July 10, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

In praise of doing nothing

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Jeffrey Steingarten, food critic at Vogue magazine, would be among the finalists in my contest for the person I'd most like to make a road trip across the U.S. with.

He is just a wonderful writer, quirky, original and so smart and funny.

In last Sunday's New York Times Book Review he reviewed Tom Hodgkinson's new book, "How To Be Idle."

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Already I'm excited.

Why, you ask?

Steingarten wrote, "In 1993 Hodgkinson founded the British magazine The Idler, on whose Web site he succinctly sums up the horrors of having a job: 'With a very few exceptions the world of jobs is characterized by stifling boredom, grinding tedium, poverty, petty jealousies, sexual harassment, loneliness, deranged co–workers, bullying bosses, seething resentment, illness, exploitation, stress, helplessness, hellish commutes, humiliation, depression, appalling ethics, physical fatigue and mental exhaustion.'"

Hodginkson's solution: Become an idler.

Samuel Johnson said, "The happiest part of a man's life is what he passes lying awake in bed in the morning."

Nothing's changed since Johnson's time.

Me, I'm heading to amazon for Hodginson's book.

Here's Steingarten's piece.

    Being and Do-Nothingness

    For every hour of the day and night there is a different way of being idle, which is why Tom Hodgkinson has written his book in 24 chapters.

    At 8 a.m. (''Waking Up Is Hard to Do''), true idlers turn off their alarms, flop over in bed and go back to sleep.

    Hodgkinson is amazed that we voluntarily buy alarm clocks, which serve nobody but our employers.

    Nine a.m. is ''the time when someone, somewhere, decided that work should start.''

    And at 10 a.m. the idler is still sleeping in, living out Dr. Johnson's incontestable dictum that ''the happiest part of a man's life is what he passes lying awake in bed in the morning.''

    The chief problem with modern life is not work in itself.

    It is jobs.

    In 1993 Hodgkinson founded the British magazine The Idler, on whose Web site he succinctly sums up the horrors of having a job: ''With a very few exceptions the world of jobs is characterized by stifling boredom, grinding tedium, poverty, petty jealousies, sexual harassment, loneliness, deranged co-workers, bullying bosses, seething resentment, illness, exploitation, stress, helplessness, hellish commutes, humiliation, depression, appalling ethics, physical fatigue and mental exhaustion.''

    Yes, that pretty much sums it up.

    On this we can all agree.

    And the solution?

    Become an idler.

    These chapters brim with supporting quotations from successful literary idlers.

    G. K. Chesterton, in his essay ''On Lying in Bed,'' argues that the hour at which we rise should be a matter of personal choice.

    And there's Jesus himself, urging his listeners on the Mount to ''consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.''

    Not to mention the fowls of the air who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns.

    Keats takes the lilies of the field as his epigraph for ''Ode on Indolence,'' in which he yearns for ''drowsy noons, / And evenings steep'd in honied indolence.''

    What do idlers do while they idle?

    A provisional list can be found in these pages.

    Idlers contemplate, meditate, appreciate, imagine, feel a sense of peace and calm, follow their dreams, go fishing (Izaak Walton is the star of the 7 p.m. chapter), smoke tobacco, stare at the ceiling and gaze at the stars.

    Maybe they also read voraciously or lose themselves in feasting, two of my favorites, but I don't recall that Hodgkinson mentions either of these.

    What do idlers not do?

    Jobs, of course.

    They may work for themselves or engage in meditative tasks like chopping vegetables for dinner -- but they do not work at jobs.

    Jobs are a relatively recent invention, a creation of the Industrial Revolution, Hodgkinson writes, relying on E. P. Thompson's pioneering work, ''The Making of the English Working Class'' (1963), and Bertrand Russell's essay ''In Praise of Idleness'' (1932). (If you check it out in the O.E.D., you'll find that things are somewhat more ambiguous. Before the 1920's, the word ''job'' generally meant a small, discrete piece of work, what jazz musicians would call a gig, never regular employment at set times and wages. But the words ''salary'' and ''wages'' are quite a bit more ancient.)

    In the old days, artisans worked for themselves, earning enough to support their families and little more.

    They managed their own time, in what Thompson describes as alternate bouts of intense labor and of idleness.

    On rainy days they would work like the dickens; come a sweet spring day, they might go fishing.

    Why have we have given up this freedom?

    Because the ruling classes (Hodgkinson's favorite target) have spent centuries persuading the rest of us to believe in the dignity of work even as they undignifiedly avoid it.

    The words above the gates of Auschwitz, as Hodgkinson reminds us, are ''Arbeit Macht Frei'' -- ''Work Makes You Free.''

    Freedom is Slavery.

    This is the heart of Hodgkinson's (and Russell's) critique of liberal consumer capitalism.

    It's no surprise that the successful idlers Hodgkinson quotes are all writers -- and writers will enjoy this book, at least the first half of it.

    But when we get to the chapter entitled ''The Hangover,'' which happens at noon, Hodgkinson suddenly lurches into the twilight zone.

    With no warning, he reveals that his goal -- the ultimate purpose of his idling -- is to attain a visionary state.

    That's just fine, at least with this reader.

    But then he tries to persuade us that the exaggerated sensitivity to light and sounds that hangovers inflict on us ''may be the model for Hinduism's 'third eye' of enlightenment.'' (He's quoting from an article in The Idler by Josh Glenn.)

    I'll have to ask my Hindu friends about that.

    At 1 p.m., we're back on Earth, in time to lament ''the death of lunch,'' which ''has been stolen from us by our rulers.''

    Right on!

    McDonald's and Pret a Manger ''fulfill the fascist definition of the function of food, 'to give the worker's body an injection of energy.'''

    Hodgkinson praises the Slow Food movement, but feasting does not appear to be his path to bliss.

    When he reminds us that London's celebrated 18th-century coffeehouses supplied their customers with ''vast bowls of alcoholic punch,'' we understand that Hodgkinson wants to take back lunch for the conviviality and conversation but especially, it appears, for the punch.

    Two p.m. is about being ill, which allows you to stay at home and ''pad around the house in your dressing gown like Sherlock Holmes, Noël Coward or our friend, that hero of laziness, Oblomov.''

    Doesn't Hodgkinson realize that some of us do not need illness to justify padding around the house?

    Jacques Derrida stayed in his pajamas all day unless he had an appointment.

    Loosen up, Hodgkinson!

    Three p.m. is the hour for napping.

    Many, many famous and successful people past and present have napped.

    I've always kept a list.

    But our rulers are trying to appropriate the afternoon snooze with the repulsive expression ''power nap,'' turning it into just another way of recharging our batteries before we plunge back into work.

    The first drink of the day comes at 6 p.m. and ''brings us into the present moment: we become Buddhists.''

    Aren't we still Hindus?

    At least Hodgkinson includes a very beautiful passage from Hemingway about getting drunk on absinthe.

    At 10 p.m. we go to the pub and recall Dr. Johnson's famous encomium upon the tavern, which I believe is still posted on the wall at Elaine's: ''As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude.... There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.''

    At this point in ''How to Be Idle,'' we have turned just over half of Hodgkinson's 286 pages and mastered most of his arguments, frequently with great enjoyment, and although there are further insights to come and some excellent jokes, a sense of repetition inevitably sets in -- until 3 a.m.

    It's time to party! ''Bring together good drugs, good people and good music and you have a magical combination.... We go beyond words.''

    We also go back to the future.

    The author discovers parallels between his own experiences on ecstasy and Thomas De Quincey's description of opium-eating.

    It all sounds like a conversation from more than a generation ago.

    Some of us still alive today grew up in a time when psychedelic substances were legal, when experimentation was widespread, when people were deliberate and thoughtful about what they ingested, and when Timothy Leary was a member of the Harvard faculty.

    But now we are plunged into a dark and desperate age.

    Eating a chocolate éclair is considered substance abuse. Abstinence passes for religious experience.

    You won't persuade people these days to become idlers, to throw off the shackles of wage slavery, by feeding them ecstasy.

    For the next year or two, let's concentrate on eradicating employment as we know it.

I always knew there was more to my affinity for Derrida (below) than his propensity for causing trouble.

Mnb_2

Finally, I've discovered what it is: pj's.

July 10, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: McMan's Depression and Bipolar Web

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One of the best sites on the internet.

    From the website:

    My name is John McManamy.

    I am a former financial journalist with a law degree who has struggled with bipolar disorder most of my life.

    For more on me and my lifelong struggles with depression and mania, and what drove me to create this site, please check out my eight–article series here.

Four years ago, as I tried to stay afloat during a devastating period, I happened upon John McManamy's website.

It was the only thing I was capable of doing, going to his site and reading what other depressed people had to say.

In some mysterious way the knowledge that I was not alone helped fortify me, eventually enabling me to begin to find my way back from a terrible place.

When I was at my very worst, I emailed John McManamy just to have someone to communicate with.

Each time I did he emailed me right back with very helpful advice.

John McManamy is a great man.

He has probably saved many lives even though he doesn't know it.

As long as his site exists he will continue to offer a beacon in the pitch–black darkness to many people who find themselves suddenly lost in a world that once seemed so familiar.

July 10, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Horniman Museum

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It's in the Forest Hill section of London, England.

Yesterday Harry Eyres, the "Slow Lane" columnist of the Financial Times, mentioned it in his column, calling it "bizarre and wonderful."

Me, if I'm in London I'm off to visit the place.

You — well, you'll have to decide, won't you?

Inuit_full

I visited the museum's website and learned that it was begun in the 1860s by Victorian tea trader John Horniman.

He began collecting specimens and artefacts from around the world and bringing them back to his family home in Forest Hill.

He opened part of his house to the public so they could view his treasures.

The collections increased and outgrew the family home and in 1898 Horniman commissioned Charles Harrison Townsend to design a new museum, which opened in 1901.

The original collections comprised natural history specimens, cultural artefacts and musical instruments.

"Over the last 100 years the museum has added significantly to the original bequest, with Horniman's original collections comprising only 10% of current ethnography and musical instrument holdings."

Moth

Currently, the museum holds some 350,000 objects and related items.

There are three main collections:

World Cultures and Ethnography — 80,000 objects

Natural History — 250,000 objects

Musical Instruments — 7,000 plus 1,000 archive documents

July 10, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wrist Grabbit™ Wearable Magnetic Pincushion

Dd_1

Attention joeheads who are also sewheads.

A wearable magnetic pincushion.

Genius.

Wide, comfortable and easy–to–close Velcro strap.

Adjustable loop buckle for fast fit.

"Powerful magnet lines up your pins for easy grabbing."

"Sweeps up scattered pins."

Dfgh_1

$5.97 here.

July 10, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Helpful Hints from joe–eeze: Red is for Right

Zxc_1

Ever get annoyed with headphones and earbuds, especially those made by Sony (above and below), which indicate which is for the left and which for the right ear with tiny letters about the size of one of the facets of a fly's eye?

Me too.

Your annoyance with such poor design — at least, in this area — is about to end.

Mnb_1

Because guess what?

A couple years ago it dawned on me: red is for right.

So all you need to do is put something red on the one that goes on the right ear and you're home free.

No one will know your secret, which makes it all the more fun.

Things that work: Sharpie, Magic Marker, lipstick, nail polish, sticky round dots, etc.

Also works for other things that are potentially used by or on the wrong side.

Now aren't you glad you're a joehead?

I sure am.

And yes, "Tommy" is still on endless repeat as I create this post this fine Sunday morning.

"R is for Red" would've been a good Sue Grafton title in her Kinsey Millhone series, no?

Zz_10

I wonder if the color choice was accidental or subliminally tilted toward the mayhem end of the spectrum?

July 10, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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