Sunday, December 29, 2019

Review: Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder

Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder by Kenn Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now I know why this book is a classic in the birding world! Chronicle of Kenn's 1973 Big Year (and put into book form 30 years later). In addition to all the birds and birders referenced, Kaufman's experiences mirror my own from the 1970s, in so many ways, e.g. from finding out about California's "under 18" law, to crossing the Canadian border as a 19-year-old longhair with little money, to our 1978 birding quest that took my partner and me to many of the "hotspots" mentioned in the book. This is one of those that I wished I had read earlier!!! (Just noted on my Goodreads that I had added it to my "to read" pile in 2015! At least I got it read in the same decade, just barely.)

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Review: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can you say? I say, read this book! It’s short, timely, and features great writing, as only Dickens can. Like me, you are no doubt very familiar with the story and characters, but the written descriptions of the surroundings and especially the various spirits are unforgettable. And oh yeah, it’s cheap - Gutenberg (free) or the Amazon version for 99 cents! But don’t be a Scrooge!!!

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Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Review: Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump

Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump by Neal Katyal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To say this book is "topical" is quite an understatement. Katyal is one of my favorite talking heads during the descendence of 45, and he's also a good Twitter follow as the story develops in real time. How this book could be so current will amaze you - breaking a few of the usual publishing-calendar barriers, no doubt.

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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Review: Audubon, On The Wings Of The World

Audubon, On The Wings Of The World Audubon, On The Wings Of The World by Fabien Grolleau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book offers some great illustrations and a fun telling of the "career" of John James Audubon. I recommend it, but for cover-to-cover readers I suggest reading the notes in the back before starting with the colorful narrative, as the context will help in what can get fairly scanty in terms of the subject's full story. I have known about Audubon for many decades and in those same textual notes at the end, the author (French) claims that for Americans JJ Audubon is the most well known historic Frenchman, next to Lafayette (I guess I might have thrown in Napoleon). I am trying to get a little bit engaged in the "Graphic Novels" department and this was a great start!

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: Stoner

Stoner Stoner by John Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First off, Stoner is the lead characters's name (William Stoner to be exact), and not something else! But getting by that, this was a wonderful read. I encountered a reference to it in The New Yorker from earlier this year, and my local library (yay) had a Kindle version. I was captivated by the life story of Stoner, and its timeline that starts in the very early 20th century and takes us into the 50's, offers a bit of a history lesson as well. The introduction in this version, btw, is very enlightening but is full of spoilers, so I am happy I read it last!

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Thursday, November 07, 2019

HP Inc to be acquired by Xerox?


To modify a favorite movie line, I picked a heck of a week to start blogging again!

The Wall Street Journal, followed by other outlets, reported on an offer by Xerox to acquire HP Inc, the printing and personal computing company that resulted from a split of the once mighty Hewlett Packard.

I am tracking the story and happy @rexcrum of the Mercury News is on top of it on Twitter!

Nearly 15 years after leaving HP, and a few years now no longer actively covering  the company and industry, I can only imagine. But I can bet that their (HP Inc's) world has been rocked!

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Our faithful technology servants...

My Archer Power Strip - working steadily for over four decades


It's not often we reflect on the long-lasting, steady performance of technology-based gadgets. More often, the steady drumbeat of obsolescence dominates that space, as we find ourselves lusting after the new with a little guilt on how we will responsibly dispose of the old.

However, today I am acknowledging a simple power strip that has been on duty for over 40 years! I believe the Archer 4-outlet Power Strip pictured here is one I acquired about 1978, part of my first purchase of a personal computer. That computer, some may know, was an early Radio Shack TRS80, and it served me admirably as well. It was disposed of, following a youth de-construction project, which hopefully offered a learning experience. (I am describing the time-honored tradition of youngsters taking apart "old crap" in the interest of seeing a bit more about how things work.)

Archer - a Tandy (Radio Shack) brand, along with Realistic and ...
Anyway, the related power strip has moved around but continued on in dependable service to this day, most recently powering our modest home entertainment setup. (I say modest but still a lot of plugs!) It is has been replaced by the "new and improved" 6-outlet strip that became surplus in some other tech setup.

So I encourage you to look around and show a little gratitude for the things in your life that work, and then work and work and work some more! 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Review: Boston Blackie

Boston Blackie Boston Blackie by Jack Boyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OK - who didn't think first of "I wish I had a pencil-thin mustache..."? This has been a fun "slow read" written in very plain language, with lots of cigarettes, gold bars, capers, and prison breaks - what's not to like? (Adding - this is over 100 years old!)

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

HP's World Series TV Commercial - From their Get Real campaign "I Put a Spell on You" is captivating!!!

For those of you watching the World Series (yay, Nats, and great effort, Astros) an interesting and, for me at least, a very captivating ad came through the clutter. It features the mesmerizing "I Put a Spell on You" soundtrack over typical scenes from a digital lifestyle, with text that leads one to think that the purely screen-oriented culture is lacking. What we really need is physical world stuff, printed on HP printers of course, to go along with the lifestyle (important to remember it is our ever-present digital content is what feeds it.) 

I am mixed on this conclusion, but think the commercial itself really works in delivering the message. I dare readers to not find it captivating, as I did!

                   
  

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Mark Hurd, former HP CEO, dies at age 62

Sad and shocking news that former HP CEO Mark Hurd has passed away! 

Hurd followed Carly Fiorina in that job, joining HP in 2005, and since our employment overlapped by a few months, I witnessed a couple of coffee talks featuring the former NCR chief. My fellow employees and I welcomed him with open arms, as he was enthusiastic and open-minded about our business, and signified a new era after the Fiorina period (which it is worth noting that started with high levels of employee support and enthusiasm).

I remember him being great with a flip chart, and also recall he liked that we (HP generally) were in the TV business, as that was a product he could relate to.  

It was a few years later, 2010 to be exact, that it all fell apart for Hurd, who had grown unpopular with the rank and file, partly for his penny-pinching ways, including a "two to a cube" policy. He was unceremoniously dumped by the HP Board on a perceived affair he was having on the company dime. Larry Ellison signed him on at Oracle, almost immediately, where he remained until his death, though he had taken medical leave last month.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Review: Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump

Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump by Rick Reilly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It seemed like time once again for a nonfiction sports book, and this one fit the bill, with the "bonus" of providing current commentary on our national leadership situation. Author Rick Reilly, a favorite of mine from way back, starts off the book with a dedication, "This book is dedicated to the truth. It’s still a thing." And I am glad it's still a thing, and I think the book's title regarding "how golf explains..." is spot on, especially with the impeachment sentiment growing fast and POTUS's ongoing dodge on the Ukrainian situation to say nothing about all the related matters that are coming out daily. The book includes lots I didn't know about golf as well - starting with handicaps and course ratings, and the delving into course ownership and architecture. But it's the Commander in Cheat's lack of character and continual boasting and lying is what the book centers on, and I salute the courageous author for documenting so much of it.

Summing it up, as Reilly writes, "'Everything he does to the country now, as president, he did to us beforehand, in golf,' says a then-high-ranking LPGA official who doesn’t particularly want the most powerful man in the world knowing who she is.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review: Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss: A Novel

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss: A Novel Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss: A Novel by Rajeev Balasubramanyam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I greatly enjoyed this novel and all its facets. Very timely and personal for me, especially as a sometimes-economics professor and father. I especially liked all the references of this clearly well-researched book. This includes the thinly veiled characterization of my old econ prof and 2017 Nobel winner Richard Thaler, considered by some the "father of behavioral economics" and (briefly) portrayed in the novel as a rival of the title character, Professor Chandra.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Review: Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so pleased that my local library system came up with Nomadland as a recommended read for me! I decided to give it a shot, and it ended up as one of my more memorable books from the past couple of years, with similarities to Evicted, but hitting on so many interesting topics I have been curious about. This starts with the overnight-or-longer "urban campers" I see regularly over by one of our more out-of-the way city parks, and includes the subculture of Baby Boomer workers who, in their RVs, seasonally descend on Amazon warehouses. I found the author's bio in her Twitter account as writing on subcultures, and that she does, very well. Subcultures have one of my major interests tied to my many years, practicing and teaching in the marketing field. While reading and now after finishing Nomadland, I find myself telling people about the "boondockers" every chance I get!

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Thursday, September 05, 2019

Review: Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink

Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink by Kevin Cook
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes a sports book can be the most entertaining and educational book of the year! Author Kevin Cook fills in the details leading up to this classic game between the Cubs and the Phillies, with some great history to set the stage. The game itself was a classic battle (that's an understatement), that brought together two teams with interesting legacies, some great, some not so great. A number of players involved would leave their own personal legacies, and the latter part of the book, following the 10 innings of play-by-play, covers the fascinating stories, these including Dave (Kong) Kingman and the late, great Bill Buckner. Highly recommend!

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bill Gates made me do it, and I loved it! I like how his synopsis sums it up: "...an amazing story that anyone can enjoy." This book is one of Bill's Five Summer Reads for 2019 (https://www.gatesnotes.com/About-Bill...) and I made it the first of the five to take on. It was long, but easy and fun reading with enough background to make it very educational as well. Having taken a lifelong learning course on Russia recently, with another one due for the Fall, I am grateful for all the cultural references - I feel it made me a bit smarter, especially on Russian literature, where I am starting from pretty close to nothing. (And who knew Bill Gates has read everything ever written by Dostoyevsky?)

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Review: Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad

Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I managed to take my time on this short book, and it was very rewarding. It includes so many insightful quotes and references - some new to me, a few others familiar but worth refreshing. One of his 10 ways involves the value of walking ("Demons hate fresh air") that I found particularly heartening. I am definitely resolved to keep up my walking routine as a result.

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Review: Lake of the Ozarks: My Surreal Summers in a Vanishing America

Lake of the Ozarks: My Surreal Summers in a Vanishing America Lake of the Ozarks: My Surreal Summers in a Vanishing America by Bill Geist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun to reminisce about "the good old days" with the author. In fact, makes me want to record some of my own memories.

Bill is a few years older than me, but we are essentially contemporaries. I knew this when early in the book he discloses his favorite Sirius Radio station - Classic Vinyl. His memories have certainly triggered many of my own. Bottom line on the book - he is a great storyteller.

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Sunday, June 09, 2019

Review: Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life

Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An interesting and provocative read. Example quote - "Wabi sabi is an intuitive response to beauty that reflects the true nature of life. Wabi sabi is an acceptance and appreciation of the impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete nature of everything. Wabi sabi is a recognition of the gifts of simple, slow, and natural living." This book was recommended for me through my local library's ebook interface, and I added it to my holds list, knowing it would be awhile as it was clearly in demand. When it came around I was able to finish it over the course of a few days, taking a chapter or two at a time. While I thought I knew a bit about Japanese culture, I had never encountered "wabi sabi" and I discovered that each word ("wabi" and "sabi") has its own meaning in the Japanese language. However, taken together, the phrase means something related but subtly different, something that people in the culture understand but rarely if ever speak of. Fascinating and inspiring!

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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Review: The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator

The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator The Dark Heart: A True Story of Greed, Murder, and an Unlikely Investigator by Joakim Palmkvist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like Dateline, and if you enjoy learning more about modern Scandinavian (Swedish) culture, this book may be for you! It was featured as part of Amazon's #WorldBookDay promotion. I bit (by downloading for free), and never looked back! It was a fun and engrossing read - but I like these types of things!

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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Fair and balanced - a book review of the Mueller Report


The Washington Post's book reviewer takes on the Mueller Report, as a book.
OK, I posted about a review of the Mueller Report as a PDF file, so it only seems fair (and balanced) to add this one on a book review of said report. The headline of Carlos Lozada's review in the Washington Post's Book Party section is "The Mueller report isn’t just a legal document. It’s also the best book on the Trump White House so far."

Lozada's piece reads much like a regular review, and inspires me to finish reading the report, soon! (There's a little matter of Jennife Egan's Manhattan Beach, as well as The Gene, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, standing in its way.)  

BTW the PDF-oriented review cited its length (file size), but after downloading it myself, it seems about right.



Friday, April 19, 2019

Review: The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown

The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown by Catherine Burns
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great collection of stories! Like TED talks, Moth stories are limited in length, so those in this collection are quick to read. The story-tellers are a delightful group as well, and you will no doubt recognize a few, or more than a few!

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Mueller Report - not the best PDF


I must admit to feeling some amusement when I saw this story from The Verge about the shoddy PDF quality found in the downloaded Mueller Report. Reporter Adi Robertson clearly had some fun with this piece as well, starting with the headline, "The PDF Association thinks the Mueller report sucks" (though of course the writer is not responsible for the headline in many cases). Having been around before Adobe dubbed PDF "Acrobat" (it was codenamed "Carousel"), this story really hit home. I was considering a post about all the toner and ink being used to print out the report, but this one takes the prize!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Review - Rising up from Hatred

Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White NationalistRising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The true and gripping tale, more than a bit terrifying, of the American White Supremacist movement, and one young man's years-long process of breaking away from it. I found this book to be educational, causing me to look differently at the day's political news, in a less-than-favorable way. The saga of the defection of the movement's heir apparent, despite extreme family and peer pressure, is an admirable one. I saw interesting parallels with another one of my favorite books of the past year or so, Educated, that one a memoir of course, while "Rising up from Hatred" was penned bu Pulitzer Prize-winner Eli Saslow.


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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Memories from the world of birding

I was delighted to bump a memory-affirming reference today while boning up on my bird calls and songs - tis the season after all! In reviewing American Goldfinch vs. Lesser Goldfinch vs. Pine Siskin (all regulars in my neighborhood), I noticed one of the AMGO recordings was captured by none other than vaunted bird expert and field guide author David Sibley, in the state of New York in May, 1981. This date fits perfectly with my memories of him, as we were both hanging around Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology at that time. The blog "Birding is Fun" allowed me to share this recollection in 2010, but one does at least occasionally wonder about the veracity of one's memories, so this was a real pleasure to encounter!
David Sibley's American Goldfinch recording is helpful from an educational standpoint, as well as providing a nice confirmation of my memories!

Friday, March 08, 2019

Review: The Fifth Risk

The Fifth Risk The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?" - This is the lead-in to the book's description on Amazon, and no doubt elsewhere. It's a scary notion, and with Michael Lewis doing the reporting, it is indeed frightening and depressing. HOWEVER, that's not why I loved this book. Lewis pulls apart the federal Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce, and reports on many of the details of what these departments do, and it is a vast range of activities. Lewis provide lots of coverage of big data and analytical science beginning to pervade the key functions of the government during the Obama administration.

You might be asking - what is the fifth risk? Well, you really have to read the book!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Review: The Science of Self-Learning: How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education

The Science of Self-Learning: How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education The Science of Self-Learning: How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education by Peter Hollins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Science of Self-Learning was a great read for me! The author, Peter Hollins, includes an appeal for a review, so I have put some time and thought into some of the book's positive attributes as well as a few things I found lacking. As someone who has done quite a bit of self-learning in recent years, it was comforting for me to encounter so many of the same techniques and methods which I have used. These include Cornell Notes, the Feynman method, and critical thinking, to name a few. It was great validation to find these and others in this book. What was missing? I was very surprised in the "reading" chapter to find no mention of the speed-reading tools commonly available these days. Two which I use regularly are Instapaper's tool as well as Kindle Fire's Word Runner. It seems all of the book's rather lengthy advice would apply only to conventional hard-copy books. And speaking of Kindle, this is the format I purchased "The Science of Self-Learning" - where is any comparison of this approach, including its note-taking/highlighting capabilities? Another shortcoming I found was the lack of mention of the popularity of the Pomodoro technique of learning, which centers around 25-minute spans of distraction-free focus. Instead we get Peter Drucker's (essentially the same) 50-minute method. Not a big difference but it makes it seem quite dated (as due a few other references like "civics" as an area of study). All in all, I am happy to rate the book at four stars, and the suggested improvements could elevate it to a fifth star.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Some advice, taken, on reading for the new year


I enjoy keeping up with Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday) and his thoughts, and subjects like stoicism and reading. In a recent Medium post, A reading list for becoming a better citizen and person, he had one bit of advice near the end that really caught my attention.

But if I had one final recommendation for reading this year, it would be this: Pick three or four books you’ve already read, that had a big impact on you, and read them again.
In my case, it was an easy choice, as I had already just purchased this classic: Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore (@geoffreyamoore). I will have comments in the coming days or weeks, but so far so good. This classic, originally published in the 80s, was revised five years ago, and the reading has been great, as I have really just begun, with lots of fun to follow!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When asked "what it's about", Anna Quindlen writes in the forward to the 75th anniversary edition, "The best anyone can say is that it is a story about what it means to be human." I've given many a five-star rating to books over the recent years - often figuring they had to be a five-star book for me to hang in there and finish them - but this one rises far, far above most of those other five-stars. I had heard of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" for many years, and fortunate enough to have received it as a gift this past holiday season, I dove in and had a hard time stopping, through its nearly 500 pages. Through laughs, tears, and more than a few pauses to look up words or cultural references from 100 years ago, I have never enjoyed a book more than this one. It is hardly a surprise that it found a place on the recent "PBS Great American Read Top 100" list.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review: Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World by Noah Strycker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great book - combining my interests in birding and travel, and bringing to life the author's year-long effort to see half the world's bird species (or more). The fact that Noah Strycker hails from Western Oregon doesn't hurt either, and his connections with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are great for me, too. Here's a brief passage that mentions both, as well as leading to the trade-off between his objectives and those of the typical birder: "After leaving home in Oregon, not to return until this year was over, I’d landed in Ithaca to meet Tim Lenz, a full-time programmer for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, eBird, which I was using to track my sightings for the year. Tim spends his free time birding his brains out and knew where to find the species I sought in New York, partly because he’d catalogued them all in eBird. He was wiry, precise, and about the same age as me. The two of us were near Cayuga Lake, looking for common birds such as Upland Sandpipers and American Black Ducks, when Tim received a WhatsApp message on his phone. 'Wow,' he said, suddenly at full attention. 'It looks like someone just reported a Brown Pelican flying over the lake. That’s, like, the first inland record for New York! We’ve got to go see that bird!'"

I was taking my time with this book for awhile, a "slow read" that is so interesting and well-written that it was not a book I wanted to zoom through. But after returning the borrowed hardcover, and buying my own ebook version, it was time to make some time. Here's another example to end with, this time of his advice from near the end of the book that I just love: "Know that the world is much friendlier than it often seems, and don’t be paranoid. Eat the street food—it’s tasty, cheap, and healthy—and talk with the vendors. If a problem can be resolved for $20, spend it and move on."



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