intraspace: the review lounge

Thursday, August 30, 2007

the crime of olga arbyelina

the crime of olga arbyelina, by andrei makine

the local library has a few andrei makine books. it was 'the earth and sky of jacques dorme' that first introduced me to makine and i fell in love with his writing style. 'the crime of olga arbyelina' was my second outing with his work.

it all starts off with a fascinating scene that unfolds in a russian cemetery in paris. an old man tends the graves and tells stories of the people who inhabit them. visitors come to the cemetery to hear these stories, furtively listening to the old man's words and fleeing when he notices them listening. and so, he tells the story of olga arbyelina.

the first scene is of olga sitting on a riverbank in a small town near paris next to the corpse of a middle-aged man. the suspicion of course falls on olga as the murderer - evidently this is the 'crime' that the title talks about. however, the narrative then flicks back about two years, and through suggestions and finally out and out revelation, we find out what olga's hidden crime really is. incest. (yikes!) sorry if i've ruined the story for you, but that all but ruined the story for me.

makine once again shows his genius for poetic writing, but at the point of the revelation, the story becomes a dark irredeemable tragedy that ends in olga's madness and leaves the reader feeling somehow sullied by the reading experience. olga's haemophiliac adolescent son (the other party in the said 'crime') is an unlikeable ghost-like figure who drugs his mother. so it becomes pretty hard going, although makine never writes about his subject in stark and brutal terms, no matter what his characters' crimes may be. perhaps this makes it more disturbing in a way. by being captured by his gentle poetry you feel somehow implicated in the story. you keep reading, hoping for that chink of light that might reveal some hope. none comes.

even though i love makine's poetic language, in this book it sometimes feels like this language is just filling space. a couple of times, i found myself thinking that the whole novel could have been quite an effective short story.

all up, do i regret reading this book? probably. 'the earth and sky' was so much more skillfully done in terms of narrative, structure and language. and because of that i haven't given up on makine.

warandpeace-o-meter: 876/981 (volIII, bookXV, chapVII)

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

eagle vs shark

in the last few years, a comic force has quietly been brewing in new zealand.

in one corner we have 'flight of the conchords' - a couple of new zealand blokes - bret mckenzie and jemaine clement - who decided to sing comedy songs. they called themselves "new zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo". bret mckenzie is actually a pretty accomplished musician in nz circles - playing in the black seeds and having his own music under the name 'video kid'. apparently he was also in lord of the rings. so you see he's served his time in nz creative circles. jemaine clement did all kinds of stuff - including the voice-over for the l&p ads about life in nz (unless you live in nz, you have no idea what i'm talking about). anyway, flight of the conchords suddenly became very popular - world-wide. first in the uk, where the bbc did a radio documentary thing in 2005 and then they also got a slot on hbo in the states. they played all kinds of festivals around the place, and then i saw them live in nz last year when they supported bic runga. very funny. from there they ended up getting a sitcom series on HBO. this series has just finished in the states and they have been given a second season. the first season screens in nz soon. if you've never seen flight of the conchords in action - watch this.

in the other corner we have taika waititi. taika is a general creative jack-of-all-trades. he got quite a few awards (including an academy award nomination) for a short film called 'two cars, one night'. i saw him speaking at last year's semi-permanent design conference. very funny. he met jemaine clement (the guy from flight of the conchords who wasn't in lord of the rings - as far as i know) at uni in wellington and they formed a comedy act called the 'humourbeasts'. they did a show where they reinterpreted the legends of māui (unless you live in nz you have no idea what i'm talking about). taika got together with an actor called loren horsley (she was sieglinda in 'xena: warrior princess').

out of this fertile comic milieu sprang the film 'eagle vs shark'. it was written by taika waititi and loren horsley and stars jemaine clement, loren horsley and taika waititi.

last night, emma and anna and i went to see it. anna said, "i don't normally like nz films, but this one looks quite funny." it is in the vein of napoleon dynamite - "small town nerd humour"? and a number of critics have compared it to that film, although i have no idea if taika waititi was influenced by napoleon when he wrote and filmed eagle vs shark in 2005. there is something distinctly new zealand about the characters which overseas viewers might not differentiate from napoleon.

anyway, eagle vs shark was tremendously funny and very very good, and i loved it. it didn't do very well in the states but it has debuted at 4 at the nz box office behind 'live free or die hard', 'the simpsons' and 'i now pronounce you chuck and larry'. it grossed NZ$113,999 in the first week on 27 screens, not bad when you consider that all the other films in the top 10 were on at least 40 screens. now why the heck are nz cinemas not getting behind this film? it makes me mad. honestly people, it is right up there and well worth watching. the actors were great (no weak performances), the storyline was amusing - heaps of great nz culture. it even has a little miss sunshine-esque little girl. it has poignant moments wrapped in the humour, and a great soundtrack by the phoenix foundation. new zealanders! australians! brits! peoples of the world! get to it!

watch the trailer.

on the headphones: 'to the sky' by maps, from the album 'we can create'.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

SP07: the review

after last year's semi-permanent design conference i was adamant i'd be back again and i was. last year, i spent some of my time texting roly to tell him what he was missing out on - this year, he relinquished and came along. the two of us packed up and headed north, staying with my folks in kaiaua the night before and then into auckland for the conference the next morning.

here's how the day unfolded:

alt. "alt," as the sp07 book says, "is a multi-disciplinary design company based in auckland." last year, some of the designers that spoke were very unconfident in front of the audience and i was worried the same thing might happen when the guy from alt got up. but while he was clearly more comfortable in front of a mac than nearly 1000 people, his lowkey approach worked really well. he basically just showed us through some of alt's work and it was pretty interesting and amusing. he comes from a fine arts background so there is some nice interplay between art and design in their work.

umeric. "the studio of director ash bolland and designer/art director von dekker." umeric is a motion graphics outfit based in sydney. ash was the speaker and he is nz-born, so the lowkey approach continued. he took a while to get started and his windows-based laptop crashed a couple of times in front of the huge mac-using audience. umeric's work, once things got under way, was impressive - in particular the animation mixed with live action and a project they did for the mtv australia music video awards (pictured) - very cool. ash walked us through the process of creating a few of their projects.

3 deep. "founded in 1996 by brett phillips and david roennfeldt, 3 deep design has established a reputation for uncompromised design excellence, commitment, passion and design innovation." we wondered what the heck was going on when some aussie dude got on stage and informed us that 3 deep were getting a bit bored of presenting at events like this, and had asked him to help them present their work. he then went on to explain that he wasn't from 3 deep before proceeding to show us some of his own work. eventually, to our relief he invited the proper 3 deep guys up on stage. they had decided on an interview format, which didn't really work because the sound was terrible and the mics kept feeding back. their work was ok but i wasn't blown away by it. in the end i decided to go for a walk, go to the toilet and text my friends to meet up for lunch instead. roly left early to go and get some new tyres for his car.

glue society. "a creative agency based in sydney and new york, the glue society is made of 10 writers, designers, art directors and film directors." these guys presented an incredible array of innovative (and sometimes controversial) advertising work. their stuff was characterised by humour and strange twists on reality. faced with a limited budget, for example, for the promotion of an aussie tv comedy show, they hired billboards in about six really cheap locations around the world - including iceland and iraq. the publicity they got from this crazy venture outweighed anything they could have purchased with a bigger budget.

misery. "auckland-based artist, painter and designer of characters misery started out as a graffiti artist, but her many visions of where she'd like to see her art and characters applied have seen her expand into everything from fashion to toys." 'cutely disturbed' or 'disturbed cuteness' are the terms i would use to sum up misery - everything she does seems to exude this sense. she appeared on stage with a guy in a sausage suit playing a ukelele, someone in a fright mask playing one of those sticks with the bottle tops attached to it that you hit on the ground to create a rhythm, a guy dressed up as a mexican wrestler, and three people behind misery-styled masquerade masks. these last three she described as her "minions", pronouncing it with a french twist a la "fillet mignon". it was really quite fascinating although i have to admit that i was distracted by the sausage guy instead of watching misery do her painting demonstration.

made thought. "madethought is a london-based multi-disciplinary design consultancy working in brand identity and development, art-direction, packaging, print and interactive design." this is the one i remember least about. the work was very solid, and the client-base very impressive, but for me, nothing much to write home about.

uva. "london-based united visual artists work with led, traditional lighting and projection technologies as sculptural elements, with their bespoke software approach allowing them to use existing technologies in new and unusual ways." as with last year (when the event ended with taika waititi) the most fascinating speaker was saved for last. uva push the boundaries in what we normally think about in connection with design. while what they do is well beyond the budget or abilities of anything i will probably ever be involved with, they had me captured when they started talking about how they designed the album artwork for leftfield's rhythm and stealth, before going on to design all the stage lighting and special fx for the massive attack world tour and u2's vertigo tour - not only fascinating me with their flashing lights, but also working with three of my most favourite bands in the process. it sounds like these guys trawl the world for cool lighting and video products before combining them in crazy ways for very cool projects. some of their best work also included some public installations, including a couple at the v&a museum in london (pictured). far too cool for words.

thus the day ended, and roly and i cruised back home. main highlights for me: alt, misery and uva (also getting one of my photos into this year's semi-permanent book and scoring a particularly sweet-looking rangefinder camera for $5 at the markets in the square outside the venue). bring on SP08 which, they announced at the end of the day, is likely to be stretched out across two days and include more specialist speakers in the area of photography and illustration and stuff - too much fun.

on the headphones: 'urban getaway' by elemeno p, from the album 'love & disrespect'.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

brief editorial interlude

a brief editorial interlude at this point, my friends.

jnxyz's post on fatherhood signals the birth of new depths here at intraspace. we have all your needs covered: books, films, music, computer games, and tips about labour and babies. what more could you ask for?

skip my review of '1984' (which i inaverantly posted before i realised the magnitude of what had occured on the blog), and go directly to 'The Father's Voice (a semi-regular review of becoming a father): pt1' - if you dare.

nineteen eighty-four

nineteen eighty-four, by george orwell

you tell yourself that you should read these classic books, and you put it off because even though they are classics you really have no idea what you are going to encounter. i think 'moby dick' has a lot to answer for in this respect. i started reading that book expecting to be absorbed by a rollicking tale of a captain hunting down a particularly nasty white whale. instead, it ended up being 'everything i know about whaling, by herman melville'. terrible tedious stuff with tiny bits of narrative thrown so that melville could claim it was a story. perhaps i've judged too harshly - i never did reach the end (although i intend to one day). but this 'moby dick' gives classics a bad name.

however, i'm into futuristic sci-fi movies and i had an inkling that '1984' was a predecessor to that narrative form. and one day anna was going down to the library and asked if there was anything i wanted. and i thought, "now, what were the books i was going to read?" and i remembered this one.

i started reading it immediately and was pleasantly surprised that 1984 is nothing like moby dick - in fact it is very readable (nearly 200 years of development of the novel form has clearly paid off). it was published the year before orwell died in 1949, and is one of orwell's two most famous novels - the other one being 'animal farm'. as is usual with orwell, the work is very political and allegorical, but that is carried along by good novelistic devices that make the story absorbing.

the book gets a little bit bogged down in one section and part 3 (the last part) is not quite so action-packed. that's all ok though, because the aim of the book is not really to entertainment, but to paint a picture of the distopia that could develop under a socialist totalitarian system. unfortunately the book doesn't have a happy ending, but that suits the story so is probably the best conclusion.

i wouldn't read this if you need cheering up, but if you're into narratives about the future (like me) then definitely get into it. the volume i got was the 'complete novels' and i think i might be back to read more of orwell later.

warandpeace-o-meter: 785/981 (volIII, bookXIII, chapI)

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The Father's Voice (a semi-regular review of becoming a father): pt1.

(or 10 of the things no-one tells you)

I became a father this week! Thanks for your congrats. Apart from the lingering feeling of amazement that comes from seeing your newborn being lifted up by the midwife and taking its first breaths of air, we feel like we've completed part one of a Doctorate in only 7 days. While nature does do its thing supernaturally well, its still a huge learning experience. Below is an overview AND a list of ten vital, important, crucial, essential things that NO ONE TELLS YOU!

1.10pm Penny calls to say she's having irregular cramps that feel like period pain - are these contractions starting?

1. Contractions actually feel like period pain, so will be familiar, and are centered in one spot, not all over.

4.00pm I arrive home from work. The cramps are still semi-regular, but Pen has to sit down when they come now. I guess they are contractions!

5.30pm Ring the midwife - yes come in when they are 5 mins apart. By this standard, we plan to leave around 7pm.

6.15pm Things are really moving! We leave instead at 6.30pm.

6.45pm We drive (fast!) to the hospital - imagining what we'll say if/when we get pulled over for speeding... “yes, we'd love a police escort officer”.

7.10pm We're here! Poor Penny pausing every few minutes from the car to the birthing suite. No prizes for guessing why we're here as people we pass offer us a wheelchair.

8.00pm After initially writing her obs on a paper towel, the midwife has now got Pen's chart and her contractions have slowed a little now where in safe hands. Nothing for it now but to let them take their course, maybe have Pen in the shower to help with pains, give her regular drinks and snacks, and as the midwife says, 'just breathe through it'. I support her in different standing and sitting poses to alleviate things a little...

2. Breathing is the number one key thing at this point! Pen just mostly figured it out - slow and deep - some extra coaching though wouldn't have gone astray.
3. There are some really good poses (wife's arms around your shoulders/neck) that help ALOT - ask your midwife to show/ describe them in good detail before labour starts...

10.00pm- Examination time. Enough said, apart from the fact that another one won't be done until 1:00am 2am - that's another four hours of regular pains now every 4 mins... The midwife came in every 30mins, just took blood pressure etc as you'd expect, but I was never sure what their role was - do they 'make' it all happen or just be there for an emergency? Maybe we were just naturally gifted so didn't need much help...

4. Ask the midwife exactly what her role is so your not disappointed when she disappears for stretches/ r annoyed if she's always in your face.

1:01am After a shower, and various poses to aid the growing pain (every 3 mins now), Pen starts to feel that something is changing. What? We don't know, but by 1:30am, things are really happening. Pen's pain has really changed and asking the midwife (who's still getting ready for a routine 2am examination) gets her thinking it may be nearly time.

5. There are 3 pain stages to labour - initial contractions, then it changes when bub is entering the cervix proper, then the pushing at the end is different again. Knowing it will change and knowing what this signals would have been nice! Its a bit hard for the wife to ask many questions at this stage!

1:30am Pen turns herself around on the beanbag as she feels thins are getting close. I support and talk to her.

2:00am Bub's head is crowning! The midwife gets Pen to feel the top of it - her hand comes away red but she seems to have renewed energy. Suffice to say (skipping past the gory bits) that the pushing stage commences and bub comes out fast! Only three big pushes (with long pauses in between actually) and the midwife holds up our darling, letting Penny be first to check its sex - a liitle girl!

6. You will cry. Spontaneous tears appear when bub does.

2.45am Helena Rose is here, and resting on mum's chest, alert as anything, gazing around, and only crying when Pen is in pain for a few more pushes (getting out the placenta) - maybe empathy will be a personality trait for her. She's strong too - grabbed and brought out some of the placenta membrane with her.

4:30- Time passes as a blur now. Some of it is Pen cuddling bub, me cuddling bub, etc. We 7:00am finally put on one of Pen's 'birthing' mix cd's - a classical one and all fall asleep for 20 mins or so. 7:30 we're off to the ward - its breakfast time - remember eating? That essential life action? We'd forgotten all about even basics like this!

Day 2
09.08.07 Amidst some lovely hospital visits by family and friends, there is the feeding. Its hard! Bub and Mum are amateurs really. Some midwives take time to help out and teach Pen different ways it is done. But regardless, it gets painful. A book or something mentions protectors that can be worn to help out. Right, that sounds pretty good, why didn't anyone mention it before things got sore?

7. & 8. Nipple protectors and creme are essential! They're the best gift you could ever get your partner BEFORE entering hospital. Use them early (especially the creme) and much later cracking etc can be avoided. Not like us, I mean I only got the creme itself after seeing it on the chemist shelf myself while getting the protectors... And get good thin protectors (Avent is good).

9. This is the most amazing bonding time for you and your partner - made poignant by the father having to leave the hospital overnight (maybe we'll go private next time).

Day 4
Home! Better and a little scary at the same time. My first night with bub and I wake every 5 mins to check I can still hear her. Its obvious that bub has only a few phases; sleep, feed, dirty nappy, and cry. Helping her arrange these in the best order is our adventure of the first week.

10. With help from my Ma staying over, we've worked out that if you must do something to baby (change nappy, bath etc) do it BEFORE a feed. She'll naturally drop off to sleep after a feed, but not if you then have to disturb her again. This will save heaps of angst and crying and desperation.

Oh and here's a bonus #11: be prepared for life in slow motion... its not entirely unpleasant to just sit and hold baby and next thing an hour is gone.

ps. The midwives were really good at their job! Just not so at communicating.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

long player by hollie smith

i guess this review is a little late in coming (the album was released a few months ago), but after a long wait i finally picked up this cd at the warehouse last night (thanks to a free voucher i got from answering online questionnaires).

without wanting to provide free advertising for the warehouse (a nz discount retailer), can i just say their prices are amazing for new releases - it looks like nearly everything is NZ$22.95. when i used to work in the music department at the warehouse back in the day, the normal retail price was $29.95 - and even that was cheap compared to other stores that wanted anything up to $33.95. i think this type of price drop is absolutely crucial in this day and age of the digital download, and if the warehouse can do it then there must be a margin, which shows you what the usual mark-up on cds is. with this album costing $17.99 to download on itunes, why wouldn't you fork out the extra $5 and get the cd art and drm-free music?

so anyway, back to the album. hollie smith is hot property in the wellington nz music and has been for quite some time. she released an ep a couple of years ago which was excellent. meanwhile, she engaged in a number of collaborations, most notably fly my pretties. apparently she also had pretty good success with an album of celtic music when she was a teenager (a fact that she is no doubt trying to forget, but you can buy that album from the online shop of historic scotland). after 'long player' came out this year she was promptly signed to a division of blue note records.

'long player' is an incredibly mellow album (maybe a tad too mellow?) that beautifully showcases hollie smith's abilities without overstating them.we have a mixture of 10 cruisey jazz/soul/gospel/funk infused songs. i haven't listened closely enough yet to be able to tell you what she is on about in her songs but it is definitely something soulful. musically, the only disappointment for me was that there is very little dub influence on the album and i love it when hollie sings on dub tracks. but maybe the nz scene has enough dub now (not that i mind - the more dub the merrier).

the album art is also understated but very nice.

'long player' comes highly recommend - great laidback vibe from a supreme talent. get it!

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

the great nz road trip (highlights package)

[picture: andrew (left) and dave getting rained on while walking on a jetty, taupo. picture by rob]

over the weekend i went on a road trip with my two brothers - rob and dave. i think this was the first time the three of us had been away together on a trip like this, so it promised to be an interesting social experiment. back in the day, when they were roadtripping as younger men i was only about 10 years old. 20 years later we set about planning to drive down to the central plateau of nz to see what we could see. and it turned into rather a good trip. here's the highlights package...

day one: south of rotorua we went to a place called orakei korako (aka hidden valley) - a geothermal area that is supposed to be pretty good. we shelled out our $28 per person (tourist prices) and went across a catchment lake (part of the waikato river) on a little ferryboat to the other side. then we looked at sulphuris formations and various subterranean bubblings. the highlight was a big open cave surrounded by native bush with a blue tinted thermal pool at the bottom.

stayed that night in taupo.

day two: we set out from taupo and headed to the famed horopito motors. weatherwise this was exactly the same type of day as when lance and i went there earlier in the year, except now it was winter - so it was about 9 degrees colder. horopito is always good. and afterwards we took quite a lot of photos in the surrounding landscape. from there we headed to ohakune.

in ohakune we got a brilliantly cheap lunch from the bakery and drove up mount ruapehu. at the top of the road, dave's 'snow warning' went off in his car. it was 1 degree outside and raining/sleeting. well you can't not get out and touch snow when you're up the mountain so we braved the stinging rain for a few minutes. back in the car we decided that the only sensible thing to do in weather like this is to go for a bush walk.

we went down the road a bit and found a nice track to some waterfalls (the waitonga falls to be exact). being in the bush was ok - wet but not windy - until the track crossed open tundra that looked like the marsh scene out of lord of the rings, but colder and without the faces and lights. we got lashed with more sleet and had to concentrate on not getting blown off the boardwalk. back in the bush we descended into a valley. the path ended far too far away from the actual waterfalls for these kiwi blokes, so we bush-crashed up the valley until we were standing right beneath the main waterfall. so now we were being thrashed by the waterfall as well as the rain - refer to mention of temperature earlier to appreciate comfort level - but it was exhilarating and literally breath-taking.

after 2 hours of being out in that charming weather we finally got back to the car and cranked up the heater, which did a surprisingly good job of keeping us warm in our 1 degree celsius rain/waterfall water-soaked trousers.

stayed that night in turangi after driving north up the desert road.

day three: we drove north to a road that travels up the west side of lake taupo. we stopped at an old jetty and took more photos (pictured above), getting more rain on us and spying a picturesque village across the water with a waterfall and church with a high steeple. we worked our way around the lake until we came to the sign to waihi village - the place we'd seen. anyway, further up the road was a big handpainted sign telling us to keep out. before the sign were a couple of great-looking little 1950s holiday cribs which i had to photograph for my safe little world stuff.

standing on the edge of the grass in front of the places, i had taken a couple of photos when i heard a vehicle behind me. anyway, to cut a long story short, it was lady telling me off for photographing private property - the locals clearly sensitive about outsiders in this area. i explained to her that i wasn't doing anything wrong. she told me i had to ask for permission to photograph the buildings. i said, "can i photograph the buildings?" she said, "yes" and drove off. the old killick charm clearly paid off.

then we went further north up the waikato river, taking in a couple of quite impressive dams until we came to arapuni and the enormous swing bridge that i had forgotten was there. we parked the car and walked across the bridge feeling like it was going to collapse at any moment and send us hurtling into the rapids over 50 metres below.

that night back to my parents' place in kaiaua, then back home the next day.

a classic trip accompanied by dave's rather eclectic ipod library (everything from audioslave to hot chocolate and portishead); and apart from one 'discussion' about politics, no arguments...

on the headphones: 'the underdog' by spoon, from the album 'ga ga ga ga ga'.

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max (directed by menno meyjes)

this is one of those movies with an appealing-sounding blurb that gets negative reviews. admittedly, the only reviews of the movie i'd read were from fellow users of mail-order dvd rental outfit but the blurb won me over and so did the fact that it stars john cusack; i added it to my wait list and it turned up a couple of days ago in the post - no one else wanted it.

let me recap the synopsis that made me want to watch the film: a jewish german named max rothman (cusack) returns from the front having served for germany in WWI. he was an artist before the war but having lost an arm, he sets up an art dealership selling the latest avant-garde modernist art in munich.

against the backdrop of germany's defeat and the severe reparations imposed by the treaty of versailles, rothman comes across a young artist who has also just returned from the front: a corporal by the name of hitler - adolf hitler. rothman tries to encourage hitler to express his angst more fully in his paintings. hitler, however, is also dabbling in oratory and politics, and is caught between struggling to be an artist (an occupation that he genuinely believes he has a calling for) and his obvious abilities for convincing oratory... well, history tells us which direction he headed in.

but this film is fascinating. cusack reminded me why it is that i like his acting so much - he is brilliant in this role - he had me hooked on his character within the first few minutes. the guy playing hitler (noah taylor) was also very good.

i suppose that it helped that i have an interest in art and history, but i found the character studies of this film riveting - both rothman and hitler are tremendously complex characters. and the film ends with a heart-wrenching and ominous conclusion. it is understated, but knowing what happened in actual history makes the film reverberate with meaning.

so, my fellow fatso members, i defy you. this is a great movie.

watch it my friends (especially if you are into modernist art or history).

on the headphones: 'reprise' by hollie smith, from the album 'long player'.

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