Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 16th, 2007

If you want to live off the grid…

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Take a look at this house. Place that on some arable land in a good location, with a eye to the likely effects of global warming, and you’re set.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 5:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

ThinkBaby bottles

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Via a comment, I find ThinkBaby bottles: unbreakable plastic free of dangerous chemicals. If you have babies, these look like just the ticket.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

What will happen if the US leaves Iraq?

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Based on the British experience, a drop in violence. From ThinkProgress:

After Britain partially withdrew forces from southern Iraq in September, the White House slandered its “closest ally,” claiming “British forces have performed poorly in Basra” and suggested “it’s best that they leave.”

The White House should take notice of what has happened in Basra as British troops have left. According to Maj. Gen. Graham Binns, commander of British forces in Basra, the presence of British troops instigated violence. Now, violence has reportedly dropped to one-tenth that of earlier levels:

The presence of British forces in downtown Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, was the single largest instigator of violence, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns told reporters Thursday on a visit to Baghdad’s Green Zone.

“We thought, ‘If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?,’” Binns said.

Sectarian tensions in Basra, a predominantly Shiite city, are not as high in other parts of Iraq, but “it has seen major fighting between insurgents and coalition troops.” British Defense Secretary Des Browne observed last month:

The people of that city are no longer subject to the significant level of violence that was directed against the British forces and our allies.

In April, 12 British troops were killed in Iraq in contrast to just 1 in October. Furthermore, “British officials expected a spike in such ‘intra-militia violence’ after they pulled back from the city’s center, and were surprised to find none,” Binns said.

When announcing a further withdrawal in early October, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Basra was “calmer” since British forces handed over their base in early September. “Indeed, in the last month, there have been five indirect fire attacks on Basra Air Station compared with 87 in July,” he observed.

While the region still sees ongoing volatility, the lesson learned by the British — that they provoked violence instead of quelling it — is one that can be applied to the U.S. presence in Iraq as well.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 2:02 pm

The Money Party, taking over politics

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An excellent post, third in a series. (Links to first two at end.)

Big Lies that You Must Believe

Michael Collins
Washington, D.C.

Because if you don’t, the whole scam may fall apart.

In the first two parts of this ongoing series on The Money Party, we discussed the fact that there is only one political party in the United States, The Money Party. It has two wings, Republican and Democratic. That party represents excessive concentrations of wealth in the hands of corporations, other organizations, and individuals. They put up the money and get what they pay for every time.

They make sure that the election system is rigged to rely on money like a junkie relies on heroin. The system takes care of them. They don’t have to obey the same rules that we do. Why? Because they’re above the law.

The Money Party owns the mainstream media entirely. NBC is really General Electric, ABC is Disney, CBS was Viacom but now it’s just the name for a mega-corporation, and Fox is News Corp., the Rupert Murdoch financial empire. That’s why it’s called the corporate media. They’re publicity shops, “corporate communications divisions,” owned and controlled by Money Party members.

Their job is to emulate George Orwell’s “1984” by generating meaningless concepts that bind us to false choices.

It’s a series of interconnected lies. Let’s look at some of the key lies that we must believe to keep them in power.

Big lie 1: “We’re the world’s leading democracy.” Not since Bush-Cheney took over. We’re dropping fast. Maybe it has something to do with the Patriot Act and all that illegal wire tapping of U.S. citizens? Maybe it has something to do with a Congress that does nothing to stop an out of control president. Ratings on democracy show us behind 14 other countries.

Big lie 2: “Just let the markets handle it. The free enterprise system will work it out.” This is supposed to appeal to our love of capitalism. Well, we don’t have capitalism in the United States.

We have socialism for the rich and survival of the fittest for the rest of us.

When you hear about the wisdom of “the markets,” you know that The Money Party is attacking some new law or regulation that might give us an equal footing and create real competition. The party can’t stand free enterprise because it won’t play any game that it might lose. Count on it. NAFTA – just let the markets handle it. Health care – it’s the market at your service. Pollution – you guessed correctly, it’s a “market thing. “We wouldn’t understand.” Dumping mercury in the Great Lakes, it all makes sense to the party.

Big lie 3: “There are two sides to every issue.” Does that have anything to do with two parties? Where in the world did this come from? Who knows? But the corporate media rides this one into the ground.

Take climate change for example. Two sides, really? Well just about every respectable scientist in the world, at least those who get published in real science journals, says climate change is real, it’s man made, and it’s dangerous. The explanations are varied (many sided) but there’s only one side of the larger issue if you want your children to survive. Climate change is a very real, scary deal. We’re all threatened. But a correction might hurt their short term profits. As a result, the dangerous lies persist brought to you by The Money Party “communications divisions.”

Big lie 4: “The federal government just screws everything up.” Oh, like going to the moon, developing the internet, and providing health insurance (Medicare) for many times less overhead than private health insurance companies. The Money Party hates the government with a passion when it serves the general public. But when the federal government fixes competition so that only big money wins, when it ignores problems that might require some sacrifice, and when it prolongs a war for profits, the federal government is their best friend.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s just what they do, what they’ve always done…further their own interests at our expense. There used to be some restraint to maintain appearances but the Money Party is now on steroids.

When you see some corporate news reader cock his or her head to deliver a “gem of wisdom,” count on it to be a big fat lie, one that’s essential to justify the theft of our well being for the interests of a very few, their bosses. They don’t care because they don’t have to. We’re the ultimate donors to The Money Party through our hard work, time, and taxes.

The Money Party thinks that they own the country, they know that they own most of the politicians, and they’re 100% sure that they know what we need to believe. These are just a few of the big lies that we hear all the time from the usual suspects. It’s time to wake up, call their bluff, and take the country back.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.

George Orwell

The Money Party (1) – The Essence of Our Political Troubles
The Money Party (2) – Why We Get Such Lousy Leaders and How to Get Rid of Them

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 1:56 pm

Do you feel safer now?

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Look at this (and more here):

A former FBI agent who pleaded guilty Tuesday to fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship and then improperly accessing sensitive computer information about Hizbullah was working until about a year ago as a CIA spy assigned to Middle East operations, NEWSWEEK has learned.

The stunning case of Nada Nadim Prouty, a 37-year-old Lebanese native who is related to a suspected Hizbullah money launderer, appears to raise a nightmarish question for U.S. intelligence agencies: could one of the world’s most notorious terrorist groups have infiltrated the U.S. government?

“I’m beginning to think it’s possible that Hizbullah put a mole in our government,” said Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief under presidents Clinton and, until 2002, Bush. “It’s mind-blowing.”

A U.S. official familiar with the case said Tuesday that the government’s investigation has uncovered no evidence so far that Prouty, who was employed by the CIA until last week, had compromised any undercover operations or passed along sensitive intelligence information to Hizbullah operatives. After joining the CIA in June 2003, Prouty was an undercover officer for the agency’s National Clandestine Service, the espionage division, working on Middle East–related cases. She was reassigned to a less sensitive position about a year ago, after she first came under suspicion, officials said.

Prosecutors have not charged Prouty with espionage. Nonetheless, the case remains an “ongoing investigation” and “that is obviously something we’re looking at,” a senior law enforcement official said. Her lawyer declined comment today. Under the terms of her plea agreement, she faces six to 12 months behind bars and could be stripped of her U.S. citizenship.

The case is clearly a major embarrassment for both the FBI and CIA and has already raised a host of questions. Chief among them: how did an illegal alien from Lebanon who was working as a waitress at a shish kabob restaurant in Detroit manage to slip through extensive security background checks, including polygraphs, to land highly sensitive positions with the nation’s top law enforcement and intelligence agencies?

Much more at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 12:35 pm

What has the US become?

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Look at this:

Of all the Bush Administration’s many perversions of the justice system, there is something particularly distressing about the case of Maher Arar. A Canadian software engineer, he was changing planes in JFK on his way home to Canada after a Mediterranean vacation when American law enforcement snatched him up. Arar had been fingered as a terrorism suspect by Canadian authorities. Within a brief period of time, he was interrogated, locked-up and then bundled off to Jordan with directions for transshipment to Syria, a nation known to use torture. Indeed, it was plain from the outset that he was shipped to Syria for purposes of being tortured, with a list of questions to be put to him passed along. Never mind that Syria is constantly reviled as a brutal dictatorship by some Bush Administration figures who openly dream of bombing or invading it… the Syrians, it seems, have a redeeming feature—their willingness to torture the occasional Canadian engineer as a gesture of friendship to the Americans.

In time, the Canadians launched a comprehensive inquiry into the matter, concluded that they were mistaken about Arar. He was cleared, the findings of the commission of inquiry were published, and Arar was given a roughly $10 million award in compensation for the role Canada played in his mistreatment.

Canada, in sum, behaved the way a democratic state is supposed to behave.

But what about the United States? Of course, the governing axiom of the Bush Administration is that it makes no mistakes. So, while intelligence community officials confirm, off the record, that the whole episode involving Arar was a gross mistake involving errors in judgment at every stage and a part-infantile rage, part-Savanarola zeal in the oversight, the official posture continues to be that Arar is a terrorist, so what happened was justified. Arar remains on the no-fly list and is denied entry to the United States.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 12:24 pm

Five readers wanted

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I’d like to find 5 people who would read the semi-final draft of the book and send me comments, suggestions, corrections, impressions, etc., overall and by chapter. The ideal five would be:

  1. 1 person who has never even tried cooking
  2. 2 persons who cook a little but not a lot and are still novices, more or less
  3. 2 persons who cook routinely—not chefs, but comfortable in the kitchen preparing a meal.

I would let you know where to download a PDF of the book (probably sometime this weekend) and would ask that you send your critique to me by Sunday Nov 25. I realize that this is a very busy time of the year, so if you don’t think you can undertake it, that’s quite understandable. But I’m hoping that five will be able to.

If you’re interested, email me (leisureguy.wordpress{at}gmail.com) and let me know whether you are in category 1, 2, or 3 (above). Thanks.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Books, Recipes

Tofu-mushroom sandwich

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I’m having one of these for lunch:

As Deborah Madison explains, “In about 15 minutes, you can go from looking at a carton of tofu to sitting down to a savory hot sandwich. What’s inside it? Sautéed onions and mushrooms covering golden tofu glazed with Worcestershire sauce. Or use A-1 if you prefer.”

1 carton firm tofu, drained
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large red onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 Portobello mushrooms, sliced as thick as the onions
8 slices rustic bread
Mayonnaise combined with chili sauce or ketchup, or horseradish mustard

Slice the tofu crosswise into 8 pieces, slightly less than 1/2 inch thick. Set them on paper towels and blot. Heat a large cast-iron skillet. Brush with 2 teaspoons of the oil and add the tofu. Cook over medium-high heat until golden, about 6 minutes on each side. Douse with the Worcestershire sauce and turn the tofu once. Continue frying until the sauce is absorbed and the tofu is laced with a fine glaze. Turn off the heat and season well with salt and plenty of pepper.

While the tofu is cooking, place a 10-inch skillet over high heat and add the remaining oil. Add the onion and mushrooms. Sauté until seared and nicely browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Toast the bread or not as you wish. Cover with the condiment you choose. (Fresh tomato and mayonnaise are terrific in summer.) Add the tofu slices, top with onions and mushrooms, press, and dig in. Flour tortillas roll-ups work beautifully too.

Makes 4.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 10:54 am

Posted in Food, Recipes

Tagged with

Writing explanatory non-fiction

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What seems to work for me is to think about the book, trying to figure out how to explain the content. After a while of that, I often make a false start, a kind of experiment which helps me understand what works and what doesn’t.

Then I go to MS Word and use the Outline View to build an outline. This goes pretty fast, once I’ve internalized the logical approach, and I can easily revise and rearrange the outline so that the narrative of the explanation makes sense (to me and, I hope, the reader). The outline becomes the collection of headings: level 1, level 2, level 3, etc., which become the table of contents.

I then start writing the book, putting appropriate text under each heading. That is a slog, but at least I know where I’m going, and since I’m filling in the outline, I can work on it a piece at a time without losing my way.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 10:37 am

Posted in Writing

10 brilliant studies in social psychology

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Read them all (and then you can vote at the link for the best). I’ve blogged a couple of these earlier, but here is the entire series:

1. The Halo Effect: When Your Own Mind is a Mystery

The ‘halo effect’ is a classic finding in social psychology. It is the idea that global evaluations about a person (e.g. she is likeable) bleed over into judgements about their specific traits (e.g. she is intelligent). Hollywood stars demonstrate the halo effect perfectly. Because they are often attractive and likeable we naturally assume they are also intelligent, friendly, display good judgement and so on.

» Read on about the halo effect -»

2. How and Why We Lie to Ourselves: Cognitive Dissonance

The ground-breaking social psychological experiment of Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) provides a central insight into the stories we tell ourselves about why we think and behave the way we do. The experiment is filled with ingenious deception so the best way to understand it is to imagine you are taking part. So sit back, relax and travel back. The time is 1959 and you are an undergraduate student at Stanford University…

» Read on about cognitive dissonance -»

3. War, Peace and the Role of Power in Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment

The Robbers Cave experiment, a classic study of prejudice and conflict, has at least one hidden story. The well-known story emerged in the decades following the experiment as textbook writers adopted a particular retelling. With repetition people soon accepted this story as reality, forgetting it is just one version of events, one interpretation of a complex series of studies.

» Read on about Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment -»

4. Our Dark Hearts: The Stanford Prison Experiment

The famous ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ argues a strong case for the power of the situation in determining human behaviour. Not only that but this experiment has also inspired a novel, two films, countless TV programs, re-enactments and even a band.

» Read on about Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment -»

5. Just Following Orders? Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment

What psychological experiment could so be so powerful that simply taking part might change your view of yourself and human nature? What experimental procedure could provoke some people to profuse sweating and trembling, leaving 10% extremely upset, while others broke into unexplained hysterical laughter?

» Read on about Milgram’s obedience studies -»

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 10:27 am

Intriguing book

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Via My Mind on Books, the book Keeping Found Things Found:  The Study and Practice of Personal Information Management. From the review at Amazon:

Keeping Found Things Found is the missing manual for 21st century literacy. We’re at the epicenter of a rapidly expanding universe of personal information. Books, music, photos, videos, email, contacts, calendars, wills, bills, records, and receipts: how can we keep our piles and files from spiraling out of control? William Jones has the answer in this important book about finding our memories and organizing our lives. A must-read for designers, developers, librarians, and anyone else who cares about the future of information interaction.” — Peter Morville, Author of Ambient Findability and Information Architecture for the World Wide Web

Today, software can deliver unprecedented support for managing our ever more copious information. This landmark book provides detailed knowledge of behavior and technology that is essential for effective design and use of these productivity tools.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 10:13 am

Posted in Books, Software, Technology

Excellent idea! Science critics for traditional media

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What a dynamite idea: have a regular newspaper staff position of “science critic” (cf. movie critic, art critic, food critic, et al.):

Daniel Engber should become a full time science critic.* Over at Slate, he eviscerates the latest sloppy fMRI study of the political brain, which was published in the Times on Sunday:

To liken these neurological pundits to snake-oil salesmen would be far too generous. Their imaging study has not been published in any science journal, nor has it been vetted by experts in the field; it can’t rightly be called an “experiment,” since the authors weren’t testing any particular hypothesis; and the arbitrary conclusions they draw from the data aren’t even consistent with their own previous research.

He goes on to point out all the internal contradictions in this latest batch of experiments. The basic moral is that our political beliefs are a complicated psychological phenomenon, and are very difficult to reduce into a set of reliable cortical causes. I think the other element at work here is the allure of neuroscientific explanations, regardless of their validity. The only reason this middling science was featured in the NY Times was because they had pretty pictures of the brain that somehow justified their banal political explanations. Brain imaging is an essential scientific tool, but, like all tools, it only works under specific conditions. When the technology is used to answer the wrong kind of questions, what you end up getting is lots of sloppy experimental interpretation dressed up as rigorous science.

*Why don’t we have science critics? We have music critics and literary critics and dance critics and architecture critics…Wouldn’t it be great to also have knowledgeable people point out the flaws and achievements of the latest scientific papers? And yes, I did write an article on this idea a few years ago in Seed, although it seems to have been lost by Google.

And a follow-up post:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 9:49 am

Posted in Media, Science

Greed takes many forms

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But it always seems to involve great self-regard combined with contempt for one’s fellows:

A day after Gov. Sonny Perdue asked God to forgive Georgia for being wasteful with its water, county officials in the wealthy suburbs northeast of Atlanta confirmed Wednesday just how profligate one consumer had been.

A homeowner in Marietta, Ga., used 440,000 gallons in September, or about 14,700 gallons a day. By comparison, the average consumption in the United States is about 150 gallons a day per person, and in the Atlanta metropolitan area about 183 gallons.

Month after month during a record-setting drought, the two-story, five-bedroom home owned by that consumer, Chris G. Carlos, a wealthy investor who is a member of one of Atlanta’s most well known and philanthropic families, has topped Cobb County’s list of residential users.

Robert Quigley, a spokesman for the Cobb County Water System, said Mr. Carlos had used an average of 260,000 gallons of water a month for the last year, about twice as much as the consumer next-highest on the county’s list. Mr. Carlos has apparently been using the water not only to flush nine toilets and maintain a swimming pool but also to refresh nearly four acres of lush landscaping around his white-columned, red brick home.

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 9:32 am

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with ,

Friday cat-blogging: Sleeping with one eye open

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Sleeping with one eye open

Here’s Megs, not reallly sleeping, I think. Sleeping With One Eye Open is, BTW, the title of a book of poems by Mark Strand.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 8:59 am

Posted in Books, Cats, Daily life, Megs

The Social Security non-crisis

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Paul Krugman addresses the issue once more, since Barack Obama was suckered into saying Social Security is in crisis:

Lately, Barack Obama has been saying that major action is needed to avert what he keeps calling a “crisis” in Social Security — most recently in an interview with The National Journal. Progressives who fought hard and successfully against the Bush administration’s attempt to panic America into privatizing the New Deal’s crown jewel are outraged, and rightly so.

But Mr. Obama’s Social Security mistake was, in fact, exactly what you’d expect from a candidate who promises to transcend partisanship in an age when that’s neither possible nor desirable.

To understand the nature of Mr. Obama’s mistake, you need to know something about the special role of Social Security in American political discourse.

Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security — declaring that the program as we know it can’t survive the onslaught of retiring baby boomers — is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 8:41 am

Posted in GOP

Tagged with

No more handwriting?

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I can’t believe that handwriting—cursive penmanship—is really going to be abandoned. Writing solely via printed characters—no cursive—has been done before (historically), but cursive quickly arose as a replacement because cursive writing is easier and faster than printing each character. So even if only printed characters are taught, people will inevitably develop their own idiosyncratic cursives—and, like almost all self-taught practitioners, will fall into common errors that undercut the efficiency and legibility of their script. Seems better, on the whole, to teach a winning hand, as it were.

Moreover, handwriting will remain. One will not always have access to a Blackberry or cellphone or computer, and in some cases those would not be the instruments of choice. If you’re keeping a personal journal, you may well not want to keep it on a machine in a digital medium. Many would prefer to write quietly, in a bound book, pen in hand.

But: reader Sean passes along this report:

Second-grade teacher Diane Arciero waves her hand – draped in a homemade, white bunny puppet – from side to side in time to “If You’re Happy and You Know It” playing on her classroom’s CD player. As the song reaches its familiar refrain, the 24 students in her class at Boston’s Hugh R. O’Donnell Elementary School join in singing with her and the bunny: “Where do you start your letter? At the top!” they shout, pointing index fingers in the air in unison.

It’s hardly the handwriting instruction most American adults grew up with, but cursive traditionalists are happy to see any type of instruction. Their revered written art is an endangered species given the rise of computers, the growing proportion of class time spent preparing for standardized tests, and the increasing perception that cursive writing is a difficult and pointless exercise. Yet new evidence suggests there are benefits to mastering this skill – including higher SAT scores – that don’t appear until long after traditional instruction ends in fifth grade. It’s a controversial claim.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 8:37 am

Did you get EverNote?

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Hope you did. Now use it 3 times a day for two weeks, and you’ll have the habit of it and a feel for it. Great little program. Also great: OneNote as part of Office 2007.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 8:25 am

Posted in Software

Good old Mr. Taylor

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I enjoyed the Mr. Taylor’s aftershave balm yesterday so much that I went all Mr. Taylor today: Taylor of Old Bond Street Mr. Taylor’s shaving cream, which was lathered and applied with the Rooney Style 1 Size 1 brush—a remarkable brush, producing a remarkable lather. I must try this brush with the Cube and Shaving Paste. I think it has a better shape for that than the Simpsons Emperor, and it hold lots of water.

I picked up a Gillette 1940’s Aristocrat with a previously used Feather blade and did the four passes with no event. Then Taylor of Old Bond Street Mr. Taylor’s aftershave splash. I really like the fragrance of the Mr. Taylor’s stuff—and shaving cream definitely carries more fragrance than shaving soap.

I would say today is a 9.8: extremely smooth, feeling very good. Now for coffee.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2007 at 8:15 am

Posted in Shaving

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