“Live Long and Prosper.”
RIP Mr. Spock aka Leonard Nimoy
This is somewhat amusing, unbelievable, and shameful at the same time.
Two high school basketball teams – Smyrna and Riverdale, who happen to be located in the Middle Tennessee county in which I live (though, thankfully, I did not attend either as a student) — purposefully tried to lose to each other on the court this past week. The teams intentionally stalled play, made unforced turnovers, deliberately missed free throws, played with backups instead of the usual starters, committed blatant on-court violations, and, at one point, even made as if they were going to shoot at the wrong net.
The referee policing the action finally had enough of the shenanigans and called out the coaches.
Turns out neither team wanted to win because that would pit them against a powerhouse team and possible elimination in the next round of the playoffs, according to published reports. Instead, they wanted the loss so that it would put them on the other side of the bracket where they would stand a better chance against the opponent over there. A win in that case would propel the team into the state playoffs.
Sounds like a Las Vegas sports fix. But these are high school teams!
To appreciate the irony of this further, you need to know that winning is par for the course in Rutherford County high school athletics. Coverage of high school sports has always been an emphasis at the local newspaper, where I used to work as an editor. The county has produced numerous state champions over the years. State playoff berths are as expected from them as much as Super Bowl appearances are expected of the New England Patriots. Anything less is almost taboo.
Hard play, execution and determination are the norm from these two teams.
Famed sports writer Grantland Rice — who was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and whose portrait once hung on the wall of my office in Murfreesboro — said: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
In this case, how the teams played the game was unbelievable, embarrassing and disrespectful.
The game was an insult to fans who paid money to see a legitimate contest between the two schools. Fans were clearly not in on the game plan of trying to lose in order to advance, and the fans took to voicing their disgust on Twitter as the game unfolded.
Nor was the plan to intentionally lose disguised very well. One player reportedly even signaled to the ref that she had made a three-second violation and the ref should blow the whistle on her.
Now that’s comedy.
What isn’t funny is what this says about sports and what it says about fair play. Whether this was an idea or a directive foisted upon the players by the individual coaches or whether it was something the players themselves decided to do, the result is the same. Their actions were dishonest and deplorable, and, quite frankly, akin to cheating.
Both teams have already been punished by being banned from the postseason altogether, put on probation for the following season, and each school fined. One coach has been suspended for two games and discipline may be forthcoming for the other.
Hopefully, the players will learn from their mistake as they go through college and beyond. Because, being duplicitous is not a highly sought after skill on job applications.
And you all thought deflating footballs was a new low.
Kudos for NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway for their quick response to Saturday’s horrific accident involving Kyle Busch. Officials plan to begin adding soft tire barriers around all portions of the track not already protected by SAFER barriers. But, why is it we have to wait for something like this to happen before anyone does something about it?
Busch was seriously injured after his car was collected in a multi-car wreck in Saturday’s Xfinity Series at Daytona. His car careened across the infield just past pit road and slammed head-on into a concrete wall there. According to reports, he suffered a compound break of his lower right leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot. He’ll be out of action indefinitely while he recovers.
He was lucky. He could just as easily have been killed.
Incredulously, Daytona did not have SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) Barriers in place at this portion of the track. SAFER barriers, consisting of giant Styrofoam-like blocks, were built around race tracks to minimize the impact of cars crashing into the walls. The softer walls were introduced in 2002 and installed on most NASCAR and Indy tracks by 2005, according to ask.com.
For the most part, however, the softer walls only line the outside walls of any given race track.
Following Saturday’s crash, dozens of fellow drivers leveled harsh criticism over the lack of safer walls around the entire track. NASCAR and track president Joie Chitwood III, in turn, pledged to take immediate measures to put buffers in place on any exposed concrete walls. Temporary tire buffers should be in place prior to today’s Daytona 500 and permanent SAFER Barriers will be added after the race.
It’s great news, however overdue.
NASCAR and each of its track operators must have known that anything can happen in a race. Yes, the odds are low that anyone might hit that portion of the wall. But to play roulette with driver’s lives, is a gamble that should never be taken.
Sadly, this gamble has now cost the sport one of its best, most popular (and most hated) drivers for the foreseeable future.
NASCAR safety measures
Admittedly, NASCAR has made efforts to increase safety of its drivers, crews and even fans over the years. The SAFER Barriers are a perfect example.
Restrictor plates were added to stock cars in 1988 to help reduce horsepower. They became mandatory after driver Bobby Allison crashed and his car spiraled into the fencing around the track at Talladega Speedway.
After losing the greatest driver of this era, Dale Earnhardt, in a head-on crash at Daytona in 2001, the sport made use of the HANS device, a sort of harness fastened to the driver’s helmet, mandatory. The safety measure is designed to keep drivers from suffering life-threatening injuries to their head and neck in the event of a sudden stop.
Roof flaps were added to NASCAR vehicles after several terrifying crashes in the 1990s in which cars rolled over multiple times on high-speed tracks like Talladega and Michigan. The flaps open and disrupt air flow when a car gets sideways and air tries to get under the vehicles and force them up and over. They were further modified in 2013.
Not all of the improvements have been well-received, nor widely embraced when first introduced.
Many argue the advent of restrictor plates is responsible for the multi-car wrecks at Daytona and Talladega that have become the norm, and increase the potential for serious injury. Spectators and announcers alike bide their time just watching for “the big one” to occur. And, it inevitably does.
The HANS device was actually designed in the early 1980s, but didn’t become a mandatory safety device until after Earnhardt’s death. Many drivers, including Earnhardt, derided the device as being too confining and actually stated they would rather take their chances. It took Earnhardt’s death to end any arguments to the contrary.
Now we have an obvious lack of SAFER Barriers.
Amazingly, some drivers expressed surprise after Saturday’s crash that there were no barriers on that part of the track. They were quick to criticize NASCAR for its lack of safety, but did any of them ever walk the track to see where the potential dangers lied? Did any of them petition NASCAR to add SAFER Barriers to exposed walls? Shouldn’t drivers demand safety measures be met at all tracks before blindly hopping behind the wheel?
Driving any race car – whether it’s a stock car, Formula One car, Indy car or funny car – is inherently risky. It takes tremendous courage for drivers to suit up and go wheel to wheel with other drivers at such high speeds for hundreds of miles. The speed and the thrill of chasing the checkered flag obviously outweigh the dangers for some. (I know I can get white-knuckled just driving at 75 mph on the interstate, let alone what these drivers do.)
It takes a special sort of individual to perform at that level week after week. Unfortunately, it takes a terrible tragedy like Busch’s wreck to bring about change.
With the Grammys behind us and the Oscars ahead, I thought I’d present my own Best of… roundup as well. Consider this, though, more of a people’s choice awards list. I haven’t seen all the Oscar contenders so I can’t rate the high-brow emotional stuff, and I’m not into pop music, so this is just me, the common man, listing my own personal faves. I’ll include a few “worst of’s” as well. Kudos to all the writers who collectively entertained me in 2014 with their originality, wit and fun stories on screens big and small.
BEST: Guardians of the Galaxy
While it was a bit goofy at times, especially with Star-Lord’s “dance off” toward the end, I found this movie to be refreshingly fun and entertaining. The characters were unique, the action was top-notch, and the film never got bogged down in the weighty seriousness of other super-hero movies.
RUNNER-UP: The Lego Movie
A kid’s movie? Maybe. But it was just so hilarious and that tune, well, it was awesome. Face it, everything was awesome. Batman and Green Lantern and Superman were awesome. Did I mention this was awesome?
SLEEPER OF THE YEAR: John Wick
Keanu Reeves picked a perfect flick to make his return in a big way. This movie was intense, action-packed, and just plain fun to watch. Of course, the studios are going to try to repeat their success with a sequel. Sigh.
WORST: A Million Ways to Die in the West
This movie was just a flat-out miss. The story was practically non-existent, the jokes – if you can call them that – were bombs, and the acting just tired. Comedies are hard. Maybe one of the most difficult forms of movies to pull off. But this one missed on so many levels.
How do you take a great movie like Fargo and translate it to the small screen? Like this. This series was so quirky and enjoyable. The performances were first rate and it was full of surprises. No formulaic tv drama here.
RUNNER-UP: The Walking Dead
Some people didn’t like the direction this series took in 2014 with its episodes that singled out individuals or small groups rather than including the whole ensemble, or more specifically, Rick Grimes. I thought it was a great change of pace from the prison/governor episodes and allowed us to get to know each character a bit better. It did seem at times that the storyline sort of forgot people, such as when Beth went missing, but as evidenced by the current season, the writers have atoned for that quite well.
SURPRISE: Last Comic Standing
I don’t really like stand-up comics, but this competition series provided quick laughs when I needed it most.
A SyFy Walking Dead ripoff of the worst variety. I think I managed to watch about ten minutes before deleting it from my viewing que forever.
SECOND WORST: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD
Boring. That’s the only way I can describe what should have been an exciting, action-packed series. This is how you take a Marvel franchise and dumb it down for TV. Ugh.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Forty years and still the best band in the world, KISS! Def Leppard came along for the ride, but just proved that no one can open for KISS.
Surprise: Arcade Fire
They may not be a surprise to those who were already fans, but their act/songs took me by storm in 2014. I got to see them live in Nashville and that only cemented the deal. My favorite best new group, even if I did discover them a bit late.
More and more I find myself turning to social media, particularly Twitter, for quick news. By just scrolling through tweets, I can get a quick assessment of what is the hot topic of the day and what everyone is talking about. Makes me wonder, if no one is tweeting about it, is it really happening?
What were your favorite TV, movies and books of 2014? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations. Just comment in the box below.
PS…I follow back.
By G. Robert Frazier
Quick show of hands: Which tool do you writers like more, the spiral-bound notebook (along with a good old-fashioned pen) or a computer and keypad?
For quick notes, character sketches, and random scenes that come to me in the middle of the night, I have to go with the former. For one thing, you don’t have to get out of bed. You don’t have to take time to turn anything on. You just grab the notebook (which I conveniently keep on the nightstand beside my bed), flip to an open page, and start writing. You don’t have to worry about saving your work midway through by giving it a file name, finding a folder on your computer to save it in, and hitting the save button. You aren’t distracted by the lure of email messages, tweets and Facebook posts. And, perhaps most importantly, you aren’t compelled to go back and retype a sentence or correct any typos you’ve made along the way.
Your mind is free and clear to just write away.
I have reams of notebooks filled with goodies for my work in progress, as well as other story ideas, scenes and outlines. I use sticky notes to mark what I’ve written, so that I can find what I want again. I use a larger sticky note on the front of each notebook to create a sort of index. I keep the notebooks together in a small plastic tote and pull them out as needed. (Note: I stock up on notebooks dirt cheap every summer during the back to school sales.)
I am impressed by the volume of words and ideas I’ve managed to get on paper in this way. Any time I get discouraged by the word count on my work in progress on the computer, I can look to the tub of spiral notebooks for some reassurance. I am writing. I am making progress.
Of a sort.
When I get stuck in my writing, I can also flip open the notebooks to find inspiration or ideas that might provide a spark to get writing again. There are treasures there that I want to get back to; ideas I’d love to develop into full-fledged stories, once I get done with the novel at hand.
I also look at my hasty scribbles as a way to cleanse my thoughts. When I have time to transcribe the words from the notebook into the computer file, I find I can fine-tune or elaborate on the writing along the way. I can easily skip over anything I think is a bad idea or repetitive, or embellish a quick spark of a thought into something more.
There are, of course, downsides to the spiral notebook method of writing. First among them, finding the time to transcribe my words from the notebook to the computer. As you can see by the photo accompanying this article, I’m a bit behind in that regard. Secondly, there is the problem of reading my own writing. I’m not the neatest when it comes to writing with pen and paper, especially when I get in a hurry. I tend to write in a sort of hybrid printing/cursive pattern. I can make it out, for the most part, but sometimes even I have trouble trying to decipher my own chicken scratch.
My spiral-bound notebooks also take up space. A computer file doesn’t.
Still, the notebook method works for me. I like it.
Which method do you prefer in your writing? Use the comment box below to share your thoughts.
New England Patriots players Friday said they have faith in quarterback Tom Brady and support him completely, despite the sports media who would just as soon as string him up by a noose without a trial. Thursday’s Bellichick and Brady press conferences were media circuses, and no matter what either man said about the so-called Deflategate fiasco, the media were determined to tear them down.
I’m not sure where all the hatred comes from or why the media — which is supposed to be impartial and supposed to report facts, not innuendo, rumors and personal vendettas — is so intent on bringing down the Patriots franchise. The only real conclusion is that everyone hates a winner. When the Cowboys won under Tom Landry, they were the team you loved to hate. When the Raiders were winning, they were the hated team. When the Yankees win, they are the hated team. When the Red Sox win, they are the hated team.
People love sports heroes, and hate winners. That’s all there is to it. The world is full of petty jealousy and losers who can only dream of being as good and successful as others. How else do you explain all the piss-ant former football players turned commentator experts? Where are their rings? Where are their bestselling autobiographies?
Patriots players commended Tom Brady for being calm and collected at his press conference. Some of the media tried to picture him as squirming under the pressure. Well, that is they wished he was squirming. They were too busy trying to rationalize how they could use his words against him.
I wish Brady had actually lost his cool. I wish he would have stood up and taken the media down a peg or two. I hate the media. (Used to be one of them, by the way. Never again. Lousy pay. Lousy job.) Bunch of armchair quarterbacks who live just to tear down someone else’s achievements. Why? For their own five minutes of glory and one-up-manship.
Fact is, this whole deflategate nonsense is just nonsense. A flatter ball doesn’t travel as far or as fast as one fully pumped up. Advantage defense. Hey, Colts defense, be careful what you wish for!
What did the media really want Brady to say, anyway? “Sorry, I did have the balls deflated so I could get a better grip. But, turns out, I was wrong. I throw much better with fully inflated balls after all. Won’t do it again.”
I’m not trying to condone cheating. OK, if someone altered the balls, that was wrong. But, hey, let’s wait until all the evidence is in, huh? Quit convicting people just because you don’t like something. In my opinion, it’s the sports broadcasters (Troy Aikman!) who have lost their cool. Just look at their emotional outburst following Brady’s press conference.
Fact is, in sports, you look for a competitive edge. If that means pushing the envelope or a rule a little bit, so be it. Don’t tell me every sports player doesn’t look for an edge. Don’t tell me the other teams aren’t doing the same things. Doesn’t make it right, I know, but that’s the game. That’s the culture of winning this whole sports world is built around. Win or else. Why do you think so many coaches and players get fired or traded every off season? Because in today’s sports world, you win or you’re out.
No wonder one of my brothers ignores sports. Who can blame him after this? It’s a dirty business and things like Deflategate just make me want to walk away as a fan too. (I know I won’t, though.)
If anyone is looking for blame, then blame the refs. It’s their job to make sure the rules are upheld. If they don’t see a penalty on the field, the flag isn’t tossed. If they see it, they toss a flag and the consequences follow. Well, usually. Except in the case of the Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys game. Was it cheating when they picked up the flag and made their non-call? Where’s the outrage over that?
Integrity of the game? Come on, man! Just shut up and play ball.
I like short, snappy sentences and paragraphs.
And lots of white space.
Stories read faster.
Your eye swiftly races through the action, reading from left to right, from top to bottom, the pages turning.
James Patterson novels are a perfect example. Most of his books feature paragraphs of two or three sentences, and short, tight chapters. You can’t help but keep flipping through the pages to see what happens next.
The downside is the prose is very simple, minimalistic. The details are more sparse, the settings more arbitrary. The dialogue and action take center stage. It’s usually a compromise I’m willing to live with as I prefer the action and quick pacing to the slow, methodical buildup.
In The Accident, an author thought to be dead has scribed an unauthorized, anonymous biography about media mogul Charlie Wolfe. The novel recounts a deadly deed from Wolfe’s past that, if published, would threaten to topple Wolfe and his media empire and his connections with the CIA, which in turn could have worldwide implications. Both Wolfe and the CIA are intent on keeping the manuscript from ever seeing the light of day, to the point that they are willing to kill anyone who comes in contact with the manuscript.
Pavone’s book – a New York Times bestseller – includes lots of chunky paragraphs throughout. Or, should I say, lots of chunky sentences? Pavone details everything. And not just with a word or two, but with several words. Dozens of words, sometimes. I counted in excess of two hundred words alone in one sentence. To put that in perspective, from the viewpoint of a former newspaper journalist, if a reporter wrote a sentence with more than thirty words in it, we editors would usually cry foul. And here’s an author writing two hundred-plus word sentences!
Certainly, with all those words to work with Pavone can and does paint a vivid picture of his settings, characters, and situations. There is no need for the reader to fill in the blanks. It’s all laid out right before us. There’s little left to the imagination.
An example: There’s one sentence where a character goes to hang up the telephone and we get a detailed description of the “accordion-like” phone cord and the big push buttons on the phone cradle.
All the articles I’ve read on writing stress less is more. I’m pretty sure that Patterson would have simply written: She hung up the phone. And I’m sure if I brought a story to my writing group to read in which I described the phone cord and push buttons on the phone, I’d be told to cut it.
Pavone was probably trying to make a point about the phone call, the shock that followed for the caller. But still, that much detail seems excessive. There were many more instances while reading The Accident in which I was of the mindset: Okay, I get it. Move on.
Still, Pavone compensates by putting his prose in the present tense rather than past tense, like most novels. By doing so, the story of The Accident churns swiftly for the reader and the pages do keep turning. I read the 381-page book in six days. (Not bad, since I generally only have time to read fifty pages a day).
I read somewhere that Millennials actually prefer to read stories in the present tense. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m used reading stories in the past tense, and writing in the past tense, that’s all. But I’m always open to new experiences, especially if they work.
The Accident works, but it would work better if Pavone tightened his prose and quit trying so hard.
Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
The Martian by Andy Weir isn’t lacking for quality reviews on the Internet, so it was a little surprising to find the book was available for a free read in exchange for an honest review on Blogging for Books. Already a New York Times Bestseller, the book really doesn’t need my two cents worth, but I’m happy to oblige.
The book follows the plight of astronaut Mark Watney who is left for dead on Mars by the rest of his crew following an emergency liftoff in the midst of a dust storm. Watney makes clear throughout that his fellow astronauts had no choice but to abandon him or perish themselves. Still, that leaves Watney to fend for himself or die.
Watney, who is The Martian in this case, is a botanist by occupation and he uses his skills to good measure. He quickly learns to become a potato farmer, converting parts of his lander into a garden to grow calorie-rich spuds that will last him until a rescue mission can be made. He also ingeniously devises methods in which to generate oxygen and water that will last him for the duration, although with a few mishaps along the way.
Our hero recounts each challenge and its scientific solutions in exceeding detail. While it is fascinating to see Watney’s mind at work, to see his ingenuity and resourcefulness overcome every obstacle, the straightforward how-to methodology of each problem and solution can be tedious reading. Page after page is devoted to mathematical reasoning. That obviously lends a real authenticity to the dilemma at hand, but it can make for boring reading after a few pages of such jargon.
Honestly, who knew all those word problems in math class would ever come in handy like this?
As Watney is alone, there is no one to argue with or bounce ideas off other than himself. He does so through a series of journal-like log entries. Thankfully, each entry is short and sweet, so the book reads at a fairly fast pace despite the scientific mumbo jumbo.
Many reviewers have pointed out that first-time novelist Weir fails to incorporate much in the way of a human element or characterization to Watney. He doesn’t dwell on family or friends, hopes, dreams or aspirations. Rather, the reader is supposed to be satisfied that his goal is survival and little else. That makes for a less engaging read for those looking for an escapist sort of story.
Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Since it’s Giving Tuesday, I thought I should share a unique way for you to give back: You can be a volunteer reader for the Nashville Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition.
This is my second year as a reader for the competition, wherein I get to read dozens of scripts and rate them according to NaFF criteria. In doing so, I am helping whittle the entries down to potential winners in more than a dozen categories.
I became a reader last year in an effort to strengthen my own script-writing abilities, but you don’t have to be a writer to take advantage of this opportunity. You just have to love stories and love reading them. The folks at NaFF will help you identify what works and what doesn’t work in the script you are reading so that you can effectively rate them.
What’s more, the knowledge gained from reading and rating scripts will broaden your own film-going experience. You will look at movies in a whole new way. You will learn how a good film is structured, as well as what makes good dialogue and scenes.
NaFF is one of the largest and oldest film festivals in the U.S., screening over 250 films from more than 50 countries. Last year, which was NaFF’s inaugural screenwriting competition, more than 1,500 entries were received. They are anticipating about 2,000 entries for the 2015 competition. Winners will be announced at the film festival in April.
Relax, you don’t have to read them all. And you don’t have to read the entire script. You only have to commit to reading the first 30 pages.
Believe it or not, in those few pages, and with the help of NaFF’s training, you will be able to make an informed decision about the script you are reading. You will be able to assess whether the script has effectively established a main character you care about, a goal for the character, an antagonist or challenge that the main character must overcome, and a whole lot more, from use of dialogue to setting.
I read pages from more than 170 scripts in 2014, including one of the scripts that eventually won a top prize. And I read a number of scripts all the way through. Some because I wanted to know how the story ended, some because I was learning more about the business of script writing, both what was done right and what was wrong.
I’ve been reading off and on for the past couple months, and will ramp up my reading in the months ahead. NaFF receives most of its entries in January as the deadline nears. Trust me, there will be plenty of scripts to go around.
And it’s not too late to get in on the fun.
NaFF needs about 20 more readers to join its ranks. If you live in Middle Tennessee, to get in on the action, all you have to do is attend a reader orientation from 6 to 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, Dec. 4. The 90-minute training session will be led by Harold Loren, a 2014 juror and presenter. The event takes place at Nashville Public Television, 161 Rains Ave., Nashville (near the Tennessee State Fairgrounds).
You don’t have to be a resident to participate. NaFF has readers all across the country, and even in Canada. NaFF can send orientation materials to you and all of the reading and judging is done online. Just email competition manager Josh Escue at email@example.com.
PS: Did I mention that readers can earn tickets to see films at the April 16-25 festival as well as attend a screenwriting training program, as well as after-parties?
If you grew up enjoying comic books like me, you probably have entertained the notion of writing or drawing your own comic book one day. It’s a thrilling and unique medium, and it clearly takes a team effort to bring the adventures of your favorite super-heroes to life month after month.
The 150-page trade paperback book is a well-presented behind-the-scenes look into the production of comic books, from idea to script, from art to final production. Each area gets its own detailed chapter, complete with sample scripts, artwork and more along the way.
But, overall, the book’s main mission statement is abundantly clear: a comic book is all about collaboration. It’s about being flexible, with each participant in the process agreeing to be flexible and open to alternative ideas or ways of presenting the story to readers.
Yes, the idea may start with the writer – as do most things, whether it is a book, ad campaign or a movie – but unless the writer also happens to be the artist and editor, it certainly doesn’t end there. The artist and editor will also have plenty to say before the final product makes it to the presses. In that respect, comic book production is not unlike the production of a television episode, where the writer is just one voice in a roomful of writers, producers, actors and directors who ultimately will also have input into the execution of the final script.
If you can’t work collaboratively, and be willing to embrace, and sometimes concede to other ideas even when you are adamantly against it, then you are probably better off scribing novels. At least then you will only have an editor or agent to contend with, not a whole platoon of creative minds.
Pak and Van Lente speak from vast experience in the comic book business. Pak has written dozens of storylines for DC Comcis, Marvel, Dynamite Entertainment and Valiant Comics, including the “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” storylines. Van Lente is a #1 New York Times best-selling author, having written the Marvel Zombies line of books, Incredible Hercules (with Pak), and the original graphic novel Cowboys & Aliens, which was the basis for the motion picture.
Their insights into the comic book business are invaluable. The pair begin by crafting the idea of a comic book, showing the reader how to properly format and script the comic book, and how to work with artists on bringing their vision to life on the page. They then take the process even farther by explaining how to pitch your comic book and break into the comic book medium.
The only drawback to the book is the lack of any art from the more popular DC or Marvel comics the pair have worked on. Instead they use images from Valiant titles and an original tale crafted from beginning to end specifically for this book.
But overall, the book details a fascinating process that is guaranteed to hold your interest, whether you are a writer, artist or just a reader wanting to learn more about the medium.
Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
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