The Die Is Cast

(by Zuska) Sep 23 2014

Last night was it. After an attempt to file but dimly viewed nails, I asked Mr. Z for a pair of his reading glasses. Donning them I saw the world anew. Oh yes, the nails came into sharper focus; it was a delight to see them clearly, and a surprise at just how much I'd not been seeing. What I really saw, however, was my future of increasing disability.

I've been in denial about how difficult it's become to read my iPhone, how often and how much I have to blow up the screen, how very preferable the iPad has become. No more. My near vision sucks. It's going to get worse. I will one day be as my elders are now: happy youngsters will show me blurry screens of what they say are pictures of their cat; I will nod, smile, say yes I see.  The youngsters will know my vision is bad, but they won't know it, not really. I'll know they mean well and want to include me, and that's why I'll smile. That is, if there are any youngsters who come around when I'm elder. I don't kid myself. I don't have kids.  No kidding. The youngsters, if there are any, will be full of well-meant advice, and I will tell them I don't hear that.

We know what's coming, even as we work out at the gym, we aren't stupid. Unless there's an accident or a terrible illness like cancer, death creeps our way slowly. We make jokes about the reading glass harbinger at restaurants with our friends. We ask our partner to crank the volume on Alex Trebek - and wonder why everyone is mumbling. We dutifully remove treacherous throw rugs, install night lights all over the house, grab a cane for outdoor strolls (and then indoor ones too). We put in grab bars, high-seat toilets, convert to walk-in showers with shower chairs, all on the first floor.

We sell the house and move into a two-bedroom one story condo with a patio and outside maintenance provided, become best friends with the nurses at the clinic and the ER and the technicians at Quest, and upgrade to a walker. We become fond of ramps, acquire a handicap parking pass, complain about the lighting and noise in restaurants. (But not at Eat-n-Park, where the coffee is always just right.)  We upgrade to a better walker, add in a transfer chair, and turn in the car keys (some of us more some of us less reluctantly). We depend increasingly upon our children or the kindness of strangers and home health aides to supply us with Turkey Hill Lemonade Tea. Glasses and dishes and silverware grow so heavy, but we don't have much of an appetite anymore anyway. Our pillbox metastasizes from a discreet manageable one-compartment per day to a giant gargoyle garishly color-coded for morning/noon/dinner/night, permanently perched on the kitchen counter, filled (more or less accurately) by the visiting nurse.

We stay home/move in with a child/go to assisted living and we fall and break a bone/we bleed out from coumadin/we get recurrent resistant UTIs and we get pneumonia/have a stroke/become dehydrated and we die.

Mix and match as preferred, feel free to combine as you like, all permutations are allowed. Eventually, all roads this side of the Rubicon will lead to Rome.

The way that you can know all of this, know it casually from reading or intensely from up-close personal experience, and go on living, the reason you don't start haunting the Hemlock Society website, is cognitive dissonance. You think "eh, there's no good way to go, but I can make it another year, plenty of time for that, and maybe I'll go out with a heart attack in the middle of the night when I'm 80 and still kinda strong" and THEN you fall and break your hip.  Now you aren't strong and well enough to do anything about it. Welcome to the rehab hospital. The rehab hospital is where you go to be helped to be a little less debilitated before you die.

A few weeks ago we were visiting one of our elders at a rehab hospital. At one point I took a break to sit outside - there were some lovely rockers on the "porch", the covered front entrance area, and the sun was shining. A woman older than me, younger than rehab, sat in an adjacent rocker. She was visiting with her friend who sat in a wheelchair bemoaning her condition. The visiting woman offered up the following in a very soothing voice: "Well it comes to everyone eventually, though we never think it will, we think we'll always be young and strong, but it comes to all of us, it will come to me too one day. I think 'I'm always going to be just like this' but I won't, it will come to me too." But the older lady in the wheelchair was not much consoled. Because she doesn't have access to the cognitive dissonance anymore.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of people who live into a ripe old age retaining their wits and vigor, caring for themselves at home, until they die peacefully in their sleep. You could be one of them. Or you could be poor, in which case you will probably die sooner and younger, because you won't have access to as much elaborate health care to prop up your failing body.

If you are not poor, if you are blessed with the resources, I suggest using some of them not for elaborate healthcare but to talk with a doctor or someone trained in elder care about end-of-life planning. I mean a serious and sustained conversation, not a brief chat. In another post I will talk about some things you might like to discuss during such a conversation.

Do not despair! You are young and likely don't even need reading glasses yet! Possibly you even hope to have your oceanfront home drowned by the rising oceans before any of this stuff I'm talking about comes to you!

The fear of death and disability, and the fear of talking about them, is not helpful. Not thinking about these things now means it's much more likely that you could end up in a situation you don't want to be in - experiencing poor quality of life that goes on for years long after you can have any real say over what is done to and for you. I do not mean just in the case of being kept alive by machines. This is what I'll talk about in another post.

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Repost: Hard Science for Hard Men - Language and Meaning

(by Zuska) Sep 12 2014

One more vintage TSZ for the day, to kick off your weekend in style. First published on 8/24/2005, Hard Science For Hard Men - Language and Meaning was another post written in response to a commenter.  In this case the commenter complained about my choice of Marie Curie rather than, say,  Barbara McClintock in a blog post. I found the comment hilarious. But you know, the kind of hilarious that is really sad. I think it's useful for scientists to re-examine their use of the terms "hard science" and "soft skills" especially now when President Obama has so frequently been attacked by the right as "soft". Read on.

 

One of my commenters recently asked whether Barbara McClintock's science was not "hard" enough for me - was this why I had chosen to discuss Marie Curie instead?  (As if there are only the two to chose from, and no other women scientists in the world.  And as if there is a "correct" choice that needed to be made by me.) 

So interesting, this particular usage of the word "hard".  One hears this often in science and engineering circles - physics is a "hard" science; engineers today need "soft" skills as well as the traditional "hard" skills.  All this hard and soft talk makes a girl wonder...

Well, I can do no better at the moment than quote from myself and Cynthia Burack's article, "Telling Stories About Engineering:  Group Dynamics and Resistance to Diversity" in NWSA Journal, vol. 16, no. 1, Spring 2004, pp. 79-95. Here's some of what we had to say about this ubiquitous hard-obssession  in science and engineering land.

On the surface, hard refers to that which has mathematical content or involves the use of hands-on skill with technological equipment.  Soft refers to what is devoid [of these].  [But]...These uses of the modifiers hard and soft have no obvious connection to the skills they denote in engineering.  There is no strong intuitive connection between mathematics and "hardness" that those outside the science and engineering professions would make and that would affirm the usage as reflecting a common sense parallel.  However, connections between masculinity, virility, male sexuality, and hardness are culturally engrained, have unconscious emotional resonance, and are widely and immediately understood.  Likewise, the connection of softness with femininity...Neither are hard and soft understood as equivalent terms...hardness and softness are hierarchically ordered, with what is hard commanding greater respect and recognition than the soft.  It is no accident of language that enemy groups frequently express ridicule by describing each other as soft...The unspoken charge is of effeminacy - the de-sexing and degrading of men through metaphorical impotence.   

When my interrogator accused me of finding McClintock's science insufficiently hard, he used that term in a manner that has widely understood, shared - but implicit - cultural meaning.  Did I not think McClintock was man enough for me?  Was her science too effeminate, too flaccid?  Sigh.  Zuska thinks there are many, many wonderful things to be said about Barbara McClintock's fascinating work, but "hard" is not one of the words she would use.  But then, Zuska has never worried about whether she could get it up. 

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Repost: Why Are There No Great Women Scientists?

(by Zuska) Sep 12 2014

More vintage TSZ. First published on 8/19/2005, Why Are There No Great Women Scientists? was written in response to a commenter who suggested, basically, that there are only so many "stars". Institutions can't be expected to manufacture them. And what are gonna do if all the stars just happen to be white dudes. "What can you do if all the great scientists are men?" is related to the question "Why are there no great women scientists?" And that question has already been thoroughly addressed.  Read on:

 

...we immediately recognize this as a problem that has been solved, in Linda Nochlin's classic essay "Why Are There No Great Women Artists?"  (All quotes here are drawn from the version of Nochlin's essay printed in the 1971 Basic Books edition of "Woman in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness" ed. V. Gornick & B. K. Moran.) 

As we proceed, just think "scientist" wherever you see "artist" and "science" for "art".  Let us consider the opening paragraph of Nochlin's tour de force:

"Why are there no great women artists?"  This question tolls reproachfully in the background of discussions of the so-called woman problem, causing men to shake their heads regretfully and women to grind their teeth in frustration.  Like so many other questions involved in the red-hot feminist controversy, it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer:  "There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness."  The assumptions lying behind such a question are varied in range and sophistication, running anywhere from "scientifically" proven demonstrations of the inability of human beings with wombs rather than penises to create anything significant, to relatively openminded wonderment that women, despite so many years of near-equality - and after all, a lot of men have had their disadvantages too - have still not achieved anything of major significance in the visual arts.

So then, the response:  re-discovering neglected heroines of the past; staking a claim for women's different approach to the subject at hand; and then, the next, more interesting stage.  Nochlin says this is when we begin to realize "to what extent our very consciousness of how things are in the world has been conditioned - and too often falsified - by the way the most important questions are posed."  Who is formulating these questions, she asks.  The woman problem is too uncomfortably similar in formulation for her to the Nazi phrasing "Jewish problem".   She opines: 

Obviously, for wolves...it is always best to refer to the lamb problem in the interests of public relations, as well as for the good of the lupine conscience.  Indeed, in our time of instant communication, "problems" are rapidly formulated to rationalize the bad conscience of those with power.

Oh my, she does have a way with words.  Finally, she says:

...the Great Artist is conceived of as one who has genius; genius, in turn, is thought to be an atemporal and mysterious power somehow embedded in the person of the Great Artist...It is no accident that the whole crucial question of the conditions generally productive of great art has so rarely been investigated, or that attempts to investigate such general problems have, until fairly recently, been dismissed as unscholarly, too broad, or the province of some other discipline like sociology. 

So relevant for us today, as we are just beginning to explore what conditions are necessary to the production of a diverse science and engineering workforce!  Now all this is old hat to the PoMo humanities folks who have moved way beyond and would laugh that we are even discussing this.  But I have been trying to tell my friends over on the other side of the university for a long time that science and engineering are 30 years behind in the feminist revolution.

Anyway:  so, why no great women scientists?  why do all the great scientists happen to be white males?  You are asking the wrong questions, dudes. 

And if you still can't resist obnoxiously wagging Albert Einstein under our noses (as if his life should be reduced to an example), then may I offer for your consideration Marie Curie and her two Nobel Prizes?  When you can show me some guy who spent his days out in a shed stirring two tons of pitchblende in a cauldron over an open fire to isolate a tiny little dot of radium, and was at the same time completely responsible for the care and raising of two children, one of whom grew up to be a scientist and win her own Nobel Prize, then we'll talk. 

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Repost: Research Shows Private Schools Are Awesome

(by Zuska) Sep 12 2014

Everything "vintage" and "repurposed" is popular these days, so why not some vintage repurposed TSZ? Originally published 8/2/2006 and titled "More From the Journal of Exceedingly Obvious Results", this classic TSZ is, sadly, just as relevant today as it was eight years ago.

 

This just in from JEOR, as reported in the Chronicle's news blog:

Researchers at Harvard University say private high schools give their students an advantage over those who attend public schools.

I am shocked, shocked! to find that an advantage is going on at private schools! 

Who would have thought that our excellent system for adequately funding our public schools through the lottery of property taxes, and the generally large student-to-teacher ratios in public schools, would not be competitive with private institutions and their smaller student-to-teacher ratios?  Wouldn't you think that property values in southwestern PA would buy you just as good a public education as you could get at, say Phillips Exeter?  Or that a class size of 30 offers just as much opportunity for your child to get excellent individual attention from the teacher as, say, a class size of 10 at the local Roman Catholic high school? I would have too.  That's why we need JEOR to keep us informed. 

So what I say is, stop wasting your breath lobbying your senators and representatives to do a better job of funding a topnotch public education for every child.  Just grab your kid and scurry on over to the nearest private school as fast as you can.  And if you can't afford it or there aren't any in your county, well, that's just too bad, isn't it?  That will teach you to be born into the not-adequately-privileged class. 

There are some who say money isn't the answer.  I remember one Republican who once told me that he thought textbooks weren't necessary to truly teach a child well, that he could teach a child math without a textbook.  I asked him if he would prefer for his child to go to a school with teachers like him but absolutely no textbooks.  He got a sour look and refused to answer me.  Yeah, I thought so, is what I said.  Why is it that money is not the answer only for the poor kids?  

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Spousal Support Part 2

(by Zuska) Aug 04 2014

It was last weekend I decided the grease-stained stainless steel tea kettle with the half-missing whistle spout had reach the unbearably uncleanable stage. "It's time to throw this out and buy a new one!" I said. Mr. Z agreed. "I'm going to buy a new one this afternoon!" I declared as I tossed the old one in the trash.

A few moments later Mr. Z said, "When are you going to get a new tea kettle?" He sounded kind of uneasy.

"In a few hours, when I go out to get the lemons. The Giant Box Housegoods store is in the same plaza as the grocery store."

"Maybe you should keep the old one for now, until you get the new one," he suggested.

"Why on earth would I keep that disgusting tea kettle for two more hours when I am going right out to get a new one?"

He hesitated. "Well...that's a lot of time between now and then. Anything could happen. You could have a migraine by then and not be able to go." Pause. "That's just how I think these days."

My heart broke with love and sadness. I said, "It makes me feel really loved to know that you would worry about me. But I feel so bad to know that you worry so much that you feel like that. I don't want to be a burden to you." I said, "If I have a migraine and can't get the tea kettle, we'll boil water in a pot on the stove. We'll boil water in the microwave. We'll manage. It's summer and we aren't drinking tea much anyway."

Dear reader, I was trying to tell him I can still cope with life even if, even when, the migraine strikes. But he knows I can't cope as well. And despite the neurologist's assurance that with ten years past, my stroke risk is just the same as any other woman my age, he sees every migraine as the terrifying potential prelude to another stroke.

Right now there are Things going on, Serious Things, with his parents, and that seems to keep changing every day. The ground underfoot is shifting, uneven, treacherous. He wants to be able to count on me going out to buy the teapot. But he can't. And neither can I, truly. The migraines have been a little worse lately. Chocolate is still my friend, but it seems peanuts, bananas, yogurt, and milk have deserted me. (But not raw onion! I can still eat raw onion! At least the scallions.) Either that, or there's a med that still needs some adjusting. I'm crossing my fingers for the med.

Right now he needs my support as much as I ever needed his. He's not a talker; what he needs is as much stability and sense of homey-ness, calm and order in our house that can be provided. He knows I hide headaches from him so as not to worry about him. So every time I'm in the bathroom if he thinks he hears a pill bottle he interrogates me: do I have a headache? what am I taking? shouldn't I go lay down? Meanwhile I know he hides a lot of the news about the Serious Things so as not to distress me any more (because I have my own family things, and lost a brother and mother in the past two years, and then just this past month my mother's sister passed.) So every time he goes outside to talk on the cell phone I think it's his sister, and more bad news, and I worry about extreme scenarios, but don't ask, because he's not a talker, and I don't want to make him talk if he doesn't want to.

He says I do a lot to help him, but because none of what I do that helps him is what I would want done for me, I feel like I'm doing nothing. And I don't know what I'd do without him, but because he can't magically prevent or stop my migraines, he often feels he is not doing anything of value for me.

If you are a talker, say thanks to your spouse for the support. If you are a doer, do something to show your thanks.

If you are in a talker/doer relationship: talkers, please try to recognize what the doers are saying with their doing; doers, please try to understand what the talkers need to do with their talking.

In the advanced talker/doer relationship, doers can endure and even start small conversations with their talker, and talkers can learn silence and the value  of "now" for getting around to that Thing That Needs Doing.

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Spousal Support (Part 1)

(by Zuska) Aug 04 2014

Of all the discouraging wounds that post-stroke migraines bestowed upon me, by far the worst was turning chocolate into my enemy.

(Regular Zuskateers know that about a decade ago I had a migrainous stroke, and the stroke itself made my migraines worse, to the point that I was forced to quit working. I have never yet been able to return to the workforce.)

Right at the first, nearly blind, I had no migraines at all. Alas they were not rooted out. As my vision returned, the migraines crept back into my life.  Have you seen English ivy working its uninvited way up a tree? Even an oak must eventually succumb to the slow smother. So it was for me as the migraines in time had me felled, bedridden in pain.

Before the stroke I had never really had what one may call "triggers" - specific foods or events that were reliably connected to production of a migraine. After the stroke the world around me rapidly mutated into one big trigger, as once innocent foods and things and weather turned on me. Raw onions; then cooked onions; then anything with the slightest amount of onion powder in it - even ketchup, even the dollop you might put on a hamburger.  Peanut butter; then yogurt; then bananas. Red wine goes without saying, and while we're at it, say nothing about any form of alcohol. One day, it was just a single small whiff of someone's cigar smoke from afar that did me in.

Visual triggers were now a problem, too. Many things interacted with my scotoma, a remnant of my stroke-blindness. Switching tv channels too rapidly. Bright sunlight on winter afternoons. Very busy lighted displays in an electronics store. The cover of Oliver Sack's book "Migraine", depicting a painting by a migraneur of his mosaic aura. Any depiction of a visual aura.  Looking at the rotating rows of corn on a cob as I rolled it in butter.

I had once pooh-poohed the notion that changes in the weather could cause a migraine, but no more. Every approaching thunderstorm made my head ache, or ache worse if already sore.

There was so little left that I could eat - everything had onion powder in it. There was so little I could safely look at and be certain of unmenacing ocularity.  There was nowhere I could hide, for we lived in Kansas, and Kansas was always having thunderstorms drop by to visit.

But I still had chocolate. Chocolate was my friend. It would never hurt me.

Until it did. With a vengeance.

Mr. Z theorized that it was cheap chocolate that hated me and that high-end chocolate would do me no harm.  Naturally the experiment must be done! We bought the best we could find. I took one eager bite of one most desirably delicious truffle and BAM! You go to your room right now, young lady, and stay on your bed! No playing with any of your toys till you think about what you've done and say you're sorry!

During this period I slid into despair about my life, about its ever-narrowing, tighter, restrictive circle. I wept openly to Mr. Z that all was now pointless. He gripped me firmly by the shoulders, looked me straight in the eye, and said:

"Someday, this will change. Someday you will eat raw onion again. I know it."

Well, he might as well have said "Someday, wild geese will voluntarily stop shitting all over the sidewalks next to every little man-made pond." It was that ridiculous. He didn't even say "you will eat chocolate"; he went straight to raw onion, the first and worst of my enemies.  But he said it with such gentle strength and force of conviction that I believed him.

I asked him if he really thought so, and he said yes, and did he promise, and he said yes, and there was a hug and a kiss, and I believed.  This, Zuskateers, is the only time in my life I have ever felt actual faith. I had absolutely no evidence, nothing to go on, no reason to suggest that I would ever again eat raw onion atop a hamburger on a bun with a dollop of ketchup and smile afterwards. But I let loose my despair, and shouldered up just the backpack of pain and depression. Perhaps, just perhaps, I would eat onion someday.

This man, Zuskateers, had seen every bit of my journey. He stood by me night and day and never uttered a single complaint about his burden. No whining about how we didn't go out to restaurants anymore, or the foods we didn't eat anymore (because an ill person and a working person don't have strength and time to cook separate meals), or the places we didn't go together, or the necessity of issuing warnings for tv channel surfing, or the need to wait on me with food and drink and medicine when I was wrapped solid in migraine vines. No fuss about the endless doctor appointments. He offered me the tender care a mother would give a beloved child.  And he lent me his strength to carry on at the moment I was most in need.

Over time, his continued care and regular botox treatments vanquished the enemies, one by one. The last shall be first, and the first last - Chocolate, o my beloved Chocolate! You are once again mine!

And so on, and so on, until sometime five or six years ago, my dear Zuskateers, I. ate. raw. onion. I did! I did! I did!

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It's Like They Wrote It Just For Me

(by Zuska) Aug 01 2014

So thanks, guys. It's a blessing.

"What story is beginning? if this one is no more?"

Lyrics here.

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It's Like They Wrote It Just For Me

(by Zuska) Aug 01 2014

So thanks, guys. It's a blessing.

"What story is beginning? if this one is no more?"

Lyrics here.

No responses yet

Truly Social Media

(by Zuska) Jul 18 2014

A change of scenery is an excellent treatment for depression, anxiety, and worry. So Mr. Z and I are going out tonight to see a band that he never wanted to see before.  But you know, they are taper friendly, and he has this fancy new bit of gear, and it's nice weather, and his taper friends all asked if he couldn't come out and play this weekend, and I said yes honey run along! Of course I am running along with him.

It's up in the Poconos, an outdoor show, and should be a beautiful evening so how bad can it be. I love the taper dudes, they are great guys, but sometimes hilarious to me. They all call each other up and encourage each other to go to various shows. "Take your rig out to play" "Your rig needs to get out and get some air" "Time to give that rig some exercise" and so on. Their behavior is indeed much as the proverbial women-going-to-the-restroom-together. They do not wish to go to a show alone, it is more congenial to have a taper friend to go with them.

They will tell you it's for safety - the music's safety. There has to be a backup. If one taper's recording is messed up, there will be another recording "for the archive", "for posterity" because they are in the business of preserving music.

And part of that is true.  But mostly I think it is because, surprisingly, taping is a social thing. It may look to us like a solitary pursuit but they know better than us. They have inside jokes about it, about the characteristics of the "taper" (with a picture of a tapir on a t-shirt) - the taper erects temporary structures, the taper does not like glosticks or beach balls (see here for further explanation) etc.  They know they are a tribe. Music led them to the tribe, but they are not bound by a particular music. It is the calling of the tribe to preserve music.

The calling of the tribe: to preserve music, and to gather the highest quality gear for the preserving of music, so as to have the rationale for the necessity of going out to preserve music. With the tribe. Socializing, by the media, with the media, for the media. It's all good!

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Competitive Farm Marketing

(by Zuska) Jul 14 2014

You cannot sleep in on Saturday and expect the black raspberries to sit around waiting for you to show up at the farmer's market. You just can't. They will have up and left you forlorn and bereft, as they jump quickly, even frantically, into the first reusable cloth bag or colorful wicker basket that strolls by.

The natural habitat of berries at a farmer's market is close to the pay station. It's no good standing around waiting politely for the line to shuffle along the table to the berries. Say "excuse me" if you must, but slip in between and grab some of those jumpy berries NOW, and return to the end of the line, holding on tightly. You will be ever so glad you did once you reach the pay station and survey the scorched landscape that was once a lush berry patch. Remain vigilant until you have paid for the berries and secured them in your reusable cloth bag/colorful wicker basket. Because when you set them down on the table to retrieve your wallet, so as to make an offering to the berry gods, 99% of the time the hand of the person behind you will instantly hover over your berries while they ask, in foolish hope and lust combined: "Are these yours?" Whatever you are in engaged in at the moment, stop and lay a hand possessively somewhere on the berries with a firm "Yes!" that brooks no sharing.

Secure the berries carefully in your vehicle, in a cooler if you can't park in the shade. Then, and only then, return to the market to shop for the more abundant comestibles, the zucchinis and cucumbers, the cabbages and carrots, the peppers and potatoes. These will make the bulk of your meals in the coming week but the berries will make your bliss.

In your childhood you watched cartoons on Saturday morning and then tramped the woods with your friends, collecting the berries in a bucket, eating as you went, returning home with stained hands and a pailful that your mother turned into something delicious. You only had to compete with the birds, and there was enough for everyone anyway. But you washed your hands, and grew up, and went away to college, and then to grad school, and then all over the place, and now you live a cosmopolitan life in a city that offers so much more than you ever could have dreamed of in your little home town. You can have anything you want, really. You can even have your berries and eat them, too.

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