Saturday, 30 May 2009

O hai, I can haz life now kkthnx?

It's the beginning of summer, it's over 23 degrees outside (this stops only slightly short of a North Eastern miracle) and University is nearly done for the year. Already. Unbelievable. There have now been three days in a row where except from having to go to work occasionally in the evenings, there has been nothing to do. This is not a complaint, merely an observation. A person with limited funds can only achieve so much fun in a city designed to cater for students with an obscenely-sized disposable income, and hen parties visiting the bright lights of the Travelodge and Vodka Revolutions for the weekend. Mostly this new-found "down time" has been used to carry out several important viewings of seminal TV shows, and social networking to within an inch of my life. Sometimes I wish it was the olden days so that to speak to the interesting, funny and generally nice people I have met one way or another I'd have to write them a letter. Or phone them. Or even send them a text. As it stands, a lot of time is spent sat at my desk in my pyjamas, which is generally not the glamorous or professional image I'd like to portray of myself.

Some of this time however, has been spent rather usefully in the back of my wardrobe, trying to find interesting items to flog to unsuspecting crap-collectors. It is truly amazing how much stuff I hoard. It's borderline obsessive - there are boxes of bank statements from three years ago, and train tickets so old the ink has worn off, but which I can only assume have some sort of sentimental attachment to me. As well as all the detritus though, (and there is a lot of that) I've found some really quite brilliant things. On top of old school textbooks, I've found diaries, and half-finished scarves, and perhaps best of all, old notebooks with stories and songs I wrote almost two years ago. These books are the last remaining pieces of evidence of my previous life as a "musician". There was a time, and bear with me on this one, that rather than be a writer, I wanted with all my heart to be a music producer. I went to Hull University in Scarborough (makes sense, right?) to study Music Production, and it was here I developed my love for the British Seaside, and my deep unstable hatred for Apple Mac computers. Most of the songs are, of course, self-important bum-gazing nonsense (I was still a teenager after all) but some of my best work by far has to be some tunes I wrote late one night with a good friend of mine, Mr Paul Kelly (or Mr Cube, as his stage persona prefers to be acknowledged as). As part of a fictitious spooky surf rock band named "Dang, Blast and the Smithereens", our sound stemmed mainly from the inspiration given to us by a Halloween mug with a picture of a zombie on it. This band is being reincarnated as of yesterday, as some of the lyrics simply cannot afford not to be immortalised forever in song.

I found other things too. Other musical mysteries that I can't bear to throw away, but don't like to look at - who enjoys being reminded of failure? Not me, that's for sure! Inside a cardboard box packed carefully with children's picture books (I have a love for picture book artwork. Janet and Allan Ahlberg were saints) there was a record by a band who never made it to the big time like they promised, who I was a member of for a very short period of time. Next to a bag of wool and half-started clothes making projects there is a violin, which I have not played properly for over a year, despite having a talent for it while I was at school. This seems like a waste to me, and is a constant source of guilt; as is my bass guitar, which leans uselessly in the corner of the room, packed tightly away as though about to be taken somewhere, but in truth is actually living out the retirement of it's days becoming more and more out of tune, whilst it's owner moves further and further away from being the musically-talented youngster she once was. Not that I am not a youngster. Just that I can't play any instruments anymore. And not to blow my own trumpet (horribly musically-related phrase, I know) but I used to be good. It just doesn't interest me in the way it used to. Music used to be a channel for all my creativity, it used to make me feel important and useful. Now it makes me feel guilty and ashamed, as though somehow not having the impetus to play anymore makes me a bad person. I prefer writing these days. And not songs. I like descriptions and silliness. But I still don't think I can sell the old things. Maybe I just like to torture myself.



[My "Amazing" Kinder Egg Cake]

I feel guilty like this about everything I own. Just like everybody's favourite fictional worrier Mark Corrigan, I feel guilty when I don't wear my socks on strict rotation in case I wear some more than others. I feel guilty when I talk to some of my friends more than others. I even feel guilty when I realise some of my books have got dust on, so that means I haven't been reading as much as I want to/should be. If it wasn't for guilt, I'd never do anything. A lot of the time, the only reason I write is because I feel like I should - I enjoy it, of course I do - but if procrastination was a sport, then I would definitely be a self-satisfied mansion-living winnerprick, with enough fizzy drinks and clothing endorsements to keep me in fibre-optic broadband and chocolate digestives for life. I have taken procrastination to another level. I have recently made a video about making a cake, and had it posted on the internet by a fellow partner in procrastination crime. The only thing more tragic than this, is the fact that the video had received more than 750 views when I checked it last. At least when I was making it I was learning how to use some new video editing software (and if you do decide to watch it, you can tell I didn't quite get the hang of it.) What was everyone else doing, eh? Sitting around clicking on shiny links, knowing they should be doing something else, most probably. We should all be very ashamed of ourselves.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

On Feeling Inadequate due to Bastard Heroes.

How dare they. How dare there be some people out there who are so good that you end up looking up to them. How utterly sickening. I get embarrassed when I realise that I have heroes - it's just something that a cynic like me doesn't like to admit. Everyone lets you down, but not only this, everyone is only human. I remember when I was younger, about 14; I was consumed by the band Muse. I looked up to their lead singer Matt Bellamy with a fervent love bordering on the obsessional - I thought he was amazing. Then I met Muse one fateful day in sunny summertime London, and he was a bit of a dick. Cue dreams shattering like a glass coffee table under the weight of a thrown husband after a violent domestic altercation. You see, people are only people after all. Yes, Matthew Bellamy was resplendent in the mid-afternoon sunlight, and yes, his voice sounded soft and enchanting, but he also happened to be a complete tool. He might have been bored or tired or hungry, whatever; I understand these things, but after travelling down from Aberdeen that morning to meet him, I probably deserved a hello.

Being a scary fan is not something I ever want to be. I try to keep my admiration for people under-wraps, mainly because showing enthusiasm for something makes me feel awkward and incredibly embarrassed, but also because I feel like the people in question get enough maniacs vying for their attention all day long, without me adding to their potential woes. Recently, however, and by recently I probably mean within the past two years, my "famous" heroes actually started being rather more average every-day people. Your run-of-the-mill, common or garden TV personality/newspaper journalist, if you will. Judging by the sheer amount of times I rip off his wordplay, you'd be right in assuming that one of these poor people who receives a lot of my glowing attention is the one and only Charlton Brooker. The thing with Charlie is, he's famous, but not that famous. He feels within reach. Which is about a thousand times worse than being in awe of a rockstar or Stephen Fry (for example), because there's that ever-present fear that he might have read something you wrote that was shit. Unfortunately, this has definitely happened.

For a long time I assumed that the day I received some kind of reply from Mr Brooker would be a really good day. I look up to him see, because he does the job that I want, and he does it well, and seemingly without effort (although those well-read on the subject that is his life – it isn’t voyeurism, he happily keeps us updated in his column – know that it is slightly more work and stress than it would appear). What a bastard. Balancing between attraction and jealousy is where I stand in my opinion of him. Strangely enough, the day he did begin replying was the day I started doubting every vowel and consonant I wrote, and every sentence I’d ever tentatively assumed was “funny” I was now scrutinising with despair. It is stress x 1000, and I think I’d be better off if he continued to be an unreachable London media-node, a person who is on the telly occasionally and would never converse with the likes of me. Because now, there’s a minute chance that he’s read things where I’ve made mistakes, or been drunk and disorderly. It feels as though my hero can keep tabs on me; and because of his selective riddlesome replies, it feels like he’s completely in control of this weird non-relationship. It’s like having a talent moderator. Who tells you you’re shit.

Feeling inadequate isn’t a new sensation for me, I constantly re-read things I’ve written, mostly articles on this very blog, and tell myself that I’m a terrible writer. I might be right. The thing is, I’ve spent too long at Uni now to turn back and take up a trade, so it looks like I’m in this writing business for the long haul, no matter how dire my expressions become. Doubt, I’m told, is felt by all creative-types throughout their lives, and I’m pretty sure that had Picasso felt completely at ease with his talents and personality, he’d probably have made horrible paintings. (This type of thinking doesn’t really work when applied to people like Rimbaud or Oscar Wilde who clearly realised they were the absolute shit, but in some cases my point is made clear. Look at Van Gough. Or Ian Curtis.) I’m stuck in a rut of shyness – on the one hand, I’d love more people to read my work. On the other, I’d never ask anybody to read it; I want people to read it because they’re interested. You can’t have it both ways though, and nobody will willingly read your work unless you ask them to – “the only interesting blog you’ll read is your own” as a friend of mine once told me (this is not strictly true, but I can see what she meant). This is now being completely flouted by people reading mine in secret, and using parts of it as mocking ammunition. Or indeed, by “famous” people who may or may not have glanced at the URL but intend to demoralise me by insinuating that I can’t construct sentences. I love you too. I mean, I’m all for passive aggressive flirting, but tone of voice is very hard to decipher over the medium of type.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Della - Don't worry, it looks complicated but the men who designed it made sure even a woman could use it.

I've always wanted a laptop, but I always find that computer websites are far too complicated and manly for me to navigate round. All those numbers and confusing words - I mean, what exactly is a megabyte anyway? - I'd much rather just go out and spend my money on shoes. Luckily, Dell recently launched a part of their website called "Della", and it's just perfect for my womanly needs. Pink text boxes, nice friendly pictures of models in straw hats checking their emails, I feel much more at home. There's a big section on accessories too, which is great because what put me off having a laptop before was having to carry a big ugly case - now you can get laptop bags that look just like handbags! Perfect! Just right for when I want to take my computer to the coffee shop or on a weekend break.

Except that you can't log on to Della anymore to find great new accessories for your brand new portable ASOS machine, because Dell realised that it was a fucking TERRIBLE IDEA. Seriously Dell, a special little section for the silly little ladies? Are we living in the 50s? I know everyone absolutely bummed themselves into oblivion over Mad Men, but this is a step too far on the chauvanist train. Or whatever.

I sent a link to the Della site to a few of my female friends, and all of them showed similar signs of despair and general apathy towards it. This might say something about my choice of friends - after all, I'm a nerdy news geek with no real passion for handbags or accessories to speak of, so I don't usually associate with cheerleaders or "bubbly" types - but I'd like to think that at least 98% of the female population are capable and willing to access a normal computer website and purchase a half-decent laptop. I'm even willing to compromise, and suggest they get somebody who knows what they're talking about/looking for to do the legwork for them. But how does a company become so disassociated with it's target audiences that something like Della happens? I'm aware they were clearly trying to reach a new demographic of previously uninterested and possibly imaginary technorant (technologically ignorant - I made that up, did you like it?) airheaded yummy mummies and hair-swishing Starbucks window dressings, but I'm pretty sure it was the single-most misguidedly horrible idea since the invention of baked crisps. They clearly realised it was fuckawful too, hastily covering up the evidence like a hungover admirer rabidly clicking the "delete" button on a suspect email sent drunkenly to an unsuspecting piece of trouserlust. But we know it was there. And if you want to see what it looked like, go here, because several other people were just as irritated by the ridiculous idea as I was.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Shortchanging the Serfs

Although it's a topic I love to rant about with fervour and joi de vivre, I've read so many opinion pieces and articles on politician's expense claims that I wasn't sure what fresh ideas I could bring to the table. I mean, there's really only one way of looking at it, isn't there? They stole from the country, they let down the country, and therefore they cannot be trusted to run the country. I'd say that's a pretty succinct snapshot into the opinions of the entire British population, wouldn't you agree? I never usually attempt to speak for anybody other than myself - why should I? You've all got your own ideas, and mine are usually full of air bubbles and bits of old lottery tickets anyway. In this case however, I'm going to arrogantly presume that everyone's just as unimpressed but slightly confused about this whole debacle as I am. I mean, you're all curious and intelligent, right?

The Telegraph has extensively covered these expense claims with all the enthusiasm of a toddler hell bent on poking EVERY plug socket in the house with a screwdriver they just found in the "no" drawer. On the paper's official website, you can see a somewhat trivialised breakdown of the expenses (one for snacks, one for other items), who claimed what, and various articles on how this happened and who exactly is resigning because of it. There's also quite a good feature which collects all the best quotes from politicians who got found out by the mean nasty press man and had to pay back all the moneys - my favourite being a confused mini-rant from former Conservative Cabinet Minister Douglas Hogg: "I have never claimed for the moat, or for the piano tuning - the allegation that I did is incorrect. I never claimed for these and I never received any money." likening him rather unfetchingly as a bewildered old man who was just roused from a post-Sunday lunch nap. What with all that money worry, at least he can rest assured that the Black Knight can't get into his castle unless he forgetfully leaves his drawbridge down.

The extent of this coverage is mind-boggling; every paper in the land has leapt out declaring moral outrage on behalf of the people who read them. You can't turn on the news channels or walk past a newsagents without getting ambushed with the indignant and emotionally wounded headlines of a country being led by greedy bastards. "It's been going on for ages!" they wail, bashing their tiny fists on the floor. "They've been taking ad-fucking-vantage!" Well yes, they have. But how did you fail to notice before? Hm? A few weeks ago a brilliant and inspired TV show called Newswipe was broadcast on BBC4 (yep, brilliant, funny, clever, bit of an immature man-boy; that Charlie Brooker's got it all. Yeah? Yeah?) and Peter Oborne was interviewed on it giving his view on crooked politicians and their relationships with the press. Now, I love Peter Oborne. I think he's a cast iron legend. Anybody who can sit in a chair with a slightly dishevelled tie and just emminate resentment, dissolution and despair to that amazing level deserves to be feared and respected. I'd love to go for a pint with him and just listen to him rant. I'd make a book about the best ones, and if this was the world I actually want to live in, everybody would have a copy of it on their coffee tables. He could have a menacing cover photo, with him just staring down the lens at you, like a very angry political rhinoceros.

Potential publishing deal aside, what Peter had to say was very interesting, especially when he touched upon money in parliament. He described attacking each other's expenses as "using an area weapon", which would take out members from all sides, because everybody was abusing the system. Perhaps that's an exaggeration - not everybody was abusing the system, but certainly some politicians were. And this has ruined it for the rest of them who managed to scrape by on their meagre parliamentary wages alone. The country now wants blood - Hazel Blears (Hazel Blears, only drinks vampire tears, it's Hazel Blears) yes, Hazel Blears may have waved a cheque about to prove she was paying back her taxes, and others may be following suit and repaying the money that they knew they shouldn't really have taken but it was in the past now so can't we all just get on with it and pretend like it never happened, okay? Okay? Well, no. Not really. In some of the more scheming tax-avoidance house-flipping scandals, that's what known in this country (under something called the "law" which I'm sure they might know a little bit about, being that they help make them up) as Fraud. People who do that type of thing generally end up with a criminal record and at least one uncomfortable memory of an overly-close cellmate with little regard for personal space and personal hygiene. A cheque might not bring back our faith in the governmental system.

So what might? Personally, I'd like them all to get on a big stage, call another G20 meeting perhaps, get all the world mates around. Put them all on a nice big stage, and get them to apologise. State what they did wrong, why they thought they could get away with it, and what they are going to do to rectify it. It'd be great, all the world leaders can sit in the audience watching them apologise, and then there'd be a big knees-up for the entire country at the end, paid for by the fraudulent parties, by way of a fine. Obama could heckle wittily from the sidelines, and Burlusconi could get drunk and take his trousers off. Then I want the whole expenses thing to be scrapped, because I think that if I had to pay all my travelling and accommodation while I was on my placements, I don't see why people who are getting paid to do a job should be given money to do it too. That's what pay is for, surely. The most interesting thing I've learned from the whole scandal is that people are genuinely interested in politics. I hear them talk about it when I'm working, where normally they'd be chatting about football, or something they saw on the telly. These people know the politicians' names, and they know what money they've siphoned off and what they've spent it on. What's intriguing is that they don't usually know what these politicians do in parliament. "Ed Balls? Him and his wife flipped 3 houses in two years, didn't they? What does he do again?" I heard that conversation. The guys discussing it decided he was the minister for transport. What does this say about they way politics is reported?

Blaming Mister Speaker for letting these things carry on is all very well, I'm sure he could have put a stop to it if he wanted, but the truth is, if something's going well in your favour, you're probably going to keep quiet about it. Like that time that barwoman gave you a fiver too much in your change because she thought you gave her a twenty. The thing is, these people are meant to be in charge. They should know better. We should all know better. Greediness is a vile personality trait, but it's hard to stamp it out if the people you're reprimanding can say, "But everybody else was doing it."

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Tits, Guns and Plummeting Sales Figures

If I was a futuristic saviour of our time, or a brave-bordering-on-suicidal adventuress hell-bent on killing those ever-present bad guys, I'd probably wear a stab vest. You know, something with a bit of bulk. It might not protect me from a sniper rifle or a frag mine, but at least with a helmet and some sort of heavy armour, I'd feel a bit safer. Of course, swinging from coincidentally-useful vines and running at any sort of speed might become a bit more difficult, but I think I'd prefer to be a little bit over encumbered than to get caught out by a pack of tigers whilst only wearing my bikini and some hot pants.

When Lara Croft first leapt bustily into gaming culture, she caused a bit of a stir. I can remember watching a short investigative TV programme about her at the time - it was like Dispatches for kids. I remember thinking "That looks interesting, I'd like to do that kind of thing when I grow up". Anyhow, fond nostalgic flashbacks aside, the young reporter who presented the show (who must have only been about 14 at the time, come to think of it) was gravely concerned about how Lara's appearance could influence the way women are regarded in society. The show took us to some offices where presumably some sort of important games development-type people worked. It was a long time ago. The plucky reporter confronted one of the men in charge of Lara's appearance, asking him (to his slight but tangible amusement) whether or not he thought that her unrealistic figure was derogatory towards women. He said no. He was then asked "But don't you think her boobs are just far too big? Isn't it a bit excessive?", to which he replied "Well, it's all just a bit of fun, isn't it? And young kids shouldn't be playing the game anyway, so it technically won't be damaging their perceptions."

Of course, this is all vaguely-remembered anecdotal evidence. Realistically, i shouldn't have even brought it up because I have no formal referencing on it, and could have quite convincingly dreamed up this entire scenario. If it didn't provide me with a very important life-altering decision, I would quite happily agree that I'd fabricated it to fit in with this blog. However, referencing or not, I'm ploughing on with the ideas it brings up, because I have more interesting information on the subject to add later. See, I'm not really that lazy. Just tired.

An article I found in the Guardian the other day (yes, the Guardian again, sorry) points out that over the years, gamers have become less and less interested in computer-generated arses. This could be down to a number of factors - for instance, the number of female gamers flooding the market has increased dramatically since the 1996 release of Tomb Raider. According to the Entertainment Software Association, about 40% of gamers are of the fairer sex. With an increase too in the number of females going into the games development industry, is it any surprise that jiggle physics isn't doing too well on the market anymore? I have another question though; can we really just put it down to girls playing games that has changed the trends? Surely that's a bit patronising towards gaming's most loyal demographic - the guys. Perhaps everyone just wants games that have interesting plots and characters with depth and charisma. Maybe everyone's gotten a bit bored with tits and guns. Maybe those games were just a bit crap.



[Courtesty of testfreaks.com]

These days, if a game's going to be successful, it needs to have style, substance, and it needs to be interesting. Spending upwards of 20 hours in front of a screen has to somehow feel "worthwhile", which is why games such as Fallout 3, the Halflife series and Bioshock to name just three are so immensely popular. Just having an attractive main character doesn't cut it (although in a damning exposé I can reveal that I do indeed have a tiny penchant for Gordon Freeman...does this count as the same kind of shallow exploitation? Hmm.) There will always be a space for unrealistically attractive/disproportionate women in games, - just look at Streets of Rage or Tekken for evidence of this, Chun Li's thighs have gotten even more monstrous in the newest installment of Street Fighter. Ever since Princess Peach, female counterparts have been guiltily lusted after. It's just nice to see that the truly groundbreaking and interesting titles that have been created in recent years are generating the respect and enthusiasm that they deserve.



[Courtesy of Gamedaily.com]

Some gamers I spoke to seemed to share the view that games have grown up over the years, and that this is essentially a good thing. "It's weird because it's now proved that 50% of game publishers' ideologies is wrong" said Matt D of the changing faces of Lara Croft over the years. Similarly, Martin H agreed that sex doesn't necessarily sell in today's gaming market. "Mirror's Edge is a good example. Mind you,I have played Rumble Roses." Others tended to feel that it didn't really bother them either way if a girl character was scantily clad or not. "I'm usually in a rather asexual frame of mind when gaming." said James C. "Sex seems incongruous. Like putting tits & arse into Cluedo." So there we have it. In the very own words of gamers themselves, sex in games? Take it or leave it. I'll leave you with the sage words of Matt M: "[I'm just] glad that us gamers are treated less like sex starved pervs and that developers are producing better female characters." Well said.

*If you're a female gamer and would like to have your say on the subject in a future entry, please email me your thoughts on k.taylor.cronshaw@gmail.com or leave a comment below*

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Succumbing to #badfeatureideas

Considering that a month ago I wrote a long and dispassionate rant about Twitter not being an acceptable topic for endless features and column inches, I'm only mentioning it now to explain this particular blog's title - it's called a "hashtag". It's a way of quickly searching for information. So every time I think of a truly terrible idea for a feature I use #badfeatureidea, mainly so that I can look back on them and think about how rubbish I am most of the time. That, and to get a smug sense of self-satisfaction when I realise that my so-called bad feature idea has been used unwittingly by somebody in a paid writing position. This hasn't happened yet.

So now that I've apologised for being a hypocritical arse, I can explain what I was talking about in the first place. Basically, I thought up an idea for a feature that revolved around my doomed attempts at gaining some kind of paid writing work. This was swiftly disregarded as "shit". This morning however, I woke up especially tired and confused, which meant that my morning reading schedule was slightly more surreal than usual. Aside from awkwardly laughing at news articles other people would find "sad" or possibly even "harrowing"; my zombie-like pre-vitamin C state led me to find a piece on job applications particularly scathing. Mainly because I was roughly a millimetre away from applying for the exact job mentioned in the article just yesterday.

The feature, posted on journalism.co.uk jokingly dismisses many of the applicants for the 25p a word feature writing gig as "have-a-go heroes", and probably quite rightly has a good old laugh at some of the more hilarious CVs the poor prospective employer was sent while she was on holiday. Fair enough, if I was in her shoes I'd have probably been a little bit crueler - especially to Gyorge, who thanks her for her "existence" in his almost psychotically misguided signoff. I did feel a bit put out though, despite being completely under-qualified and misguided myself. "Have-a-go hero"? I'm seriously trying to crash my way through the set walls of my chosen career here; its thoughtless insults like that that CRUSH PEOPLE'S DREAMS. Had I been a weaker person, I may have broken down and wept. All set to write a withering yet unreadable ranting comment as soon as I finished reading it, I was overjoyed to see that at least three other people shared my exact thoughts. There was no need for me to stick my neck out and yell with popping-out eyes about the “current job market” or neck swivellingly claim that we were all just “trying our best”. Just as well really, as now that I’ve had my breakfast I really don’t care much about it anymore. It just re-affirms my previous beliefs in the calming and self-regulatory effects of tropical V8.

They should hand it out free in newsagents alongside the Daily Mail. #badfeatureidea.

This kind of reception for a misjudged covering letter or previous work portfolio is what, as journalism students a least, we are taught to expect. Nobody really wants you to work for them - you have to bully them into reading your work, stretching open their eyelids and screaming blue bloody murder in their uninterested faces until they admit that perhaps your blood sweat and tears might not be entirely as shit as they thought it was. Wanting to be a writer or more specifically, desperately wanting to be a current affairs and social commentary...commentator during the Current Economic Climate is about as joyful and fulfilling as burying the family dog in wet sand on a rainy bank holiday. We know we’re under-qualified, not very funny and generally immature. We don’t even mind being told this really, as we’re all self-deprecating bad-mouthed losers who thrive off disappointment and insults. What makes this a little more heard to bear is that the writer and prospective employer previously described had to trudge through over 250 emails after leaving her inbox unattended whilst on holiday, and thought I (as a reader of the article) would feel some sort of sympathy over this fact. Fuck off. Even I think posting a job vacancy and then jaunting off on holiday is a little silly – look at what happens to your emails. To then exasperatedly explain to a readership made partly of people who potentially applied to that very same vacancy that it’s such a hard job to have to read all of our pitiful excuses for life experiences, it could make the writer come off as a bit of a cunt. I’m no expert, but maybe you shouldn’t alienate your staff before you’ve even hired them.

Needless to say, I am now screwing up my CV and throwing it in the bin. And then burning it. And then scattering the ashes on my already doomed future career in the media. Maybe that’s a bit too over-the-top. Maybe I should just never work for Emma Rubach.
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