by Catriona Mills

Things You Might Find Yourself Saying to a Geek

Posted 24 May 2008 in by Catriona

Example 1: “Never mind, honey, you’ll defeat the giant Cthulhu mime next time. After all, remember how long it took me to kill that two-headed ogre?”

Live-blogging Eurovision: Semi-Final 1

Posted 23 May 2008 in by Catriona

Those are some nice lighting effects. I don’t know how they manage them.

Oh, look, Time Tots!

Are those women in national costume actually giants? They look strangely huge compared to the other people on the stage.

And now people painted blue and red. That’s odd—even for Eurovision.

Dear heavens—is that female presenter really wearing a dress slit up to the crotch with lacy bicycle pants underneath?

Montenegro: “I Love You To Eternity.”
What on earth are those back-up dancers wearing? And are they really doing the robot?
On the plus side, I’m distracted by what seems to be the repeated use of the word “booty.”

Israel: “The Fire in Your Eyes.”
Apparently, this singer’s only 20. I like his shiny silver vest, sans any kind of shirt. Oops, now he seems to have switched to English. Shame: I like the songs in foreign languages best, because I don’t have to worry about the banal lyrics.
He chose that song out of 450 songs?
What on earth did the others sound like?

Estonia: “Leto Svet.”
Wow—flags and gold bikinis before the song even starts.
On the plus side, the camp factor just went up. These guys are like 1980s Estonian Wiggles.
Is that a beetroot? Nick thinks it’s a turnip.
Where did that accordion come from?
What on earth is happening?
Actually, where did the accordion just go?
I—don’t know what to say.
Wait: a former MP and the host of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”? What?

Moldova: “A Century of Love.”
Nobody’s removed any clothes yet. I’m disappointed.
However, this woman is holding a teddy bear—is that weirder than the beetroot?
If living forever means listening to this song over and over again, count me out.
Now the trumpeter’s cuddling the teddy bear.
Wow, this is dull.
There does seem to be a wind machine, though.
Apparently, Moldova have never won. Odd, that.

San Marino: “Complice.”
Ooh, debut.
Uh oh, finger piano movements.
Nick is struggling with how 1980s Eurovision is—I wonder it’s taken him so long to notice.
What purpose does that back-up dancer serve, I wonder? And will she remove any clothes?
This is dull, too—I hope there’s a key change.

Apparently some woman in London thought the camp factor came in with Estonia, too.

Belgium: “O Julissi.”
This woman doesn’t look like an Ishtar.
Nick’s wondering why the term “hatefully twee” just popped into his head.
What are those musicians wearing on their heads? I do like the singer’s shoes, though.
I have a feeling that this song might make more sense, if I could understand it.

Oooh, ad. break. That makes things a little easier. I have no idea how I’m going to keep doing this while I’m eating dinner.

Actually, I have no idea why I started doing this—but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Dinner arrives and ad. break ends. Bad timing.

Azerbaijan: “Day After Day.”
Wow, that is high-pitched.
Oh, what on earth are those? Wings?
Actually, I like this. This is what Eurovision is supposed to be like—I’m casting my vote for Azerbaijan.
Oooh, smoke machine. And sparkly cummerbands.
And a costume change.
Oh, this is Eurovision.
Fireworks! Fabulous.
Oh, that was awesome!

Slovania: “Vrag Naj Vzame.”
I think—don’t check my spelling.
And no, Nick, Slovania is not where the Slaveen come from—although this woman is apparently a Time Lord.
Or, as Nick says, Servalan.
Cool—finally, the clothes start coming off.
Ew, but lime-green and purple dress. That’s not so good.

Norway: “Hold On Be Strong.”
Not impressing me so far. Nick’s right; it sounds like a cover—of just about anything played on B105 over the last ten years.
I guess they’ve stretched the definition of “original.”
Nope, that wasn’t the dullest yet.

Poland: “For Life.”
Smoke machine—but still not a good start.
Dear lord, I wish her luck getting that dress off. Ever.
Oh, wow: can we all say “sub-Celine Dion” in unison? It might make her stop.
If we don’t have a woman rising up out of that white grand piano, I’m going to be very disappointed.
Yep, very disappointed.

Ireland: “Irelande Douze Pointe.”
Finally! A singing turkey puppet.
Okay, Ireland are now my second favourite—they’re still behind Azerbaijan, though.
I’m wondering, though, if Ireland ever want to compete in Eurovision ever again.
Did that turkey just say “Let’s bring it home”?
I like his accent, though. And all the gold lame.
Hey, that’s booing! That’s not right. Serbians can’t be that humourless.

Andorra: “Casanova.”
Is David Tennant involved?
Oh, dear god, what is that? Even Nick’s shouted, “Cover your shame, woman!”
Oh, bloody hell—it’s a breastplate.
“Casanova—in a fairy tale I found you”: honestly. Keep your literary references straight.
This is so sub-ABBA.
And Nick and I are just waiting for the kit to come off.
Damn. Stayed more or less clothed.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: “Pokusaj.”
Again, don’t check my spelling.
Oh, what? Four brides?
And a man in a basket with a painted-on moustache?
Oh, I’m having nightmares tonight.
Hang on, she’s hanging out clothes? This is even weirder than Estonia.
Now the brides are knitting?
Seriously, what’s happening?
As Nick says, it doesn’t actually sound that bad, but the mise en scene is—nightmarish, really.
Ha! The commentator’s just said “If you close your eyes, it’s a lovely song, really.” Nick feels justified.

Armenia: “Qele, Qele.”
Still a disappointing absence of removable clothes.
Hang on, what’s happening around her knees? Oh, they’re back-up dancers. Odd.
I do like dresses made entirely out of fringes, but I’m not sure what these back-up dancers are supposed to be doing.
Ooh, fireworks.
I’m easily impressed by fireworks.
Ooh, and the first flamethrower of the night! Always a bonus.
The back-up dancers still seem superfluous.

I want travelogues. These pieces are strange.

The Netherlands: “Your Heart Belongs to Me.”
No, it doesn’t.
Oh, come one—those clothes have to be removable.
She’s pretty, but this is dull. And the dancers are superfluous, again.
If that skirt isn’t supposed to come off, why is she wearing shorts under it?
And I don’t think I’ve seen a single gold chain yet. What is this?

Finland: Whoops, I missed the title.
Oh, Lordi have a lot to answer for.
Quoth Nick: Spinal Tap is not dead.
You know, I’ve always thought that Eurovision needed more synchronised head-banging.
Ha! Wind machine is back.
Sadly, this is one of my favourites so far, such has been the overall standard.
And now fireworks!
NICK: Sadly, Elvish is based on Finnish. So this is basically an Elvish death-metal band.
Ooh, key change.
Aw, look at the fans. That’s so sweet.

I’m warming to these bitchy commentators, but I want Terry.

Romania: “Pe-o Margine De Lume.”
Damn, these titles are getting the better of me. And my wine’s going warm. Why did I start doing this?
Seriously, THAT skirt has to be removable.
Somebody start taking their clothes off, dammit!
Damn, this is dull.
Except for the lime-green-lined, leather shoulder pads—those are both kind of funky and terrifying.
Nope—the whole thing was boring beyond belief. I’m not voting for them.

I need a cigarette.

Woo hoo! Ad. break. Back soon.

Right, nictoned up. And frantically drinking my warm wine. Blame any spelling errors on that.

Actually, I need a top-up. Where’s Nick when you need him?

That Toyota Kluger ad. is the nastiest thing I’ve ever seen. Ooh, more wine. Awesome.

Weightlifters? What? Apparently, one of them’s “massive in the Balkans.” Oh, dear.

Russia: “Believe.”
One of the favourites, eh? We’ll see about that.
Oh, dear lord make it stop. Please.
I swear I’ve heard this song before.
Hang on, is that violinist kneeling? Why?
“I will let him put my fire out”? Wow, there’s that camp factor again.
Is that an ice skater? Oh, man.
Okay, I’m voting for these guys based purely on that ice skater.
And the fact that at least this singer is making a nod towards taking his clothes off.

Hang on, what are those two doing? I know this is SBS, but still.
A kissing competition? That doesn’t make it better.

Greece: “Secret Combination.”
Okay, good start—singing on top of a pole held up by your back-up dancers.
Otherwise this is totally generic.
And “secret combination” is just making me wonder what that can possibly be a euphemism for.
She didn’t really just sing “I’m easy but I’m true”, did she? Aren’t they mutually exclusive behavioural patterns? Or did I miss a word?
Damn! I missed the removable clothes while I was typing. Just my luck.
Ah! “I’m NOT easy but I’m true.” That makes more sense.

Why is a tennis player coming on stage? Does he sing?
Damn—look at the size of that tennis ball! Why?

So when do we get the votes? I want to know if my favourites are going through.

“When you throw a tennis ball into the crowd, the voting begins.” Is that traditional? I don’t remember that at previous Eurovisions.

Wow—he does sing. But not well.

Oh . . . wow. I didn’t notice the masked and leashed men in Slovenia’s entry first time around.

And if Azerbaijan don’t go through, I’m going to be very upset.

Ah, the Andorran breastplate. Aren’t Andorrans supposed to be blue?

We’d quite like Bosnia and Herzegovina to go through, as well.

Finland: butch or camp? (Not my question: some random person e-mailing the hosts.) Nick suggests “bamp,” but that’s just weird.

Ah, Russia. That ice skater tips the balance for me; it’s this year’s woman in a piano, or Turkish ballad singer with a blood-pack under his shirt.

Wow; twenty minutes to go? I’d forgotten how long the voting takes. And how random are SBS’s ad. breaks?

“Fewer commissions”, CMC Markets! “Fewer”! Not “less commissions.” Honestly, people—come to grips with countable nouns.

Hey, I kind of like this orchestra-choir-thing that’s on at the moment. Well, except for the strange arm movements. Very interesting sound: European but Eastern. But not entirely Eastern European. Oh, you know what I mean.

Except now the main singer reminds me of someone, and I can’t think who. It’s so frustrating when that happens.

Ooh, bagpipes. I love bagpipes. Even when they’re freakishly pig-shaped, as this one is.

What the hell does that woman in the pink pantsuit have around her neck?

Ew, the U. K. entry. Not as embarrassing as last year—I’m still blushing—but I don’t think I’ll be looking forward to that.

Germany doesn’t look much better mind. Girl band—and trilby hats.

France appear to have travelled back in time for their entry. And he’s wearing blackface? Not really?

Okay, Spain is now on my list of things that scare me senseless.

Serbia, on the other hand—I can’t tell if they’re trying too hard or if they figure they don’t have to try at all.

Seriously, pink-pantsuit woman—you need to have a doctor look at that. It doesn’t look healthy.

Where did the Greek contestant get that accent from? Is she American—pure Joisey—or is that via MTV?

Those red- and blue-painted people are everywhere! Run, audience members! Run while you still can!

Oh, just open the damn envelopes!

1: Greece. Seriously?
2: Romania. I can’t even remember them. Damn.
3: Bosnia and Herzegovina. Oh, good.
4: Finland. Woo hoo! More synchronised headbanging.
5: Russia. Ah, the ice skater. Fantastic.
6: Israel. No surprise there.
7: AZERBAIJAN! Awesome. I would have been gutted, otherwise.
8: Armenia. Who were they? Did I enjoy them? It’s all a blur, now.
9: Poland. Were they boring?
10: Norway. No, they were boring.

Damn. No turkey.

But otherwise, Nick and I did quite well, frankly.

Not impressed about Poland, Norway, and Romania. Could have done with seeing Estonia and their pop-up beetroot again.

Oh, well. That’s why you watch the semi-finals.

Damn, I’m going to have to do this all over again tomorrow, aren’t I?

Preventing an Untimely Death of the Hands of My Hobby

Posted 23 May 2008 in by Catriona

Since a large number of my teaching duties have ended for the semester and I have a few clear days ahead before the assessment comes in, I decided I’d have a lovely clean house before I had to start marking.

But—and there’s always a but—since I’m not feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed today, I’m looking for ways to do a bit of cleaning without having to move around too much.

I thought I’d achieve this by doing a few loads of washing, which really only requires frenetic activity every forty-five minutes or so—but then the weather greyed over.

So I settled instead on a little light organising—a phrase that always reminds me of the episode of The Goodies where they end up at the Jolly Rock Lighthouse: “I thought it said ‘a little light housekeeping!’”—and, more specifically, moving and re-shelving the 60-odd books that currently live on the bedhead.

Ever since I was woken abruptly by a hardback copy of The Vicar of Wakefield, these books have been the bane of Nick’s existence. Even my sister, whose own pile of bedside reading is only kept upright by a convenient wall, popped her head in and said, “Yep, you’re definitely going to die.”

Still, it could have been worse: The Vicar of Wakefield is not that long a book. It could have been Dickens or Tolstoy. (Well, no: it’s highly unlikely to have been Tolstoy.)

Disturbingly, though, I found I’d forgotten half the books that were up there: technically, if they’re on the bedhead, they’re supposed to be books I’m currently reading. But I’d forgotten I even owned a copy of Manon Lescaut, much less that I’d abandoned it halfway through: apparently, I don’t have a great deal of patience with sentimental, eighteenth-century French fiction.

I’d also forgotten that I owned Patricia Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician, which I don’t think I’ve even opened. I will read that, though, since I did enjoy The Enchanted Forest Chronicles and the co-authored Sorcery and Cecelia; or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot—although, true to form, I’ve bought the second volume in the latter series and not read it, and only discovered today that there’s a third book.

On the plus side, I found Dorothy L. Sayers’s Strong Poison, which I’ve been futilely looking for on my living-room shelves for three days.

There was a Philip Pullman—one of the Sally Lockheart Mysteries—that I abandoned halfway through, because I just couldn’t cope with the battering that the heroine was taking any more. Those books are brilliant—especially if you’ve just spent three years working on penny dreadfuls—but they are hard on the nerves.

A couple of the wonderful Diana Wynne Jones’s books were stacked up there, too, one of which also had a telltale bookmark halfway through. A word of advice: if you’re trying to complete your Ph.D. thesis, stay away from Archer’s Goon. The story of a man being pursued by wizards because he owes them two thousand words just hits a little too close to home.

Then there was a mysterious pile of Victorian sensation novels, which I suspect have been sitting there for three years. I know, at least, that I intended to do a course of reading sensation novels in the early stages of the Ph.D. Then the topic shifted, as topics are wont to do, but the books stayed where they were: Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, Armadale, and No Name; Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora Floyd; and Mrs Henry Wood’s East Lynne—“Dead! And never called me ‘Mother’!” Or is that just the stage version?—and Lord Oakburn’s Daughters.

Still, they’re all safely rehoused now in the living room, the hallway, the spare room, and the study, along with various Anthony Trollopes, biographies of Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, and Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm.

And it’s inspired me to once again pick up Erik Larson’s book about the Chicago World Fair of 1893 and the simultaneous predations of an urban serial killer—which means that maybe, sometime soon, Facebook will stop asking me if it’s true that I’m still reading it.

Never Distract a Gaming Geek

Posted 22 May 2008 in by Catriona

I popped in to the study to see how Nick—back On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness after spending the specified forty-five minutes with me—was going with the game.

ME: Hey, honey. Are you killing mimes?
(Note: That’s not a euphemism. It’s an odd game.)
NICK: I’m trying. I’m not doing very well.
ME: You’re doing fine. Oh, you’re dying. But you’re better now. Oh—well, you were. Look, I’m just going to leave.

Sometimes the fatalities aren’t all mimes.

Grass Widow

Posted 22 May 2008 in by Catriona

Nick has finally got his hands on On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness—the Penny Arcade game that he has been breathlessly awaiting for months, the first episode of which was released late last night, our time.

This new acquisition first led to a conversation about time management:

NICK: I thought I’d play a bit of the game first, and then we could spend some time together.
(Anyone who has ever found themselves in a relationship with a geek has had this conversation at some point.)
ME: How about we watch something first, then you can play the game until you go to bed?
NICK: Well, it’s being released episodically, so I don’t want to run through it too quickly.
(Brief pause, while I sort this out in my head.)
ME: Hon, it really doesn’t matter whether you watch telly with me now and then play two hours of the game, or play two hours of the game and then watch telly—you’re spending the same amount of time playing.

This argument was not well received, which is why I’m sitting alone in the living room, updating my blog.

He did, I’ll admit, call me into the study to see the avatar he had created; I went slightly reluctantly, muttering “I am a devoted girlfriend,” but the avatar was kind of cute [So cute, in fact, that I’m updating this post with a link to Nick’s blog, where he’s posted his avatar picture].

On the plus side, all I can hear from the study are gales of laughter, shouts of “Oh yeah!” and “Ha ha!”, and what I would swear was “Pwned!”

It also gave me an excuse to go to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable to look up the term “grass widow.”

I knew that in using it to describe a woman temporarily separated from her husband, I was using it accurately (ignoring, for the purposes of this argument, my unmarried state.)

I didn’t know that it originally meant an unmarried woman with a child, “grass” in this context sharing some of the connotations of “a roll in the hay.”

I also didn’t know that it came into its current use in the days of British rule in India, when women would, to quote Brewer’s, be “sent to the hills where the climate was cooler and grass still grew.”

We may only be separated by a couple of rooms, but the point remains valid.


Posted 22 May 2008 in by Catriona

According to an e-mail I just received from the Theses Office, theses are now no longer “examined” by thesis “examiners”—and yes, the quotation marks are theirs.

Apparently, referring to the process of examining a thesis as, well, an examination led to a couple of misconceptions: that the theses were assigned grades, for example, as in the coursework programmes; that the candidate had to be present for some form of examination; or that the assessment was “summative and adversarial”—in the words of the Graduate School website—where it is “formative and collegial”.

(As a sidenote to this, I’d hate to think that I have a “summative and adversarial” attitude towards the work I assess for undergraduate courses. Perhaps some further terminology changes are in order?)

None of those concerns have ever occurred to me, even though I’ve had one thesis “examined” and assumed up until this afternoon that the other one was currently “under examination.”

I’m unconvinced, though, that a terminology change of this nature would make any significant difference to the likelihood of making the misconceptions outlined above.

Sure, having a thesis “assessed” makes it less likely that you’d need to be present.

But how does “assessing” work imply a formative and collegial process rather than a summative and adversarial one? Or suggest that the work won’t be receiving a grade, when all your undergraduate assessment is graded?

And, really, once you’ve got to the point of submitting a thesis in pursuit of a higher degree, is a simple verb going to throw you for a loop?

I’d suggest that the only really scary term is “thesis defense”: now that’s a phrase to strike fear into the hearts of candidates everywhere.

Strange Conversations: Part Fifteen

Posted 20 May 2008 in by Catriona

How to take things from bad to worse:

ME: Is it getting hotter?
NICK: I think so.
ME: Maybe it’s because we’re bathing in the light of the scary television.
NICK: Well, where’s the remote?
ME: (finds remote behind me and turns off the television)
NICK: Clever!
ME: Did you just call me clever because I managed to turn the television off with the remote control?
NICK: (nods sagely)
ME: Right, that’s going on the blog.
ME: Yep, it’s going on the blog. You just called me clever for finding the off button on the television remote control!
NICK: Well, there are a lot of buttons on that thing, and you’ve never shown much facility with them before . . .

Well, I Thought It Was Funny

Posted 20 May 2008 in by Catriona

As a follow-up to this incident, I’ve just put Paul Robeson’s “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” on and shouted to Nick, “He’s behind you!”

Nick, who was washing up, nearly broke a plate.

I thought it was hilarious—I’m still laughing—but Nick’s in the kitchen muttering, “Oh, very bloody funny.”

In my own defense, though, he did keep me awake with his snoring until 4 a. m.—literally: I noted the time carefully, because by that point I was thinking of the future in terms of the inevitable police reports and a verdict of justifiable homicide.

I Was Wrong: I Could Love Doctor Who More

Posted 18 May 2008 in by Catriona

I was sure I couldn’t enjoy this programme any more, until I set down to watch an episode that—in addition to starring a remarkably well-preserved Felicity Kendall—also stars Agatha Christie and includes in the teaser the line “But why didn’t they ask . . . Heavens!”

I’m now officially stating that I couldn’t love the programme more from this point on.

I’ll probably be proved wrong again, when Steven Moffat’s episode airs the week after next.


Posted 17 May 2008 in by Catriona

And this is my other favourite aspect of life in Brisbane: the storms. I’ve never lived in a subtropical environment before, and I never get used to it.

The storm rolling in from the west:

The palm tree in the front garden:

The palm and jacaranda in the front garden:

Rain pouring through the guttering:

The mulberry outside the study, with the amazing sky behind:

The Garden in Autumn

Posted 17 May 2008 in by Catriona

As suspected, I am now strongly attached to the idea of adding photos to the blog. In fact, this evening’s storm means two whole entries devoted to photographs (perhaps a little odd, given that my ostensible interests are reading and writing, but everyone likes attractive pictures to look at on the Internet, surely?)

Brisbane is not known for its autumnal foliage. Those plants that are deciduous—the mulberry tree outside my study, for example, or the little frangipani out the back—tend to be the less-interesting kind of deciduous; the leaves just turn yellow and fall off.

But sometimes, the autumn seed pods are attractive in their own right:

Despite my woeful lack of anything approaching botanical knowledge—made worse by the fact that my father now refuses to use anything but Latin names, which I can’t remember and, in fact, now make no effort to remember—I’m fairly certain that these are the seed pods of the Cat’s Claw, a weed that spreads prolifically but does produce gorgeous, bright-yellow, bell-shaped flowers.

I also like the seed pods, mostly because they look like they’d be fun to pop—like the flowers of fuschias. Since Cat’s Claw is so noxious, I don’t pop them—not that I think the creeper needs my help to spread its seed, but I don’t need to make the situation worse—but I certainly enjoy thinking about it.

My bougainvillea is still in flower, too:

It’s only a small bush, growing at the end of the garden, but the magenta flowers are magnificent, even when they’re towards the end of their life span and yellowing:

I think, ultimately, that’s what I like best about Brisbane: the greenness of it all, even in the approach to winter.

Breaking Yourself of Bad Habits

Posted 17 May 2008 in by Catriona

I have a bad habit of hitting myself on the forehead with whatever I happen to be holding—usually books or papers—if I become irritated with myself or with the task at hand.

I probably don’t need to describe this as a “bad habit”; I think its ill-advised nature speaks for itself.

The problem with habits, though, is that they become habitual.

Unthinkingly pursuing my habitual behaviour, then, I have just smacked myself in the head with a hardback copy of The Concise Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary (second edition.)

I don’t think I’ll be doing that again.


Posted 16 May 2008 in by Catriona

I completely failed to notice my 100th post; it was, for the record, “Insanely Creepy Song Lyrics,” which I don’t really think was worthy of such a signal honour.

Still, at least it wasn’t the last post, about how annoying Nick’s been this evening.

I suppose I shall just have to celebrate the 200th entry, as I did the 200th comment.

An Exercise in Rhetoric

Posted 16 May 2008 in by Catriona

ME: You are very annoying.
NICK: I can’t help that.
ME: Yes, you can.
NICK: You are very annoyed by me. I can’t help that.

That’s exactly why I tell my students not to use the passive voice as a weapon.

One of Those Days

Posted 15 May 2008 in by Catriona

We’ve had Nick’s father around for dinner tonight—as we usually do on Thursdays—so we ate unusually early, to let him get to his 7 p. m. French class.

This meant I was in need of coffee much earlier than usual—and I turned to Nick to provide it.

I explained that I’d had a cup this morning, but only a weak one, and had been too lazy—alternatively, too busy—to make myself another pot during the day. This put me at least two cups behind my usual quota.

We compromised, in that Nick promised to make me a cup, but not until Specks and Specks started.

So as soon as that began, I was tensed in anticipation of the forthcoming coffee.

But I couldn’t smell the heavenly aroma of fresh-brewing coffee.

So the following conversation ensued, about fifteen minutes into the programme:

ME: You haven’t put the coffee on, have you?
NICK: I have!
ME: But it’s been fifteen minutes! Where’s the coffee?
(Honestly, I’m not an unpleasant person—just lazy and coffee deprived.)
NICK: It is on!
(Leaves the room, at which point a long pause ensues.)
NICK: Bugger.
ME: Yes?
NICK: It was on the wrong element, would you believe?

I would believe.

And I still don’t have a cup of coffee.

But I suppose it’s a small price to pay for being to lazy to make it yourself.



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