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Finding Time   10 comments

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?

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This is kind of an easy question for me because I can almost not sleep during the “midnight sun” period of May 15 through July 15. I can sleep two or three hours a night and feel just fine, energized by the sun, which only goes below the horizon for about two hours a night. We barely experience civil twilight.

Unfortunately, it’s a trick you can’t sustain. You do have to sleep occasionally. The human brain requires sleep because you need to dream. If you don’t dream while you’re sleeping, you’ll start to hallucinate while you’re awake. So while you can stay awake fairly easily here above the 70th parallel during the summer, sooner or later, you have got to sleep to replenish your acetylcholine levels. If you don’t do that, you’re going to end up in the psych ward. It’s usually what happens to bipolars who crash and burn.

I only need about six hours of sleep a night and I can function just fine. In the summer, that stretches to two or three hours a night with about every third night needing six hours. A psychiatrist I worked with in Community Mental Health had a theory that people like me can short ourselves on sleep because we are very imaginative and that is sort of like dreaming while awake. And maybe that’s what’s going on. I don’t know for sure. During those times when I’m not sleeping and other people are, I am … of course, writing or researching for writing. Sometimes I’m reading a book by another author.

The Alaska lifestyle is a little different. It’s not unusual for us to get off work at 5 pm, grab some food from the grocery store and set out on the hiking trail. The wilderness is so close here, we can be in the woods within an hour. And we can hike until midnight because the sun doesn’t go down until about 1 am during the solstice. Then we’ll flit home and sleep until 7 am. It’s not unusual. Lots of people walk around with that glowy look that says they haven’t sleep a full night in weeks. It’s just the way it is.

Therefore, if I didn’t have to sleep at all, I’d probably expand what I am doing now – read, write, research, hike, maybe quilt (in the winter) – although maybe our lawn would get mowed more often or our car washed occasionally. Eight hours more of life would be quite a gift. And, I would definitely need to build some more bookshelves because I’d spend a lot of that extra time reading.

I wonder what my fellow authors would be doing if they didn’t need to sleep.

Posted May 13, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Oh, What a Boring World!   3 comments

December 3, 2018

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

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That sounds like a boring life. I don’t think I’m in favor of total-transparency living, but I agreed to do the topic, so ….

  1. I would testify more boldly of my faith to everybody I care about knowing they will not reject my testimony. Then I would testify more boldly to strangers as well.
  2. I would continue to advocate for smaller government and no government, knowing that I will one day be successful.
  3. I would invest in a startup business that I believe in knowing that it will grow and become a business that can support me through investment income.
  4. I would advertise my books in a big way knowing they will become best-sellers that will support me in retirement.
  5. I would invest in my daughter’s musical career in a big way knowing that my investment will assure her success so that she can return my investment.
  6. I would invest in my son’s rock-climbing interest in a bigger way for the same reason.
  7. And, judging from the photo above, I might go sky-diving.

Generally, I think I’d be more willing to try new activities and ventures because I would know they wouldn’t become a waste of time since success would be assured.

But I also think I would eventually become bored and stop trying new activities because the assurance of success would take away some of the enjoyment of the attempt.

Posted December 3, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Transcending this Lifetime   6 comments

What do you want people to remember about you?

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We all hope to leave a legacy. It’s sort of a human ambition to leave behind something that has people remember who we were a decade after our deaths or a century. It’s mainly only the infamous who are remembered millennia after their deaths. Alexander the Great is not remembered because he was a good guy who promoted peace and love, for example. Had George Washington not headed the Continental Army during the American Revolution, he would be no better remembered today than Lemuel Haynes or Roger Sherman.

Proverbs 31 womanAt not-quite-60 I probably have another 20 years to forge my legacy (my mother’s family routinely push 90 when they pass to the next realm), so I am thinking more and more of what I want people to remember about me. I don’t do bucket lists, but today’s post calls me to consider this, so, here goes!

I would want people to remember me as an imperfect (that’s actually important) mother who loved her children enough to let them find their own paths, but who imparted saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to them. If our daughter ever fulfills her potential and God’s leading, you will know her name and not because she’s infamous. To say more would sound arrogant, but there are reasons having nothing to do with me or her for why I believe she could light up the world stage … or that she might be one of those people who is not famous in her own lifetime, but whose work will transcend her own life.

When folks stand around at my memorial service, I hope they remember my faith was in Jesus Christ and that I lived that out in my life even when it was sometimes hard and I wasn’t rewarded for it. Yeah, I think I’m on a theme here.

I would like people to remember my books. I put a lot of myself and my faith into them and so, of course, I want them to live on beyond my lifetime.

Last, I hope my blogging is remembered by the people who have read it (or might read it in the future) and that it helped them to see new and better ways of doing things that leads us away from the current vitriol and insanity of our present schizophrenic society. I’m not alone in occupying a 3rd way that is neither Republican nor Democrat, but seeks to align with economic reality and individual liberty and I pray God that people turn more in that direction before the whole mess slides off a cliff.

So, I think that’s about it. A faithful Christian, an effective communicator, an entertaining novelist and a good mom. Basically, I want to be remembered as a humanized Proverbs 31 woman.

Alaska Chic   8 comments

Featured Image -- 57641July 23, 2018
Let’s talk wardrobe. Do you gravitate to one color? What is your go to style? What shoes do you prefer?

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Alaska is still a frontier and so, like many frontier folks throughout time, we tend to dress casually, in keeping with the lifestyle we lead. In fact, my office is so casual that we have dress-up Mondays because a Jeans Friday would look like any other day. There’s really no place in the Interior where there’s a dress standard – no restaurants that require you wear a tie, for example. Such a restaurant wouldn’t have any customers, so they wisely don’t think too highly of themselves.

Glacier ChicWhich is not to stay that we don’t dress up if we feel like it. This week is our version of Founders Days – we call it Golden Days, and men and women both dress in the clothing that was fashionable in the 1910s when Fairbanks was founded. I am walking in the parade tomorrow and will probably wear my Golden Day dress, but I’ll wear tennis shoes under my shirt. That will be the most dressed up I’ll go all year … probably. (We woke up to the brightest and hottest day of the summer so far and so I wore shorts and a sheer blouse because, much as I celebrate our town’s past, I celebrate not getting heat stroke more).

I really am not a big “style” person. I’m small for one thing, so finding clothes that fit and don’t wear me instead of the other way around is a challenge. I’ve never understood some women’s obsession with shoes. I own about three dozen, but that includes summer shoes (can’t be worn in winter), hiking boots (two pairs), and winter boots (five pairs, including bunny boots and muck boots). My dress shoes might have a kid heel, otherwise I prefer flats or a slight wedge. I made peace with being 5’1″ a long time ago and decided to be kind to my spine, knees and phalanges.

Bunny bootsI have two very different styles for work and leisure and they vary by season because we have real winter and real summer here and transition seasons that last about a week each. Additionally, my job interacts with the public, so though the office culture is casual, I feel personally responsible to present a professional appearance. In the winter, that means business casual suit jackets over a nice top and slacks. In the summer, that means a dress or a nice top and a skirt. I dress these up with scarves. But I do relax my standards for Fridays, though I doubt more than my coworkers notice because I basically dress like they do. On dress-up Mondays, they dress like I do on a standard day.

Fabrics are important in a town where there is always construction in the summer — so even my officewear is machine washable. It’s just too expensive to dry-clean outfits every week. We do have a couple of women in the office who do that, but I prefer to spend my income on something that doesn’t need to be done again next week.

During my off-hours, I wear jeans (or shorts in the summer) and t-shirts with sweaters or fleece over that for the winter. I generally wear this casual attire everywhere — including church because I feel I’ve done my time with dress-up at work and Alaskans are so casual about clothes that people in three-piece suits will sit non-judgmentally next to someone in jeans. My favorite color is green, but shades of orange are a close second and blue is a close third. Often, I mix these colors together and I like bold shades to offset the prohibition against ruffles and strong patterns that overwhelm small people.

Fox trappers hatRounding out any Alaska woman’s wardrobe is outerwear – coats, hats, gloves, etc. And we really have three seasons for that — summer, fall/hunting and winter. I don’t have a distinction between work and casual in this gear — except for fall. I would refrain from wearing my blood-stained hunting jacket to the office — though some of my male coworkers would not. In the summer, I usually carry a sweater or light fleece jacket with me because even on hot days, you just don’t know that the weather might turn or that a public building is overdoing the air conditioning. The sun is up most of the night around here, so you can go to a movie at 7 o’clock and it could be 90 degrees out. Inside the air-conditioned theater, you need a sweater. Then when you come out at 9:30, it’s still 75 degrees, so you take the sweater off.  In the fall, that sweater gradually gets layered with another sweater or maybe a water-resistant jacket. And then winter comes and it’s time for the heavy coats – usually hollofill coats to my knees with hoods. But I also have a Carhhart coat for outdoor work and my own pair of bunny boots.

But no Alaska woman’s wardrobe would be complete without fur. I do occasionally wear the mouton parka I inherited from my mother (pretty heavy), but my fox trapper’s hat is only appropriate when it’s really cold out, I’m going to a dog mushing event or I want to tweak the political sensibilities of people who really need to mind their own business.

Now for a funny Alaska story – too bad I don’t have a photo.

We went to an orchestra performance one really cold January. Cold to us is -20*F (-29*C). It was colder than that, maybe -40. I wore a green woolen dress, fancied up with an ivory scarf. Under it, I wore my thermals and a pair of my daughter’s leather boots with wool socks (because her feet are two sizes larger than mine so I could actually get the wool socks in the boots and because it was COLD). There was this woman down by the stage dressed in a glittering red sequined evening gown. She really looked the part with a fur coat and jewelry. But during the interlude, we met in the bathroom and I looked down to realize she was wearing bunny boots. She blushed and laughed and explained she’d left her shoes at home by accident and so it was either wear her outerwear boots or go barefoot. To which I said “It’s Alaskan chic. We should have the consignment store feature it as a hot new trend.” Apparently she told that story enough that it got around because a local boutique actually did feature that as a display the next winter with the caption “Alaska Chic.”

Media & Messages   Leave a comment

March 19, 2018 – How much is too much? We know repetition is important to remember things. That’s why we see the same commercials over and over again. But, how much is too much? What’s your favorite ad and what’s your least favorite ad. (Can be television, radio, billboards.)

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Image result for image of a really great advertisementSo, I have to confess that I don’t watch advertisements very often. Broadcast television is and always has been limited in Fairbanks, Alaska, so first we had Dish (mostly advertisement-free) and now we have Netflix. The closest we come to ads is the very ad-like sponsorship spots on PBS during Friday news night. If I hear that BNSF Railway spot one more time, I may just run screaming into the Alaska night.

My very first journalism class in college studied Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, which came out in 1964. It had been out about 15 years, but there was no denying the freshness of his perspective nor the prescience of McLuhan, who loved advertising. He was among the first to celebrate unreservedly what he called “the Madison Avenue frog-men-of-the-mind.” The business of trying to sell people more stuff neither frightened nor appalled him. He didn’t look down on it, as so many of his contemporaries did.

“Many people have expressed uneasiness about the advertising enterprise in our time,” McLuhan also wrote in Understanding Media. “To put the matter abruptly, the advertising industry is a crude attempt to extend the principles of automation to every aspect of society. Ideally, advertising aims at the goal of a programmed harmony among all human impulses and aspirations and endeavours. Using handicraft methods, it stretches out toward the ultimate electronic goal of a collective consciousness. When all production and all consumption are brought into a pre-established harmony with all desire and all effort, then advertising will have liquidated itself by its own success.”

Further proof, as if any were needed, of Marshall McLuhan’s prescience. In 1964, he wrote:*

“The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”   *Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (ARK edition, 1987) p.207

“Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century” according to McLuhan.

Now there’s a thought. It is certainly true that many of us remember the ads that separated the shows better than the shows themselves. “Where’s the Beef?” … “Let Mikey try it. He won’t like it.” … the Maytag Repairman … Madge the Dishwasher … Mr. Clean … the coffee commercial with the guy who became Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer … all that Coca Cola memorabilia.

These ads played in the background and many of us got up to go to the bathroom or make a sandwich when they were playing, but they still stuck with us because …

“Ads are not meant for conscious consumption. They are intended as subliminal pills for the subconscious in order to exercise an hypnotic spell, especially on sociologists.”

McLuhan had some interesting observations about advertising in his day that speak to the situation in our own.

“After the Second War, an ad-conscious American army officer in Italy noted with misgivings that Italians could tell you the names of cabinet ministers, but not the names of commodities preferred by Italian celebrities. Furthermore, he said, the wall space of Italian cities was given over to political, rather than commercial slogans. He predicted that there was small hope that Italians would ever achieve any sort of domestic prosperity or calm until they began to worry about the rival claims of cornflakes and cigarettes, rather than the capacities of public men. In fact, he went so far as to say that democratic freedom very largely consists in ignoring politics and worrying, instead, about the threat of scaly scalp, hairy legs, sluggish bowlers, saggy breasts, receding gums, excess weight, and tired blood.”

I think it’s striking that advertising has largely gone the way of the dodo bird in the 21st century. We hit our mute buttons or channel surf or we choose media that have no advertising (one of the beauties of streaming). And as we lose that “cave art” we turn our minds, perhaps not surprisingly if we’ve read McLuhan, to politics. We don’t pay as much attention to product brands today, but wow do we know everything there is to know about President Trump. We obsess over whether Melania wore high heels or tennis shoes. We hang on every trolling tweet. McLuhan would say we’ve gone backwards … that freedom is found in the stuff you can buy, not the blood sport of politics. And, yet, here we are … once again refusing to learn from history so that we’re doomed to repeat its uglier segments.

What I Hate About Valentine’s Day?   4 comments

 

Valentine’s is this week. Chat about the most irritating thing about this event.

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Image result for image of valentine's day commercialisationHate might be a bit too strong of a word, but I do find a number of things very annoying about the day. Let me just concentrate on one.

Like almost every other holiday in the Western world that once meant something, Valentine’s Day (which really didn’t mean that much ever) has been reduced to commercial appeal. Buy, buy, buy! Grease up that Visa card. Take your love interest to dinner, buy flowers and candy and jewelry, maybe vacation in the Caribbean, and, last year, I caught a car dealership suggesting a new car was just the ticket to spice up your love life.

Americans are incredibly in debt. We were in deep debt when the financial collapse happened in 2008 and some of us learned to cut up our credit cards then, but recent news says we’re back wearing off those magnetic strips, so our debt is once more growing … and that’s a horrible idea. Yeah, yeah — flowers and expensive chocolates and bling-bling are all great … but what you’re really giving your loved one (if you’re married) is 30 years of paying it off.

STOP!

I know a couple of have spent the last few years paying off 10’s of thousands of debt and for Valentine’s Day, they’ve invited a bunch of us who supported their efforts over for a potluck at their place. They’re showing the love by not spending a lot of money. Brad is voicing an audio book for me. That costs nothing except time. I’m almost done with matching couch quilts that set me back $40 over the space of a year. Our son asked if he could make his girlfriend dinner since we won’t be home. She’s bringing desert and a video rental, so the whole evening with set him back $20.

And Valentine’s Day might actually mean something this way because it won’t be about buying the “best” and most expensive gift and then paying it off forever until it costs 10 times more than it would have originally. My audio book may actually make me money.

How romantic is that?

Discovering Great Characters   2 comments

Feb. 5, 2018 – Character Development; How do you achieve quality character development?

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lifeasweknewitTruthfully, I wasn’t sure about this topic at first because I don’t really work very hard at developing characters. They introduce themselves to me and reveal their histories, passions and quirks to me as I set about recording the story they tell me. I am more in agreement with Ray Bradbury that allowing interesting characters to run through your plot being authentic to who they are is the way to write better books than I am with writers who labor over the creation of a character. Yes, I do occasionally have to create a character to make something work in the plot, but they are never the characters I want to spend time with, so they never become main characters.

Despite that sort of laissez faire attitude toward character development, I do have a few steps I go through when I write to assure that my characters are living up to the standard of an entertaining character.

After I’ve finished the first draft of a novel and I come back to it for rewrite, I start by asking myself some questions. Did I put my characters in some challenging situations? If not, I fix that. How did my characters react to the challenge? Do they express strong opinions?  What are their connections? Do we see them and are they helpful to the plot and the characterizations? Have I left some ambiguity in those relationships? Are my characters being faulty enough? Do they hold grudges and are those grudges about to crawl out and bite them on the butt? Are there some everyday interactions mixed in with the plot-driven action?

 

I’m going to focus on Transformation Project because I have a lot of characters, but this series has two brothers who are sort of polar opposites and either one could be “the hero”.

objectsinviewWhen I first began writing the series, the only character that existed was Shane Delaney and he was perfect – a secret agent who would always rescue the damsel and save the town — well, there wasn’t really a town yet. He was a cartoon caricature suitable for a one-off tall tale told on a road trip.

Shane Delaney developed during writing the first draft of Life As We Knew It. As I got to know him during the first draft, which actually started the day Shane returned home to Emmaus, I recognized that he needed flaws, even some Kryptonite to make him more human. I paused to ask him about his backstory. And, man, what a painful backstory, including the suicide attempt that opens the series. I didn’t see that coming. So I rolled the action back two months in story-time and I put him in the bottom of a pit and kept him there for half the book – and then had him switch to being a total mercenary halfway through. On the outside, he’s hard and single-minded. On the inside, he’s closed off and in denial. He’s got a lot of psychic bruises from the times he has violated his own conscience. These things keep him up at night and make him unable to trust anyone, not because they aren’t trustworthy but because he deems himself to be untrustworthy. And, sooner or later, that tension is going to be his Kryptonite. He’s going to come to a place where there’s no more hero left and then … well, I’m not telling. I don’t even promise that Shane will be one of the people to survive to the end of the series. He started the series with a gun barrel in his mouth, so what are the odds he’ll survive? But he’s so much fun to write, so … his dark night of the soul will come and it will be transformative. Will he remain a hero or become Che Guevara? You’ll have to buy the books to find out.

Cai is Shane’s older brother, and he’s always been the good son, the steady fellow. He’s done one truly immoral thing in his life and it turned out really badly, so he’s sworn that off forever … or plans to anyway. While that past stumbling block has colored his relationships, if  the Apocalypse had not come, he’d have been a good lawyer, a good father and husband, deacon at the local Baptist church and a comfort to his parents in their old age. And, he’d have been the one to go collect Shane’s body someday and wonder what happened to bring his brother to such despair.

A Threatening Fragility Front CoverAh, but the Apocalypse did come, and that presents me with an opportunity to challenge a plain-vanilla character with some difficult circumstances and see if he grows and changes. The thing about the world flipping and sliding down the road on its roof is that it will either make heroes of ordinary men or destroy them. I’m not rushing the transformation of either brother because it’s a series and it’s really only been about a week in story-time. Cai got tossed into a labor camp during the third (most recently published) book A Threatening Fragility and spent much of the book being victimized and feeling sorry for himself while making no real effort to escape … which makes sense because he’s not a mercenary. He’s a lawyer whose Kryptonite is that he’s a rule-follower. It sure looked like he would be rescued at the end of that book, but the danger isn’t over in Thanatosis … it’s an evolving situation. Cai hadn’t developed the skills to stand against oppression. He’s not got the great passions of his brother. His triggers are few. He’s mellow. What will he do when what he cares about is endangered and breaking the rules is the only way to save the people he loves? That’s a fascinating research experiment for me. What happens when good and boring people are pressed beyond endurance and must either act or come to an end?

One of the areas that I focus on when rewriting is assuring that my characters express their opinions. A lot of writers are afraid to give their characters strong opinions for fear of seeming overbearing, but I wrote a town full of people who have strong opinions. I don’t want them all to agree with one another. I didn’t start out writing Shane to be an atheist — well, really more like a deist because he acknowledges God might exist — and he currently hates the guy’s guts. Yeah, a born-again Christian wrote her lead character as a God-hater. This is what happens when you let your characters reveal themselves to you rather than construct them. On the other hand, I wrote Cai Delaney to have a strong faith. They’re adult brothers living in the same house and they are going to express their opinions.

I wasn’t planning on making a love triangle when I wrote Shane, Cai and Marnie, but Shane reacted to her like a cat reacts to a dog, so I had to explain that. Marnie has her own backstory and I was frankly surprised when it turned out she and Shane had dated. That creates a triangle. Most fictional relationships are fairly simple dyads – two people interacting with one another, but throwing in a few triangles is useful because those more complex relationships yield big rewards. Shane will be part of another triangle between Jazz, himself and someone else at a later point in the series. Because the character of Shane is part of a large family, he has many of these triangular relationships and I love the tension that creates. Our emotions are not rational, and our relationships aren’t, either. If I were a romance writer, I could use sexual attraction as the great motivator for millions of bad character decisions, but I can also work that tension into relationships within an apocalyptic or a fantasy, because the same rules for building strong characters apply, it’s just not the focus in non-romance fiction. Yeah, my people are dealing with the end of the world as they know it, but they can stop for a second and deal with that past history that has become front and center once more because they’re all living in the same house. What if, in the end, Shane’s protection of the town is compromised by his unrequited feelings for Jazz? Yeah, see what I mean about tension?

I think the secret to great character development (especially when your characters tend to develop themselves) is discovering what their passions, fears and failures are and determining what their Kryptonite will be. I introduce these stimuli to my characters and see how they react. A lot of times, I really don’t know how a character will react to a particular Kryptonite stimulus until I start writing it. No, I don’t interview them. That’s way too mechanical a process for my style of writing. I write my way through it. I discover it as the reader would discover it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Often it requires a lot of editing to make work well. But the initial exploration of how a turn of a plot will effect my characters is done on the page. Occasionally, I have a character refuse to do something I want and suggest other possibilities. It’s always a surprise and a struggle when that happens, but ultimately it works because I get the authentic reaction of a fully fleshed-out character rather than just what I think they should do.

It’s like writing magic. I don’t know what will happen until it happens on the page, which is exactly the way the reader experiences it. There can be weaknesses in that method. It lends itself to blind spots, but I give good consideration whether that spontaneous fiction actually works when I am rewriting, thus drawing key influences from those who construct their characters.

A final word about writing characters. I have several races in my fantasy series, Daermad Cycle, and I separate them by different ways of speaking. It’s a series that has racial tension as a dynamic and so I state outright what the differences our. The round-ear humans don’t particularly like or trust the furl-eared, catslit-eyed elves and this causes problems that they need to overcome if they want to survive.

On the other hand, Transformation Project takes place in 21st century America the day-after-tomorrow. Based on the demographics of my real-life pattern town, it is a mostly white community, but I’ve included a few racial minorities to be true to reality. I don’t necessarily tell my readers that because I believe that in a survival situation, it wouldn’t mean much that Vin and Lila are black. So, I seriously contemplate how they would speak and what attitudes they might have that would show their slightly different culture. I provide hints in their physical description that they’re not white, but I’ve deliberately kept it subtle because, based on my own life experience, it doesn’t matter to most people.

My way is certainly not the only way and it may not even be the best way, but it works for me and I hope it works for my readers.

Do go see what my fellow authors have found works for them.

Posted February 5, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop, Uncategorized

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Bermansplaining

Unfiltered News and Opinion on Politics, Culture and Tech. Tweet a Tip or Story (@EthanBerman) or Email (bermansplaining@gmail.com).

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