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The Prius Finally Arrives

Remember a long time ago when I ordered a Toyota Prius after lengthy deliberation? (And - for the record - my opinion of Dubya hasn't changed since August. His response to the September 11 terrorist attacks has been a matter of course; meanwhile, domestic issues were swept under the carpet, where they remain. Maybe I'm too hard on the president of my country during a time of national crisis when I really should be standing behind him. Maybe it's because I am so not conservative and refuse to see beyond the differences in our philosophies. Maybe I'm still bitter because this president was elected by nine people. Who knows? Not me, not right now. Who cares? Me, neither.)

A Toyota Corporate representative ("Eli") called on December 5 to tell me my Prius had arrived in Portland, Oregon and would be shipped to Louisville within three to four weeks. Eli's courtesy call got my hopes up, because when I called Toyota customer service in mid-October, they said production of my car hadn't begun, and that I could expect to receive it in mid to late January, 2002.

The Prius is a SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle), and currently boasts lower emissions than any other gasoline-powered or hybrid vehicles; this doesn't include electric cars, which are ZEVs (Zero Emission Vehicle). Aside from the acute awareness when driving that the Prius is sipping non-renewable natural resources while other vehicles around it are gulping them, the Prius' SULEV rating earns owners a $2000 federal income tax deduction.

To claim the deduction on my 2001 taxes, the sale had to be completed in 2001, and I was confident this would be the case until I called Toyota in October and heard aforementioned bad news. Completing the sale in January 2002 would have meant waiting until April 2003 to claim the deduction, and this was scenario I had resigned myself to. Thus, hearing Eli's cheery message on my answering machine in early December renewed my hopes and the one-time belief fairy tales really do come true. No, wait... that was Rachel. Well, however you slice it or dice it, 4Q 2001 has been very good to me.

It's high time I just got to the friggin' point - no wonder this weblog never has more than 20 readers a day...

The dealership called December 26 at 2:00pm: "When you would like to come in and pick up your new Prius?"

December 27 at 5:30pm and 4 miles on the odometer: Done.

I believe the technical metaphor for my emotional state is "Geek.Heaven™". The Prius does get a lot of looks on the road, but so far the lookers have all been 20-35 year old men. I've only had it for 30 hours, but early indications are it's more of a Guy Geek Magnet than a Granola Grrl Magnet. If I were gay, I'd probably say this was a fringe benefit of owning a Prius. However, I'm not gay and chances are 85-90% of the men lookers aren't, either. I'm also taken, thus making all the non-wooed Granola Grrls a non-issue. In time I'll come to see owning a Prius as an unequivocal affirmation of my status as an Uber Geek. And with that, well... gee, most of my mission in life appears to have been fulfilled for the time being.

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/29/2001 @ 04:21 :: [link] ::
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Exciting Adventures in Relative Humidity

Ah, Christmas time. This year my mom gave me an indoor/outdoor wireless weather station thingy, which has informed me the current temperature in my condo is 64 degrees F, which is exactly how I like it, since I'm warm-natured, but the relative humidity is only 24. Good Lord'n'butter! No wonder my hands are so dry and cracked. No wonder two gallons of water have to be added to the aquarium weekly. No wonder my nose has been perpetually stopped up (although it's actually a tad runny now and only slightly stuffy). Even a desert isn't this dry in the middle of the night.

It's 18 degrees F outside. Thank you, winter, for finally making an appearance this year. It wasn't that bad, though, because it snowed for several hours this morning, so even if we didn't have a white Christmas, at least there was snow falling from the sky, and snowfall helps Christmas feel more like Christmas, you know?

I can't get the 24% humidity out of my head. Hmm, 64 degrees and 24% relative humidity - what's the dewpoint? I bet it's pretty low, probably not much higher than the temperature outside. Must figure out dewpoint. Ah-ha, equation here, easily pastes into Excel... good, and the dewpoint is 26 degrees inside, 16 degrees outside.

The dust mites in my condo are probably having a tough go at it this week with the low temperatures and humidity. That'll teach them to defecate all over my furniture and Serta mattress! Serves them right, leaving their allergen feces all over the place.

I want to do something about the humidity without purchasing a humidifier - humidifiers make everything around them damp. What's more, if I put a humidifer in my bedroom upstairs, it wouldn't make a huge impact on humidity downstairs in the living room or kitchen - I'd just inhale lots of mold and mildew spores at night.

Maybe when I do laundry this weekend, I'll hang a clothesline across the foyer and dry my clothes on the line instead of in the dryer. Meanwhile, I'll soak all the bath towels and hang them over the stairwell. No, really.

Welcome inside my head at 4:00am. It's really like this in here all the time, but I only share what's going on like this when I think no one is listening.

Here's another one for you: they say a watched pot never boils, but it does, and it makes all manner of hissing and creaking noises along the way. I'm boiling a quart and a half of water to see if it will nudge the relative humidity up a few points. Nothing major, doesn't have to be a rain forest in here, just three points in an hour, and I'll be satisfied the change is statistically significant. This can be done, dammit! I have faith!

This experiment in boiling water reminded me of another water boiling experiment I did as a kid. I wanted to grow largish salt crystals, but didn't want to wait a couple weeks for them to grow on a string hanging in a jar of super-saturated salt water. So, I dissolved all the table salt into a pot of water I could until the water could dissolve no more, then boiled the water away to concentrate the salt even further so that it was forced to crystallize on the side of the pot.

Ah, silly boy - if only I knew then what I know now... but knowledge is so much more real when gained through firsthand experience! Fast crystal growth yields small crystals that tend toward irregular; slow growth is an absolute necessity for large, perfect crystals. Not only that, but boiling also concentrated the other mineral salts in the water (leached from the concrete walls of the cistern), contaminating the salt crystals so all that was left behind were chalky white, layered piles of caked powder that splintered into the air as the water level fell.

The fact that I can enjoy this sort of stuff is how I can be an introvert, why I'm not afraid of the sound of silence, how I can have one of my infamous weekends of seclusion without speaking to anyone else. I love doing stuff like boiling away water to see what kind of crystals are left behind; little diversions like these can keep me occupied for hours.

I'd like to announce the water boiling/humidity experiment is a success. After 45 minutes of boiling, the resulting water vapor raised the humidity in the adjacent room by 13 points, from 24% to 37%. I'm so certain this is a significant change, I'm not even going to bother with an F-test. When the relative humidity of a room varies two points over three hours, then changes by 13 points in 45 minutes, the difference is significant, and that's that.

And that's your statistics lesson for today. Good night.

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/26/2001 @ 05:28 :: [link] ::
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I Have Seen the Future (and it ain't pretty)

At a recent I/T meeting of a U.S.-based corporation, the manager of the India location was introduced. The corporation is hiring people at the Indian location into the I/T department. Everyone applauds, but by the fourth or fifth handclap, a sudden realization, like a speeding Mack truck, hits several of the applauding employees. This manager represents the organization that will be replacing their jobs, and their clapping falters, slows, then ceases. Smiles fade as they fold their hands in their laps and sit quietly.

The manager from India made a short speech and proceeded to introduce several members of his team, and each was greeted by applause. To those who refused to clap their hands, those who applauded must have seemed a bunch of lemmings, cheerfully welcoming those who will soon make them an overpriced commodity, the same people who will soon have their jobs. Did they not see it? Were they all so easily fooled into jumping off the cliff?

It was impolite, but judging by their staid expressions, the thoughts of those sitting quietly probably shared a common theme. They were looking ahead five to ten years from now to a bleak future for the I/T worker.

Manufacturing jobs began moving outside the country in the 1970s to developing nations, and the American economy was labeled "post-industrial," which meant it was shifting to become more service-oriented. There was a niche in the services sector, Americans became more skilled to fill it, and our economy prospered.

Now, scarcely 20-30 years later, American companies are realizing large sections of the services sector can be sent to other countries for cost savings, as well. Developed nations no longer have a corner on the market for highly skilled workers; developing second-world nations are beginning to produce them, and in large numbers.

I'm no economist, so I can't say if the U.S. economy is prepared to make the transition from industrial to post-industrial to whatever-comes-next in three or four decades. But it seems the transition to a post-industrial economy occurred so recently, having taken quite some time to overcome the initial pain and gain the momentum necessary to make it over the hump. Are we ready for the next phase, as services economies become the niche for second-world nations like India and China? And just what is this next phase supposed to be, anyway? Where's the new niche for American workers to fill?

It's not my intention to promote xenophobia within the information technology sector. An American I/T worker costs four times as much as an Indian I/T worker. Corporations, increasingly aware of this, are acting to take advantage of it to cut down on costs. As a shareholder, I can't blame the corporations; in fact, I've demanded it of them, or I and a bunch of other shareholders sell our stock and the value of the security plummets. The stock values of my employer and other companies like it have benefited greatly over the years because they continually find ingenious ways to meet their shareholders' demands for ever higher profits. Bravo to them: they are the winners, their shareholders the beneficiaries, and their employees the victims.

U.S. I/T workers, mark my word: A fate not unlike the factory workers' and farmers' awaits you. I have seen it, and it is not pretty.

My apologies for posting something like this on Christmas Eve, but an earlier conversation got my thoughts going on the subject, and they've just kept going and going. They culminated tonight. Sorry about that - have a Merry Christmas, anyway.

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/24/2001 @ 23:16 :: [link] ::
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How I Became a Vindaloo Fan

I went through my cupboards today looking for additional shelf space to store the coffee cups I bought today since there wasn't enough room for them amidst the 60 other mugs, when I found a bottle of vindaloo curry paste I bought at an Indian grocery store a few weeks ago.

Why vindaloo curry? I've never had vindaloo before, and don't know what sort of flavor it's supposed to have or much else about it, except that it is spicy and will make for some rather pungent farts. So what's up with the vindaloo? You can thank British comedy, specificially, Red Dwarf and the main character, Lister, who loved the stuff. Dave Lister was the last human alive on the huge mining ship Red Dwarf, the polar opposite of his roommate Arnold Rimmer, who caused an accident killing everyone on the ship (including himself), and took the form of a hologram to keep Lister company, complements of the ship's computer, Holly.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, I went hunting for Red Dwarf web sites, but none seemed to make sense to an outsider - even the episode guide with scripts could leave a neophyte dazed and confused. That's about par for the course as far as Britcoms go - if you have to ask, you'll never understand. Immerse yourself, or live a life in which Red Dwarf is forever shrouded in mystery!

It isn't the first time I've done something because I saw it in a British comedy. I was introduced to this finer point of English culture by Monty Python and the Holy Grail early in high school. If you're from a cultured family or grew up in a city, you may be appalled to know I didn't discover British comedy until I was 15 years old. Like I've said many times before, it isn't easy growing up in a rural community, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I'm truly weird because I developed such eclectic tastes independent of peer pressure. I've always been a loner - a nice one, not overly anti-social - and I'm damned good at it.

In The Holy Grail, trusty steeds Patsy and Concorde are played by two members of the Python troupe who make horse galloping sounds by banging two halves of a coconut shell together. The curious scientist in me was hooked: was that rather convincing galloping foley really the sound made when two halves of a coconut were banged together? I'd never tasted fresh coconut, but wasn't particularly fond of the coconut shavings on Girl Scout cookies or the icing on a German chocolate cake. My father brought home a coconut from the grocery store and showed me the proper way to crack it open (put the point of a nail in the middle of the "monkey's face" on the end of the shell and hit the nail with a hammer).

It's a good thing my dad liked coconut, because the coconut milk and meat inside would have gone to waste otherwise. If stranded on a remote tropical island with only coconuts for sustenance, I'd probably starve and thus expire. At least the scientist in me was satisfied, his thirst quenched by the experience, if not the coconut's milk, and I kept the coconut shell halves until I went to college, just in case I ever needed a convincing galloping horse sound. One never knows.

I'd love to go on rambling, but today is Christmas Eve, and it's a long-standing tradition in my mom's family to celebrate with a dinner. It's about that time. Dinner is at my mom's house this year, and I'm desperately hoping we don't have oyster stew. I don't do the shellfish thing, especially filter feeders - the thought of eating an animal that ekes an existence scavenging or sifting through detritus and the partially digested material in the feces of other animals repulses me. With the pollution problems in the ocean today, there are sound health reasons for not eating shellfish. One of the reasons Cape Cod is so polluted is because there are less than a tenth of the oysters there used to be filtering the water; imagine how well-fed by pollution the remaining oysters are, the oysters we eat (okay, okay... most oysters probably come from farms, but still).

All this shellfish health spiel is of little consequence - in the days when I did eat crabs and lobsters and clams, I never ate oysters because the truth of the matter is, I just don't like them. Rachel is here, and she's harrassing me to put the weblog away and get there on time, so let's go see what the family has prepared.

Oh, a closing remark... on my... ah-hem... size. I knew it all along - there was never a doubt in my mind:

Click here to find out what size you really are

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/24/2001 @ 12:58 :: [link] ::
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Chicagoland Weekend

The significant other and I went to Chicago this weekend. Let me start by saying hotel bars are the best because you can get hammered without having to worry about sobering up and driving home. If the bar just happens to be an Irish bar, you're in luck, because you can get hammered with an endless supply of Guinness on tap. If the significant other gets hammered with you, then things couldn't possibly get any better, because you can pretend to have just met, hit on her without getting slapped, and even talk her into spending the night in your room with relative ease. The absolute best part is everything that happens after leaving the bar up to and including waking up in the morning next to someone you love.

<INSULT BLOCK>

Sorry, this is the part where I insult someone(s) or something(s) in a negative and immature way. The significant other had to makeup a rigid contact lens workshop she missed earlier in the fall quarter for a lab class. She had decided to take a day off from school to unwind and "get away from it all," only to find out later the workshop was mandatory, and that the professor planned to fail her for the entire lab, which would prevent her from passing the first of two contact lens courses, which she would have to repeat before taking the second contact lens course, both of which are offered once a year, the first module in fall quarter, the second in winter quarter. I'm digressing...

... but I'm doing it to make a point. A three hour workshop stands between her failing a course and passing it with a B+. One point that should be noted: the syllabus didn't mention the seminar was mandatory, and it was announced as such in class only on the day of; nevertheless, the professor was not persuaded by these arguments.

So what do you do? You attend another contact lens workshop, even if it means going to Chicago, which brings us to the inevitable conclusion: one should not be surprised when logic and reason are abandoned by the finer institutions of the state of Alabama, such as universities and legislative bodies.

There. I did it in front of the whole world - I killed three birds with one stone, slamming the entire state of Alabama, its higher education system and its state government. It's not solely for the actions of one person, though; anecdotes abound: in a state referendum on Election Day 2000, the voters of Alabama narrowly overturned a long-standing law prohibiting interracial marriages. Pretty audacious for a Kentuckian, the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, huh? I believe Kentucky still has a law on the books making sodomy illegal. Ignorance - including my own prejudice toward Southern culture - comes in a variety of flavors.

</INSULT BLOCK>

So the significant other spent Sunday in a workshop explaining why she was in Chicago to the University of Illinois students, who gasped in amazement at the backward ways of Birmingham, Alabama while I spent the day shopping on Michigan Avenue's Magnificent Mile drinking latte's in the department stores and coffee shops.

We reserved a room in the Hilton Towers on Michigan Avenue across from the Pier for $120 on Travelocity. When checking in, the guy at the front desk disappeared for five minutes, then returned to say none of their regular rooms were available, but he'd put us in a suite with a king-sized bed, and he apologized for any inconvenience. So, we stayed in a 9th floor non-smoking suite of the Hilton with a king bed overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan for $120 - not bad, despite a foggy, rainy weekend.

I saw the lower third of the Sears Tower while driving and the lower half of the Hancock Building while walking down Michigan Avenue, the only parts of the skyscrapers visible beneath the fog. Bloomingdale's, F.A.O. Schwartz, Saks, Nordstrom, yadda-yadda. You know you're in a high class part of town when even the Walgreen's has a revolving door. Chicago has more revolving doors than I've seen in any other large city, or anywhere else, for that matter; it's probably because of the wind. Imagine a traditional door swinging back and forth in 40 mph wind gusts on a crowded street, taking out unwary pedestrians and shattering it's glass and letting the wind inside the store to wreak havoc. That wouldn't be cool.

I'd like to close with a word of thanks to the good people of Garmin International for making GPS receivers, because this visit to Chicago makes the second time my StreetPilot has saved my ass driving around in a large city. Thanks, dudes; you rock. They used our tax dollars (lots of them) to do it, but grats also go to the U.S. Department of Defense for launching the GPS constellation.

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/18/2001 @ 20:56 :: [link] ::
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Interesting Fact of the Day:

In 2001, an American is exposed to as much information in a single day as an American living in 1900 encountered in an entire lifetime.

Source: A knowledge management presentation written by someone in the I/T department of my company; despite this and despite being a member of said I/T organization, I'm sure this information originally came from a reputable source.

They aren't kidding, folks - disbelievers should read this and ponder for a few moments. Three billion is a huge number. So huge, in fact, you can't possibly fathom it because you don't have enough fingers and there isn't a wall tall or wide enough to hold that many bottles of beer, although I'm told McDonald's has grilled over 100 billion burger patties and served them between 200 billion pieces of bread.

Speaking of, have you ever wondered where those 100 billion burgers came from, where they go and if a burger has ever been a burger more than once? It takes a lot of pasture and a lot of dead cows to produce that much beef. When people eat 100 billion beef patties - that's 100,000,000,000 (!) - they have to crank out a helluva lot of feces. With so much land put aside for cattle grazing, where does all the feces go? Sewer sludge is an excellent fertilizer. Okay, I think you know where I'm going with this. Cycles are everywhere: the water cycle, Krebs Cycle, solar cycle, economic cycle, nitrogen cycle, life cycle and the motorcycle - so why can't we acknowledge a beef-poop-grain-cow-beef cycle?

I think we all agree I'm a mean philosopher at 3am, so I'll accept your groans and shrieks of pain as acquiescence and just go to bed.

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/13/2001 @ 03:22 :: [link] ::
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Let's Get Some Christmas Spirit Around Here

Dudes, what gives? It's December 8 and I haven't begun my Christmas shopping yet! Ha ha, that's a joke, get it? My Christmas shopping never gets started this early. But seriously, it's December 8 and I haven't put up the lovely, artificial Christmas tree yet.

Whoa, that is serious! Last year, I put up the tree on Election Day night as the confusion over who won the presidential election unfolded. Little did I know, it was the beginning of a three month saga that would culminate in discarding every election ballot in the nation except for nine.

For some reason, perhaps because I'm so busy with things like school and work that drain yuletide joy right out of you like a huge hole in a mop bucket, I'm just not getting into the Christmas spirit this year. Tonight is the night to fight that blight right out of my hair! The tree is being assembled, strung with lights and decorated tonight, by damn! And thanks to my good friends at KaZaA and Morpheus, I have 353MB of Christmas music goodness to cram that Christmas spirit down my throat!

Even Smashing Pumpkins wrote a song about Christmastime. If the spirit of Christmas can calm a semi-angry-music band like the Smashing Pumpkins and fill their hearts with love and joy, then surely, surely it can do the same for mine.

Smashing Pumpkins - Christmastime - 3m17s
Lo (385KB, 16kbit/s) | Lo RA Stream | Hi (3.0MB, 128kbit/s) | Hi RA Stream

My heart is tingling.

Meep! How disturbing...

If I were a work of art, I would be Edvard Munch's The Scream.

I express the subconscious troubles and anxieties of the world. I hold my head and let loose the primal terror of my innermost fears, surrounded by a lurid landscape which reflects my feeble grasp on reality.

Which work of art would you be? The Art Test

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/08/2001 @ 21:51 :: [link] ::
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Surprise Visit

The significant other, who lives 360 miles away, called while dinner was cooking, changing the course of the weekend, which was off to a slow start after an uneventful Saturday morning...

With no latte until 3pm, my tell-tale coffee drinking habits betrayed the sort of lazy, funk mood I was in. When the beans were ground and the wondrous infused elixir came out of the espresso maker, the evil withdrawal demons had already put such a fierce constriction on the blood vessels in my head that I could hardly think for all the pain.

By 3:30pm the headache was gone, and the world suddenly took on richer, more vibrant colors and worthwhile living was again possible. The overall effect was a combination of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy steps out of her house after the tornado drops it in Oz and the mountain field scene from The Sound of Music.

By 4pm I was showered - there's no denying I celebrate laziness on my free weekends, but I always bathe daily. Next mission was food, then I would be prepared to conquer whatever. Setting up the Christmas tree? Absolutely! Cleaning off the dining table? Pshaw! Fighting off Genghis Khan and his horde of Mongols? Bring it on, tough guy! Sure, most of Saturday's daylight hours had been squandered, but it's the quality, not the quantity; for those last 90 minutes of daylight, I was going to be the meanest, toughest weekend warrior this end of Bear Creek... well, at least I felt like I could fly if I jumped off the roof, even if the laws of physics had other ideas.

So, the significant other calls about this time, and we talk for a few minutes about how we both started the weekend in a similar funk, and wouldn't it be great if we could visit. I lamented the meeting with my MBA team the next morning, a commitment which kept me from leaving town, and the S.O. says she could be here in four hours. "You mean six," I corrected her (her city is 360 miles from mine), but she insisted it was only four hours. It took a couple times to sink in - she'd been on the road for two hours. What a pleasant surprise!

After she arrived later that evening, events of no interest to anyone else ensued, like the bottle of lambic ale; good stuff, that lambic - drinks almost like wine. Let's just fast-forward along...

I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, watching her for a long time as she slept. Life works out in the strangest ways. It seemed the realization of how deeply I felt for her had come only too late. Yet here she was - this woman I know I will always love, the person I long to spend the rest of my life with, the very one I feared was gone for good - sleeping mere inches away, so close I could feel her breathing.

The wave of emotion hit me like a ton of bricks - it was too much. I wanted to hold her in my arms until the sun came up, and then keep holding on for a little while longer, but I didn't want to wake her. So I cried, instead. Yes, me. I broke down into tears, and my sobbing woke her up, anyway.

I'm not sure why it happened. It was everything, it was nothing. Joy, hurt, love, regret, relief, grief, gratitude, fear, forgiveness, anger, recognition, confusion, fulfillment, anxiety, peacefulness - the emotions swirled inside me one after another more quickly than they could be discerned.

We held on to one another in the wee hours of the morning, she a bit confused, and I unable to explain, as the tears ran down my cheeks. And it felt so good.

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/04/2001 @ 07:34 :: [link] ::
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When Jolly American Capitalism Fails Us

Update / for the record: Excite@Home won the short-term battle against the cable companies, negotiating an expensive three month extension as their broadband cable ISP, but the long-term prize goes to the cable companies, who will implement and own their own networks.

Four million cable internet customers are being victimized throughout the weekend as their cable companies, panicking over the potential loss of a lucrative revenue stream after having failed to develop contingency plans over the past two months, and Excite@Home's bondholders, wanting an ever bigger piece of the revenue pie from cable providers (an increase from $12 per customer per month to $20 wasn't sufficient to prevent Excite@Home's bankruptcy), have a battle of the egos. I'm not seeing an earnest concern for the customers in all this. Whose needs are being served? At this point, my frustration is such that I'd switch to DSL on principle alone, but unfortunately with fiber optic telephone lines running from the switching office to the entrance of my condo complex, it's isn't possible.

Meanwhile, thanks to memepool, I'm enjoying my last hours of cable internet access elating to Japanese multimedia. I can't decide which is funnier - the Flash parody or the original video? You don't have to understand it to love it.

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/01/2001 @ 12:41 :: [link] ::
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