Saturday, October 01, 2016

Reading Rocks: Read Paper Girls if you Liked Stranger Things

Brian K. Vaughan you have done it again!  This story will appeal to those that like the Netflix series Stranger Things (as well as any BKV fan).  The art feels like a classic comic book, it has an 80's pop culture feel (yellows, purples, pinks and blues), but is gritty and real.

The 80's nostalgia, the 4 young friends trying to figure out what the hell's
going on, and the sci-fi twists that will have you going "What The F- - - -?" - it all works so well.  If you enjoyed Netflix Stranger Things, you'll probably enjoy these books.

I LOVE the fact that the main characters are girls and that they take care of each other from page one - these are tough young teens who take no shit and stand up for themselves.

In true Brian K. Vaughan fashion the last issue ends with a jaw-dropping surprise cliff-hanger panel.  Very exciting - but also a reason to wait until the graphic novel comes out (Vol 1 is a collection of issues 1-5) so you aren't waiting a week for the next issue.  

I love his pace and his ability to hook a reader from page one.  If you haven't read any of his other books, I highly recommend "Y The Last Man".

Friday, September 30, 2016

Reading Rocks - Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

My overall impression: "What's the big deal?  Why is this all over every must-read list?".

It's a book about a man who gets kidnapped and thrust into a world that looks and feels like his own, but that is not his own.  A parallel universe, multiple parallel universes - the "Multiverse" is a concept that's been done before. Jet Li's movie: The One is probably the closest main-stream movie version to this book that I can think of and the show Sliders , but DC has literally been writing about the "multiverse" and the implications of traveling between them for years.

Was this version of the Multiverse concept worth the read? Yeah, I think so (at least it was worth listening to the audiobook at 1.5 speed). The Crouch doesn't get into too much of the science behind the theory - which is good.  He focuses on the emotional connections the characters have with each other and that is what I think makes the book work.

There was one point that I think was suppose to be a HUGE realization for the main character, but as the reader/observer, I had figured it out - like at the beginning.  In that one scene I felt that the author hadn't given his main character enough credit to have figured it out earlier.  That being said, I did find the climax of the book tense and intriguing (I believe my literal verbal exclamation was "oh cool!"), even if the very end of the book was a bit of a fizz-out.

On the whole, the story was done well, with lots of thought given to the ramifications of the choices we make and the directions they lead us.  Do our choices lead us to the person we become, or do we make our choices because of the person we are?  This would be a great book for a book club.  I felt like the intention of the book was to really make me think long and hard about the choices I've made in my life, but since this wasn't a huge mind-blowing experience for me, I was left more with "meh, whatever".

I give it a 2/5 stars based on Goodreads' rating system (2 = "It was ok")

Here is the Goodreads plot book description:
From the author of the bestselling WAYWARD PINES trilogy, a brilliantly mind-bending science-fiction thriller in which an ordinary man is kidnapped, knocked unconscious—and awakens in a world inexplicably different from the reality he thought he knew.

Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness.

When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”

Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born.

And someone is hunting him.

Is the life Jason remembers just some crazed dream? And can he survive long enough to discover the answers he needs?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Reading Rocks: Top 4 Stephen King Books to Read First

How did I not read Stephen King until I was 37 years old?!?!?  It's awesome when you discover a new author that you love - AND it's AWESOME-ER when said author has a crap-load of books published to binge-read.  Case-in-point:  Stephen King.

click image for more reviews
If you want to start reading Stephen King - I suggest The Shining and Dr. Sleep.  Many people are of the opinion that King's masterpiece is either IT or The Stand.  I argue that his pièce de résistance is the 2-part story of Danny Torrance:  The Shining and Doctor Sleep.

The Shining was the first full Stephen King book I ever got through. I've tried to read his books published in the 90's but for some reason I couldn't get into any. The Shining was beautifully written, the imagery and descriptions memorable. I would have thought it much scarier if I hadn't seen the movie and mini-series, but none the less I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

It's considered a modern classic. I suppose I would agree, but I haven't read many other "modern classics" to compare or group it with. I love that large portions were told from the perspective of a 5 year old - made many of the scenes more creepy. There were parts that I couldn't read at night or in the house by myself - the ambiance created at The Overlook is so rich it's visceral.  I understand why Joey keeps it in the freezer.

Sequel to The Shining
Unfortunately for me, I couldn't stop visualizing the tv mini-series while reading. Although it was WAY better and much closer to the book then the Kubrick movie of the 1970's, I would have loved to have read the book without having seen either first.

(The Shining pt 2)  I flew through Doctor Sleep.  I read it in 2 sittings (during a week vacation) I even held it up to my face as I walked to the washroom.  SO enjoyable! Dan Torrance is a hugely relate-able character. The pace and story in this 500+ pg book never falters. It's smart, exciting, and unforgettable.

Although you technically don't need to read the Shining before this one, you will get a whole lot more out of it if you do.

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I give 22/11/63 4 out of 5 stars only because i believe that if I had physically read the book (as opposed to listening to the audiobook), I would have slowed or stopped in the middle. As it turned out, I ended up physically reading the last 50 pages or so because I couldn't wait for a time where I had a full hour to finish the audiobook - it was SO GOOD.

As a whole the story and the pace is perfect.  The characters were strong and memorable, and the ending was not a "sell-out crowd please-er", but I think it stayed true to its intention.  The Mini-series had enough of the same story and characters that it was not disappointing.  It did however change some aspects of the book's story.  I read later that SK did this intentionally with the screenplay in order to allow readers of the book a new experience in the show.

Overall it's a great concept and a cool, interesting approach to time travel.

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I enjoyed Revival as much as 11/22/63 and The Stand. The pace was perfect, given that it spans 50 years of one man's life. I found myself only once questioning if all of the details were relevant - by 3/4 of the way though I realized that yes, as always King ties them all in and includes nothing that won't eventually become relevant.

The description on the book cover is misleading - it is not about the preacher, but about his "white whale" told from the journal-ing perspective of someone who has been able to watch the man over the full span of his obsession.

Revival has elements of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, HP Lovecraft and most obviously, Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

Definitely a story that will stick with you and make you think. I really enjoyed it.

Reading Rocks - Geeky Luv: Ready Player One

click the image for more reviews
If you liked the Netflix show Stranger Things due to its 1980's throw-back pop-culture references and nostalgia: you will LOVE this book.

How can I do this book justice with a mere review? It had me in the first chapter.  Less then six minutes into the audiobook and the author quotes 1984's Ghostbusters - I was hooked. I listened to the entire book with a big, stupid grin on my face because it made me feel like a kid again!

If you played, enjoyed (or liked watching people play or enjoy) any of the following in the 1980's:

- home video games
- arcade games
- movies
- Dungeons & Dragons
- tv shows
- music

If you were born in the 1970's you will love this book.

I have only ever read a book twice in my life (and that was because I read it for school the first time and couldn't remember most of the book 20 years later). I finished the audiobook at 9:00am on my way into work and at 5:05pm I started it again from the beginning.

The premise:  In 2044 society has wrecked the planet.  A virtual reality game called The Oasis has replaced internet, school, games, socializing - many people live more in The Oasis then in real life (think Matrix but with people fully aware they are in a VR).  The creator of the Oasis dies and wills his vast fortune and company to whoever can find an ester egg he has hidden in the game.  To do this one must first find 3 keys that open 3 gates.  It's a treasure hunt with a race to the end; good vs. evil set in a VR reality where knowing the pop-culture of the 1980's will help you get ahead of everyone.

Wil Weaton did a great job reading the audiobook. Knowing how much of a geek he is for D&D makes me wonder if he requested to read the book or if the producer approached him.

In 2018 the movie adaptation will be released. It looks like they have created some charaters and taken some important ones out  BOO! The fan base for this book will be hard to please (lots of us will be paying close attention to the deets). Do yourself a HUGE favor - read the book before the movie comes out. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How Amazon Prime Saved Christmas

(I have not been solicited or paid by anyone or any company for this review, I just love the product)

I have 2 kids, currently 8 and 10.  Both are fickle when it comes to the question "what do you want for Christmas?".

Last year I decided to buy everything online (avoid the lines and parking). I bought a Amazon Prime Membership and this is how it saved my Christmas:

Free 2-day shipping (no min $):

December 20 my then 7 year old says he can't wait for Santa to bring him the "marble game" he asked for.  This was unfortunately the first I heard of this gift.  I quickly found the game online and thought "there is no way it will get here by Xmas Eve".  Not only did I get the game before the 24th, I got it the next day!  My son was so happy Santa remembered.

Free returns:

Kids change their mind on what they want?  No problem - free returns.  I get it within 2 days and don't have to worry about not getting it.  Kid wants something else, I return item no questions asked.

Early Access to Lighting Deals:

Last year my son wanted the Nerf Centurion - at the time it was $99 CAD in the stores.  At 20% off that's a tall order (even for Santa).  What pops up in my Amazon Prime Deals one day in November?  A Nerf Centurion for $35.99 CAD (with free, 2-day shipping).  Boom.

One, $5 Item? - no shipping

Want Nerf darts to go along with it, but forgot to order them with the gun?  No problem - Prime Members get free shipping regardless of amount spent!  That's right, no more topping up your cart with $5 more dollars you don't want to spend just to get that free shipping!  I've ordered Band-aids, paper plates, Cascade Dish Tabs, batteries, felt pens, even garbage cans - all on their own orders for less than $25.  I also use my membership for work purchases and will sometimes place 3 orders on the same day.

There are other benefits I don't take advantage of (20% off diapers - plus diapers delivered to your home! and free unlimited photo storage in cloud.  Give it a try and save your Christmas.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In Support of Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada (pass it on)

This entry was originally posted in October 2012 as "October is Brain Tumour Awareness Month (pass it on)".  I am re-posting to help support the Brain Tumuor Foundation of Canada raise funds for their Spring Sprint.  My friend Karen Harkness is a Brain Tumor survivor and is participating May 3rd in Hamilton Ontario.  To support her team (and the Foundation) please visit her page here

I hope Vivian's story inspires you:

A brain tumour is a scary thing.  You can't see it growing, you can't feel it growing.  It hides behind your eyes and watches you live your life... waiting until someone notices something a little "off" about you.

October is Brain Tumour Awareness Month.
(scroll to the bottom of this post for signs symptoms and information) 

My mother-in-law had a malignant brain tumour.  Everyone's experience with one is different.

This is hers.

In 2003 Vivian started leaving bathroom taps on, stove elements burning all day, minor things that alone are odd but not unheard of for a busy woman in her 50's... perhaps starting menopause?  She was a bookkeeper, volunteered at the local historical society and library, she read books, carried on conversations, nothing seemed exceptionally out of the ordinary.

In March 2003 my husband got a call that his mom had been in a car accident because she forgot to look left.  At this time, the doctors thought she had had a minor stroke.   She was admitted to a hospital for tests, and diagnosed with a brain tumour.  Three days later she had her first brain operation.

There are 120 different kinds of brain tumours, I'm not sure what the name for Vivian's was, but we knew it was the kind that spider-webbed through the brain.  The surgeons couldn't get it all, and told her she would be lucky to live past two years with this type of cancer.  

After the first surgery she was allowed to go home.  Radiation therapy kept the webs from spreading too fast, but couldn't kill the cancer.  A year passed before she wanted a second surgery, however the doctor didn't think it would help her quality of life and the possibility of losing her during the operation was high.  She went to three surgeons before someone agreed to do the second surgery.

The day she was transferred to the hospital for the operation is the day we told her I was pregnant.  We brought flowers and put something on the card that said "To the new Grandma".  Her response was less then enthusiastic.  I believe her words were "... and this is how you tell me?".  She LOVED being a grandmother to my husband's (then) six year old son.  We thought our news was something she could use to fight for, a positive focus.

After the surgery she didn't return home.  She woke up, but wasn't the same.  She couldn't understand some jokes, her right hand was constantly moving as if she were punching numbers into a calculator (memories from bookkeeping?).  She was transferred to a palliative care hospital where she spent her last six months.   At night she would scream about snakes on the ceiling, would repeat quotes from the movie Shrek and lose track of short conversations while you were having one with her.

One day we came in and she asked my husband to pass her the pink nightgown on the chair (no nightgown was there), and proceeded to get undressed.  My husband was amazing.  Without missing a beat, he told her the nightgown was in the wash and he would get it in a minute, then helped her put her top back on.

By December (three months after the surgery) she didn't always remember people.  I've heard that memories of the people you thought the most about in your life go first.  Viv always worried about her younger son.  He was the first one she forgot.  Soon there wan't much left of Vivian.  She stopped talking, and lost her ability to do most physical tasks (big and small).  We would visit and sit and talk around her, she would stare and tap her hand.  But the Vivian we knew was gone.

At the end of December I was five months pregnant and discovered the baby had died.  We decided not to tell Viv, (not knowing if she would understand) we didn't want to upset her.  Viv hung on until March - two months before the baby would have been born.  She died with her husband on this side, and a grand-baby waiting for her on the other side.  It was a little comforting to think of her holding that baby, both of them no longer alone.

She lived two years to the month after her diagnosis.

Vivian was a fighter.  She was funny, caring, loved her children, husband and grandson.  She was a mom, sister, aunt, grandmother, daughter, wife, cousin, friend.

My only regret is that my husband and I didn't get married when she was alive and well.  Viv was the life of the party, the Matriarch of the family.

We drank a gin & tonic to you at the wedding Viv (Happy Thanksgiving)

Vivian Elizabeth Gaspar, October 7, 1950 - March 10, 2005


To learn more about Brain tumours visit The Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada.  The following information was "borrowed" from their blog "Courage And Hope":

Be Aware and Share Facts and Brain Tumour Signs and Symptoms
  • Every day an estimated 27 Canadians are diagnosed with a brain tumour
  • There are an estimated 55,000 Canadians living with a brain tumour, many of whom are children
  • There are 120 different types of brain tumours
  • In children (up to 19 years of age), brain tumours are the leading cause of cancer death, surpassing other common diseases such as leukemia and bone cancer
  • Brain tumours don’t discriminate; they don’t care where you live, whether you are young or old, rich or poor.
  • Because there is no cure for brain tumours, early diagnosis and treatment provides the best chance for recovery.

Every person diagnosed with a brain tumour will have different symptoms and their own journey to a diagnosis. While some people do not develop symptoms that would indicate a tumour, others may have symptoms that worsen over time eventually leading to a diagnosis. Others still may feel perfectly fine but experience a sudden onset of symptoms, such as a seizure, which leads to a quick and unexpected tumour diagnosis.

The following is a list of common symptoms which, alone or combined, can be caused by a brain tumour (malignant or non-malignant):
  • Behavioural changes
  • Cognitive changes
  • Dizziness or unsteadiness
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Frequent headaches
  • Hearing impairment
  • Morning nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Weakness or paralysis
If you or someone you care about experiences any of these symptoms, please consult your doctor.

Please note that this information is provided for education purposes only and questions about an individual’s health should be directed to your doctor.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Muse, a novel by Mary Novik

Click for link to Amazon
(click picture for link to Amazon for more reviews)
This is not my usual genre.  The last 3 books I read prior to this were World War Z, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane and The Killing Floor.  Why did I read this novel?  It was given to me for a book club discussion.  Reading the cover, and knowing what little time I had to barrel through a book in two weeks, I was skeptical that I could finish it on time for the meeting.  To my joyful surprise I flew through it!   I can honestly say I was blown away by the beauty and poetry of the author's prose. 

The synopsis on the book's jacket really does not do the story justice.  Understandably, I can see how difficult it must be to describe such an epic tale in less than 100 words.  At it's heart, Muse is a story about strength, love and survival.

Birthing a female character into the first half of the 14th century strikes me as a terrifying decision.  What rights would she have, what voice, what influence?   These questions plagued me throughout the book, and yet Mary Novik created numerous strong, honest and relate-able female characters - relate-able even today. 
The story, characters and writing are equally rich and colorful - at times Shakespearean.  I must admit, I required my app to define (and sound out) a handful of the early French Renaissance phrases and words.  However, I found this just added to the scope and depth of the writing.  

The ending was brilliant, real, and satisfying.  As her story unfolded, Solange inspired me to risk loving deeper, to hold my head high, and perhaps to write more often. 

To Mary Novik:  you have insipred me to write this review at 11pm, on a school night after I had been at my office job for 12 hours.   Is it you or Solange that is the true Muse?

Information about Mary Novik and her books can be found on her website: 

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Friday, August 23, 2013

To Meme or Not To Meme... (is Meme a verb?)

Who knows what a meme is?  (who knows how to pronounce "meme"?)

Meme is pronounced "meem" (with a long "eeeee" sound).  It a a noun and it is defined as:

"an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture"

In centuries past, it would take decades, maybe centuries for a meme to take effect on a cultural scale.  Today with the internet (and social media in-particular), memes have the ability to spread ideas, styles and behaviours within days - sometimes hours.  I find this fascinating.
This was a meme.
(I had one on my wall when I was 10)

In a "2-click" culture (by that I mean anything more than 2 mouse clicks away is likely not to get viewed), memes have become an uber popular form of communication.  They are the proverbial "Hang In There" kitten posters.

I started using memes at work to introduce coworkers to Google Apps for Business when we "went Google".  Everyone was nervous about the change but people weren't talking about it - they were grumbling to themselves and unknowingly creating an atmosphere of tension leading up to an inevitable upgrade.  The memes created a bit of lightness and laughter in an atmosphere taught with apprehension.

Each day a new meme was emailed out highlighting a positive feature of Google Apps (Gmail mostly). The responses I received were very positive - people looked forward to opening the emails each day.  They got people talking about what worried them most, they realized they weren't the only ones concerned about potential difficulties, and everyone felt warm and fuzzy inside  :) ... well, at least they were able to acknowledge that some features of Google Apps were cool (this I consider a successful campaign).

(Note: These aren't the memes I used for work, but they will do for this demonstration).  

By changing the image to match your intended meaning, you are able to (hopefully) influence how your message is perceived and taken:
IT response (excited!) 
(staff response: I'm too old for this)
(desired overall response: I know it's hard, but think of the possibilities)

Bringing this concept home might work great with your kids (or it might make you seem more dorkie - but at least your message will be read and more than likely thought about):

Teenager wants a new iPhone after losing/breaking one?  If they've seen Lord of the Rings email them this:

(message: you have to work for it; emotion: I'm frustrated and annoyed)

Kids need to tidy their rooms?  Print this out and hang it on their door:

Thousands of ideas at your fingertips limited only by your imagination. 

I used to create the memes on this post.  I personally like for it's simplicity and ease of use.  There are LOTS of sites out there, some (like allow you to upload your own image (my kids are such hams in from of the camera I've got too many to choose from).  Just make sure you're aware of the permission rights when you upload personal pictures - some sites might automatically require you to let others use your images... but who knows - your pet might be the next "Grumpy Cat".

(my cat, Calvin)

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book Review - World War Z, by Max Brooks

(click picture for link to Amazon for more reviews)
By far one of the most enjoyable productions I've experienced - each chapter is a story from a different person, and each person was played beautifully by a different actor. I love that Max Brooks (the author) is the interviewer/narrator. 

Very unique perspective on how societies (specifically different cultures within societies all over the world) would react to, deal with, and finally continue life after the zombie apocalypse.

It's smart, unique and powerful. Some stories are gripping, others are just accounts. What I found most interesting was the author's ability to write from so many perspectives - and believably so.  More than once I found myself marveling at the amount of research and thought that went into this creation.

Max Brooks delves into SO many details and aspects that have (to my knowledge) never been considered in other zombie movies/books - e.g. what happens to the undead when they fall into the ocean? What about someone who is agoraphobic? How would Japan handle the infection? Russia? Cuba? What happens in different climates? or 12 years after the outbreak?  

Written far before Walking Dead, this book asks a lot of the same questions the writers of the graphic novel & show must ask themselves when considering issues the survivors have to handle.

It's not a traditional "follow a character beginning to end" story.  At no point does the author make you think that it will be - infact Mr. Brooks is very clear right from the start that it is an oral history of individual experiences from around the world. It's an interviewer traveling the world asking people about specific moments in the (now) history of the zombie war. You don't even read about the narrator's travels - the characters have nothing to do with each other.  Essentially it's a bunch of short monologue-type stories put in chronological order.

4/5 stars - Great book, fabulous audio rendition - nothing to do with the movie.

(Nathan Fillion plays the voice of the Canadian soldier!  - yay! get your geek on!)  

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reading Rocks: 5 Books That Shaped Me

I have read A LOT of books but I don't think I could pin down a "favourite".  Over the years my "favourite" book has changed.  I can't decide if current life circumstances influence one's intake of media, or if media influences one's life circumstances.  Did I read Babysitter's Club because I loved to babysit?  Or did I like babysitting because I read Babysitter's Club?

In either case, today I share the books I feel have played significant roles in my life and why: 

1.  Come Over To My House by Theo LeSing - This is a kid's book I've recommended on my blog in the past.  My Dad read this to me and my brother as a child - he did voices of the kids from different areas of the world (Australian, Russian, Scottish, etc) and we would laugh and beg for him to read it again.  It might have influenced my tolerance for other cultures... I found it on eBay after my boys were born, left it at my parent's home and apparently my Dad reads it with the same silly voices to his Grandkids.  

click image for more reviews 

2.  Forever by Judy Blume - I can name 3 Judy Blume books that I would consider influential in my life (Are You There God? It's Me Margaret and Tiger Eyes are the other two).  But Forever was the first book I read with sex in it.  Not erotica sex (erotica is usually as fake as porn - although not often as raunchy).  No, this book had real, first-time teenage sex, and a realistic aftermath.  

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3.  Twilight by Stephanie Meyer - this is a book that I am often embarrassed to admit to reading.  Why was it an influence in my life?  It was the first book (series) I picked up after my kids were born.  I remember reading a Dan Brown book the week I was due with my first son (December, 2005).  Until Twilight (June 2008), I hadn't read a single book.  It got me excited to read again, it gave me the "must stay up until 2am to finish" feeling, even though I KNEW I should sleep when the new baby slept.  It also made me realize I could read "fluff" as an adult.

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4.  Phantom by Susan Hay - This was the first adult book I ever read.  I think I was 14 years old.  Before Phantom I was reading Babysitter's Club books (like 2 per week), Fear Street, Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan.  At the time I was obsessed with Phantom of the Opera, I had seen it like 3 times in only a year and a half.  This book is about the life of the man who became the Phantom - essentially it tells how he ended up under the opera house and what/who influenced his life and path to become who he became.  Told from different perspectives starting with his birth, it ends where the musical/movie begins.

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5. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien - I haven't actually finished the book yet (technically that is).  My father told me the story of the Hobbit as a bedtime story when I was a child.  To this day I can trace my love of fantasy and sci-fi back to this book.  After the movie came out in 2012, I picked it up and (finally) started to read it.  

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