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November 9th, 2016
12:52 pm


"That is not who we are"
Every now and then I hear "That is not who we are".

It gets on my nerves because of a process which started when I first heard about My Lai. My initial reaction was "An American wouldn't", followed almost immediately by "An American did".

Now, it's fair to say that wasn't typical American behavior, and that it was eventually treated as a crime. Much later, the soldiers who protected villagers were treated as heroes rather than traitors.

Individuals are complicated. Societies are more complicated.

My best understanding is that "That is not who we are" is aspirational. It's a hope that we will live up to our best dreams, which is to say the dreams the person speaking holds. It's an effort to get psychological leverage, and I don't think it works terribly well.

What I believe is true is that we are making ourselves all the time.

The important thing is what people want and what they're working on.

I recently discovered the Reith lectures, and they looks like a good source for high qualtity thought. I'm linking to one by Kwame Appiah about how values are promoted by people who care about them-- it's not tied to race, culture, or geography. I don't think the transcript is up yet.

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October 31st, 2016
11:48 am


More about metrics going wrong
A major problem with having metrics (measurements intended to change behavior) is that the real world is complex-- anything that's simple enough to measure isn't going to be what you actually want.

Now we get to the SNAFU Principle-- the idea that information doesn't move in a hierarchy. The people at the bottom know what's going on, but can't take action. The people at the top can take action, but don't know what's going on.

Presumably, the more severe the punishments and the higher the rewards, the less competent the system becomes.

From memory of something Gregory Bateson said: Living systems don't maximize any one thing. Consider a rain forest. Compare it to a money-based economy.

I'd say that governments trying to maximize obedience are in a similar bind.

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09:10 am


Something genuinely scary
Here's a very frightening thing that I've been meaning to do as a Halloween post. I realize that Halloween is for things that are fun scary, but it's not night yet, so this is isn't really Halloween.

You may have heard of Goodhart's Law. It has nothing to do with being good-hearted, Goodhart's just the name of its author.

Here's my current formulation: Any measurement which is used to guide policy will become corrupt.

You understand? Not might become corrupt. Not won't become corrupt if it's well designed. WILL BECOME CORRUPT.

Are you shaking? You are living in a culture which gives more and more trust to using measurement to guide policy.

Good long discussion of metrics (metrics are measurements used to guide policy)

The Wells Fargo accounts scandal is a classic example of measuring the worng thing-- top management set up impossible demands for new accounts, and staff both pressured customers into getting accounts they didn't need and also added accounts to customers who didn't ask for them. This has turned into a disaster for Wells Fargo.

This sort of thing doesn't just happen in business. If there's a demand for crime to go down, it might just get translated into make crime statistics go down, so the public is discouraged from reporting crime.

Does GDP measure somehting important? Do unemployment statistics?

I think you can get a rough measure of which places are better to live in than others by looking at immigration/emigration and adjusting it for the level of risk and cost people are willing to endure in order to move.... but if this were used for policy it would go wrong some way or other.

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October 30th, 2016
04:33 pm


Problem with the recent comments page
For a while,the recent comments page was down.

Now, if I go to the page, I get the most recent comments on my lj, but not the links to comments I've made on other people's ljs.

Is anyone else having this problem? Has lj changed its policy?

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October 23rd, 2016
06:50 am


Orson Card Card, politics, the temperature of tap water, etc.
So james_nicoll linked to Card about the election and various other things on his mind.

Firstly, the temperature of tap water-- it's quite true that there's a big difference with the seasons. I will also note that there's much more hot water for showers precisely when long hot showers are least desirable.

I have seen complaints about Card's long discussion about tap water, but I found it fairly engaging, certainly much more so than Card's political rants. I was reminded that I used to be a Card fan.

I dropped him in the 80s or thereabouts. I realized that he had a recurring pattern of older males being physically and emotionally abusive to boys, and I was getting squicked. It actually seemed like psychological progress when Card had a father in Alvin Maker who wasn't comfortable with wanting to kill his son. Also, I got fascinated by Card's character torture in a way I didn't feel good about. People would look at me as though I was crazy when I talked about dropping an author for those reasons.

Anyway, Card likes McMullen, and in the comments to James Nicoll, Sean O'Hara links to an interview with McMullen.
No, McMullin said, the GOP is already mostly right on the issues. The party's real problem is something much more fundamental. "The Republican Party has a problem now with people, candidly, in its ranks, members and some voters, who don't embrace, I think, some foundational truths upon which our country was founded and which it has drawn nearer to over time."

"Number one is that we are all created equal," McMullin continued. "That is something that Donald Trump, I don't believe, has embraced, nor have some of his supporters. And it's a deep problem in the Republican Party, and that's just the truth."


McMullin explained that he, like other Republicans, has heard for years from Democrats that the GOP is racist. He always rejected that kind of thinking. He rejected it, that is, until the last few years, when he worked in a senior staff position for the GOP in the House of Representatives.

"I spent a lot of time in the Republican Party believing that that was something Democrats and liberals would say, [people] who weren't interested in really understanding who we were," McMullin said. "But I have to say in the time that I spent in the House of Representatives and leadership and in senior roles there, I realized that no, they're actually right. And Donald Trump made it ever more clear that there is a serious problem of racism in the Republican Party. That is the problem. Not conservative ideals. Racism is not conservatism. And that's what I'm talking about. That's the problem."

Weirdly, the Washington Examiner page looks vaguely like Facebook while being less cluttered and less readable. I have no idea how this is possible, but I'm forced to conclude that creating the Facebook look is harder than it seems.

Not connected to the Nicolls piece, but how American politics shifted from interests to values, and why this is a problem. I'm not sure this is right, but it's at least interesting and plausible.

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October 19th, 2016
09:36 am


Most sensible sf about rebuilding after catastrophe?
Discussion of sf which portrays catastrophe as bringing back the Good Old Days

So, who does a good job? For purposes of this discussion, I'm talking about rebuilding which isn't a simple matter of playing out dreams or nightmares, plausibly fits its setting, and doesn't look much like the past.

Offhand, the only one I'm thinking of is Three Parts Dead (seriously alien society after a magical catastrophe), but there must be others.

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September 16th, 2016
12:29 pm


Canons are becoming less possible
An English professor explains why she isn't reading or assigning David Foster Wallace

I think what I'm writing isn't even an essay, it's a ramble.

Once upon a time-- I'd say until sometime in the 70s-- it was possible for a dedicated reader to pretty much keep up with science fiction, or at least I think I was managing it, with some time left over for reading earlier sf and rereading my favorites. Perhaps it was even possible at some point to keep up with the fanzines.

Admittedly, I didn't like everything and didn't read what I didn't like. Still, I wasn't the only one who had a shared vocabulary of a large body of first and second-rate sf.

Then, it seemed like I was getting swamped. What's more, the field started expanding into more media. Star Trek fans had been scraping by on three seasons worth of shows. Comic book fans were stuck with only two major companies.

I'm going to be sloppy with the decades, but for some time we're got huge numbers of tie-ins, games, movies, fan creations.... I think you could spend the rest of your life on just Harry Potter fan fiction and not keep up with it.

I'm not viewing with alarm, though with some degree of nostalgia. It's pleasant to have such a large shared vocabulary. I think it's relatively possible to still have the shared vocabulary from art that's more expensive to produce (movies and television), though there gets to be more of that because the past isn't getting lost and also because the amount getting produced in visual media is increasing and the market is becoming more international. There's still some shared vocubulary for print sf, it's just getting harder.

These days, there's more good art and more great art, which seems like a fair trade.

I recently read about people trying to keep up with short sf stories for the Hugos.... there are resouces, but you really can't.

Anyway, I'm looking at the foggy future and I'm assuming there will be some art which is broadly popular, but there's also going to be a lot of (even more?) fragmentation of audiences. We might get competent advice to computers-- programs which can accurately say "this isn't much like you've liked in the past, but you'll probably love it". I have no idea what academe will look like. Will there still be as much done with consensus masterpieces? More idiosyncratic choices by professors?

Anyone else remember the bit at the beginning of Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand? The protagonst is absorbing what seems like a fascinating bunch of book cubes, but as I recall they weren't a collection, just random packing material.

Speaking of that second rank stuff, what was the Chandler story where some handwaving science expanding the size of the ship and crew, so that stars really were like glowing grains of sand?

Maybe I'm overgeneralizing from myself. What have other people seen about shared knowledge of sf or other sorts of art?

Oh, right, I do have a title for this ramble. Actually, there's academic work done about canons, and I've only nibbled around the edges of it. My impression is that canons exist partly because of theories about what is good for people and partly out of habit. I think canons are also a result of having too much material to hold in a mind, but little enough that it's possible to think about what's worth treating as essential.

The idea that there are universal human classics that people need to be forced to read is pretty funny, though I think part of what happens is at least some of the material is fair to middling universal but students are forced to read it when they're too young for it.

My bet is that consensus is going to weaken, making canons harder to maintain, but I'm open to alternate predictions.

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August 4th, 2016
10:08 am


The videogame so good that many people only play it once
Yes, Journey, a game which originally intended (1 hour video) to create a sense of emotional connection</a> but which also ended up with a sense of transcendence.

A little more about how the game was designed

Somewhat about the visual design of the game. This one is text, but unfortunately, it includes spoilers for the end of the game.

I haven't played it-- I don't have a Playstation (the game needs PS 3 or 4), and it didn't seem worth getting the Playstation for just one game, but I've watched about half a playthrough, and read/watched a fair amount about the design.

However, the game is at it's best when other people are playing at the same time, and they still are.

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July 27th, 2016
02:36 pm


Really liked the new Ghostbusters
Following up on a previous discussion: I saw the new Ghostbusters movie yesterday.

The short review is that I was delighted by it. While the dialogue wasn’t as quotable, the good humor and enthusiasm from the main characters was a tremendous amount of fun. I’m not going to say they resembled scientists, but they were the best presentation of benign mad scientists I’ve ever seen. They’re driven by curiosity about what’s really going on.

They scratched an itch that any number of kickass superheroines haven’t gotten near– I think it’s that they were fairly ordinary-looking and what they did was physically plausible.

I think the reason the trailers bored me to the point where I wasn’t going to see the movie is that their clips are so short and somewhat focused on slapstick, while what I liked about the movie was interaction between the characters.

In regards to the “blond bimbo” male receptionist: Goddamn, you can’t believe anything you read on the net. He isn’t blond (brown hair with some bleach). For most of the movie, it seemed more plausible to me that he was taking the piss rather than actually stupid.

I’ve seen a claim that he was the only major male character. Actually, Rowan (apocalypse guy) was pretty major, though possibly the actor wasn’t quite good enough for the role.

A lot of the movie was about status, notably that the people in charge are assholes who want grovelling (initial sequence about Erin not getting tenure) and are completely unwilling to acknowledge the existence of ghosts.

Again, the black character is the most sensible person. I expect that she’ll learn physics and become a more equal member of the team.

A number of the monsters in the long fight sequence at the end (possibly a little too long, but nothing compared to Peter Jackson’s excesses) were satisfyingly scary.

As is usual with special effects movies, you should stay all the way to the end. Not only are there more and better jokes than most movies have after the “end”, but the only song I liked was next to the last during the credits.

I’d like to see Ghostbuster movies made with people from more demographics for the ghostbusting team, assuming they were made with as much care as this one.

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June 24th, 2016
01:02 am


Transcript of Vi Hart's "Feeling Sad about Tragedy" and related thoughts
Vi Hart's "Feeling Sad about Tragedy".

I made this transcript because I want to post about this in a venue where I think there are some men who believe feminism has completely won and men are oppressed. I'm quite willing to believe that some men are oppressed, but that doesn't mean women aren't also oppressed.

I'm posting it here because it's long, and I think it's more appropriate to post a link to this rather than the whole thing there.

If there are people who would rather read than listen, here it is, though something is lost because of not having the tone of voice and not having the notes and cartoons. Also, if anyone wants to discuss this, it's easier if you have a text rather than referring to time stamps on a video.

Vi Hart doesn't blame men in general, and she doesn't expect men of good will to solve the problem. She is describing the problem.

One link before the transcript: How rules of courtesy forbid women from protecting themselves-- for example, a woman isn't supposed to turn down an unwanted hug, but once you're in a hug, your options for protecting yourself are pretty limited.


I really don't want to do this video. As those of you who follow me know, I have a lot of practice in analyzing things from above and I'm resisting doing that this time, resisting doing what is easy for me.

I want to talk about so many *things*.

I guess we should start in order, Friday evening Christina Grimmie was shot. I don't want to talk about this.

I'm going to talk about this, because Christina Grimmie was *shot*. We're going with shot, not murdered, because we're going in order because for many hours we did not know if she would live.

It hit me really hard, not because I knew her personally or particularly followed her work but because she and I have a lot in common, not in an "it could have been me" kind of way though I suppose it could have, more in a "it shouldn't have been her" kind of way because she did everything right and I knew this kind of thing could happen but it shouldn't have happened to her.

These words kept running around and around in my head. "It shouldn't have happened to her."

No, we need to go back further. So, I got my first real death threat, you know, specific death threat that included my address and everything when I was fifteen. My first death threat, *always* an entertaining ice breaker conversation when you find yourself in a group of highly visible internet or entertainment people, particularly women and LGBTQ+ folk and people of color who have *so* many stories to share.

Anyway, when I was in my mid-teens before youtube even existed, I was pretty active in some internet and gaming communities and I got a lot of attention. And just, when you're a kid, you pretty much get used to whatever is around you as normal. Of course when you beat a dude at an online video game, he's going to find it to be a genuinely hurtful blow to his manliness, his identity, and he might stalk down your address and threaten to kill you.

And of course, when you play with the same people enough, some of them will become obsessed with you and call your family phone number and tell you that he's holding a gun to his head and will kill himself if you don't love him. If you want to engage with the internet community, that's just part of the territory, right?

And it never even occurred to me to what, call the police, tell my parents? This was the early 2000's when the internet world was separate from real life. It was ... other. I didn't even think to tell my friends about any of it. I was bored. I had time. So I'd usually engage with it and danced the troll dance and mostly they were just other bored kids and we'd get along just fine in the end.

And I got very good at dealing with internet trolls and not very good at being a human being, and I was a kid, and why would I ever tell anyone about anything bad that happened to me ever when I had no trust that anybody would take anything I said seriously? Even if they did believe me, which they probably wouldn't, or if they did, they'd make a big deal of it and probably blame me anyway and it's not like I'm a saint and I put myself in this situation by going on the internet, by playing games, by engaging with these people. I talked to them, I knew them, I learned that reaction and those instincts and that lack of trust very early in my life and I've used it many times since.

What does this have to do with Christina? We both started on youtube in mid-2009. We're in the same order of magnitude of subscribers. We're both gamers and singers and fairly successful but not super famous, but well respected by a lot of people who are, and we sometimes do events and meet + greets, not within the well-oiled machine of Hollywood with their protocols and security and money, but in that youtubery space where we have all this attention, often very personal attention because of the intimacy of the medium, and basically have a lot to identify with as far as where she was and why. I don't know the extent to which she got death threats or had obsessive fans or stalkers, but for any woman at that level of visibility, I can be confident that she did.

For anyone in a group that commonly gets marked as "other", it becomes likely at relatively low follower numbers, and at a certain level of visibility everyone has to deal with it.

Sometimes male friends ask me how I deal with the threats and the attention, or they get upset about the comments they see on my channel or on twitter and they want to know how it is I'm brave enough to be this visible when so many decide it's not worth the hassle, and I always found that question odd.

How could I possibly worry about what I get on the internet as Vi Hart when that's harmless compared to what I get in real life as nobody?

I didn't get internet famous until I was 22. I got used to the internet threats by 16, and in the time between I went to college, I lived in a few different cities, I travelled to conventions and conferences alone. I'd go out to eat and drink and dance alone. I'd walk down the street alone. I'd been in the world, and since I got internet famous, I've been in the world some more. I know where the real danger is.

How is is possible to be concerned about internet strangers that I can just ignore when I've encountered so many men who I would have encountered whether I was on the internet or not and who physically would not let me ignore them.

Most people have no idea how common sexual assault and violence against women are because people get taught pretty early on that keeping it to yourself and pretending it's not a big deal is very much preferable than even the best case scenario if you talk about it. And forget pressing charges. It's kind of amazing that anyone bothers.

I learned early in my life to have more faith in the humanity of angry men that in any of the uncaring inhuman systems around me. As a teenager, I would turn my trolls into my friends and I usually succeeded, but now I'm 28. I just don't have the time, and it seems the same bored kids who naively did this stuff 15 years ago are still doing it as adults. Plus a new crop of kids, plus I'm more visible. All I can do is ignore, block, ban, and continually discover that all that leniency and attention I used to give people is something they feel entitled to get.

Same way male strangers act towards me in real life. "Just hear me out. Just let me explain. Just give me two minutes. Just give me a chance. No. I mean a real chance. If it were a real chance, you'd see that I'm a nice guy, so give me a chance to do this the nice way."

Christina Grimmie was shot at a meet + greet and I kept refreshing the news waiting to find out whether she would live, but also because I needed to know whether it was someone she knew or someone who targeted her because of her fame.

I don't know why this mattered to me. I knew that most likely it was an ex-boyfriend, a current boyfriend, a family member. It happens all the time, and if not... well, which one is worse? What do I want the answer to be? Why does it matter? Why do I care?

I've always struggled with how famous to be. Fame is an inconvenience. All I've ever wanted is to run off and be a hermit, and the only reason I didn't stop altogether with my public presence as soon as I could afford to is this responsibility I feel that I can do and say that other people can't. Sometimes because of my experience and expertise and sometimes because I'm not afraid of threats, not of losing subscribers or money and I'm certainly not afraid to disappoint people who don't like what I'm saying. I can walk away at any time without sacrificing my income or my dreams and whatever part of me felt fear broke inside me a long time ago or maybe I just forgot what it's like to feel safe.

Christina Grimmie was shot at a meet + greet by a stranger who waited for his turn on her signing line and who she met with open arms and a smile. He waited his turn.

On Saturday morning I found out she did not live. On Saturday afternoon we found out his name and that he was a stranger and we were still waiting to hear why when the world came apart again.

49 people killed in Orlando at Pulse, a gay club during Pride month on "Latin flavor" night by a single hateful person. 49 people. 49 people, a new set of complicated feelings. It's a much bigger tragedy, yet the sting of identification is not as strong because I'm not straight but I'm straight passing and I like dancing in gay clubs mostly to avoid the attention of entitled straight dudes rather than to avoid the hatred and discrimination that so many people in the LGTBQ+ community are *so* familiar with.

And that fueled this shooting, it demands a response. 49 people killed in a hate crime. I want to talk about so many things. I'm a mathematician and I know all the numbers and I understand systems and I want to tell you all the answers. Everyone is shouting past each other in their grief and I want to say hold on let's think rationally about this. I'm a mathematician and I know what to do. I have numbers. I have analyses.

The thing about a functional democracy is that people need to be educated and informed about reality and I can do education. I know so many nice detached impersonal facts. Couldn't I just do a video about guns or about representation and violence in media? It would be so much easier, but we can't be educated and informed, but we can't be educated and informed when we only talk about the things everyone always talks about. There are systemic problems that live behind closed doors.

Why is it so predictable? Not that the Pulse shooter had beat his ex-wife, but that his ex-wife and her family didn't report to the police that he was beating her. Christina's killer broke his father's fiancee's wrist and she *did* report it to the police. Why is it so predictable that they didn't pursue the case because she was drunk?

Why do we allow ourselves to have a legal system that teaches people that some violence doesn't get taken seriously? Forget the part about domestic violence and gun access. We know most mass shootings are domestic, so why do we frame it in reverse as though being a killer explains a history of domestic violence rather than wondering at the failure of our system to teach consequences for this violence might contribute to its escalation.

Christina Grimmie, like so many women, was killed by a man who wanted her exclusive love, who thought if he put in some effort to change his appearance and lifestyle, then he would deserve her. He had a plan for her life. She was supposed to marry him and her having her own life and boyfriend ruined *everything* and so he went to her signing and waited in line and she met him with open arms and he shot her three times.

[pages of a log of many, many youtube comments saying "marry me"]

It hit me so hard because I wasn't scared of this. I was prepared for this. I always knew it was a possibility. And I've always been practical with my online safety but I wasn't supposed to be right, not about avoiding going to certain events or avoiding meet + greets and not about whatever instinct tells me love is more dangerous than hate.

When I'm walking down the street and think someone's following me, I'm supposed to think I'm paranoid and if after a couple blocks that someone runs up to me and tells me they're a fan or a stranger who was struck by my beauty at the club or just some random person who was following me, I'm not supposed to have been right. When I consider crossing the street to avoid walking past a group of men on the sidewalk and resist that urge because it sounds paranoid and then they shove me up against a building or one of them puts his arm around my waist and demands I attend his office party.

I'm not supposed to have been right when a guy at a bar asks to buy me a drink and my instinct is to make up a lie and be super nice and inflate his ego so that he doesn't become enraged at me and I resist that paranoid urge but instead just say no thanks and then he starts describing exactly how he plans on killing me later, I'm not supposed to have been right.

I'm not supposed to have been right when I don't trust people, when I don't think I'm safe, when I'm closed and cold and hide from the world, I'm not supposed to be right.

Christina was right. Love is right. Trust is right. Dancing your heart out at a gay club is right.

We don't know if Christina's killer intended mass murder, but he was armed for it and he fits the pattern and Christina's brother Marcus probably prevented a mass killing when he tackled the shooter to the ground. The shooter shot himself during the scuffle and people say it was to avoid facing the consequences of his actions, but knowing what I know I would guess it was to avoid living with the shame of yet another one of his plans having gone so differently than it went in his head. He failed.

The media pretends these shooting were random and random and senseless and there's nothing we can do to prevent people from trying to commit mass murder and for me the only thing worse than feeling powerless is to know that actually we are powerful.

I wish I were powerless. I so often wish I were powerless. It would be so much more convenient because I know the most powerful thing I can do right now is talk about this and I don't want to talk about this. I'm sad. I feel sad. That's what I wanted to say.

I put a fair amount of care into doing a good transcript-- it's partly a matter of respect, and partly a matter of it being possible that no one else will do a careful transcript, so this is somewhat archival.

The respect thing-- I once took part in an exercise where people paired off, and then one person would say a sentence or two about a low intensity subject, and then the other person would try to repeat the exact words back. It was amazing how hard it was to get the words right, and how much people cared about being quoted accurately.


From memory: In King Solomon's Ring, Konrad Lorenz talked about how animals signal trustworthiness, and he suggests that, especially without language, what they do is to start an attack and then not follow through. Of course, this has a number of failure modes, but (me speaking here) it's more entertaining than just being reliable.

This relates to "marry me"-- which nonplussed me when I first saw it, but which I've since come to see as a somewhat edgey expression of admiration and not one I want to use. On the other hand, edgey does imply some aggression, and I'd certainly never thought about how it would look to someone who's being harassed, especially considering that harassment can go as far as murder. Aside from that, "marry me" is going to be at least a little annoying for people who take marriage seriously, for people who hate the idea of being married, and for people who wish they were married but aren't.


I've had a safe life as such things go. That is, I talked my way out of being minorly kidnapped once, and there was that time when a man in a bar told me that he liked small women because their skin was easier to cut.

I just rattled on about how of course he wouldn't want to blunt his knife, and after a number of repetitions of that, he gave me a disgusted look and went away.

Under that sort of pressure, my primary goal becomes lowering the emotional temperature. The amount of disociation required makes me feel faintly ill, but it's worked so far. I'm not saying this method works all the time, or that everyone should be able to manage it.


If Vi Hart is right (and I think she is) that the major problem is people getting away with smaller aggressions until some of them cause massive damage, then gun control is rather missing the point.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1084101.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.


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