I Am Darkness!

A friend did one of those ubiquitous quizzes that show up on Facebook on an almost daily basis, and not having anything better to do (except find a topic for today’s blog post since I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about my possible epic walk), I did the quiz to find out what element I am. Most of the questions had no meaning for me, so I did the best I could. For example, one question was about colors that speak to me, and I don’t have any favorite color — what fascinate me are the way colors complement and contrast with one another. And even if I did have a tendency toward a particular color right now, such as purple, it wasn’t listed. So I just went with the best answer for the moment. And of course, none of the deadly sins pertain, while all of the virtues do. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.)

So what is my element? Darkness! I wasn’t aware that darkness was an element, but what do I know. According to the quiz maker, I’m not reflective enough. (I guess that makes sense in a “pun” sort of way since black absorbs everything and reflects nothing, though I thought I had a tendency to think too much.) They said:

Your element is DARKNESS. You are often misunderstood and judged quickly. Yet if people only took just a bit of extra kind effort to you they would see something wonderful. Mysterious yet much more simple then others misperceive. You get many things that just don’t click for others. You see the truth for what it is and you embrace it while others sugar coat it. You have low tolerance for ignorance, though you may come off a bit arrogant yourself. You could stand to reflect a bit more and you will find a lot of your isolation issues are due to self-sabotage. Though you may enjoy your alone time, no one truly enjoys being alone. Don’t fool yourself. That aside you are a rare beautiful truth in this world of fake.

I’m making fun of the quiz and of myself for taking it, but there is much truth in their analysis. Or at least I hope there is. I like the idea of being mysterious. And I like the idea of being a truth. I guess that’s my arrogance coming out.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Why We Read Blogs

At lunch with friends today, one woman said she was computer literate, but admitted she didn’t understand why anyone would read my blog, or any blog, actually. Another friend said she read my blog because it was interesting. I was glad she supplied a response because my mind had gone blank — why would anyone read my blog?

People unfamiliar with blogging often equate these web logs — these online journals — with the diaries many of us kept as children. “I had oatmeal for breakfast. I went to school. Bobby pulled my hair. I did my homework then Mom let me watch television.” Deadly dull lists of activities no one, including us, ever cared about. Admittedly, many bloggers do relate the minutiae of their day, but mostly people talk about what is important to them.

One online friend, a woman who lost her soul mate a month before I lost mine, started a blog to chronicle her new life. She’s about to become a nomad, living and traveling in a small motor home. Among other things, she will be searching for a new life, a new place, maybe even happiness. Her blog tells of her preparations, and once she’s on the road, that blog will tell of her adventures.

Many online author friends blog about their available books, their publishing experiences, the books they read and review, the stories they are writing.

People with expertise in various fields give advice. Literary agents tell authors how to get published, hikers tell about their experiences in the wilderness, mothers give advice or seek support with raising children, businesses blog about their products, crafty folk share patterns and photos of finished projects, techno-types discuss the newest technology.

And me . . . I write about myself — my ideas, my hopes, my experiences, what I’ve learned from those experiences — and anything that captures the attention of my magpie mind. I write this blog because . . . well, because I am a writer. Nothing seems real to me until I’ve put it into words, though I am learning to be in the moment, to be alive without needing to explain to myself what I am feeling.

Until the past few months, most people who read this blog have been online friends or strangers, which was — is — wonderful, but now people I know in real life are also reading this blog. There is a quiet joy in being told, “I read your blog last night.”

Of course, that’s more about why I write this blog than why people read it. I’d planned to talk about how important stories are, how stories connect us, how the life stories people choose to share with us show us our similarities. I’d planned to say we read blogs for the same reason we read fiction — to live and learn and grow vicariously. Not all of us might be able to live on the road, for example, yet we can all share in the struggles and triumphs of those who do. In the end, I decided not to focus on the storytelling aspect of blogging. The truth is much simpler than that. As my friend said, we read a particular blog because it’s interesting.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Wow! I’m Rich

I just received the following email:

Dear Sir/Madam,
As part of our contribution to poverty alleviation and encourage self reliance in our immediate communities
and the world at large, we at Bankgiro Loterij are very pleased to inform you that your email address attached
to E-Ticket No. 011-9085555(*3-**) has won you the sum EUR 2,725, 000 (Two Million Seven Hundred and
Twenty Five Thousand Euro) in our first ever promotional Sweepstakes conducted on Saturday 24th April, 2014.
This program is sponsored by consortium of software Firms here in the Netherlands.

For more information and remittance procedures, please contact BankGiro Promo Unit with your above
E-Ticket Number, Your full names and your telephone number on the contact details below;

Cas van den Ende (Mr)
Directorate for claims,

NOTE: Your full winning details will be provided to you upon your response to this notification email. This is
for security reasons and to avoid the abuse of this program by unscrupulous internet users. We strongly advised
all beneficiaries to please call us or visit our office/website for further information. Lottery tickets are still on
sale for our EUR 12.5M lottery draw coming up soon.

What really cracked me up was the phrase: “for security reasons and to avoid the abuse of this program by unscrupulous internet users.” Aren’t we lucky to have such thoughtful scammers?

Promotional Absurdities

Promotion gets absurd at times. Every day, almost, I get an email from Twitter telling me I can promote my books on Twitter. All I have to do to optimize my presence on Twitter is to buy Twitter ads. Yep. That’s what they say. But here’s my question. If those ads are so effective, why isn’t Twitter using Twitter ads to promote their promotional services instead of spamming me? Apparently, as annoying as spam is, it works better than anything else. At least for Twitter. Me? I unsubscribed from their emails.

A couple of years ago I got an external drive for my computer. It’s a great way to back up files. The program automatically updates the drive, so I never have to think about it. Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. In reality, it uses so much memory and CPUs that my computer runs slower than . . . me. (I sat here for a moment trying to think of a clever simile, and that’s the best I could come up with. Sheesh. At least the simile has the merit of being true. I do run slowly when I run, which is as seldom as possible.) Still, I’ve managed to make the drive work for my needs. The strange thing is, every few days I get an email from the company trying to get me to buy another external drive. If the drive worked thsmileye way it’s supposed to, I’d never need another drive since files are simply updated, not rewritten. So why the constant barrage of promotion? Perhaps they know they sold me a crappy drive?

Today someone posted a link on one of my Facebook groups promoting their promotional services. The promotional article began with things you should not do to promote. All of my FB groups are promotion-free zones, so here’s a tip — before you promote in certain groups, be sure to check that such promotions are acceptable. And if promotion is not allowed, do not promote. I deleted not only the link but the person who posted the link. Problem solved . . . for me, anyway.

Every day I get dozens of requests to download someone’s ebook for free. These authors seem to think that because the book is free that their telling me about it isn’t promotion, that they are doing me a favor by allowing me the opportunity to read their less than immortal prose. To me, such promotion is every bit as bad as the authors who scream at every opportunity, “Buy my book.” I suppose commando tactics work, but not for me. A lot of these authors are on Facebook, and I have no qualms about unfriending such unfriendly folk. Who needs the aggravation?

Maybe I’m too picky. Maybe these are all reasonable ways of doing business. But I would never resort to such tactics.

Well, almost never.

Buy my books. Please.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Resume Worth Writing

For years, I’ve been doing social networking for a company on a largely volunteer basis. Recently they asked for my resume and were quite miffed when I didn’t send it. The truth is, there is nothing in that potential resume that would help them in any way — it would not affect the work I do, would not change my results, would not even give them any bragging rights if they were trying to get funding since I’m basically self-educated and self-employed.

I’m not sure what they expected to find on that resume. I’ve never set myself up as an expert in online work and promotion. Although I know how to navigate the internet, how to create blogs and profiles on networking ripplessites, even how to develop an online presence, I’m self-taught in this as with everything else in my life, and none of these skills show up anywhere in my work history.

Actually, I’ve never set myself up as an expert in anything. I am what you see. This, to me, is the beauty of the internet, especially blogging. If you are an expert in some facet of life or business, then it makes sense to splash your credentials across cyberspace, but if all you are trying to do — as I am — is to make sense of life, love, relationships, death, purpose, aging, then the only credentials you need are to live, think, write. Online, you are what you do. Your words are who you are. Whatever you are in offline life is immaterial. Failures don’t count. Clothes don’t make the man or woman. Possessions have no substance. Physical limitations disappear. A wall full of degrees doesn’t automatically make you better than the person with a high school education. If you act like an illiterate slob, then that’s who you are. If you act like a grande dame, then that, too, is who you are.

Nowhere else in the world does this sort of egalitarianism exist. I do understand that offline we need those various ways of categorizing people, though now that I think about it, they are just as unimportant offline as online. If you have a car that gets you where you need to go, does it matter what the car is or how much it costs? Outside of your job, does it matter to anyone but you what degrees you have? If your clothes keep you warm, if you enjoy wearing them, does it matter if they are brand names, off-rack, handmade, or thrift store castoffs? If other things in life are more important to you than your bank account, does it matter if you have much money or none at all?

I suppose the problem with the request for my resume is it reminded me that on paper I seem like a failure since so many of my business ventures didn’t work out, but I don’t believe in failure as something separate. It’s all part of life — the good and the bad, the financial successes and fiascos. And more to the point, where on a resume is there a place for life? I loved totally, grieved profoundly, affected many lives, laughed and cried, learned, and even in my deepest sorrow found that life was worth living. Now that’s a resume worth writing!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Scheduled Obsolescence

I’ve grown up with planned obsolescence, so that idea is nothing new to me, but scheduled obsolescence took me by surprise.

There are various types of planned obsolescence. Psychological obsolescence is common in the fashion and automotive industries. Each year, the companies create new designs to make last year’s designs psychologically less appealing, though the product itself is still usable. Physical obsolescence is prevalent in other manufacturing fields, where the designers decide how long a product should last and then only use materials geared to last that long. (In a way this makes sense — if a vegetable grater, for example, goes dull after a year or two, there’s no real reason to make the thing out of expensive materials that will last long after the product has outlived any usefulness.) Often, manufacturers even go so far as to use inferior materials that will make the product wear out faster and speed up replacement time.

Some people argue that planned obsolescence encourages competition and improvement while others claim it increases waste. I don’t believe in waste, though I do understand the need to keep the economy going — if everyone was like me, the economy would have ground to a halt years ago. I mean, how many people out there bought a car forty-two years ago and are still driving it as their one and only source of vehicular transportation? (If you guessed the car is a Volkswagen you’re correct. Back then, Volkswagen bragged about not believing in planned obsolescence, which has worked in my favor.) And then there’s my poor hair dryer that died just this morning — it was only twenty-five years old! If you’re smart (or thrifty) you can often bypass planned obsolescence by doing such things as unplugging lamps and other electrical equipment rather than using the cheaply-made and soon-to-break on/off switches. As for fashion — well, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what was in fashion, either today or twenty years ago.

In some cases, planned obsolescence worked in my favor. Planned obsolescence (thank heavens for spell check! I have mistyped the word obsolescence every single time I’ve used it!) helps keep products cheap. When my camera died after only a couple of years (oddly, the screen burned out right after I took what turned out to be the last photo of my now deceased life mate/soul mate), it would have cost more to repair the camera than to replace it. And when that second camera died in a tragic fall shortly after purchase, I was able to get a replacement that works better than either of the others.

But I’m getting off track. As I said, I’m used to planned obsolescence, but last night I came up against scheduled obsolescence. The end of support for Windows XP made me interested in when support for Vista, my current operating system, will end. I discovered that the end had been scheduled for April 10, 2012, but that they extended it to April 10, 2017. Whew! I still have three years! By then, of course, my computer will be so outdated and so slow I will probably be glad to update my whole system. Or maybe technology will have changed out of all recognition making me want to hang on to this poor machine until its last byte. If nothing else, I could use it as a word processor, unconnected to the internet. That way any vulnerabilities won’t be a problem.

Still, it does seem strange to have the exact date when my operating system is scheduled to become obsolete.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

XP and the End of Days

End of days. Sounds like the world crashing down on our heads, doesn’t it? But in this case, all it signifies is that Microsoft is discontinuing support of its XP operating system. To hear tech people tell about it, it is the end of days. So many people are using this supposedly outdated system, that running a computer using Windows XP is a PUBLIC HEALTH RISK! Those outdated systems CAN BE USED TO INFECT OTHER SYSTEMS! They are a danger by becoming a part of a system of bots that ATTACK OTHERS online!

Yep, the end of days is here. And yet, how often have we heard the same old story? At the beginning, computers were called the devil’s work. The spread of computer technology was hailed as the end of civilization as we know it. The millennium bug was supposed to usher in an age of chaos. The current Heartbleed Vulnerability is supposed to make us defenseless against theft of personal information. And now the end of support for Windows XP puts us all at risk.

I suppose the risk factor is true. It is a matter of fact that the spread of computer technology brought massive changes to the world. The millennium bug did take one vast chunk of time to fix, averting disaster at the last minute. And there are always vulnerabilities in computer code that puts us at risk. That’s why we have constant updates to our systems, our browsers, the programs we use — to repair those vulnerabilities.

Apparently, what makes the XP problem so terrible is that more than 30% of personal computers still utilize that particular operating system. Microsoft obviously has never heard of the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Why else would they have followed up a program that worked, that people loved, with the excoriated Vista? But then, you don’t get to be one of the richest people in the world by embracing the status quo. Some people believe ending support for XP is Microsoft’s way of forcing all those customers to upgrade their systems, but the timing stinks since the newest system, Windows 9, won’t be available for a few more months, so people will be forced to buy soon-to-be-outdated systems.

Still, with so many people hanging on to XP, some because they trust the system, some because they can’t afford to upgrade, there will be plenty of support for “fixes” from outside sources — for a fee, I’m sure. 32% of all PCs is one huge mass of power.

I suppose I should worry about XP, but frankly, I’m more worried about my own operating system. I’m one of the few who have Vista who actually like it, though to be honest, it’s way too powerful for my needs. It’s geared to run the entertainment center for an entire household, and all I use it for is to run my rapidly aging laptop. I can already sense the doom for Vista. If support for XP has ended, can Vista be far behind? They have already stopped upgrading IE for Vista. IE9 is the best I can do, and there are so many bugs in the browser, it’s impossible to use at times. (For example, it keeps trying to open Adobe reader, and since the newer Adobe readers don’t seem to work with Vista, I have an outdated version of that, too, and it takes forever to load the page and the reader. Strangely, the reader has nothing to do with the web page, which adds to the absurdity.) Of course I also have Firefox and Google Chrome, but both of those browsers have features I don’t like and lack ones I do, so I’m never quite sure which one to use. I often have all three open (which is probably a technological mistake, but so far it’s the best I can do).

When Microsoft retires support for Vista, no one but me will care since most people have already updated their systems. There won’t be any furor, no rhetoric about end of times. Just a quiet sigh while I try to figure out what to do about the matter.

IGW_XP_EndOfDaysGraphic_V2

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Ah, the Small Joys of Life!

A few days ago I ranted about my experience with this area’s designated communications company, and the hassle the representative gave me when they called to tell me some upgraded equipment would be here on Thursday. It seemed important to them that I know the exact date, yet after all that frustration on both our parts, they got the day wrong. The equipment came today. Wednesday. Not a problem, of course, just ironic considering their unpleasantness.

Installation was supposed to take only a few minutes, but wise in the ways of technology updates, I waited until the afternoon when I had many free hours. And I needed them all. Setting up the equipment was easy. I just followed the directions. The hardest part was in moving the couch to access the cable connection. The next hardest part was figuring out which power cord went to the router and which to the modem since neither cord they sent matched the image on the instructions. (I don’t know why I need a router when I didn’t have one bcomputerefore, unless the router was somehow part of the old modem.) Still, my guess seemed to work because all the appropriate lights came on. I even connected my computer to the wireless network despite their having given me two different sets of passwords and network IDs. And then all my efforts came screeching to a halt. My computer didn’t recognize the connection, or maybe the connection didn’t recognize my computer. Every time I tried to open a browser, I got an error message saying they hadn’t sent a package and to call the communication company.

Of course, the representative didn’t know what was wrong, either. She made me reinstall everything. (Luckily, it was just hardware I had to deal with, and hardware is easy —simply a matter of unplugging cords and plugging them in again.) In the end, after many different suggestions and attempts to connect to the internet, she told me to try restarting the computer, and that did the trick.

Although this updated equipment is supposed to make my computer run faster when on the internet, it seems the same to me. Of course, my computer is aged as computers go — more than 7-years-old — but still, there should have been some difference, especially since I added extra memory not too long ago. I’m just glad it doesn’t run slower, which is what happened after the last upgrade.

Despite the nuisance of the experience, I’m smiling as I write this blog. I learned something fun from it. Because of getting two different sets of login information, I could see a pattern in how they came up with passwords. joyfultuba265 was one. jaggedtomato193 was another. (Well, no it wasn’t. I’m not about to plaster my password all over the internet, though I don’t suppose it would matter. It only would work if you were camped outside my father’s house, and if you’re so desperate for free wifi that you would do such a thing, then be my guest.)

It used to be that people were cautioned not to use whole words for passwords, but recently I read that you should. That new decryption programs seemed geared more for nonsense. (Like those riddles where you rack your brain for a solution to no avail, and when someone tells you the answer, it’s so simple you feel like an idiot for not catching on, especially since your five-year-old came up with the answer hours ago.) Either way, from now on when I need a password, I’ll have fun with it. brokenapple964. crookedcucumber157. sillysink414. bananaunt762.

Ah, the small joys of life!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Rant About the Idiocies of Corporate Monopolies

I am not one to waste my blog time ranting about the idiocies of corporate monopolies, but at the moment I feel like ranting. (Feel free to head out and do something more interesting than listening to me. Like watching a pot boil or eating a liverwurst sandwich.)

The other day my father got a bill from Charter Communication that reflected a $50 increase in his monthly bundled rate. When I called them to find out what was going on, they said that his contract had expired, so the rates defaulted to the normal rates. I asked if they needed him to sign a new contract so he could get a lower rate, and phonethey said no, that their new rates were lower than his old rates, and they would just switch him over to the new normal rates.

By this time, I was thoroughly confused, so I asked why they hadn’t just automatically given him the lower normal rate. Their oh so logical response: “Because we couldn’t get into the account to change it.” But they could change it to the higher normal rate? Yep. That makes sense. (Apparently, their normal rates are whatever the representative decides. A friend tried to find out what her new rate would be, and she and her husband were each given three different figures.)

They also said my father was eligible for an equipment upgrade — a faster router and modem. I’m all for that. Some sites, including one of my email sites, have so many ads and videos going at once, that it takes forever to load the page. They ended the call by telling me I’d have the package in a week, which means it will come on Thursday.

Just now I received an automated phone call from Charter. They said there was a problem with my recent upgrade and they had an important message for me. I waited for a couple of minutes for a live representative to come on the line, and the first thing she asked me for was the phone number. Huh? They called me and didn’t know what phone number they called? (Her explanation, “It’s an automated system,” wasn’t much of an explanation, but it’s the only one she offered.)

I don’t know the phone number here — I never call it. And I have no need to know it since I never give it out. My father is 97-years-old, and he likes answering the phone when he is awake, so I don’t want to bother him with answering calls for me. (Since he was napping when Charter called, I got the all the fun, though I would have had to deal with them anyway. He can’t hear very well, and he gets easily confused, so he would have turned the phone over to me so I could get confused instead.) I went searching for his phone number, finally found it, and gave it to the woman. At her request, I gave her the address, which I do know. And then she asked for the security code. Yeah, right. That’s something I waste precious brain cells for, carrying that number around in my head. (When I called them, of course, I’d gathered all the information and had it ready. Since they called me, it was their responsibility to have the information ready. She didn’t see it that way, of course.)

The representative wasn’t very patient with my frustration and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t thrilled to be talking to her. She kept saying she needed the information to get into the account so she could tell me why Charter called. The thing is, Charter had called me — yeah, I know, I keep repeating that, but it’s an important point. When I call someone, I feel safe (safer, anyway) giving out information on the phone, but for all I knew, it might not have been Charter who called. It could have been a scam and someone wanted the information to . . . well, to do whatever scammers do with personal information.

At long last, the representative accessed the account. The important message? That the equipment will arrive on Thursday.

Sheesh.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

To Blog or Not to Blog

Every day we are faced with large decisions and small — decisions that make the difference between life and death, decisions that only make the difference between being lazy or productive. (Though who is to say that being lazy is unproductive. We often get our best ideas when we are lolling around, thinking of nothing.)

My decision each day is to write this blog. Most days, the choice is easy. I generally have no lack of things to say. But some days, like today, I have to coerce myself to write something. I have nothing to say, no new insights, no plans or hopes — just a blank “paper” on my computer, and yet, here I am, filling the blankness.

I could, of course, simply not write anything, but I’m one of those people who by default does what takes the least effort. Once I stop making the effortasking to write, once I break the infallibility of a daily blog, then it’s all over.

You dieters know what I’m talking about. When you go on a diet and then “accidentally” nibble on a cookie, you figure the whole day is a waste since you broke your diet, and so one by one those cookies disappear. If you’d never sampled the cookie, you’d still be on that diet. Or if you’d done the logical thing you’d still be on the diet — you’d have enjoyed the nibble and continued on as if you’re still on your diet, because you are. One nibble does not break a diet. It’s all those subsequent cookies that do the dirty deed. Even worse, once the diet is broken, it’s almost impossible to get back on it.

It’s the same thing with blogging. As long as I make an effort to write every day, I will continue to write every day. But if once I slack off, then it’s all over. First one day will pass, then another, because why not? The world wouldn’t end if I neglected to post my words. In fact, the world might even be a better place. But after not writing one day, then the next, I’d begin to think about it, wondering if I wanted to write. As the days passed, I’d even forget to ask if I want to blog, and gradually I’ll sink into wordlessness.

I’m sure that will happen someday. Just not today.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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