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Nothing lasts. Nothing is finished. Nothing is perfect.

How Japanese art is like software and everything beautiful is like both.

Wabi-sabi is a quintessential Japanese aesthetic. It is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble.

Characteristics include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

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It’s art. It’s design. And most importantly, it’s philosophy.

It’s an acceptance of the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s an appreciation for evolution and change.

Good software development – meaning lean software development – is a reflection of these values, too.

“Release early, release often.” -Eric S. Raymond, lesson number seven for creating good open source software, cited in his essay The Cathedral and The Bazaar. Both parts of this being equally important – relinquish and reveal an imperfect product, but keep working on it.

“Ship it!” -pretty much everyone, including Seth GodinJared Richardson and Will Gwaltney, and all but the entire development community. The idea that once it’s good enough to go live, it should. Don’t hold on to things hoping for perfect.

“Products are never truly finished… Please know that this not something you get over with… ever.” -Eric Ries, “Lean” Series, O’Reilly.

The similarities between Japanese aesthetics and software development really isn’t surprising.

Both of them are far more about the underlying philosophy than their physical manifestation. It’s about valuing, appreciating and accepting imperfection, impermanence, and incompletion, rather than agonizing over flawlessness, fixed states, and finality.

If you really get it, you get it across the board.


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There’s room in passion for imperfection.

There’s often this expectation that people will uphold the things they do professionally in their personal lives.

Like this morning, I met a woman who designs textile patterns and, after learning this, I immediately became more acutely aware of her dress. I felt like she would want me to – I looked almost as though I was being asked. But I also looked because I thought, as we all think, that it made sense to do so: that I should find some physical manifestation and extension of her work even in her life outside of it.

That she should be consistent.

It’s the same way we may assume film critics, in their at-home theatres, would never stoop so low as to happily watch “Bad Santa” on a Sunday night. That sommeliers never drink Bud Light and priests always practice what they preach.

We want to believe that most things can withstand the test of consistency and play their part all the time. And for the most part, this probably does hold true. (In cases of ethical questions, it definitely should.)

But there’s also something wonderfully refreshingly genuine about the passionate person who lets things slide sometimes. The authenticity afforded them by the occasional guilty pleasure. Not hypocritical, but honest.

Like the top chefs with a soft spot for McDonalds, and like actors who aren’t always camera-ready and instead run errands in sweats, and like the inventor of the typewriter who, all things considered, very likely still used pen and paper from time to time.

Like the award-winning pastry chef and bakery owner I also met this morning, who admitted that her least favorite thing to make is “chocolate chip cookies.” I immediately envisioned a moment, even if it’s only happened once, when she has torn into Chips Ahoy at home. And I mentally made space in our conversation for that.

Because I like a world where she can.

There’s room in passion for inconsistency and imperfection.

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Six ways we’ve got “Millennials” wrong

I don’t use the “M word” a lot. It’s a gross oversimplification whose connotations can be more detrimental than value-add. Like “feminist” or “vegetarian” or “sagittarius.”

But if we’re all going to insist on talking about Millennials, especially if we all think we want to target them as a group with our products, it’s probably worth understanding how we talk about them.

In short: Millennials didn’t create themselves in a vacuum.

The generation was created like every generation before: through context. 

Think about the era in which Millennials’ parents grew up. Baby Boomers enjoyed a pretty glorious era of American history – the world was our oyster, and we were the masters of the universe. Manufacturing was up; consumerism was up; everyone was building up a Pleasantville lifestyle. The message they heard was: work hard, and you’ll be rewarded. And for the most part, that held true. For a while.

But by the time the Millennials came along, a lot of that no longer held true. The start was really jobs: careers were no longer with one company; the world turned out to be a somewhat more fickle oyster.

If you wanted the American Dream, it seemed, you had to get it yourself.

1.) What work isn’t: Millennials don’t expect to work one job for 40 years. Because nobody can anymore.

Millennials didn’t grow up in the same world as Baby Boomers, in the decades following World War II, and they weren’t imprinted with everything that came with that era.

They didn’t grow up where a pretty simple formula promised stability and security, where parents worked the same jobs at the same companies for forty years.

Instead, Millennials grew up with parents who were laid off from them.

Millennials didn’t see their parents get steady promotions and consistent 3% annual raises. They didn’t grow up with a new family car in the driveway every few years or an easy, timelined upgrade to a bigger house.

Instead, Millennials watched their parents come home heavy-hearted after getting laid off – often more than once. They watched, peering between the staircase banister railings late at night, as their parents sat at the kitchen table and talked about finances – not which new car to buy next or when, but how they would pay the mortgage, whether to take out a second one, when they’d have to dip into the 401k, or whether they could afford to send the kids to college (more often than not, as these kids would later learn: they couldn’t. But to keep up with the workforce and changing economy, Millennials knew that, unlike their parents generation, theirs would still have to go.)

Millennials grew up already knowing not to expect to retire from their first job out of college. They also knew not to rely on their company to “take care of them.” They saw firsthand that the world doesn’t work that way anymore.

So world the Millennials grew up in was framed by two goals:

  1. Figure out a new formula.
  2. Stay as financially unattached as possible. Because nothing is ever a sure thing.

2.) What work is: Millennials developed an understanding of either a.) making their own way or b.) having no way at all.

This is where you get two primary groups of Millennials.

Some of them are sloughing away, working long weeks (far longer than the 40-hour standard of previous generations.) Piecing things together, trying, experimenting, putting themselves out there. And yeah, expecting something.

And then there are others, of course, who are still living in their parents’ basement. Not all of them, but some. (And I think we’re all okay admitting: there are more of these in Millennials than previous generations.)

The world is a much scarier place than what previous generations inherited. 

Millennials understand that success doesn’t come with an easy, prescribed formula. It’s no longer a matter of “keeping your head down” and doing as told. (They saw how that worked out for their parents.) So it’s either a matter of scrounging and fighting and carving one’s own path. Or, frankly, forfeiting.

3.) Finances: Student loans.

Student loans. Baby Boomers, overall, didn’t go to college. If they did, it was done more affordably. Student loan debt wasn’t a reality for them, and it certainly wasn’t a generation-wide epidemic.

On top of that, Baby Boomers enjoyed an expanding economy. They had the formula, the nation was raring to go, and business was booming.

Things have changed, now:

The workforce is largely expected to have a college degree.

But Baby Boomers have largely found themselves not in a position to buy one for their kids. And so the Millennials are filling in that gap on their own. So they enter adulthood – 18 years old – with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars already over their heads.

Only to find that, as mentioned, employment isn’t guaranteed.

4.) Consumerism: why Millennials don’t spend like the Baby Boomers.

First, Millennials don’t have the money (see “student loans.”)

But more importantly, Millennials don’t buy into the beliefs that previous generations were sold on. They don’t “believe in” the value of “lifestyle assets” like cars and mortgages, partly because a.) they’ve seen them deteriorate and partly because b.) the messaging that “American values” were upheld through these objects wasn’t pushed as hard on younger generations as it was on the post-war ones, in a nation that was eager to manufacture and banner our pride.

A word on technology: A “love of technology” isn’t about Millennials. It’s about human nature and our response to technical evolutions. Millennials are not any different than previous generations. Smarts phones are today what TV was during the 50s and 60s, and if the Baby Boomers had had smart phones as teenagers (or had been able to carry their TV around in their pockets), they would’ve been all over that as well.

5.) Why Millennials aren’t buying homes.

Of course Millennials don’t want mortgages.

First: They graduated into a housing crisis. Who would actually still “believe” this asset while coming into adulthood the same time it was falling apart?

Second, though: Millennials effectively already have mortgages. They’re called “student loans,” running up balances into the hundreds of thousands for many people in their 20’s.

Bonus: Millennials didn’t “entitle” themselves.

Every time I hear someone from an older generation scoff at the way Millennials grew up “getting gold stars and ribbons for everything,” I want to point out: well, and which generation was handing them out?

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The second to last sip of beer

I’m at an event, and for 99.9% of the time, my thoughts are on-topic or only immediately tangential.

But there’s a single split second where I zone out, seeing a middle-aged woman a few rows ahead of me.

She takes the second to last swig of her beer and as she lowers the bottle, she reaches up to tuck her hair behind her ear.

Drinking beer from a bottle reminds her of all the other times she’s drank beer from a bottle, all of which already reminded her of all the times before that, which all take her back to the first times and remind her of when she was young. She’s at a conference sitting in a sea of pressed khaki, but when she takes this sip of beer she feels that nostalgic uncertainty and excitement again; feels something that reminds her of youth.

And so gingerly tucks her hair behind her ear.


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“expertise” v “interest”

One of those things that seems obvious after you realize it: framing things you think and learn and talk about by either “expertise” or “interest.”

I just joined Klout, a website and app that “helps with social media messaging.”

(Seconds after you join, they give your social media a score. Mine is scored a “42” and, they were all “don’t worry! That’s average!” And I’m like, “Don’t you come at me with your made-up metrics, Bub. I’ll decide when it’s time to care.”

Incidentally, I’m pretty sure it’s one of those things you don’t go around telling your readers / followers / friends / whatnot about, but whateverguys. Here’s me.)

Anyway. One of the cool things they do is subtly frame your topics by “expertise” and “interest.”
The conversation I had with the UI went something like this:

me: “Oh, expertise and interest! That’s never occurred to me before.”
Klout: “Oh. Yes, of course. Some things are expertise. Others are interest.”
me: “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”
Klout: “Right. Like this, for example. What do you want to do with this ‘Whiskey’ one?”
me: “Oh. Yeah, I’m definitely not an expert in whiskey. ‘Interest!’

… And speaking of which, give it here.”

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How Cuba was

Note: I wrote another article on FAQ, best and worst, reviews, and tips here.

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Overall:

It’s a lot like small-town Central America. It’s like the places your bus stops to refuel on the way from Belize to Quintana Roo, if that means anything to you. It’s a little like that city in Mexico where I bought (or think I bought; perhaps only thought about buying) a bag of clementines for something like a dime. It’s even a little like Ethiopia or the Prince Islands off of Istanbul.

And it is nothing like the rest of the Caribbean.

Think sick-skinny stray dogs trotting along the edges of streets, head and tail in low-carriage. Think streets that are paved but also dusty; think also cobblestone alleys and other unpaved side streets, narrow and pothole-riddled, entirely dust and mud. Think people walking, people driving classic cars, people waiting listlessly at bus stops, people leaning against door jambs of decrepit architecture wonders. Think the delirious deliciousness of humidity and heat.

Think the smell of diesel and dust, as well as the subtle sweetness of humidity and fresh sweat.

But, even all this considered, it’s already becoming not the place we think of.

They still have classic cars and cigars. But they also know we want them.

They’re gearing up for tourism – have already figured out some of the ways they can make a buck or two off of visitors as we pass through. But, on the other hand, have not yet developed the finesse and ease of hospitality. They have self-awareness, but don’t yet have a broad tourism benchmark.

Arrival:

The tarmac is like something out of my grandparent’s era, something vintage – 1970’s – but very real. There, in old-school lettering, “La Habana,” and I’m already excited. There’s something very special about landing in places you’ve longed for or love.

There’s a driver pick-up, and in the backseat of his classic car on the way to Havana, I’m all but hanging my head out the window like a dog, lapping at the air and rejoicing in my sheer happiness for it all. I’m happy even for the refreshing authenticity of sweat that lines the entire length of my back and thighs against the pleather seat.

We pass through these incredible areas, originally built up in awe-inducing architectural splendor (seriously, if you’re into turn of the century showcases, you might die) and now reduced to little more than empire ruins.

And within them, these little shops set up behind barred windows or back alleys. Women hand-washing glassware next to hand-written signs and the occasional lonely, faded gesticulation of spray paint. Like “this is what a bar might look like” or “this is what graffiti might look like.” In another era; another world.

And it’s all like having cake smashed in your face. Stale cake, but still beautifully decorated. You go to take a bite but find yourself overwhelmed by it, and it’s impossible to take it all in.

Once there, the driver helps with bags. “Enjoy your stay,” he says. “And let me know if you want a ride back to the airport. I left my number.” He goes to leave.

“Oh, be careful,” he warns, turning back in the doorway. “This is a safe area. People are nice. But not everyone should be trusted.”

That first night:

I go walking. I learned that you can buy a bottled beer from any bar for about a dollar and then walk out with it to roam the streets with beer in hand.

Because Cuba, she just does not care.

This was henceforth known as “walking beer” (lovingly appendaged from a Dutch woman I met in Turkey who expressed jealously of the US for our “walking coffee.” Meaning, merely: “coffee to go”) and became the backbone of the trip.

I also found a dog. There’s always a dog.

There were tons of stray dogs – there always are – but this one had a hurt leg and was limping so severely he would only go a few steps before curling up into another tiny ball and so of course, like any person emboldened with the romanticism of being in a foreign place for the first time, I strode over to the nearest bar and, despite the kitchen being closed, negotiated the best dog-appropriate-food:dollar ratio order I could, and took it back out to offer to him.

He refused it. I urged myself to pretend it was because he wasn’t hungry.

I went back to the bar and ordered a beer.

That first morning:

I’d wanted to go to Cuba for so long that after I’d booked the trip, I told people that I was so happy to actually be going, I wouldn’t care if it rained while I was there.

And then it did.

And, true to my word, I didn’t.

It rained pretty much the whole time, to varying degrees – from light mist to downpour. And there was never a moment I didn’t grant Havana the space to be a real place that exists outside of my desire to be there.

I woke up to the sound of an actual rooster.

And it was only mildly adulterated by the hum of the air conditioning unit, set on high.

I got up to write, because I do that sometimes and I do it even more when traveling, but first went out onto one of the two balconies – the one facing the ocean.

There are little droplets hanging along the underside of the railing. It’s not pouring, but the light is a white-gray. It’s a delicate rain; something only discernible when you set your gaze against something dark. But it’s raining nonetheless and I’ll be out in it and I don’t care.

First on the agenda: coffee.

At some point after that? Beer.

And then mostly a lot of walking around.

And also the need for food.

Being (i.e., the answer to “what did you do?”)

Walk around. Don’t sight-see.

I mean, I guess go ahead and sight-see if you want to sight-see, because there’s probably plenty to see if you do, but if you’re willing to, just walk around.

Be. Exist.

You get yourself a bottled “walking beer” and you walk yourself around. When that one’s done, you find another bar and get yourself another.

It’s like being a local but better. Because you get to be there, on the streets, but you get to see it for the first time. And you also have the special privileges afforded with that, like feeding stray dogs leftover egg yolks rationed off your breakfast, wrapped up in a napkin.

When you get tired of walking, sit for a bit. When you get hungry, eat. Rinse. Repeat.

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Eating (i.e., vegetables in Cuba):

I read, before going to Cuba, that it was particularly un-veg-friendly. And I’m not about to tell you that it wasn’t, because it definitely is.

But I will tell you that it wasn’t as bad as some say, because it isn’t.

Did I eat over-oiled fried rice? Yes. Canned green beans served as salad? Sure did.

But I knew about these things before I even got there, and by the time I was there and being served, found it entirely too easy to overlook this discrepancy between their idea of salad and mine; to forgive a country for serving – god forbid – different food than I might serve myself, and for not having Luna bars (or spin class) to sell me.

So I go, eat what they have, and still have a good time.

Pretty much all of the things I ate and some the things I drank in Cuba:

  • A lot of a dish simply called: “fresh vegetables.” Iceberg, tomatoes, canned green beans.
  • Also available fried
  • Eggs, scrambled and fried
  • Cheese cubes
  • The saltiest pickles you’ll ever taste in your life
  • Fruit – pineapple, banana, guava, papaya, etc. All sorts.
  • Toast and other breads
  • Black beans, often served too deliciously to be vegetarian
  • Beer.

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Riding in cars with boys:

So. When you go, tons of drivers will try to sell you on an “hour-long” classic car tour.

Some people have come back from Cuba saying this was their favorite part.

This part nearly put a damper on things for me.

Here’s the trick, I think: make sure you negotiate. Make sure every time things change, you re-negotiate. If you strike up a conversation (and you will) and they take you somewhere else based on the dialogue, make sure you clarify the charge. If you explicitly ask to go elsewhere, make sure you clarify the charge. If you mention being hungry and let them recommend their favorite restaurant and drop you off and then wait, make sure you clarify whether or not they’re charging you by the hour as you eat.

(Looking at you, Abraham. With your entirely-too-seductive hot pink Hello Kitty car.)

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Reading and Writing:

I read B.J. Novak’s “One More Thing” on the way to Cuba, because I guess I figured it’d make a good vacation read, of the books the airport carried.

I didn’t really underline anything, which is atypical. And I pressed two flowers between different pages, which was also atypical, but in a better way.

I didn’t take a notebook with me, so I jotted tiny notes on the only piece of paper I had, which was the back of some official-looking form we’d gotten from the flight attendant, field-less but printed entirely in Spanish.

I also went completely offline. Mostly because I had to.

But also because that was largely the point.

Want more on Cuba? here.


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Ways men in tech are unintentionally the sexiest

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My friend recently shared an article with me titled “Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist.”

I was pretty busy at work when I got it, so I only skimmed the title and initially misread it as “Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally The Sexiest.

And I was all “bummer! I was totally gonna write that article!” Because I was.

But a few minutes later, when I had a chance to actually read it, I realized what it actually said and my disappointment turned to… uh, whatisword? Combination of “a.) continual boredom with the ‘sexist’ conversation and… b.) renewed interest in having the ‘sexiest’ one.” Something like that.

Regarding part a.) I recently wrote that I am “so bored of the ‘gender’ conversation.” Afterwards, a friend (who’s a rah-eal kickass woman in tech) told me that the conversation is actually not boring. That we as women are not set. And that we are not ready to drop it. So I want to talk to her more and will suspend further judgment and until I hear her take.

But regarding part b.) Oh, it is on. 

I am so going to write that article.

First, a disclaimer:

I realize that it will do very little whatsoever to reconcile the original one. On sexism. At worst, in fact, my article is hypocritical and doesn’t play by the rules. (Men can’t get away with this anymore, right?)

But whatever. Because two things:

1.) Let’s call it: taking back the word “sexy.” 

Our original article author claimed that the word “sexy” was… sexist.

Somehow.

In her esteem, “describing software or algorithms as ‘sexy,’ ‘hot,’ etc.,” is an issue. Because “by sexualizing something that does not need to be sexualized, you’re creating a college-frat-boy type environment, as well as implicitly conflating quality with sexual attractiveness. If I work with you, I want to know that you’re enough of an adult to be able to appreciate something (or someone) without wanting to fornicate with it.”

Wait, did I miss something? We can’t use “sexy” now? It’s “sexist?” Even for objects?

I find things sexy. I think other women do, too. And sometimes I even say that inanimate objects are sexy and I mean it, I think, in exactly the same way that these guys do – not because I want to “fornicate” with it (I doubt they do, either), but because “sexy” has become a euphemism for attractive; desirable.

And Google backs me by the way, recognizing the informal definition of “sexy” as synonymous with “exciting, appealing, stimulating, interesting, intriguing, slick, red-hot.” You gonna take it up with them, too, article-writer??

Let’s keep “sexy.”

I do know that we are talking about people here. Not objects. And I’m saying people are sexy which, if it’s bad to say about things, it’s probably a definite no-no when it comes to people. So again, this isn’t playing by the rules. But whatever, because cue the second thing:

2.) Does saying it do harm? It’s hypocritical, sure, so I guess it might harm the argument over there on the other side (again, men can’t write this about women, so my doing so “isn’t fair.”) But am I harming the men? I’m no expert, but Imma go out on a limb here and say: I doubt it. I don’t think these guys in tech lead lives of constant objectification, so I don’t think my saying this demeans them as either individuals or a demographic. (But dear male tech community: if I have offended you, please write me. I’d be very interested to hear your take.)

Second, a heartfelt clarification:

When I say “tech,” I mean software and I mean hardware. I mean both engineers and developers. Of all kinds. And I also mean other professions who work in tech – bankers, investors, managers, suppliers, etc. Because they’re all amazing. And I got enough love for them all.

Aiight. Let’s hit it.

Here we go!

1. They make things happen.

They are creators. Inventors. Things manifest by their very hands. They bring things to life.

Any of these read “sexy” to you? If they don’t do it for you, don’t worry. There are plenty of organizers and guardians and “protectors of process” out there for you. And I guess that can be sexy too. In its own way.

2. They are “definite optimists.”

Peter Thiel, in his book Zero to One, calls out four types of perspectives. The “definite optimist has a concrete plan for the future and strongly believes in that future being better than today.” Partner material? I’d say so.

Their work is rooted in reality. But they believe in creating good.

(In contrast, “the indefinite optimist is bullish on the future but lacks any design and plan for how to make such a future possible. The definite pessimist has a specific vision for the future but believes that future to be bleak. The indefinite pessimist has a bearish view on the future but no idea what to do about it.”)

3. And if they’re creating change, that also means they’re okay with change.

They don’t hold on to things, don’t try to contain and prevent things from evolving, don’t pride themselves on best practices long expired from previous decades, and don’t spend their lives reliving old things.

Which, most importantly, means they don’t panic or break down when change inevitably happens.

Panicking or coming unhinged is never, ever sexy. Anybody who suggests otherwise has no idea what they’re saying.

4. They’re smart.

Given the first three, this may go without saying. But still.

I’d like to imagine this one’s objective. I’m not really into unintelligent people. I don’t think most people are. Maybe some people are, but for the rest of us, this one’s pretty clear.

5. They’re honest.

If engineers or developers lie, people find out. People might even die as a result. So the ones I know have minimal tolerance for lies – being lied to or lying to others. These aren’t people to even fabricate, exaggerate, or flower.

They dislike the very concept of misrepresenting or wasting anything, from what they’re doing to how long it might take.

6. They’re humble.

It’s pretty much a by-law. Dudes in tech are, as a lot, a bit self-deprecating. They mostly downplay or underestimate their own competence, often erring on the side of speaking confidently about less than they really know.

There’s a reason, after all, that the title of both articles – the original, and mine here – specify that these dudes are doing all of the things we’re accusing them of only “unintentionally.”

7. This also means that they play well with others.

They like collaboration, leveraging what others have done before them, and communicating closely to build it “right” rather than simply “their way.”

Two extra-special considerations:

1. Of course. We gotta talk money. We can’t talk about guys being sexy without talking about money. Amirite?

This one comes as a special delivery, straight from me to my oh-so-beloved female peers out there who – in a totally un-sexist and modern, feminist way –  actually still evaluate potential husbands, on date like 1 or 2, by their earning power.

These super un-sexist and modern women want a guy who earns a lot – at least six digits, usually, though sometimes I’ve heard the magic number is something like “$115K,” I guess just to make sure he clears it. To get there, they go for those cliched job titles and dismiss the – what “unsexy” (?) – ones. Like engineers, who apparently don’t stack up.

But apparently these super modern women don’t do their research, even on these metrics they care so much about. Otherwise they would likely know that 9 of the 10 highest paid degrees are – guess what! – all in engineering.

2. But aren’t they all dweeby?

You don’t get out much, do you?

That’s really too bad, because many men in tech do.

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That’s it, really.

In closing: they’re pretty much the best.

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