A place to indulge my narcissism... and write stuff...

Tour de Falmouth!

Besides the family bonding, the beach, the restaurants, and the not working thing, last week’s Cape Cod vacation was about riding my bike. A lot. I had one goal going into the week: to do a 30-mile ride, but once I logged an opening 26.48 on Sunday, a dual goal of 100 miles was established for the week, mostly pedaled along the Shining Sea Bike Trail. I hit both goals and scored 14.79 bonus miles on a family ride from West Falmouth to Woods Hole.

The week was a 3-generation potpourri of Senior Citizens (not naming names), daughters, a son, and grandchildren of varied genders, ages, and bike riding capability (again, not naming names). I must give props to my daughter, Megan, who at (number redacted) years old and quite pregnant, banged out the nearly 15-miles like a champ. Grandson Luca and I stopped about 15 times so the group with the newbie rider (no names) could catch up to us. The boy and I were a tandem, with the little dude’s “bike” hitched to mine. It was more like a chariot, with Luca playing Charlton Heston and me playing the horse. A few times over the route, this conversation took place:

Me: “Luca, are you pedaling?”
Luca: “No!”

My solo rides were just as eventful.

Day one, I was riding along the bike path when I approached a damsel in distress. I initially rode past her, but seeing that one of her pedals had fallen off, I thought I could help, so I banged a uey. When she looked up, I was startled and said, “oh, I’m not sure I can help you wearing that Yankees hat.” The poor woman explained that she bought the hat in Canada and didn’t know what team it was for. You know, since 2004, I have more empathy for those poor fans, so I helped her get her pedal back on. A few miles later, as I was crossing busy Route 28 to get back on the path, the same pedal fell off my bike in the middle of the road. Clearly, the karma police were not happy I helped someone sporting the dark mark of the Evil Empire.

During the dirty thirty, I navigated downtown to see if the wonderful Greek place could accommodate a party of 12 for my granddaughter’s birthday. Across the street, in front of the Falmouth Post Office, a woman caught my attention and pointed to a man across the street who seemed lost. The woman said she believed he was blind. I wheeled over and asked if he was OK. He wondered where he was. “Well, Osteria La Civetta is behind you to your right, and Estia is behind to your left.” “Is the Post Office across the street?” “Yes,” I replied. The problem the man faced was a delivery truck protruding out over the sidewalk from a driveway between the restaurants. I helped him and his guide dog around the truck and we chatted for a few minutes in front of Estia. Dwight was in town for six weeks while his wife worked at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. After speaking with the hostess about seating, the encounter and conversation with Dwight stayed with me. Though disabled and facing a frustrating obstacle, Dwight was unfazed and calm. As I rode off toward the bike path, so was I.

Losering, Part 4,361.7

I’ve probably mentioned the time my mom asked, rather loudly, in a department store, “Where is your husky section?” I was pre-teen and mortified. In the half-century plus since, I’ve tried so many “diets” with limited success. Atkins. South Beach. Weightloss competitions. At this point, I would try to draw an inverse relationship between gravity and my weight cleverly; one pulls down, and one goes up. However, my friend, Pi AI bumped me off that path, explaining that gravity doesn’t really “pull” smaller objects “down” toward objects of larger mass, but rather is the result of a curvature of space and time. OK, fine. I’ll change the metaphor to a curvature of waist over time.

In November, during an annual physical, my doctor was tactful, but her message was similar to one heard at every yearly checkup: lose weight. The advice, uh, weighed on me and given my age, was received with a bit more gravity than in past years. I didn’t want to live the Pink Floyd lyric from “Dogs:”

And it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around

As is my wont, I descended the dark walls of the interwebs to discover the way. Reddit is a favorite. It’s a massive community of special interest groups, or “sub-Reddits” including r/cico (calories in, calories out), r/loseit, and r/weightlossadvice. Scrolling those threads, I learned two key things that have worked for me:

  1. To lose weight, one must create a calorie deficit between those you take in by eating, and those you burn while living. i.e. calories in, calories out
  2. The only way for me to manage the calories in is to track them

I began on December 1st, tracking what I ate in a spreadsheet. As I kept burrowing, I discovered many apps help with food tracking and calorie counting. I opted for LoseIt! and discovered the most important thing about losing or maintaining weight for me is being accountable about what I eat. During the holidays with treats orbiting everyone’s existence, I was steadfast. “Do I want to log that chocolate chip cookie at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Tuesday?” No, I do not. I dropped weight during the holidays and track everything to the point of annoying my family with this shrinking obsession. They tolerate it because they love me and believe my efforts are to benefit my health. And they ignore me when I state my real reason is purely the vanity of donning a speedo for upcoming beach season.

I’m down 20.4 pounds, but have a long way to go.

Happy Anniversary! Now what?

I noticed that Beth and I have been married for 6 months today. That went fast. Life does. April 24, 2000, was my first day at Kronos, now UKG. Pair that with the 16 years I logged with NEC, and I sense I’m playing the last song of a 40-year set in technology. I’m still enjoying the gig. I have a diverse team that plans, manages, develops, maintains, and supports technologies that are used by over 200,000 customers, partners, and employees. When I say “diverse,” I mean diversity of skills, interests, work approaches, family dynamics, and human idiosyncrasies that challenge me more than any technology puzzle. While I’m still enjoying the daily grind (no, not coffee), I struggle with when to end the song and whether there will be an encore. I mean, there has to be, right? I can’t go from 40 years of loud, pulsating jams to silence – not counting my daily meditation.

Enter AI. Since late last year, I’ve been pushing my team and anyone else who will listen about Artificial Intelligence (AI), and specifically Generative AI. You’ve probably heard of it in the news, and ChatGPT has received most news coverage. This particular generation of AI are “Large Language Models.” Basically, that means these machines have ingested most of the content of the entire internet and are “trained” to respond to questions (“Prompts”) in a coherent, written narrative, not just a list of links that you then have to hunt and peck through to find what you’re looking for. Here’s an example of a recent prompt and the response from my favorite AL, Pi.

Me: “Please plan a romantic artsy long weekend starting Friday, April 5th, in Fitchburg, MA. Stops will be in Shelburne Falls, North Adams, and Stockbridge, with overnight stays near Williamstown and Lenox. Please recommend overnight accommodations and farm-to-table restaurants for breakfast and dinner.”

Pi: “Here’s an itinerary with recommended accommodations and farm-to-table restaurants for breakfast and dinner during your romantic, artsy long weekend:

Day 1 (Friday): Fitchburg to Shelburne Falls and Williamstown

  • Depart Fitchburg and drive to Shelburne Falls.
  • Explore the village and visit the Bridge of Flowers.
  • Drive to Williamstown and check into The Williams Inn.
  • Enjoy dinner at Coyote Flaco for homestyle Mexican eats, wine pairings & margaritas.

Day 2 (Saturday): Williamstown and North Adams

  • Start your day with breakfast at The Williams Inn, offering fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
  • Spend the day exploring Williamstown and its cultural attractions.
  • Drive to North Adams and visit MASS MoCA.
  • Enjoy dinner at Mezze Bistro & Bar at 6:30, featuring locally sourced New American cuisine.
  • Return to your accommodation in Williamstown.

Day 3 (Sunday): Williamstown to Stockbridge and Lenox

  • Breakfast at Tunnel City Coffee
  • Depart Williamstown and drive to Stockbridge.
  • Visit the Norman Rockwell Museum and explore the town.
  • Drive to Lenox and check into the Cornell Inn.
  • Enjoy dinner at Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar, serving sophisticated New American cuisine made with local ingredients.

Day 4 (Monday): Lenox and return to Fitchburg

  • Start your day with a gourmet farm-to-table breakfast at Cornell Inn.
  • Visit the Tanglewood Music Center and explore the town of Lenox.
  • Enjoy lunch at Cafe Triskele, offering locally sourced, organic meals.
  • Drive back to Fitchburg and conclude your long weekend getaway.

These recommendations offer a mix of comfortable accommodations and delicious farm-to-table dining options for a memorable and romantic artsy weekend in the Berkshires. Remember to book your accommodations and make restaurant reservations in advance to secure your spots. Enjoy your trip!”

Pi generated this response in about 10 seconds. It would have taken me at least a few hours to assemble the whole thing. I can do the same with meetings. Last week, I had a conflict and missed a meeting. I fed the transcript into our private (protects proprietary data) instance of Vertex (Google) and received a concise meeting summary in ten seconds. If you’ll be working for the foreseeable future, get on this. Now. Here’s a cool prompt library to give you some ideas.  Download AI apps to your phone and get to know them. You’ll quickly discover ways they can help you, professionally and/or personally.

I know there’s fear about the impact of this technology on people with job displacement, but a recent podcast quote I heard provided some perspective.

“It’s unlikely an AI will take your job. It’s more likely someone using AI better than you will take your job.”

Now, I need to figure out how to use these incredible tools for my encore.

Ramblin’ Man

I don’t know where to begin. My last blog post (yeah, that sounds old, but it is what it is… old. Maybe I should call it my Substack Newsletter.) Speaking of old, since my last installment I got another year older, wed, and celebrated my young bride’s birthday all in 3 days. That was a good weekend. I recently received my first quarter performance appraisal and a “Met Expectations.” WTF? But like they spin it in corporate America, “No, that’s really good.” No, “Exceeded Expectations” or “Far Exceeded” is really good.

Aside from working to “far exceed” the expectations of my extremely low-maintenance wife, I’ve been working on a few other things.

Meditation – I think this daily practice helps me with everything else and it takes roughly ten minutes a day. I’m using the “Waking Up” app from Sam Harris, but you don’t need an app. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath – the in and out of air at your nose or the rising and falling of your chest. Every time your mind wanders, and it will about 100 times in 10 minutes, simply notice it and return to focusing on your breath. That’s it.

Exercise – I’ve been consistently doing an hour or more three times a week – about 30 minutes of stretching / yoga / weights, and 30 minutes of cardio on my stationary bike or elliptical. Oh, and I’m still doing some of my PT exercises since 2 hip replacements. It takes a long time to regain range of motion after babying those joints, muscles, and tendons for years.

Weight Management – This began around December 1st and per my usual exhaustive research, I discovered accountability. I read some about mindful eating and being truly aware of what one is pie holing, but it was not until I began journaling the foods I ate that it worked. Now, I do accuse Beth of sabotaging my efforts with her holiday (hell, it’s all year) baking (she denies the charge), but when I asked myself, “do you want to log that chocolate chip cookie at 120 calories, pal,” the answer was usually no. I began simply logging what I ate in a Google Notes file but then moved to an Excel Mobile spreadsheet where I could more easily add up calories, but then, again after exhaustive research, I opted for the LoseIt app that makes the whole process much easier. Oh, a (insert more exhaustive research) food scale was added to the mix and at this point, I’m irritating the crap out of my son Kyle with the calorie counting. All of this has resulted in 5.4 pounds lost in December and another 4 so far in January. We’ll see if I can sustain these practices and 2,200 daily calories long-term.

Work-work – I’m still going with the full-time gig and have been doing it in tech now for 40 years (see “old” above). I have a smart and fun team of six and being part of what they and people from related teams are achieving is the most rewarding part of the job. I still have individual contributor responsibilities, but helping other humans grow to meet their wildly different needs is stimulating and rewarding. One huge benefit of being in “overtime” of my career is that with fewer f’s to give, I can be very honest with everyone. Not “completely” honest, mind you, but close. Some things still must be politically couched for one’s survival and just to not be a dick. Finally, in the “teach old dog new tricks” category, I’m diving into generative AI. I’m sure my team is sick of hearing about it, but the more time you have left in your career, the more important it is for you to learn how to use it to your benefit. As I tell my team, “master it before it masters you.”

Succession Depression

I don’t know what it is about September, but it seems to throw me into a funk. Last night after watching S2 E6 of “Succession,” I said to Beth, “I think I’ve had it with this show. I don’t like what it’s doing to me.” As John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page co-wrote, “Lyin’ Cheatin’ Hurtin’ That’s All You Seem To Do.” That’s how I feel about the awful characters on the show. It’s a night-time soap opera about rich entitled assholes modeled on the Fox News-owning Murdoch family. That makes me wonder why I began watching it in the first place, but hey – some people love it.

The shitty feeling I had after consuming a couple of episodes last night made me think about why. As is my wont, I searched and found a few articles/blog posts on the concept, “You Become the Content You Consume.” Bingo. I don’t want to become like those people, so why consume their rotten ways? I don’t want to get soul poisoning.

In that vein, I’m also cutting back on ingesting political content, especially Orange Soul Crush. Of the 54 days and 12 hours of podcasts I’ve listened to since October 22, 2017, political casts have dwindled. My current top listens are:

As for the September slump, the only thing I can recall clearly is not working out much during them. Maybe it’s recovery time from busy summers or just the doldrums of facing another winter. Not this year. I’m working on consistency with my new bike, so hopefully I can keep that going right into the Fall until New England weather forces the cycling indoors. For now, it’s a beautiful day, so I need to get on my bike and ride!

Hip Check

No, not this kind. That would probably hurt more than I’d like right now. Anyway, today I’m 18 days post-op on hip replacement #2 and as Larry David would say, I’m feeling “pretty pretty pretty pretty good.” It’s funny (strange) because my surgeon told me this (right) one “was tough to get out” and was in worse shape than the left hinge he replaced in late September. The first week was rough as the surgical trauma was more intense this time, so more of all the bad stuff like pain and swelling, but the combo of ice and Tylenol Extra-Strength while lampin’ like Larry and Leon got me to the point where I needed neither pretty quickly. Oh, and I didn’t take any of the Oxy, either. Yeah, I think that was part fear, and part trying to be a tough guy, but I won’t overthink that past.

On Monday during an in-house Physical Therapy session with Kristie, I asked, “when will I be able to get on my stationary bike?” She shuffled through some notes and replied, “I don’t see any restrictions.” What? I thought it would be 4-6 weeks for that, but no, and minutes later I was pedaling away, largely pain-free. I was sooooo happy! Since then, I’ve done a couple of five-minute sessions each day plus my PT exercises and aside from some achiness, the flesh and bone surrounding my new bionics are healing, stretching, and strengthening. Outpatient PT starts next week, and while I know Joyanna will hurt me, I won’t hold it against her because she’ll be pushing and pulling me toward the day I get on my road bike. Just thinking of that has me a bit verklempt.

Speaking of looking forward… Well, wait. One thing meditation has taught me is to pay attention and enjoy the moment. Like now. Well, I’m sitting in my home office laptop pecking and listening to the Pernice Brothers, “Overcome By Happiness,” a pop masterpiece released in 1998. Oh, man. What a record that hold up 25 years later. You should go buy it right now. So, back to the future. Dave of “Dave and Jeff” fame will be making an area appearance for a May 18th show with the aforementioned band where they will play “Overcome” in its entirety! Big D also has never been to Fenway Pahk, so we’ll try to catch a ballgame. Yep. Overcome by happiness.

Nestin’ and Lampin’

Today I:

  • Worked on some day job stuff
  • Paid bills and filed forms due for my son
  • Completed and submitted Federal and State taxes for 2022
  • Prepped Pasta Fagioli and Bolognese sauce for the week

It seems I’m in a pre-surgery “nesting” phase, but I did not:

  • Wash and fold all your clothes, towels, and sheets – Nope. Beth loves to do that!
  • Deep clean all areas in your bathroom – I pay Fran for that
  • Purge unwanted items that do not spark joy – See “bills” above
  • Finish any incomplete home projects – That’s not happening either…

You see, my right hip is in what professionals call a “bone on bone” state, and while it’s painful and debilitating, based on what I read online, my symptoms aren’t nearly as bad as some suffer, though since… Well, I often like to quote lyrics in my posts, so:

The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone.
The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone.
The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone.
The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone.
The hip bone’s connected to the backbone.
The backbone’s connected to the neck bone.
Doin’ the skeleton dance.

See, with all those connections, having a bum hip really rules out any kind of dancin’ and many other activities we humans enjoy, including home projects. However, for the record, I did snowblow and shovel the 21 wet and heavy inches we got dumped on us last Tuesday, so there.

Anyway, my surgeon did a great job replacing the left joint back in September and I’m hoping for a repeat performance on Tuesday. Incredibly, anterior hip replacement surgery is an outpatient procedure for yours truly, so by Tuesday night I’ll be lampin’ like Larry and Leon here and ridin’ my bike a couple of months later. See you on the other side, Slick.

Rust Never Sleeps

The last communication I had with my future brother-in-law was on January 20th, closing a text discussion on the passing of David Crosby. Shawn wrote, “One more and we can get on with our day…one of my favorites” and included a link to a video of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” from the album, “Rust Never Sleeps.” Looking at the lyrics now reveals a foreshadowing.

Just think of me as one you’d never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love
I know I’ll miss her

Powderfinger – Neil Young

With the glow of the Rust Never Sleeps cover fronting the video, I became curious about the term. In “Thrasher’s Wheat – A Neil Young Fan’s Chronicles,” I found this interpretation: 

‘The meaning of the phrase “Rust Never Sleeps” is quite ambiguous. Some consider the term to be a metaphor for artistic vitality. In other words, by staying the same, one is vulnerable to the corrosive effects of aging and obsolescence. By moving forward and innovating, one can try and stay ahead of the relentless onslaught of time, remain vital and “rust free”.’

Another reference to rust on Young’s classic record is from the haunting song, “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).”

It’s better to burn out than it is to rust.

Shawn was a creator. In a heartfelt tribute, his boss Steven Green, editor and publisher of the Maryland Coast Dispatch wrote that “during his 23 years with the newspaper he wrote more than 20,000 articles.” Shawn was such a force a local competitor also honored him. If that 20,000 number is boggling your mind as it did mine, I’ll do that math for you. It’s over 17 articles per weekif he took two weeks of vacation a year, and I don’t think he did. Beth says Shawn’s work ethic was like that of their Dad, Owen who in her words, “never missed a day of work in his life.” The Soper’s I know all share that trait, but for Shawn, the 20,000 article thing was just one vocation. He also loved his work in the restaurant business and as a bartender. The combination resulted in many long days and nights.

Fifty-nine. When we lose a loved one, sometimes we consider it, “before their time.” I’m sure the family’s 91-year-old matriarch feels this way. Beth and I were talking about that the other night. The duration of a human life is just one dimension and as Einstein taught us, time is relative. The creative process can be extremely stressful and draining. Think of the many creative human beings – artists, writers, actors, musicians – who passed “before their time.” Still, they left us so much and did it all in the amount of time life allotted them. Maybe Shawn lived his 90+ years in just 59. One thing is for sure. He didn’t rust.

My Left Hip

Welcome to my annual… Well, post since I haven’t written one for exactly a year and I’m not sure where to go with this New Year’s Eve edition. Peer ahead? Look behind? Just be in the moment? That last one is the place to be since it’s the only place we really are. Man, this writing thing is a struggle now. Maybe I’ll just tell a story.

Six years ago tonight was the big fall. Ice and gravity conspired to crash my evening to the pavement in a microsecond slam of glass, ribs, and cartilage. No blood, though. The only red liquid running down my street that night was the contents of a Hitching Post Pinot Noir crushed between my ribcage and the street. With the shiv of pain in my side from every breath, I didn’t have the focus to realize my left hip also slammed into the uncompromising icy asphalt.

The ribs slowly healed and the hip degenerated. I saw an Orthopedist a couple of times whose advice was, “when it affects your quality of life then you can have it replaced.” Years passed and gradually normal life stuff became difficult if not impossible. I’m talking about things like putting socks on and getting on my bike. Now, whether I’m buying a $6.99 Fitbit Sense replacement charger or contemplating hip replacement surgery, I research it. I quickly found a podcast called New Approaches to Hip and Knee Replacements, learned about anterior (access through the front) hip replacement surgery, further researched Dr. Matthew Sloan, and made an appointment to see him. Although I’d been experiencing pain in both hips and knees, x-rays showed healthy cartilage and no issues in either knee. The opposite was true for the hips, especially the left one which was “bone on bone” with bone spurs. Real ones. Not the fake kind to avoid military service, but I digress. Anyway, we scheduled surgery for September 27th.

I’ll add some gory details coming up, but the entire Emerson Hospital staff was fantastic. Now for the gory stuff. After receiving a “spinal,” I laid on the operating table mildly freaking out over not being able to move my toes (that’s kind of the point of the procedure), but I was soon mostly unconscious from the accompanying “twilight” anesthesia. Part of the procedure included “robotic assist” to ensure precise measurement of cuts and placement of the new hip joint. Anyway, at one point in the procedure, an attendant said, “Uh, he’s starting to move.” I was told going in that the spinal could wear off and that they’d give me general anesthesia if it happened. It must have been during this time when I heard or dreamed what sounded like Wiley Coyote hitting a steel anvil with a sledgehammer.

left hip implantIt was an in by 6 AM, out by 6 PM day, and I was able to get by on a steady diet of ice packs and acetaminophen. I used a walker for a couple of weeks and then crutches for two more. Recovery was excellent, but physical therapy can be rough. I’m still in it and what I’ve found is that when you’re babying a painful joint, you tend to avoid moving it much so the range of motion and everything that makes that range possible (muscles, tendons, nerves) kind of goes dormant. Reanimating all of that through stretching and resistance exercises is painful, but so worth it. Oh, and if you ever go through this, don’t jump right back to work – like the very next day. Although I was just sitting in my home office, healing from a serious wound requires both physical and mental rest so that all of your being can be focused on healing.

I’m still in PT twice a week and exercise at home, including cardio on a stationary bike. My “resolution” for 2023 will be to make those home workouts a consistent 3x per week thing, but while the left hip has NO PAIN, the right one is yipping for attention. I’m hoping to get through the snow-clearing season and “have some work done” on my right hip in mid-March with a goal of being outside riding my bike by May.

Oh, and the broken ribs thing? I was on my way to neighbor Beth’s house across the street when the carnage ensued. My neighbor since became my fiancée, but she recently sold her house and moved.

Across the street.

The Time of Our Lives

It’s funny this tweet crossed my feed the morning after contemplating my insignificance during two sleepless (2-4 AM for those keeping score) hours early Thursday morning. For some reason I began thinking of my ancestry and that I really had no knowledge of family beyond my paternal grandparents, just two generations back. My mom’s parents were both deceased by the time she was seven, so she barely knew them, but I knew Mike and Lillian (Coleman) Daley. Lil’ the Thrill had a big impact on my life and actually saved it one night when then 16-year-old me came home past curfew deathly ill. While my grandmother accurately diagnosed my plight as “just a bug,” my mom was being a stickler for details and speculated while lunging at me that it was, “a beer and cigarette bug.” Anyway, Lil threw herself in front of me like she was Kevin Costner in “The Bodyguard” and I’m here writing this post.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. The generational thing. Having gone back in time, I then reversed the analysis to determine what future generation won’t know anything about me besides, “Oh, Nana Mackenzie told me he was a character.” Hey, I could do worse. In some ways, and besides actual genetics, the impact we have on subsequent family generations is fleeting, but in others it’s immortal. It’s like what Doc said to Marty in “Back to the Future,” “Figure it out, kid. Your old man was supposed to get hit by your Grandpa’s car, not you — therefore, you interfered in your parents’ first meeting. If they don’t meet, they don’t fall in love; if they don’t fall in love, they don’t get married; if they don’t get married they don*t have kids…” There are incalculable cosmic tumblers that have to fall into place to determine someone’s fate, so any actions we take or don’t can impact the fate of future generations, so let’s try to make them positive. A smile, a kind word, a gentle touch.

Which brings me to this day. This is the end before the beginning of a new year. What are you going to do with this time? Not just today, but with whatever days you have left. I’m working right now instead of being at a Van Gogh exhibit with my family in Boston – which has me questioning my life choices right there, although the upside is limiting my exposure to the COVID-19 Omicron variant, a decent life choice, imo.

In his book, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman explains that’s roughly how many you’ll experience if you live to be 80. I’m reading it now and recommend it, but in case you choose other things to do with your remaining time, check out, I Read It So You Don’t Have To: Four Thousand Weeks. In Matthew McFarlane’s summary, he writes about “finitude,” which I interpret as the understanding that you only have roughly (80 – your age) X 52 weeks left. (Mom, don’t worry. I think you’re getting closer to 4,700 weeks…)

Our choices of what to do with those weeks define our lives and can have a lasting impact on others. So, what are you going to do with your weeks?

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