Eifelheim Ancient Aliens

Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn (not to be confused with retired United States Army Lieutenant General and convicted felon Michael Flynn)

On the surface, this would seem like a book that’s right up my alley. An alien ship crash-lands in 14th century rural Germany, while in the current-day 21st century a new kind of multi-dimensional physics is discovered. Ooooh, fun!

Except the book seems to get everything wrong.

The 21st century discoverer of the new physics is dating a 21st century student of ancient civilizations who is studying, of course, the 14th century community where the aliens crash landed. Although these two are dating, they don’t seem to like each other very much. This is probably because neither of them is very likeable.  She doesn’t know why he keeps talking to her in German (actually, neither do I) and he doesn’t know why she isn’t more excited about his ancient German village.  Therapy would not be wasted on these two.

We also spend WAAAYYYYYY too much time learning about the minutia of life styles and religious rituals of 1348. I admit to skimming through a lot of this detail because !!ugh!! and also, I wanted to get back to 2009 to see what was up even though I didn’t really like the 2009 characters. By contrast, the modern story raced along and was very light on details (in hindsight, this was probably for the best).

A key element of what sparked interest in the study of the ancient village was a gap in an expected evolutionary pattern of modern day village settlements. Interesting! This sounds like a super-fun idea! Was it because the ancient site was cursed by an invasion of stranded aliens? Did the area somehow get flagged as taboo? Did an evil tiki idol place a curse anyone who tried to settle there? The most interesting question raised at the beginning of the book is actually never answered! Disappointing! Unless, of course, I skimmed over that part…..

Just a final note. I borrowed this from a friend of mine – we’ll call him John Waterunder – and I dread him asking me how I liked it. Just another reason not to borrow beloved books from friends!!

Rating: skip it (although “John” would tell you to buy it immediately and read it multiple times)

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Better Late Than Never – 2019 un fait accompli

2019 was not a stellar year for reading. It was, however, a good year for learning about reading. Or, should I say, learning about not reading. Here are a few of my 2019 insights if I really want to read more in 2020:

  1. Take a break from other people’s recommendations. This includes book clubs, which are designed to maximize your time spent reading other people’s book choices. It also includes friend recommendations that you are told you “absolutely have to read”. Also business books, which I would almost never pick out of a lineup as something I really want to read. And most definitely books about “happiness”.  Goal for 2020: look for a few neglected authors and series from the past few years and pick them back up.
  2. Overworking is not sustainable. Due to a high-profile project on a very tight timeline, and my role as lead project manager, I spent more than half the year working 10-11 hour days and then would spend the evening in a state of exhaustion watching reruns of Seinfeld (this is true). Any books I read during this time were likely on airplanes if I wasn’t clearing out my email.  Goal for 2020: regular work hours. That is all. As a corollary, regular work hours are set to Pacific Time.
  3. Social media kills! It kills time. It kills creativity. It kills motivation. It kills conversation. I spent WAY too much time skulking around on Facebook and Twitter in 2019. However, here’s my dilemma in terms of a goal for 2020. My extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins are all on Facebook. My local friends are primarily on Instagram. My carefully curated follows designed to maximize my enjoyment and happiness is on Twitter. What is the best way to reduce my social media time? Set a social-media-free day per week? Limit each day to under 3o mins? Limit apps to days of the week, i.e. Twitter Tuesdays, Facebook Fridays, and so on? Ack!!

So that’s what 2020 is going to look like. We’ll see what kind of impact it has on the reading list. Meanwhile, here is my somewhat lacklustre 2019:

  1. in a dark, dark wood, by Ruth Ware
  2. A Briefer History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
  3. Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
  4. The Disappeared, by Kim Echlin
  5. Leave me, by Gayle Forman
  6. A Brightness Long Ago, Guy Gavriel Kay *
  7. To Heaven and Back, Mary C. Neal, MD
  8. The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware
  9. Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney
  10. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
  11. The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict
  12. The Difference, by Marina Endicott *
  13. Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart

 * My two favourite books of 2019

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Procrastination Nation

My commitment to 2020 is to be more diligent with both reading and writing about reading. I have procrastinated the crap out of 2019, and in the interest of getting a fresh start, here is a quick wrap on the books I read but didn’t get around to posting.

To Heaven and Back, Mary C. Neal, MD

  • This is a difficult book to write about, and is partially responsible for my procrastination. Mary C. Neal had a Near Death Experience (NDE) while white-water kayaking (totally relatable!) and wrote this book to share with the world her proof that Heaven exists and to help people find their way “back” to God. Not a book for me, I’m afraid. In addition to her NDE, she also lost her son in an accident, and this is what inspired me to read it. I was hoping to find some insight into what my friends have been going through since they, too, lost their son in an ATV accident. Truthfully, I don’t think it’s possible to understand their loss, but I am going to continue to try to get closer. Rating: Not for me.

The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

  • A more fantastical mystery than Ruth Ware’s in a dark dark wood, but not without some entertainment value. I like it enough to read more of her books, but only because I’m hopeful that this is not her best work. Rating: Maybe borrow  it?

Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney

  • I didn’t love this book, and I didn’t hate it. I’m not even sure how to describe it. Two young college women who used to date now spend their days engaged in philosophical discussions with an older journalist, while one of the girls has an affair with said journalists husband, which is a secret to no one.  They all just seem misguided and selfish, moving strangely through life and trying to find some kind of meaning within the naive philosophising of youth. Rating: I wish I had skipped this one.

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

  • Once upon a time, I watched a delightful and charming movie called Stardust. I was equally delighted to find out that this movie was based on a book of the same name by Neil Gaiman! So I bought this book immediately and read it on a flight. The book is not exactly how I remember the movie, but it was wonderful all the same. A young man sets off to find a fallen star to present to his true love as a matrimonial gift. Once he finds the star, which turns out to be in the form of a young women, he and the star travel together back to his home, and, well, adventure ensues! Rating: watch the movie for sure.

The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict

  • In an emerging new genre, this book is written from the perspective of the first wife of Albert Einstein, who was a gifted physicist in her own right. She was accepted into a university physics program at a time when women were rare at university and virtually non-existent in advanced sciences. If the book is to be believed, Einstein was originally attracted to her intelligence but over the course of time was, at best, not a nice person, and at worst, abusive. He may even have claimed contributions that she made to his theory of relativity as his own ideas. Men taking credit for the work of women, a story as old as time. Rating: Read it, develop a healthy dislike for Albert Einstein.

The Difference, by Marina Endicott

  • Marina Endicott comes through again with a simply magnificent book about two sisters on a sailing adventure around the world in 1912. The elder sister is married to the captain of a merchant ship, and  the younger sister accompanies them on the trip in an attempt to calm her inner demons. The book elegantly weaves stories of Canadian residential schools (our great national shame), cultural relations, and the true story of the purchase of a young Polynesian boy from his father as the main characters seek to calibrate their own moral compasses. Marina’s writing is just beautiful … I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Rating: BUY IT.

Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart

  • Grandfathered into the right to dig the Irish peat bog, a family comes across the grisly remains of a red-headed Irish woman who appears to have been beheaded a century ago.  As archaeologists search for clues to the woman’s identity, a modern-day missing person’s case is also underway to locate a mother and young son from the same community.  I didn’t love it. Rating: Skip it.

That completes my book list – I’ll publish a full (short) list of my 2019 books as well, which you are more than welcome to skip.

 

 

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It’s a strange strange strange strange strange world

Strange Planet, by Nathan W Pyle

After months and months of reading nothing but email (it’s a work story, I won’t bore you), I finally found my way back to books. In this case, via a gateway book called Strange Planet. It’s a 150-page cartoon strip that delightfully imagines our world through the eyes of a community of adorable alien visitors. The aliens don’t know the correct human English names for things, of course. And really, why would we expect them to? Instead, the aliens use descriptive names that seem sensible:

  • Tiny trash = confetti
  • Star damage = sunburn
  • Death cylinder = flower vase

Perhaps the alien words are actually more sensible than ours …

By way of example, this is one of my favourites:

It’s worthwhile to follow Nathan on twitter @nathanwpyle or on instagram at nathanwpyle.

Fully disclosing that he is a christian and therefore holds some traditional christian views that may not be in alignment with your personal values. However, his comic is not used as a platform to espouse these views, it’s just a sweet look at everyday life. There is some pressure online to boycott him, which I think is frankly kind of silly, and you’d be missing out on a feel-good part of the internet, of which there are fewer and fewer these days.

Rating: Buy it! Or at least give the guy a follow.

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Sir Paul McCartney

I love music, especially songs I can sing very loudly to (in my car. by myself.) and I am good at recognizing songs I’ve heard before. I am very bad, however, at remembering song names and differently bad at knowing song lyrics. With names, I simply never really bother to learn them. With lyrics, I cherry pick a few easy-to-hear words and then fill in everything else with words that seem to make sensible-sounding sentences. Case in point: for most of my life I though the lyric was “knocking me out with those American eyes.” My husband would still be shaming me for this if there weren’t SO many other examples to choose from.

Armed with theses musical talents, I headed off to the Paul McCartney concert (a HUGE shout out to my friend Andi who came up with an extra ticket and offered it to me). Because there was only one ticket, I decided to take notes on his set list, which is something my husband would be inclined to find interesting. The result was a mash-up of limited song name & lyric skills, typos, and blatant ignorance. I present this list below exactly as recorded, and leave it to you to guess which effects were in play.

  1. Hard day’s night
  2. All my loving
  3. I think I’d let you go
  4. Who cares I do
  5. Go to get you into my life
  6. New one from carpool Karaoke I come on to you?
  7. Let me roller it?
  8. I’ve got a feeling … Oh yeah
  9. Someone’s knocking at the door
  10. My valentine?
  11. Wings
  12. Baby I’m amazed
  13. Falling (Simon and Garfunkel?)
  14. Quarrymen song – anything you want me to
  15. If there anything that you need …
  16. Everybody dance tonight
  17. Love me do
  18. Blackbird
  19. If you were here today
  20. ??? Lots of stars on video *
  21. Lady Madonna
  22. Eleanor Rigby
  23. Something new – I just wan to??
  24. Weird St pepper song
  25. Something in the way she moves ukelee
  26. Desmond
  27. If o ever get out of here
  28. Band on the run
  29. Back in the ussr
  30. Let it be
  31. Live and let die
  32. Hey Jude

Encore:

  1. It’s your birthday
  2. St pepper
  3. Hwlter skelter
  4. Carry back ways

In case you want to see the actual set list, you can find it here.

Ultimately, it was a really great show. It wasn’t pandering, avoiding the potential pitfall of being a greatest hits show, and really showcased songs from across his entire music career. There was some story-telling, a huge variety of instruments including the above-mentioned ukulele, and in one case, some pretty sweet pyrotechnics that made me thankful I’m not epileptic.

* Turns out this was Queenie Eye, and he may have been showing the actual video for the song. 

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Brightness, Here and Now

A Brightness Long Ago, by Guy Gavriel Kay

I’m not going to try to write about Guy Gavriel Kay’s new book, because his writing is SO beautiful and it intimidates me to the point of incapacity to even think about this blog. Instead, I’m going to write about reading his books, a failed experiment, and one special Tweet by Miranda1452 (who is me). Not necessarily in that order.

First, the experiment. Typically, when I read GGK, I am so absorbed and entranced by his books that I binge-read until I’m done. This time, however, I decided to go with a savouring approach and limit myself to one chapter per day. Here’s why. Once, at a GGK book reading, Guy asked my friend if he liked the book and my friend replied that he read it in about 4 hours straight because he couldn’t put it down, and the look of dismay on Guy’s face was so astonishing! I figured, here’s a man who took years of his life to create this beautiful, poetic work of are, and we turn around and consume it in a few hours. So my decision was an attempt to extend, and more fully appreciate, his writing. The unexpected side effect, however, was that I didn’t get drawn into his story like I usually do, because I so frequently took myself out of it. And I have to say, not only did I miss the feeling of being immersed, I felt like I was less able to fully appreciated his work.

Which brings me to the Special Tweet. I always struggle to describe the feeling of losing myself in a GGK story, so imagine my surprise when he, himself, describes it perfectly in Brightness:

We want to sink into the tale, leave our own lives behind, find lives to encounter, even to enter for a time. We can resist being reminded of the artificer, the craft. We want to be immersed, lost, not remember what it is we are doing, having done to us, as we turn pages, look at a painting, hear a song, watch a dance.

Still, that is what is being done to us. It is.

Even so … we do turn the page, and can be lost again. And in that deep engagement we may find ourselves, or be changed, because the stories we are told become so much of what we are, how we understand our own days.

This is what I tweeted about. And … Guy Gavriel Kay liked it! And me – did I uphold a sense of dignity and self-respect, or did I fan-girl all over that shit? Oh, I think you can guess the answer to that …

The Tweet

The Like

Lastly, on reading GGK books. Many of his books take place in the same fantasy universe, and in case you have always been wondering about the relative timelines and relationships between his books to date, I give you the following.

Fionavar & Ysabel

The Fionavar Tapestry takes place in our world, in “present day” Toronto as well as in the fantasy realm of Fionavar (time unknown). Ysabel takes place in our world maybe 20-30 years later with some fun references to Fionavar.

Arbonne & Tigana

These could both potentially be shoe-horned into the same universe as the Sarantine world books, but in fact I think they are intended to be independent, both from the other books and from each other. However, regardless of that intent, they appear to mirror events from ~1200 AD  (Medieval Spain) and ~1500 AD (Renaissance Italy) respectively.

Under Heaven & River of Stars

These books take place about 300 years apart in the sequence published, in a world that resembles the ancient Chinese dynasties of Tang and Song.

The remaining books are all of the Sarantium world (for lack of a better reference, as the actual world in which they take place is unnamed). For these, I have drawn up a nerdy little timeline presented below. I’ve included Under Heaven and River of Stars for good measure, since it’s possible they occur within the same world:

And with that, I settle in for the very long wait until the next GGK book is released. I. Can’t. Wait.

Rating: Buy it and add it to your GGK collection, which you should already own.

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Haters GOTta Hate

Instead of a book review, I thought I’d write a post about what’s been stealing my time the past 6 weeks. Whether you watch the  show or not, you’ve probably figured out by now that Game of Thrones ended its series run last Sunday and  fans were STRONGLY divided between 1’s and 10’s (I’m a 10).  What fans agreed on, however, was their belief that the show failed to answer a zillion open questions. A “zillion” is some number between 7 and 50. Just to put the matter to rest (in my head), I offer this answer guide to the burning (ha!) questions left behind by GOT.

In the usual manner of these sorts of things, what follows are

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

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.

.

Why is there still a Night’s Watch?

There is no Night’s Watch. Did you see any Night Watchmen? No, you did not. This was just a cover story to satisfy the Unsullied in order to keep Jon from being executed. He was “exiled” to the wall where he reunited with his Wildling friends (and Ghost!) and  went north to live happily ever after. What more could you want for him, really?? Be warned, however, my prediction is that he will probably die in the books because this story line doesn’t service anyone but the fans. Also, after murdering their precious psycho-queen, the Unsullied would most likely have killed him immediately.

Who was the person with green eyes, predicted by Melisendres, to be killed by Arya?

Settle down, Cersei-hopefuls, this is easy – it was Littlefinger. He is described in the books as having “laughing gray-green eyes like a cat”. Brown eyes – Walder Frey. Green  eyes – Littlefinger. Blue eyes- Night King. In  that order.

Why didn’t Drogon burn Jon after he stabbed his mom to death?

People! Jon is a TARGARYEN. He CAN’T BE KILLED BY FIRE! Remember Daenerys? Remember the Night King? (the Night King is a Targaryen, and you won’t convince me otherwise). So it was either burn  Jon and have him walked naked out of the flames (my personal vote) or just take out the throne and set up the whole endgame.

Why did Drogon melt the Iron Throne?

Look, even in the books we don’t get chapters from the Dragons’ perspectives, so we can never know this. Unless Bran warged into Drogon to burned the throne and pave the way to his ascendancy to King of the 6 Kingdo … wait a second …

Why did Jon tell everyone that he killed Dany?

Let’s not forget, Jon has been honest and ethical to be huge fault. He triggered Cersei’s betrayal by refusing to pretend he wouldn’t side with anyone until after the zombie war and admitted he had already bent the knee to Daenerys, he told Dany the truth about his parentage (a huge mistake), and then he told his family about his parentage. It goes on and on. This is why Tyrion never told him the Night’s Watch exile was just a scam to get the Unsullied to let him go. He’d have been all “hey, Grey worm, they’re pulling your leg, I’m actually running off to live with the Wildlings”. 

Who was the Prince Who Was Promised?

It was probably Jon. This post explains it way better than  I ever could.

Was Daenerys pregnant?

No, no, no, she is barren. Have you even been  watching the same show? Plus, they were already at their maximum of pregnant women they could kill off.

What was the point of the white horse?

Actually, I’m on board with this one. What WAS the point of that?

There are many other questions out there, but most of them are either too obvious (you just need to be paying attention) or they are terribly obscure factoids pulled from the depths of the books, and answers will only be forthcoming in future books.

I was not unhappy with the finale. I’m interested in how GRRM ends things in the books, since at least one of the people at the end of the show is already dead in the books (although possibly returned to life, hard to say for sure).

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Leave Me (the hell alone!)

Leave Me, by Gayle Forman

I am wayyyyy behind in blogs. This is due to a busy time a work and to accidentally stumbling across the show Breaking Bad which I have spend a LOT of time binge-watching over the past few weeks. Happy to report that addiction is over (having finished the show) and I’ve delved back into my stack of unread books. And without further adieu…

I honestly thought I was going to hate this book. Some random First-World-Problems white woman has a heart attack, then during recovery finds she can’t cope with her unsupportive husband, high-maintenance twins, and absentee BFF, and decides to “disappear” by running away from home. Gack!

Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be a charming little story about our FWP woman finding her way back to health and self-love, while forging an eclectic group of new friends who accept her for who she is, despite her obvious guarded secrets. It’s a Goldilocks story, where everything done is just right. All the characters are developed just enough for you to quite like them, without going so far that they seem artificial. The adventures are just enough to be interesting and believable, and not so much as to be utterly ridiculous. Even her coping with leaving her young children results in just enough angst to be sympathetic without being nonsensical. It’s a perfect weekend read, and will probably take you just about that long to finish.

Fun side note – I wasn’t sure about the validity of the word “unsupportive” so I asked my husband by way of the following question: “Is unsupportive a word? As in I have an unsupportive husband?” He didn’t laugh nearly as much as I did, nor did he answer my question, so I googled it instead, and take a look at the number one auto-fill suggestion:

…Google knows…

Ah, life, you make me laugh.

Rating: borrow it, it’s a nice read.

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The Disappeared

The Disappeared, by Kim Echlin

I didn’t love the style of writing. I’m not saying it was bad, it just wasn’t for me. The author has the narrator quote people speaking and doesn’t use quotation marks, just commas (I said, isn’t it strange how people go to war and still play each other’s music? You said, My grandmother used to take me to a temple to pray for peace.) Sometimes there is no “I said” or “you said” indicator of who is speaking, or that anyone even is. I want to say that this made the story confusing and difficult to follow at times, but I feel like that makes me sound like a reading noob.

I didn’t love the protagonist/narrator. She falls head over heels in love with a boy, Serey, from Cambodia, and after he leaves Montreal for home to try and locate his family following the Cambodian civil war, she pines for him for ten years. Then, seeing someone who looks like Serey in a crowd-shot in Phnom Penh, she buys a one way ticket and sets of in search of him. She enlisted the help of Mao, a remorque driver, to driver her around every night until she finds him. And later, when she loses him again, she begs Mao to risk his own life to drive her to Ang Tasom to search again, with no regard for the fact that Mao has his own family to look after. Then she foolishly challenges the local police, causes two friends to risk everything to save her, and STILL continues to defy warnings and ultimately ends up jailed and starving. By now, I’ve spoiled most of the book, but I won’t ruin the ending other to say that this boy consumes her entire life. Maybe I’m just an emotionless zombie, but I don’t imagine that I would ever attach myself to someone so desperately (mayyyyybe my son, but certainly not some man). I found her incredibly frustrating and totally unsympathetic. Then again, maybe this is what the author intended.

The story itself takes place during the Cambodian War, and Pol Pot’s Year Zero “cleansing” of 2 million (or more) “undesirable” citizens – mostly educated city people. This is where the book really shines, apologetically wading through the horrors of those years. If reading isn’t your thing, for a fun date night, you can watch the 1984 movie The Killing Fields. Good times. There is nothing like graphic story of genocide to make you grateful to be Canadian.

Rating: Borrow it. This is a story worth reading.

 

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Is Essentialism Essential?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown

It’s official. I am hanging up my superhero cape.

The essentialism lightbulb is that successful people do fewer things better. I’m not talking about success in terms of wealth or fame, I’m talking about it in terms of whatever your goals are in life. The aha moment for me came when I realized that, at work, you can be the “superhero who says yes to everything and gets shit done” (me) or you can be the “inspiring leader who makes this happen” (not so much me) but I can’t think of anyone who I’ve seen be both. My revelation is that being a superhero is actually a CLM* not to mention that it robs other people of their own chance to do heroic things. With that in mind, I want to pick 3 or 4 things to do really well, and inspire other people to take on the rest. A lofty goal, and luckily Essentialism offers a few tips on how to make this happen.

First, I need to start being present in the moment and doing a better job of listening to the edges of conversations with my coworkers (and everyone else in my life, frankly). Being present means no longer pretending I can multi-task (I can’t). Listening better means paying attention to the things that aren’t being said as much as the things that are, asking more questions, and offering less advice. And mostly, not just biding my time until it’s my turn to talk. This is a skill I need to practice, so my first challenge/goal is to come up with a strategy for practicing. I may just set up random 30 min meetings or coffee dates with various coworkers just to ask them to tell me about their work. During this time, I can only ask questions or make noncommittal listening comments such as “mm hmm” or “tell me more about that” or “I think what I hear you say is …”

Here are several additional tips and tools that lurk within the pages of essentialism. All of these are applicable to me.

  1. Slow down and stop trying to do it all.
  2. Take a look at what assignments can I eliminate at work.
  3. I should book 25% of my time to just focused on key projects. This is two hours per day. Make it happen!
  4. Listen better and stop fixing things.
  5. Get more sleep. You’re not a loser if you go to bed at 10.
  6. There is no try. Do, or do not.
  7. We overvalue things if we already own them. Try asking “how much would I pay to own this if it wasn’t already mine”?
  8. Always increase your estimates of time/effort by 50%. The coffee shop is not just 10 mins away!
  9. The things I enjoy in my spare time are writing, reading, puzzles, movies.

Don’t misunderstand, this book isn’t perfect. The book club discussion raised a few interesting points about it’s weaknesses. As with most self-help books, the author is writing from a place of privilege – not everyone has the luxury of being able to say no to things, particularly if they work in a low-end job and have a family to support. McKeown also loves to pull examples out of the air and attribute the positives to behaviours consistent with his approach, in the flagrant display of confirmation bias common to many self-help book authors. (“Look! Steve Jobs was incredibly successful and he lived his life like a true essentialist! Ergo, essentialism works!”) The key, as always, is to take what resonates with you and simply discard the rest. Perfect essentialism.

Rating: It’s probably worth owning a copy, if you are okay with writing in the margins.

*Career Limiting Move
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