Archive for the ‘just a few thoughts’ Category

Happy Holidays to everybody.

Everyone loves a holiday tale that inspires, so why shouldn’t I write one?

Sitting here watching the news and ESPN, I have to wonder if sappy, inspirational stories of people overcoming adversity happen at other times of the year and not just late December. They all seem to show up now as filler because there is no hard news or sports to talk about. But no one will ever come to do a profile on what I’ve had to overcome in the past few weeks. It is nothing short of heroic and will bring a tear to your eye.

A few weeks back my toilet just decided to start randomly flushing whenever it felt like it. After trying to find the right keywords for this problem, I realized a “phantom flush” is the term they use, whoever “they” are, “they” know much more than I do. Water was leaking from the tank, not externally fortunately, causing the water to recede, causing the fill process to start over again, then stop with a thump. Not being educated in commode hydraulics, I tried to shine the flashlight in when it happened so maybe I could see what was happening. This is the equivalent to raising the hood of your car to “see what’s happening to make that clunking noise.” No idea what I’m even looking at, but it’s a fascinating observation in any event.

But I never could ever plan the observation at the exact right moment. So I was left befuddled on how to do this. So I of course turned to Google with search queries (and this is where all the Library and Information Science coursework comes in handy) of “toilet flushing when it feels like it,” “Toilet runs and then stops for about 10 seconds,” or to use Boolean logic “Toilet and bubbler or flush and spontaneous or intermittent or random.” Those didn’t find many results, so I just waited for Google to suggest things for me, so I queried something like “Toilet flushes then…” and Google suggested “stops.” But wait. Doesn’t every toilet do that? How does that explain anything? So then I tried “Toilet flushes on…” and Google suggested “its own.” And then I was led to the phantom flushing discussion. Damn, why didn’t I think of that?

This was an example of overcoming great obstacles. But the story goes on.

Now, what do I do? I came to realize it must be the seal has gone bad, and finding a frayed rubber ring, I decided that must be it. I moved the old thing around and made it worse. Now water didn’t stay in the tank at all unless I pressed down on the valve. So, now I went out to Home Depot to get a valve which didn’t fit. It was too wide. So I needed to go back. But then I wondered if I should fix the two other problems in the tank: the handle and the missing chain.

Like any sappy overcoming-the-odds story, we need a flashback:

This story goes back years. The ex and I couldn’t figure out how to fix the chain that had broken. If memory serves (where does that phrase come from anyway? It means I probably don’t remember anything the way it really happened), we could not re-attach a new chain. The problem is, this must be an old tank. The valve and flapper dapper are one piece- there is no rubber stopper. The valve has two looped openings which I guess is meant to hook the chain, but only one end of the chain has a hook- the other end…well…the other end is usually embedded into the rubber flapper. So how the hell was this to connect?

Commercial break to build suspense.

So we tried squeezing the end of that chain to get it connected to the handlebar, but it never could connect. So we gave up on the chain.

Tugs at your heart, doesn’t it?

The other problem was a loose handle which would not get bolted in no matter what the wrench did. We could get it just enough to be reasonable, but it wobbled. Then I realized I could take the arm from the handle, put it through the larger loop on the top of the valve, and bypass the chain altogether. This worked for a while until it would come out of the loop, after so many flushes. This lasted for years.

End of flashback.

Times have changed and now there is the problem of the seal, chain, flapper, and handle. And now, post-divorce, I am left on my own to deal with this adversity.

(Camera pans to a wide shot of a silhouette of me with a sunset in the background).

So another trip to Home Depot and a discussion with a nice gentleman, whose questions I could not answer, such as model type, whether it was a 2 inch or whatever. I just told him what things looked like, sort of like making grunts to your mechanic of what the car sounds like. So I came away with a new seal on the bottom, handle with arm, and flapper. Faced with these many challenges, I did one task at a time.

(Reporter is choking up as he narrates the piece).

I got the seal, and now water would stay in the tank. Basking in the glow of this major accomplishment, I took a few days off. I still had to manually operate this from the tank. So now I took out the new flapper and chain, and realized this was not going to be compatible with this design. So then I took the previously purchased chain that I couldn’t connect to the smaller loop at the bottom of the valve. (I tell you, I am getting this lingo down as I go). I thought maybe if I got a loop from a key chain, I should be able to connect the chain and the valve. It worked, but now the chain was too long, so I adjusted it at the top, then tightened the handle as much as I could.

And it worked. And several times more it still did. The handle is still a little loose, but it builds character, and was a reminder to the audience that despite these disabilities, we can never lose that winning, triumphant attitude, and as long as we don’t give up…blah blah blah blah.

So there is your holiday tale to warm your heart and inspire you to never give up. Tales like this should be shared all year round and not just at Christmas time. But then again, this did happen in December.

I may have a New Year’s inspiring story as well. The pilot light in the stove went out last week.

Happy Holidays.


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I have a lot of things to learn about the Hyperlinked Library and what all of this means for a future library career.  I look at things philosophically and books that interest me the most are philosophical writings I often don’t even understand. Reading has always been an academic affair, as there is something important intellectually or historically to grasp. I read mostly non-fiction, but rarely ever get entirely through a book without starting another. Before long, I have 5-6 unfinished books. Bookmarks in Foucault and Derrida books bear witness to this. I am a skeptic at heart, and find much more enjoyment in a dark movie that makes me question what I have always believed, versus some happy-go-lucky comedy to make me feel good.

I liked Seth Godin’s talk about tribes. I would say in terms of life itself, I have always been on the outside looking in. Not sure I’ve ever been part of a tribe. I had no siblings or close friends as a child. I was one of 15 in my graduating class in an Evangelical school. In college I was considered more sage than friend. People often come to me and talk, which may be because I enjoy listening and discussing things. But that rarely results in close friendships. I still didn’t really fit.

My sermons were often philosophical questioning and asking people to think or re-think things, while many of them wanted to be “told the old-fashioned truths.” It was a disaster from the beginning. But as that career and later my marriage ended, I suddenly realized that although I didn’t fit in either role, they were all I had.

The library is actually a place I feel connected to. Perhaps it’s the amount of information we are surrounded by and the futility of claiming you are an expert in anything. I work with people of whom the library is the same thing for them. While the chaos of two jobs and two classes can wear on you, it is actually a good thing for me, for the jobs are in libraries, and so are the classes.

So I am thinking not only of my own identity, but also of the library as an institution and what the Hyperlinked Library means. I personally find all the trinkets and toys we call “participation” shallow and watered down. I have a Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc etc., but find little connecting or stimulation from them. Godin talks about how we can link ourselves to any possible group in the world. I must be doing something wrong.

I think I am confused about what it all means, but also worried. I do so much tech stuff at work that things come easy to me, and people seek me out for help. But when I step back, I wonder what good we are doing in the big picture. Just because you have so many “Likes” on the Library Facebook Page, or you create a “participatory” virtual community (of which nobody can explain what it really is), or your library gets so many followers on Twitter, so what? We ask questions, try to get people to interact, the same way we stick a sign at the end of the street promoting a supper. If we are honest, we would admit we do both of these things to get people in the door because they do not come like they used to.

Here are a couple of illustrations.

No one needs to mail letters much anymore, but if the Post Office suddenly has free wi-fi, a cafe, and meeting room, it could claim it’s a post office for the 21st century. But still, no one is mailing letters.  Their identity would be changing. But they have to in order to survive. Even at Christmas the post office is not packed like it used to be. If I had family to send packages to, I’d order on Amazon as well, and have them gift wrap it in one order. But the post office is built on a model which no longer needs to exist, despite the cutesy commercials they make showing happy people getting print bills because they feel more secure. So maybe they should be making lattes.

This seems as phony as church conferences I went to with big mega-church pastors who told us the model of the church was to have the building used by every group under the sun, and then count these people as church attendance. Have a daycare and count it. After all, it’s hard to get people in church, so we have to do whatever we have to to get them in the door. Get a Starbucks to rent a space, and that will give us some good money in the offering plate. It’s much like a desperate business who’s product is too weak to be marketable, so they have to branch out on a new product to stay viable.

Barnes and Noble is a perfect example of a brand that is dying (unfortunately) and how they have to almost dump what the current product is (a physical store) and devote themselves entirely to online content. The problem is, other competitors already do that model better, and no matter how much your latte’s are, your business model is not effective.

Libraries are about providing access to information, but people always remind you and I they haven’t used a library for that in 15 years. We seem to dive into all the new technologies, believing that we are “getting out there,” in which we are not really in the information and research business, but have watered ourselves down to the cesspool of noise and clutter. Cat pictures and videos, and dancing babies. Racist and homophobic comments on Youtube and news articles. Tweeting a re-tweet of a re-tweet.

I guess this sounds more pessimistic than I mean it to be, but I’m skeptical of the techie buzzwords we use, because if you observe stuff long enough, every fad comes and goes. The library community is still a great one, because  single moms still come in looking for a Goosebumps book for their kid because they can’t afford to buy one. A nearly blind senior citizen needs help finding and printing a form.

I am more assured when I watch the pieces on the idea box and other cultural things users can participate in.  We must be a place of culture, because no matter how we skirt the issue, we know most people don’t read books, know history, or can have any type of intellectual conversation. I think about this as I go for my 3-mile walk outdoors and have vehicles pass me with drivers not even looking as they text some undoubtedly deep thoughts to someone.

What do we have to do to connect to people who don’t read, do research, or need our computers? What kind of niche are we trying to reach? The art community? Do we become a place to rent chainsaws or hammers? Seedbanks? More rooms for groups to meet? Do these things sustain the identity of the library, which is grounded in public service and access to resources, or should we just become a “Books -N- Burgers” place?

I guess the challenge for myself and for this career is to make all of this meaningful, to find a niche, and block out the rest of the noise. Surrounded by many great books in the library, people play games on the computer, then complain when their time is up and they have to give up the computer to a waiting patron.  But we get to add a number to the stats for computer usage for the day, which we use to report to the board about how productive we are, so they can tell the town when we ask “pretty please” for $10k of charity next year. Hopefully we will be more real than that.

If you’ve read this far, thank you.

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We store more than DVD’s in this section.


It all started innocently enough 5 years ago in our high school library. Students started leaving things behind the main desk. Often it was because they were heading to lunch and had personal items they needed to store. Other times it was a poster they were working on, and its size was too big to store anything else.

But then, how do you explain the Cheez-its? One student started storing her snacks here, which was a great benefit since she said I could help myself anytime. Who would complain about that?

Somewhere over the years, this grew into subsidized housing. Some students felt safer leaving their stuff in the library than in their locker. Others were just here so often they just naturally started leaving their stuff because they would soon be back. We have an old stool behind the library and some students started coming up to have their lunch while they sat and chatted with us. Slowly but surely, the empty shelves and periodical holders behind the desk started getting filled with notebooks, coats, hats, drawings, and who knows what else.

I’m sure old-timers would be aghast at imagining such a thing in the library. It looks messy and cluttered. I’m sure I’m breaking the laws of Dewey or Dewey’s Laws or some ALA standard or something. I should probably put my foot down and say enough is enough with this sort of thing, yet how can I evict these poor lads so close to Christmas?

I don’t pretend to have established some new model of library service. I doubt the Harvard Library’s of this world would read this and conclude that’s what they need to do. I really can’t say how or why this happened. It is more than unorthodox, in fact it’s probably quite unheard of.

I really ponder the sociology of it all. Seminary training taught me about the theology of space. We see it in cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, and sanctuaries, as well as small chapels or meditation rooms. We see it in the nature, your childhood home, a local store, coffee shop, a library, or any place really. It’s a place where you find yourself belonging. Cheers was billed as a place “where everybody knows your name.” We long for such places. A place to be ourselves…a place where we are welcomed for who we are. I take pride in that a number of the Gay-Straight Alliance club cite the library as a place they feel welcomed.

We can talk about libraries and communities and the part they play in the lives of its patrons. Beyond our circulation statistics are the people who consider the library “home.” Perhaps in this case, a better way to judge the libraries  importance  is not how much patrons take out, but how much they leave behind.

And the rent is the best in town.

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My body seems to be deciding right now that I only need 4 hours of sleep and I once again am wide awake at the useless hour of 3AM. Perhaps a few moments of reflection will ease my mind and give me a few more hours of sleep. Since some who follow the blog may get this in their inbox while they drink their first cup of coffee, I guess I need to make this be a profound thought or two to start you on your day.

Nah. How profound can 3 AM be?

I suppose the topic of thankfulness is an appropriate one at this point. So maybe this is where I will engage my thoughts. But instead I think I will call this things we should be thankful for, but often are not, or at least not enough.

Our families. Most of the people in this category you had no choice in relating to (except of course offspring of which I have no experience or wisdom to share). You can find a lot of faults with this group of people, and they with you. We wonder why we can’t all just get along and yet when you step back and look at all of us, you can easily see why. We are all a pretty odd bunch. Trying to get us all to agree on anything is sometimes a complete impossibility. We have such different ideas on how to orient life, and there is no way we each can fit into another person’s mold.  But yet we seem to complain when they don’t. We have problems with things they have done or left undone, yet it is not fair because we have done the same things. The faults of others seem to carry greater weight than our own. But yet we are lost without our families. We may not connect like we used to, and time does funny things to people…like moves them in different directions and we realize how long it’s been since we last spoke. We often don’t realize their importance however, until something happens. A sickness makes us realize how fragile our existence is. Death seems to finally pull us back together as we act out our spiritual or cultural traditions of “saying goodbye.” Then we always say, “We need to keep in touch more.” Maybe we do, maybe we don’t, but we’ve at least thought about it. It’s a good idea to be thankful for family because we never know how much time we have left together. Or at least enjoy passing the cranberry sauce.

Our friends. We never realize how many friends we have and often we can’t separate friends from acquaintances, or at least I can’t. I once went to a funeral for a man who took his own life. The funeral home was packed with people. Why do you go to something like that? It is more than “paying respects,” it is acknowledgment of a connection that has been lost. If only the man could have seen how many came to his funeral…that there were many he could have reached out to who probably would have helped. But it seems harder and harder for many of us to find true friends to share our lives with. We have a hard time trusting people because others have betrayed it. How many people can we truly “invest” in, that is, pour out our lives to without reservation. Who will listen? Who will let you be you? We have more ways of connecting than ever before, yet many of us still find ourselves alone. I guess it is our own faults. It is hard to truly connect and share your life, but the right person is one who doesn’t mind 3AM phone calls (although I won’t test that theory this morning) or hearing a heartfelt cry or celebrating even small things. In that sense, friendship hasn’t changed all that much, for true friends were always hard to find. It is nice to know you have people who care about you, and you never realize what your life means to them. I wonder if our friends know that?

Our jobs. This is so easy to complain about, and I sense we are all guilty. How well or poorly someone does their job directly affects ours. Someone not doing their fair share probably means more we have to do. Yet, if we truly saw their lives outside of work, I’m sure we would get another story. We rarely get a glimpse into someone else’s story, and we don’t see the obstacles, pain, or failure they have experienced, because rarely do we want any colleagues seeing ours. We wear masks at work and try to be someone we aren’t because we need to impress someone who evaluates or employs. We fail to go the extra mile, to not only do the job well, but also understand each other and try to make the environment the best it can be. Yet the millions who cannot find work, whose families are in shambles because what they were able to provide is gone, is glaring. Many don’t have the education they need, the education others of us take for granted. But I think it is safe to say that most people, despite their many flaws, do the best they can with what they have, even when it doesn’t match up to what we think they should be. We should assume good intentions in that everyone probably means well and do not have the desire to make your life a living hell. I think of students who come and chat with me, a disabled lady who needed help scanning and emailing a document, and a couple who couldn’t make copies because of a paper jam. Because of my job, they were thankful, and I am thankful I have a job in which I could help them.

For blank. You’ll have to fill in that blank yourself. I seem to have run out of steam and there will be no more pondering at this point. Not an exhaustive list at all and I doubt very thought-provoking, either. But at…now 4 AM and beyond, it seems you need to go back to the basics.

Good morning, and thanks.

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I admit by the time I wrote and published this it was after 4am, but the pondering actually began at 3:20 when I found myself wide awake, an hour and 15 minutes ahead of schedule. My body seems to be at a point now where I take in 6hrs of sleep and no more. I must have gone to bed too early.

What exactly you ponder at such a time is nothing of beauty. I think a Ray Bradbury novel proclaimed 3am was the darkest and most sinister of times: 4am is close to the day beginning; 2am is something closer to midnight when people are working late. But 3am has no value, so it is the time when most evil happens. Or something like that. After all, even the last Facebook status updates happened hours ago.

I really need to get the coffee started, so I’ll be right back.

A book I am struggling through these days, mainly due to my lack of concentration, is Daniel Pink’s Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. Being admittedly still in the camp of trying to discover what does “drive” me, I am coming to agree with him carrots and sticks don’t work. We have a punishment or reward system of motivation, and I have seen in played out in the workplace. People afraid of punching in 1 minute too late or too early, making the boss irate for either having lazy employees or ones who too prompt. Those things never work on me. But what is my intrinsic motivation for life and work? Perhaps it is in the asking of questions and pondering the possible answers, and helping others frame the questions and develop the answers as they seem them. Not sure but I may be on the right track.

Another life issue that has come up is now concerning what I leave behind. I need to change beneficiary and will information. I truly have no traditional next-of-kin and have to incorporate others into the mix to see that my last wishes are met. Not an easy way to address such a thing. “Hey, when I die would you like to do something for me?” or “I was thinking about who to leave everything to and your name popped up.” This is crazy, but crazier still is what someone would have to deal with if I have so expressed wishes. At least I don’t have much junk to go through.

A friend of mine made me up a couple of dozen muffins for the kids at school. They will be thrilled. They love her muffins and they are always claiming to be on the brink of starvation. I used to bring donuts in every week, but financially that just isn’t possible anymore. I can manage a few goldfish and that’s about it. So I’m glad for her generosity. It changes the environment completely.

I’m working on storytime for the littler kids at library job #2 on Saturday. This will be my first real time doing this, and it will probably be little more than a wingin’ it. Heck, that’s what I do everyday anyway.

It’s now November 1st, or the traditional “All Saints Day” feast on the Christian calendar. Back in my ministry days, that Sunday was always spent remembering those who have gone before us. One year, I had a table set up with candles and personal pictures and other items folks were encouraged to bring in. It was always a nice service that people liked. So today, remember someone dear to you who has gone before you…bask in the memories shared with that person…be thankful for what they meant to you and what you carry with you from them…and live today mindful of the fact you will play that same role for someone else.

Now I’ve caught up to the usual ridiculously early time I am normally up at. Long day today.

Better get some oatmeal.

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There is a great discussion going on over at the Sense and Reference blog concerning three case studies dealing with library fines. If you haven’t seen it, click on over there and take a look, and if you have nothing better to do, come on back here and see my wandering pondering of these issues.

In my religious leadership roles from deep within my puzzling past, I found myself offering grace in a religious tradition that was much more concerned with rules and restrictions. In a membership class once, there was a lady who was excited about joining the faith community. She had begun attending, enjoyed the messages and the people, and wanted to belong. Then there was the portion of the manual that advised against going gambling. Being a regular customer of the riverboats, she then concluded she was not able to join.She never came back, but did send a generous check once in a while.

This part of the manual was in the same section warning us against profanity, drinking, smoking, dancing (although the language was changed to erotic type dancing when they realized in the 90’s they were excluding all Africans), violent movies, sensual stuff, etc. etc. I never enforced this stuff because it was such a laugh among those of us seminarians. Ironically, obesity was never mentioned, and the number of fat slobs at the world headquarters guaranteed that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. But I digress. So, to the aghast of a number of the faith community, I took into membership people who smoke, drank, and did whatever else I would never know about, nor care to. And as long as you had new member statistics and an increase in giving, no one from headquarters would care anyway.

I had to break the rules to build community, and over time I realized I had to break from the community itself and go my own way. Yet ironically, the public education world shares a lot of similarities. No matter what students need or common sense dictates, the rule says screw you.

The case studies in Sense and Reference show examples of patrons who owe a $10 fine. One is a lady who loves Harry Potter and wants to read the last book over the weekend, but can’t pay before closing. The second is a GED student who is desperate to get the books she needs to prepare for her test, and the last $10 she has is for gas to get to the test. The third is the same person as the second, yet is a stranger to the library whereas the second is a well-known patron.

There are some who say rules are rules and we have to be consistent with everybody. If this were followed with all three patrons, we may never see any of them again. If this is so, the reader will go somewhere else to ready Harry Potter, the second patron may not get her GED and have you to thank, and the third person may never come back. Each of these three will perhaps have a lasting negative perspective on the library, and will probably share such with their friends, which may number into the hundreds on social media.  This may also add to the fact we would never see the fine paid anyway, so it will all be for not. Then what do we do…take them to court?

Following the fine rule would be great if our job was simply enforcement. Instead, it is about providing resources for the community. Enforcing a silly fine for needy patrons ignores the bigger picture of the community we are in. My riverboat story is about a person who could have been nurtured and transformed by relationships that could have been built within the community, but such did not happen. An enforced fine could do the same thing to the library community, as it could in a public school. There are only so many opportunities we have to share community, resources, and relationships with members, students, and patrons, and if a $10 fine, gambling, or using a cell phone is such a big deal, we should ask ourselves what the hell we are doing. If we err, as we inevitably do, should we not err on the side of the patron instead of our legalistic system?

Or maybe I’m missing something here.

What are your thoughts?

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A place for Harley

The library is not a building, a website, or a person; it is a platform for scholars, students, cultural enthusiasts, and others who want to absorb and advance knowledge.                                                       Brian Matthews

I’ve been pondering as I watched the Red Sox ceremony recognizing the greatest players in Fenway Park’s 100 years. If you care of such things, the list is here. It’s easy to get into arguments of who should or shouldn’t be on the list. Pretty useless discussion, actually, but fun nonetheless. One thing for sure: we have short memories, and great players of yesteryear are forgotten and players we have watched are considered great. But I digress.

Earlier in the season, when we still believed this team could accomplish something, another ceremony was held on the exact 100th anniversary of Fenway’s first game.  That day saw hundreds of players come out to applause and teary eyes, from players who wore the Sox uniform for 70 years, Johnny Pesky, all the way down to Harley Hisner.

Harley pitched in only one major league game: the last game of the 1951 season for the Red Sox at the Yankees. It was a meaningless game in the standings. Hisner pitched six innings, facing legendary players Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle (whom he struck out twice), and some guy named DiMaggio. Harvey only gave up three runs in six innings, but lost 3-0, never to pitch in the majors again.

Yet here was Harley, showing up at Fenway 61 years later, making his way in with a walker. And he was a part of this great community that has put on the uniform and taken the field over the past 100 years. He was one with the entire team history, and although his contributions were small, he is part of something bigger than his six innings. He is part of the community.

In the library world we talk about branding and marketing, how to get the message across web 2.0 platforms. We need to network and connect and so on and so on. Much like ballplayers who had to do what it took to stand out from the crowd and make themselves marketable, so we need to brand not only our libraries but also ourselves.

The world is a crowded place, and only the top few stand out. Out of those 200 players who came back that day, there are millions who have played the game. Out of those are the few considered the all-time best players. But they all have the community in common- they all have contributed.

There are no ceremonies for librarians. No one tears up and applauds as our names are called and we walk out waving from the stacks. A long career for many of us will only be remembered by the patrons who have become part of the library community. But no one recognizes bus drivers, factory workers,custodians or plumbers either (or hundreds of other professions you can name). The seasons come and go, technology changes, our jobs evolve, but yet the community remains because it is part of our lives. It is bigger than us.

We have library professors and directors who manage, write the books and speak at the conferences and advise us on how to do things better and faster. We have volunteers without college degrees who come and help stack books. We have patrons working on PhD’s or GED’s.  Yet the community is for all of them, and we are all branded by this community. It’s a piece of our identity. The latest 2.0 lingo we use today will soon be replaced by other lingo, and we’ll pay for more workshops and books to explain it all to us. But these do not make us great. It is the community of knowledge seeking and the personal quest of wisdom that will continue.

And that community includes everyone,  whether they give a few innings or a lifetime.

I’m interested in your thoughts on this.

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