Singularity

Tag: Writing

New House Journal. Day 9.

by on Apr.24, 2015, under Life with Frood, Planet Sam, Writing

As yet, communication is still reliant on either voice contact or a mobile signal that never improves beyond General Packet Radio Service.

Great news! After much patient discussion with the choirs of internet angels, we are to be reconnected to the virtual world on Wednesday the 29th of this month. This is later than we had hoped, but earlier than I have come to expect from previous experience of reinstating such nebulous lines of communication with the outside world. Better yet, the connection will be one of these ultra-modern, exceedingly quick affairs I have previously seen advertised on the moving picture box, but not experienced for myself. A wonderful woman called Christine explained to me that the standard copper cables in this part of the world had proved so inferior to the company quality standard, the company had taken the decision to replace them.

Clearly, this is where Fibre Unlimited comes from

Clearly, this is where Fibre Unlimited comes from

Such is the speed of this new connection, which I understand is made of some type of silk — Christine used the term fibre, and as this is for connecting to the web one is led to infer it must be extruded from the abdomen of some kind of arthropod, perhaps perforce, as one cannot imagine such a thing being domesticated — we are obliged to replace our now antiquated equipment with new equivalents. No more tin can attached to string, although one cannot help but note that string is also a type of fibre.

A conversation with another angel, this one from the choir of appliances, has produced an appointment with an engineer to whom the relevant spare parts for our oven have already been dispatched. In less than a fortnight we should once again have full use of our cookery station, and I greatly look forward to our first fresh loaf of bread in what is now month. A mere two days after that a gentleman from a nearby town is arriving to sweep our chimneys and inspect the wood burner with a view to offering a quote for repair.

With the arrival of a replacement steam generator, and these appointments in place, we can see the end of the initial phase of transition. By the end of this week we hope to have removed all trace of our presence at our previous locale, lest our enemies use it to find us and wreak terrible and unjust revenge for imagined slights.

I have now acquired the relevant maps for the new location, and have undertaken a small amount of exploration. The velocipedes are eager to exercise, disappointed as they are that riding to and from work each day is now an impossibility. There may be a compromise involving utilising the railway service for part of the trip, but that experiment is for a later date.

My mother has been to visit, presenting us with a magnificent birdbath. She knows how important it is to us that we rapidly form excellent relationships with the local wildlife, our first line of defence. Already the resident blackbird, a fine fellow called Edgar, has shown his appreciation for this wonderful and thoughtful gift.

I think we could be very happy here.

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Last Call for Last.fm

by on Mar.29, 2014, under Planet Sam, process, Writing

avatarI’ve been a long-term paying subscriber to Last.fm. Paying, mind. I include a link to my profile in any list of social media addresses. If you look down and to the right, you’ll find a widget showing what I have most recently listened to, a service provided by a Last.fm app.

Music is important to me for my writing. As a neuro-atypical synaesthete, for whom background noise can occasionally be physically distressing, music is an obligatory defence against the outside world when I’m trying to lose myself in a story, whether writing or reading. I listen to music when I’m training. I can’t imagine life without it. I spend more than I should on music – for the shapes, for the soundscapes, for the inspiration, for the motivation, for the rhythm, sometimes for the distraction – and I love discovering new artists. I used to be a heavy Pandora user. When that ceased being available in the UK, I switched to Last.fm, which offered a similar service.

Two days ago I received an email that said the service was changing.

From 28th April, our subscription radio streaming service will come to an end. This means subscriber radio will no longer work on any platform or device. We’re making this change to focus on improving scrobbling and recommendations, while continuing our goal of being your #onemusichome. Of course you’ll still be able to listen to all of your favourite stations on the new Last.fm Player, as well as listen to your favourite tracks with our recently launched on demand playback feature via Spotify.

If, like me, you’re not sure what that means, allow me to simplify.

The last.fm streaming service ceases to be from the 28th April. You will no longer be able to open the desktop app, turn on your favourite radio channel, and have it play for as long as you like with no ads. Instead, you will have to go to the website, where you can start your radio station, but it will stream videos from YouTube, complete with the adverts.

Even if you subscribe.

As a subscriber, you can get 30% discount in the forthcoming merchandise store (woot, I’m sure) and use tags to exert some illusion of control over your ad-filled youtube stream. And your avatar will say “subscriber”, so everyone knows you’re a sucker prepared to pay for a 30% discount on a lousy t-shirt.

Needless to say, I am cancelling my subscription.

I don’t know if there’s anything out there offering Last.fm’s comprehensive level of curation and discovery. They had one of the largest catalogues on the internet for streaming music and cross-platform availability. They had a range encompassing obscure industrial ambient and popular classical. I had prog rock, opera, trance, dance, electronica, baroque… I have yet to find a genre Last.fm has excluded, whether by act or omission.

Last.fm claim that they are going to focus on scrobbling, but I have no idea where they get the idea that anyone is going to pay for a service that merely records what one has been listening to recently. Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun knowing how my musical habits are changing, but my musical habits are constantly changing. I don’t really need something to tell me that.

There are plenty of artists who have earned royalties because I discovered them on a streaming service. Artists I didn’t know, like Roly Porter (I now own his two most recent studio albums on CD); artists I knew and loved but whose catalogue included songs I hadn’t heard before, or hadn’t heard in a very long time. Streaming radio is a way for people who love music to discover new things to love, and people are willing to pay for things they love.

Yes, there will always be those who say why pay for something if it’s available for free, but they’re the hawks of Game Theory, and they’re outnumbered by those who want to reward the creator of something good. If we don’t reward our artists, they will stop making art. Most people with half a brain cell can comprehend that.

I have spent 6 years teaching Last.fm what I like, which is a considerable investment, and now starts the difficult quest for another streaming service, and the painful process of teaching it what I like.

Any recommendations?

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I can haz music?

by on Mar.07, 2014, under Planet Sam, rambling

avatarI have a Ford Mondeo Estate. He’s called Claude, in line with the Frood Standard Naming Convention*. I do love my car. He’s big and red and swallows two bicycles without thinking about it. When I race, I can lay Thokk or Peregrine nicely in the back and don’t have to worry about them being damaged.

The one problem is the stereo.

Back in the day, this thing had a 6 CD multichanger, but it ate my CDs. It just swallowed them, much like Claude swallows bikes. I ended up with 8 CDs in there, all trapped, while the CD player insisted it was empty.

Feed me, it said, whenever I pressed the eject button. I’M HUNGRY.

Needless to say, it wouldn’t play.

So we had to use the radio. Which was fine, until the radio started cutting out. Initially we thought it had got damp in the car wash, but no. It was merely possessed. After a while, whatever demon was infesting it and eating the tunes gave up and went away, presumably sated, and I have spent the last couple of years listening contentedly to Classic FM while driving around in my big red Claude (not a euphemism).

When Frood achieved New Job recently, we had to acquire another car, as he needs one for work. We now have a small, greenish-grey Ford Fiesta, called Bill for short (we’re still working on pronunciation of his full name). Claude took against Bill – not in any specific, spiteful way. He’s a big boy, he’s above that sort of thing. He knows Bill can’t take two bikes and all our plush camping gear. He knows he’s more comfortable for long journeys and is one of my most important pieces of triathlon gear. He knows he’s loved.

Nevertheless, he has decided to host a radio demon again, and my FM radio is now cutting out after a couple of minutes. I don’t know if he felt sorry for the one living in Bill’s radio when we first got him (as Bill’s radio was doing the same thing but works fine, now), or what, but Classic FM is lost.

I’ve been listening to Absolute Radio on Medium Wave, instead. They have a no-repeat guarantee, and that means they play a lot of old favourites, including songs I haven’t heard in years.

I listen to music when writing, and need to match the shape of the music to what I’m writing. Thus, I necessarily have a wide range of music in my collection. I acquire music usually by hearing something I really like, or which matches a specific shape in a work in progress, or gives me an idea for a brand new story. My most recent purchases have included Verdi’s Macbeth (they used Patria Oppressa as the music in the Hannibal episode Sorbet and I fell in love), Sky (a prog group with John Williams, ermagerd – one day someone will buy me a copy of the now highly-collectible Cadmium and I’ll have a wibbly-wobbly flashback to being 11 years old and reading Ursula Le Guin in bed), and Aion (I love The Serpent’s Egg).

Then along came Absolute Radio, and I’ve had too many moments of “Oh gods, I love this!” over the past couple of weeks. I’ve had to add two R.E.M. albums (WHY did we not have any already?) and today I gave in to the impulse to grab some Kula Shaker.

I need to stop. I know this stuff is cheap, mostly – certainly cheaper than a night out, which we don’t do – but, seriously, I have books and bike parts looking at me reproachfully from my “to get” list, and I’m at serious risk of falling out with Fingal permanently.

I should persuade that radio demon to depart from Claude so I can have Classic FM back. Or switch to the Gaelic language radio station, which is largely unintelligble.

*Names must use the final three letters of the number plate in order, although they may occur any place in the word. Claude’s number plate ends AUE. I’ve also had cars named Rasputin and Voltaire.

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Change is in the air

by on Sep.21, 2013, under Geekery, Planet Sam, website, Writing

avatarToday it’s the Autumn Equinox, although autumn arrived here in the ‘shire a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been grateful for getting our first wood delivery in early; the fire has already been in use on the cold evenings as the nights draw in. It’s remarkable how quickly things change when they get going. It’s almost as if winter has attached a big bit of elastic to the sun, and while summer clings on as long as it can, eventually the strain gets too much and it snaps back. We’re in the penduluum stage right now, with cold nights and warm days, sudden showers and oddly hot, humid lunch breaks.

The weather isn’t the only thing that’s changing. In some vague effort to tidy things up and make this blog slightly less disjointed*, I have started a new blog over at ravenbait.com. I will use that to focus on my writing, leaving this blog — my home on the internet for 15 years now — for all the random stuff that fills in the gaps§. I’m not a big one for cross-posting, although I’m not saying I never do it. I doubt I’ll take all the writing away from this site as it’s such a big part of my life, but I won’t be cluttering up the writing blog with Playstation posts, recipes, triathlon, wittering about adverts, complaining about Doctor Who (unless it’s a comment on specifics of the writing), gear reviews or odes to bicycles. And Stitch. Mustn’t forget Stitch.

Writing buddy

If you come here for the velocipedes and the wittering, carry on as you were. You won’t notice much. If you come here to read what I think about writing, specifically my writing, then take yourself over to ravenbait.com where I’m slowly building up steam.

* ‘Less disjointed’ is all relative, you understand. This is me we’re talking about.
§ And it’s a tight squeeze for a lot of it, I can assure you.

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Story Sale, Chapbook Announcement, Reading, Race Results

by on Jul.28, 2013, under fiction, Triathlon, Writing

avatarI am thrilled and delighted to announce that my science fiction story When Shepherds Dream of Electric Sheep will appear in the Looking Landwards anthology from Newcon Press. I am over the moon to share a table of contents with such well-known and exciting authors, and my thanks to Ian Whates for picking my story. The book launches in October at BristolCon, and is being produced in collaboration with the Institution of Agricultural Engineers to celebrate their 75th anniversary.

Thanks are also due to my British Science Fiction Association crit group, Orbiter 6, whose harsh on writing but supportive of writers attitude has helped me enormously in the time I’ve been with them.

On the 14th September, at the Douglas Hotel, Market Street, Aberdeen, we will launch the next Lemon Tree Writers chapbook, Point of Balance, containing 6 pieces of short and flash fiction from LTW members, including me. The cover is by Alibarbarella and we are looking into making it available for sale as a print (minus the text, obviously!) at the launch.

Point of Balance cover

I can also report that my flash homage to Russell T Davies, Why Don’t You Switch Off Your Television Set And Go And Do Something Less Boring Instead has been picked for performance as part of the Aberdeen Literary Festival, New Words. I will be reading this piece at the Lemon Zest event at the Peacock Visual Arts Centre on Castle Street in Aberdeen. The event starts at 19:30 on the 15th September, which is the day after our chapbook launch, so it’ll be a busy weekend. Luckily I’ve no races planned!

Speaking of races, I’m feeling particularly kick arse today as, on top of all of the above, I won my first ever race, even though the bike leg was cancelled due to flooding. I will post a full report when the final times have been released, but I can say in summary that today is made of AWESOME and WIN.

More days like today please!

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Restless

by on Jun.08, 2013, under Planet Sam, rambling

avatarI love living in Scotland. I missed it terribly while I was down south and experienced a profound sense of relief when I came back. I spent the best part of twenty years in England, and the only way I can think to describe the difference is to imagine what it feels like to be on a crowded train, where you can’t move without bumping into someone. Then imagine what it’s like to be walking on a hillside with only a few other people around and none of them especially close. The difference is one of expansion, but then that might be the synaesthesia talking.

Then again, in Scotland we have places like this:

The beach

And this:

Heather hues

So it’s an odd thing for me to experience, as I do today, the sudden urge to pack up and go to another country. I have an itch to revisit Bavaria, or the Austrian Tyrol; to spend some time in Scandinavia or acquaint myself with the Basque country; to explore the hinterlands of Russia or hike the Caucasus. The other tell-tale and oh-so-familiar sign of restlessness is the ready distraction of my collection of recipe books, as RB2 declares dissatisfaction with everything on our current menu list and demands NEW FOOD.

I have no idea what has brought this on. It’s as sudden and unpredictable as a summer squall and, while familiar, not something that has happened in two or three years. In a couple of weeks, I’m visiting Toulouse for the wedding of a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in too long to mention, and perhaps that will satisfy the itchy feet.

Tomorrow there is Knockburn Loch sprint triathlon, and today I’m chained to my desk with deadlines glowering at me over the temporal near horizon. If that doesn’t serve to distract me, it may be time to start planning a roadtrip.

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Guest appearance on the Literature Show

by on May.18, 2013, under Writing

avatarHot on the heels of Fish coming out in print, this afternoon I will be the guest on the Literature Show on Schmu FM. I’ll be chatting about writing, synaesthesia, and music with Mark Pithie and Ian Anderson.

You can listen in on 99.8MHz if you’re in the Aberdeen area, or on the website from anywhere at all. The show starts at 18:00 BST (6pm, or 17:00 Zulu: here’s a handy converter). The facebook event page is here, and I think you can add any questions or comments there and they may end up in the show.

If you can’t make the live show, you can listen in later from the archive.

I’ve not been on radio before, so this is quite exciting. It should be fun!

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FISH in print!

by on May.05, 2013, under fiction, Writing

avatarI emerge, blinking, bleary and grumpy like a disturbed hamster, from the double insomnia fuel of deadlines and on-call, to announce that Fish is now available from Amazon.

As I’m sure you remember, Fish is the anthology from Dagan Books that contains my dark slipstream story What the Water Gave Her. This was described by SF Signal as:

…a dark, weird and lovely tale about a misunderstood girl, the fish she talks to, and the other things she sees.

Fish cover

Buying this book will not only get you my story, but will also put works by authors such as Ken Liu and Cat Rambo, Polenth Blake and Corinne Duyvis on your shelf.

Fish is a wonderful mix of new and established voices, offering a range of work from the dark to the whimsical, from science fiction to myth, and in between and none of the above. It has exquisite art by Galen Dara inside and on the cover.

I’ve been waiting to post about it because I, like many of my friends, am very much a lover of the printed form. Now you, too, can experience the thrill of new book smell coupled with the excitement of new work from authors you’ve heard of, and work from authors who may become firm favourites.

“I describe Fish as effortless, dream-like, diverse and exquisite, which certainly holds true as I consider the anthology to be a revelation, because it’s just fish. No restrictions upon genre, no neatly defined prompt to cater to specific tastes. It’s just you and the stories and the fish. Simple and yet so risky. As you read Fish, you step further into a dark and undisturbed ocean where you see reflected light dance across scales and experience ink-black beauty with sharp teeth.” – Haralambi Markov, Alternative Typewriter

Those of you across the Pond can buy Fish from Amazon.com. If you are fully committed to digital, you can still buy your DRM-free ebook directly from Dagan for $4.99. EPUB for NOOK and other readers, here, MOBI for Kindle and other readers, here.

It’s also available from Amazon UK for £3.28 (about the price of a pint, these days), Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

Share the love!

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Summer’s End

by on Nov.01, 2012, under Writing

avatarIt’s November. I love autumn, and the November weather is always an exciting mix of cold, sharp, crisp sunny days filled with spectacular colour; wet, dismal weeks of heavy mists, mizzle and downpours; and the odd freeze bringing snow, ice and cold-hurty fingers and knees because I’ve stupidly opted for cycling mitts and shorts. The changeable weather traditionally has matched how I feel about this time of year. Much as I love the season, and birthdays, and the way the cooler temperatures mean I can train harder, for some reason life usually chooses this time of year to throw various crises at me, so I don’t get to enjoy it as much as I’d like to.

I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo twice, and failed each time as life has got in the way. I didn’t bother in 2010 because things got squirelly before I got as far as making the commitment. I didn’t bother last year, either. I had just changed job and packed up to move a couple of hundred miles north. I did not have time or mental space to think about trying to write 50,000 words in a month.

It has, however, been a pretty good year. It has had its ups and downs, as all years do, but the positives outweigh the negatives and we’re in a reasonably good place. As superstitious as I am about my birth month, I think I’m going to be brave.

Writing a book in a month isn’t brave. No. A little crazy, maybe, but not brave. No, I’m going to be brave by assuming I can make it this year: that whatever life chooses to throw at me I can get through it without it throwing me completely off track.

And I actually like my working title, which is a first. So this month, as well as the short stories I’m working on with deadlines in the next few weeks, I’ll be attempting to complete NaNoWriMo. If you want to add me as a writing buddy my name there is (as always) Ravenbait.

Here’s to November.

NaNoWriMo

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Bad Fan Sam

by on Oct.28, 2012, under Reviews, television

avatarI want to talk Who.

But first I want to remind everyone that I am a Bad fan. I don’t just love the things I love: I hold them to high standards, and am willing to express my disapproval when they fail to meet them, because the high standards are what made me fall in love with them in the first place. I don’t like falling out of love with things. It makes me sad.

You see, there are three kinds of writing that I class as good. There is the writing that makes me want to read more by that author. I enjoy it, it entertains me, it serves its purpose of allowing me to escape for a while. Some of those works become old friends, and it doesn’t matter that I could practically quote them word for word: I still derive pleasure from reading them. Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin are authors in this category. Then there is work that I admire for its prose or its bravery, its experimentation or poetry, its language or ideas. I will read it, admire it, then put it away and probably never come back to it. Flann O’Brien, James Joyce and Iain M Banks all write like this.

Then there is the really good stuff. Writing that inspires me. Writing that inspires me not only to read but to write. Roger Zelazny, Alfred Bester, Margaret Atwood, Octavia E Butler, Tim Powers, Iain Banks and Kim Stanley Robinson have written works that I have read and re-read and dreamed secret and not-so-secret dreams about being able to write that well — not like them, but as well as them. Kim Stanley Robinson inspired me not only to write but to pursue environmental science. Alfred Bester made me think that it’s possible to turn synaesthesia into literature. Zelazny showed me how to make literary science fiction exciting. Atwood and Butler demonstrated that it’s possible to write about otherness without losing the connection with humanity. Powers taught me that a writer can repeat a plot without writing the same story (to be fair, so did Moorcock, but he didn’t have the prose of Powers). Iain Banks showed how to pack oodles of story into sparse text.

These writers inspired me, and I don’t care what genre or medium in which someone writes, part of a writer’s job is to inspire others to write. Part of a writer’s job is to do it properly. Someone who is being given a huge platform for his or her work has a responsibility to write to a high standard, because it’s on show, and it’s going to demonstrate to a new generation of content-producers what makes good work.

And I’m sorry, but recent Who has fallen down very badly in that regard. If I had written any one of those stories and submitted it to either of my crit groups, I fully expect they would, quite rightly, have ripped it to shreds.

Plenty of people have had a go at Asylum of the Daleks — just typing out the title makes me laugh in a sad, despairing way. I can’t bring myself to go over the awfulness that was this episode. It had two lines, only two, that were of any value:

“You think hatred is beautiful?”
“Perhaps that is why we have never been able to kill you.”

The rest of it, short of a decent performance from Jenna Louise Coleman, was a mass of plot holes and hand-waving that we’re supposed to forgive because it’s Doctor Who and it was bombastic and full of SPECIAL EFFECTS and DRAMA.

So they put the self-destruct INSIDE impenetrable defences?

Chris Chibnall picked up the baton and managed to make me like Pond for a whole episode. He does pull it out of the bag every so often — I also liked 42, from back when RTD was at the helm, although I didn’t rate the Silurian episodes from Series 5 all that much. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was probably the best of the recent episodes: rampant silliness that didn’t take itself too seriously and had enormous amounts of fun without trying too hard.

I haven’t liked any of the Toby Whithouse episodes, and A Town Called Mercy was no exception. A big deal was made out of the Doctor picking up a gun, but only in interviews about the episode. In the episode itself it was hardly a big deal. Yet I think back to The End of Time and the Doctor refusing to pick up a gun for anything. He is the ultimate paradoxical pacifist, and the watering-down of this absolute stance has given rise to endless frustration of late. Is this what happens when writers of a British series try to tailor their output to a more American market? I don’t know, but I don’t like it.

Sentimentality took hold for the next couple of episodes. I’ll skip The Power of Three because Chibnall didn’t fulfil the brief of “life with the Doctor” nearly as well as Gareth Roberts did in The Lodger and it was all a bit… Meh, really.

Angels Take Manhattan was the final episode and it committed what for me is a cardinal sin. It broke the previously-stated rules.

This is the problem I have with Moffat and the episodes he writes. If he wants something to happen in the plot then it happens, regardless of whether existing canon would allow it to or not. As an example, the Weeping Angels. Anyone remember why they were weeping? Because they had to hide their eyes so as not to look at each other. If they looked at each other they were stuck. THAT’S HOW THE DOCTOR SAVED SALLY SPARROW.

Ring a ring a roses...

Blink was one of the best episodes of the 10th Doctor’s run, but Moffat has ruined it by changing how the Angels work. He did this way back, when he covered the inside of a massive spaceship with Angels and had them attacking en masse without so much as a blindfold to share between them. In this most recent episode he had our heroes trapped in a corridor by an Angel at either end — by earlier rules those Angels should have been trapped by each other, but no. And it got worse:

Who you gonna call?

Am I supposed to believe that no one saw the Statue of Liberty get up and walk? Or maybe the automatic quantum lock doesn’t work on anything over 3m tall. Who the fuck knows?

And there was all that nonsense about how reading something written down fixes it in time. Time can be re-written, except if you read about it, apparently. But canon established, in The Waters of Mars, that text can rewrite itself if the Doctor interferes. He did it already. We watched the words change.

Moffat obviously has some over-arching concept of how the written word affects the Doctor’s timeline and his ability to change his past, his future, his present. River Song’s catchphrase —”Spoilers!”— has a whole other significance if reading something means it can’t not happen. But this is new. This is not how it worked before. And I’m sorry, but you can’t just rewrite the rules of how a world works to suit yourself; not without some form of justification or explanation. It’s unprofessional, in my opinion. If you are given the job of working with an established set of characters and the universe they live in, you work with those characters and that universe — you don’t go changing things because the rules make the stories too hard to tell. It’s the writer’s job to come up with ways to make the stories work within the rules of that world, or accept that the story needs to be told in a different world, with different characters.

Doctor Who has a huge audience. There are kids out there learning how to tell stories by watching it. I want them to learn how to tell good ones, and not to expect to get by on the cult of celebrity. Being famous and successful shouldn’t mean getting away with work that isn’t as good as that being produced by people still trying to make it. Those who are least successful have to work the hardest at being good in order to achieve success: it’s kind of insulting to think that success means forgetting all about plot structure, character motivation and consistency.

I am falling out of love with Doctor Who.

Sadface.

I see a frowny face

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