paper books

I was recently offered boxes of books.  Specifically they were boxes of books from my childhood, teen years, and twenties.  These books have resided in boxes at my parents’ house through a couple of moves, so not only are the books old, they are well-traveled.  My primary concern with taking ownership of long-abandoned boxes of books hinges largely on the the lack of bookshelf space for them.  Over the past half decade plus I have built a space for books in my life which centers on the idea that the vast majority of my books will either live on the Web (which in this case means almost always Amazon’s Kindle, but increasingly may be also Amazon’s Audible or even Google Play Books), or they will live in my local library, where I can retrieve the physical book or the ebook on demand.  I have bought physical books for only one reason in recent years – because I read the ebook or listened to the audiobook and then decided I wanted to share it with others.  My bookshelves have no book more recent than 10+ years ago, and mostly center around a few favorites I find hard to dispose of, ranging from the sublime (Gibran, Vonnegut) to the ridiculous but sentimental (Battlefield Earth – ignore the movie, the book is EVERYTHING good about sci-fi).

You get the idea…lots of paper books…

I personally have a tough time with paper books because it’s so much more convenient to have them as e-books, AND I have a library, AND I have no bookshelf space. 

I was watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix (yes, I am one of THOSE people). I had read her book but seeing it in practice was much more impactful. Pull all your “stuff” into a pile and then one by one decide if it “brings you joy” and if not, discard it. I thought that sounded quite hokey and new-age-y but then I thought about it and realized that’s probably true, and the reactions of the people on the show just reconfirmed that. It’s much like what I imagine “death cleaning” (another trendy concept recently) to be – a general sloughing off of possessions as if you had died. Now, there is the model where you, as a pharaoh, collect all this stuff and put it in the tomb with you. However, we are not pharaohs (at least I am not, maybe you have higher aspirations than I do) and do not have an endless storage space, so anything that’s not going to improve your life by owning it is probably pointless. Sadly this is 99% of the books I own – most of which I never intend to read again. It is too bad there is no wholesale way to pull your books from paper into digital ownership somehow. Amazon has a program to do so with some books but it is just cut rates, not free.

It’s hard! The yin and yang of “keep it in case someday because frugal and reduce/reuse/recycle” vs “well, this is just gathering dust and making my life about the maintenance of THINGS rather than living” is a hard call. I struggle with it and have no coherent set of personal rules for it. Sadly.  But I do know that I have seldom regretted moving towards less.

journals

I have kept a journal on an irregular basis since I was about 10 years old.  I don’t claim any sort of amazing foresight or discipline in doing this.  I’d attribute it mainly to the fact that I talk a lot but can also (sometimes) recognize when I’ve finally worn my listeners out.  I probably turned at age 10 to writing in a journal to spill out the REST of my thoughts.  Whether that lessened my verbal output is doubtful, but on and off I’ve kept it up over the years and that has provided a lot of insight as I flounder through middle age.

Journalling, along with meditation, appear to the be the trendy ‘mindfulness’ activities circa 2018-19.  It’s clear that taking some time for SELF reflection in the era of social media has value.  I can’t tell you where I heard the idea that Facebook is everyone’s highlight reel first, but that’s it – it forces an artificial positivity to writing, which doesn’t allow for examination of failures and sadnesses.  Sure, people will mention their cat died or that they felt crummy, but typically you won’t wrestle with purpose or mortality on Facebook.  Journaling and meditation let you do that.  If you begin to write with the idea that no-one – not friends, not family, maybe not even you – will ever read it, it’s freeing.  I am always surprised what ends up on the page.

I wrote on paper for 10 years.  At one point, I was using an Excel spreadsheet, believe it or not.  Now I use an app, although I wonder if that’s ideal, since it FEELS a lot like posting on Twitter or Facebook.  But the idea, regardless of the medium, is that each day I try to make a brief summary of the activities of the day and how I felt about those activities.  It’s not that easy.  Pick up a piece of paper write now, and write a few sentences describing your day and how you felt.  I find that the overwhelming feeling is usually “eh, OK” or whatever you’d like to call that emotion.  Oscar Wilde says it this way:  “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”  Journalling can point to the fact that you are, in fact, just existing.  I struggle to write on the days I simply exist.  I would argue this is the greatest single reason to journal – to separate the transcendent from the mundane, in an honest fashion, in a way that writing on social media cannot.  This blog post is almost like a public journal entry in that I could not have told you that’s where I would end up in a post talking about the benefits of journaling, but here I am.  Writing allows you to put a filter on your experience, and to use that filter to determine when you are alive.  But that filter is harder to expose in public.  My advice?  Pick up a blank notebook and write down how you feel right now, and see where that leads.

motivation is worthless

Motivation is worthless.

I read a lot of self-improvement, self-help, whatever you call the body of work that’s specifically about improving the individual (as opposed to something more general, like a book on how to cook).  Articles, books, blogs, etc.  I listen to podcasts, watch vlogs – I consume a lot of it.  Some of this is self-improvement tourism, the idea that you improve yourself simply by learning about ideas and actions that you may or may not put in place.  Some is genuine desire to learn about how great achievers managed to do what they did (reading about Benjamin Franklin or Elon Musk).  But one of the key things I’ve taken away from all of them is that motivation is worthless in and of itself.  This flies in the face of the “pursue your passion” thinking so prevalent on the startup/millenial focused internet.

Discipline equals freedom.

Jocko Willink

A couple of years ago, I found myself in a mess.  Back out of shape (I’ve been through THAT before), struggling with a career that had seemed headed in a good direction (I left a consulting career to pursue the “heights” of corporate America, again) and just a general struggle with daily existence.  I read a short article talking about the commencement speech Navy Adm. William H. McCraven gave at his alma mater, the University of Texas, in 2014.  You’re probably familiar with it by now, it’s entered the public awareness, but he basically told grads to start the day making their beds.  The reason is simple:  discipline will MAKE motivation.  Motivation is worthless, in the long run.

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.

Jim Rohn

This was certainly true for me.  I started making the bed every day, but that wasn’t the root habit that really turned things around for me.  What did was doing one pushup every morning.  I didn’t shoot for anything more than the consistency of doing one.  If I was running late, sick, unmotivated (!), whatever… do one pushup.  And at first, that one pushup was a struggle.  When you’ve hit a skid in life where most of your actions are driven by reaction rather than purpose, anything in the morning feels like an obligation you’d skip if possible.  But if you do one pushup a few days in a row, one day you’ll do it without thinking.  One day you’ll forget and abashedly drop down to the floor and do one on your way out the door.  And miraculously, one day you’ll do a second one.

Discipline is the difference between what you want now and what you want most.

Author Unknown

Why do we want anything?  I’ve thought about this, as we all do, and I come back to a couple of conclusions.  One is grand and theoretical, and the other is simple and practical.  The former is that we want the continued existence of the species (I’m not talking about biological necessarily, but just that we want to advance humankind in some form, by reproducing, creating a new vaccine, building a rocket ship, etc. etc.).  The latter is simply being happy.  Discipline achieves both.  By applying discipline in the form of a pushup, I reclaimed my health, focus, and yes, motivation, which is only worthless as a means of starting to do things.  I apply this concept of discipline first, motivation second to most of my lifestyle design these days, and it works wonder.  Remove the element of requiring motivation and apply the structure of discipline to most aspects of your life and you’ll see results.  Do one pushup every morning.  See what happens.

 

on writing

This is more an attempt to write at least once in 2016, if nothing else. I said in one of my “recent” posts that much of my writing had gone on to other mediums, such as Facebook, but increasingly I’ve found that’s inauthentic writing. When I write for Facebook, or other social media, my writing is more of a random offloading of “I read this article 8 seconds ago and want to express an opinion” type of writing. The genuine type of writing I used to do here seems – to me as a stranger reading my own posts from 10-ish years ago – more authentic.

In a sense, that’s the unfortunate thing about the social media age. Facebook and Twitter are places to express thoughts in the moment. My personal journal is the place to be truly authentic with thoughts in the long span of a lifetime. Blogging was somewhere in the middle – thoughtful, considered, perhaps more personal although not deeply personal. I miss reading individual blogs. Most of the financial bloggers I interacted with in the post-financial-crisis days seem to have moved on, and I can’t blame them. I did. But there’s still something to reading an online journal from a single person. If you can identify people whose writing speaks to you, it’s enjoyable to get that direct, personal writing. It’s why we follow authors – blogs just feel a bit more intimate, I guess.

So I left Facebook, and other than “publish out” with Twitter I’m not really into social media. The enjoyment I got out of it for a few years has definitely faded, so I will look for other outlets. This old, old blog has been dead for a few years, but I still like to kick the tires once in a while. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving – there’s much to be thankful for in this life!

it may not ever be done

As I’ve obviously fallen silent on this site over the past few years, one thing has not changed. I have the need to express myself and I’ve just shifted that to other mediums. I’ve drifted to Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads…you name it, I’ve tried it. But one of the things I’ve always felt is that solely existing as a consumer of information rather than a creator of information is a failure.

I’ve learned a lot in the past couple of years. I used to speak passionately about the benefits of being a consultant – now, in two years, I’ve gone from consulting to an executive in an international healthcare company. It’s odd. The focus shifts, but in the end, I find it’s all really simple – do good work. Competence is all we can truly control. We can attempt to play politics and do all those other things, but in the end, you can’t control much except the breadth of your own knowledge.

I still pay attention to personal finance. It’s very easy, despite what every site says. For every $1 you make, save $.01 or more… that’s basically it. I know I famously said that spend less than you earn was incorrect. That was 10 years ago…times were different. I think in the new age, you have to focus on what you spend. It’s like eating – if you eat cake three meals a day, you can never in all eternity jog it off. If you spend money like that, you will never earn enough.

This post was simply my attempt at restarting writing. It may, in fact, never be done. But if I can write one post today, I may write another tomorrow. For those of you still reading, thanks. This blog was always for me to attempt to connect with you… and to be happy that you connected with me.

carnival catchup

Brip Blap was included in a lot of carnivals over the last month:

Thanks to all hosts for including my posts.

6 things to avoid if you want to be creative

dual monitor black and white

After writing for this blog for a few years, I’ve noticed that occasionally I’m stumped for topics. Recently it’s not even occasionally – it’s frequently.  I don’t get writer’s block, since once I have a topic I can usually fly away with it, but I do get stifled on overall themes and ideas. I came up with a list of ways that my creativity gets stifled in order to fight that tendency. Here they are:

I write for a living…technically. The kind of writing you do in a corporate environment does not encourage any creativity whatsoever. Here is a lovely gem I put in an email years ago: “John Doe – Based on your note, I think the 5/31 date needs to be revised for the 2nd and 3rd issues, and the first issue (negative admin credits) still appears to be ready to be closed pending whatever verification is necessary. These will need corrected close dates, revised action plans if necessary and an updated open/closed status by 6/15 at the latest.”

That is not exactly the kind of writing that would draw visitors back to this blog, I think.

I watch TV. I have given up watching cable TV and only watch Netflix and various other online services.  But it’s still far too easy to watch to much TV. I try not to be tempted, but something about flashing lights and loud noises draws me in. I find these shows fill up the empty, creative and quiet places in my head and replace them with light and fluffy cotton candy-like filling. Even great shows like Breaking Bad still crowd out my own thoughts.  You can argue that they might inspire creativity later, but really they tend to push your creative process back.

I read too much. I have just finished speed-reading through the three (real) books of the Foundation series (which are wonderful books) and I’m currently reading Snow Crash. I have hundreds of blogs in my Google Reader, dozens of emails and reports and memos and even read children’s books daily (obviously). Trying to pull in and process all of that information can crowd out creativity. I did quit reading any news that was not business or sports-related a few months ago, so at least my attention is not distracted by the latest developments with Paris Hilton. All of this is on top of my work-related reading, which is full of gems like this one I got in a memo once: “If applicable, does the appendix include a listing of all applications processes included in the assessment process and the process conclusion for said processes?” Read that again. Yes, I have often had to read this kind of writing and reply to it all day long.

During my commute, I listen to podcasts or audibooks instead of brainstorming.  I like to spend that time listening to comedy podcasts or tech podcasts, since it makes the commute pass much more quickly, but I really should use it to let my mind wander and make notes of that wandering. I find that once I’m home there are too many other distractions – at least until everyone else goes to sleep – to properly brainstorm.

I am still learning to be creative. When I first started blogging about nine years ago, I wrote a virulent political blog that was a huge series of links and videos and random comments and thoughts on almost a stream-of-consciousness basis. If I read an article, I would throw out a link and two lines of commentary, and then move on. Being creative means taking all of the influences you receive during the course of the day and processing them and creating something new, not just consolidating information. Many blogs just turn into link fests, but my favorite ones are usually written by people unafraid to present their own ideas rather than linking to others’ ideas.

Football.
I used to be a sports fanatic, following the NFL, NBA, MLB and college football and basketball. I even watched the Tour de France and most tennis Grand Slams and golf majors. Other than hockey, I seldom missed a game of any sort on TV. SportsCenter was the wake up call and the goodnight lullaby. Those days are gone – the demands of marriage and fatherhood have crowded them out. However, I still love the NFL so much that I make time for it. I do realize, though, that spending time reading about NFL roster news, watching the games and buying Jets merchandise are bad, bad habits. Nothing about football will help me write this blog, be a better person or be more frugal. Still, I have loved the NFL since becoming a fan of the almost-great Browns teams of the 80s (Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar, anyone?). I have to admit I am a footbaliholic. That barrier to creativity will probably remain.

Learning to overcome these barriers to creativity is part of what I am enjoying about the blogging process; having a small idea and then seeing the words spill out on the page once I get underway writing is a tremendous feeling.  Creativity is a mental muscle that many of us exercise far too little while we hammer away at our TPS reports.

frugality or decluttering, or both

clutter

clutter

Some people don’t care for the word “frugal.” their opinion is that it combines the virtues of being resourceful, buying quality items to avoid replacing them, and saving on unnecessary purchases with the vices of a poverty mindset and denying yourself too much in the present for a future that may or may not occur.  I don’t have much trouble with the word, but considering I’ve just watched a large amount of the money I’ve saved over the years disappear into thin air during the recent market contortions, being frugal in order to save for the future is much less attractive than it seemed in the past.

I know all the arguments – the market always makes money over the long term, Social Security won’t be there for us and consumerism is sucking our brains out through our wallets. As someone who’s never been in debt other than a mortgage I’ve never needed to be frugal to “get back to zero.”  As I child, I lived in a frugal household (woe was me) but since I’ve been an adult the sole purpose of frugality in my life has been to set aside money for the future, with the added benefit of avoiding the purchase of things I don’t need.

Now that we have a four-person family I’ve noticed that I avoid purchasing things more and more out of a desire to declutter. I am as much of a sucker for a cute toy or book for the kids as anyone, but the toy-strewn landscape of our sun room and living room are serving as great deterrents these days.  I sold dozens of books on eBay and gave hundreds more to my parents, friends and anyone who wanted them, but our bookcases are still stuffed full.  I have a lot of clothes that I seldom wear.  We have a far larger house than we absolutely NEED but as with any living space our stuff slowly creeps into every corner.

So frugality has yielded as a driving force in our lives to decluttering and some (but probably not enough) concern for the environment and how much trash we create. I’ll be honest:  I don’t clip coupons often, although I do on occasion.  I probably should do so more often.  We fail in frugality in many ways – we buy organic foods even when no real evidence exists that they are better.  I am comfortable in this market saving a small amount of my earnings and then forgetting about the rest; we reduce spending to the point where we can contribute that level of savings and then forget about saving any more than that.

But now when I look at a big TV or a new book and think about buying it, the desire to avoid more clutter is much more of a decision factor than the desire to be frugal. Clutter keeps us from buying things we don’t need.  That works for stuff, of course, but experiences (eating out, traveling, entertainment) are another matter; but even there the “clutter” builds up in your days.  It has a temporal presence even if it doesn’t have a physical presence.

Frugality has its place. Most people need to be more frugal.  I probably still need to be more frugal.  And if you’re in debt, you definitely need to be more frugal:  you don’t need a new pair of shoes or a flat screen TV.  But for me, frugality is increasingly an afterthought to clutter, environmental concerns and the need to keep searching out wealth instead of finding new ways to squeeze out diminishing rates of return on savings.

photo credit: sindesign

recent carnivals catch-up…

I’ve been included in quite a few recent carnivals, so I wanted to give a quick mention for all of them:

 

Best of Money Carnival #153 hosted by Prairie Eco Thrifter

Financial Carnival for Young Adults #10 hosted by 20’s Finances

Carnival of Money Pros hosted by Money Cone

Carnival of Financial Camaraderie #31 hosted by 101 Centavos

Carnival of Retirement #16 hosted by Broke Professionals

Carnival of Money Pros hosted by My Journey to Millions

Totally Money Carnival #64 hosted by My Personal Finance Journey

 

It’s always great to be included in carnivals, and you’re probably going to find more good content there than anywhere else.

7 things you don’t want to skimp on

gears

gears

You don’t always want to save as much as you possibly can on everything. I can think of at least a few examples where spending the least amount possible is not always a great idea.

1. Education. I am a huge proponent of public education for two reasons: 1, the involvement with your community, both for parent and child, is going to happen somewhere – there is no sense in insulating yourselves from it; 2, you’ve already paid for it (through taxes). That having been said, education – particularly college, but also secondary and elementary – is not a good candidate for finding the cheapest option simply because it’s cheapest. That might seem to contradict some of my earlier pieces. But I don’t think it really does – I simply think that far too many people choose the most expensive college just because it’s the most expensive, and that’s wrong, too. At every level you need to find options that are good for you and that really address your goals.

2. Health care. This one is tough. Of course you don’t want to overspend, but I can tell you that when you are seriously ill, most – not all, most – thoughts about money go right out the window. Of course in the case of lingering illnesses, you still have to worry about the person’s family’s future – will the cost of health care be too much to allow them to keep a house, for example? And it’s a sad state in this country that we have to worry about the cost of wellcare. But in general, when you are really sick or injured, you don’t stop the hospital from doing procedure X because it costs too much. The hospital or insurance company may stop it, though.

3. Cars and related expenses. When you read people suggesting ways to save money on cars, I always think “this is a metal box that you get in and drive around in at 60 miles per hour – do you really want the cheapest car you can get?” I want the safest car, with reasonable mileage that keeps it from being an outright assault on the environment. I’ll pay a bit extra for the good tires, even though I could get reconditioned ones cheaper. I drive a Prius, so I’ve placed a premium on mileage.  That’s a bet that may or may not pay off.

4. Insurance. If you live in a flood zone, you can save some money by skimping on the flood insurance. When the flood comes, though, if your insurance isn’t enough to rebuild your place or buy a new one, why did you bother? What was the point of saving that money if you can’t use the insurance when you need it? Make sure you’re insured against financial catastrophe. Life insurance is important. Having a $100 deductible on your auto isn’t.

5. Babyproofing equipment. I think the choice here is clear. If you want to skimp on gates at the top of the stairs for your child, then I don’t think you have your priorities straight.

6. Food. This one may be a little more contentious, but I think trying to save money on certain types of food is ridiculous. If you eat meat, try this experiment. Go buy some heavily processed, dyed, factory-farm raised chicken, and buy some organic free range chicken. Prepare them both the same way, but don’t overdo the breading, herbs, spices, whatever – keep it simple. Try both of them. Tell me which one was a better use of money. If you aren’t a meat eater, try buying organic, locally produced tomatos and then buy a Mexican imported tomato from the supermarket. In both cases, the more expensive option is likely to taste far better, therefore it satisfies you better meaning you’ll eat less, enjoy it more and be less tempted to let it sit in the fridge until it goes bad. It’s probably healthier, too, but I won’t even use that argument.

7. This one is the tough one – making money. If you are starting a business or investing, you don’t necessarily want the cheapest possible option. Undeveloped property 80 feet from the road with no plumbing or electricity in Montana might be cheap, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good investment. If you are starting up a restaurant, you don’t want to serve the cheapest possible booze.

I guess the purpose of these examples is to show that sometimes the mania for frugality and savings isn’t always the best idea. Saving money can’t always be solely about retiring or financial freedom. Between now and then there is a life to be lived, and lived safely and comfortably.

top 10 healthy and frugal foods

If you are concerned about your health and also concerned about your money, you’re often going to be concerned that the two appear to be in conflict.  It’s tough to eat healthy on a budget (but the opposite isn’t true:  it’s easy to eat horribly while spending a lot).  There are heart-healthy foods anyone can eat that don’t cost a fortune.  The trick is simple.  Don’t eat processed foods, and eat smaller portions of the pricier foods.  Thomas Jefferson said  “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an aliment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet.”  That’s good advice for the most part, both from a financial and health point of view.  Eating less meat will save you money and – by and large – won’t hurt your health.  You do need protein, and humans have for most of their history obtained that protein from animals, but the current consumption levels for the average American have become ridiculous.  I’ve had plenty of conversations with friends who don’t think they’ve eaten a meal unless the largest part of that meal was meat.  That’s not a good way to live.  As Jefferson said, meat should be a side dish, not the main dish.  It’s good for your wallet and your waistline.

So what are the healthiest foods for your heart, and how can they be good for your finances, too?

1.  Oatmeal.  Providing omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, folate, niacin, calcium, and soluble fiber, oatmeal is one of the top foods for health.  But it’s also a great budget meal.  It’s seldom expensive, it’s easily complemented with fresh fruit or a variety of spices (think cinnamon and nutmeg) and it’s one of the cheapest items in the grocery aisle.

2.  Black beans.  With B-complex vitamins, niacin, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and soluble fiber black beans are a great source of nutrition and practically free compared to most processed foods.

3.  Nuts.  Almonds provide omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E as well as heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats.  Walnuts do the same.  While nuts are nutrient-dense, they are also calorie-dense.  Make sure you snack on nuts, rather than making a meal out of them.  They aren’t cheap, but if you remember that they are supposed to be eaten in very small portions they are very reasonable.

4.  Tea.  With catechins and flavonols (flavonoids), tea is probably the best drink you can imbibe other than water.  If you’re concerned about caffeine – and you should be, caffeine is not a healthy stimulant – drink green or white tea to get all the health benefits without any of the downsides of black tea (or coffee).  Tea’s cheap, too – you can get excellent organic teas for less than the cost of a 12 pack of high-fructose corn-syrup-laden soda.

5.  Tuna.  With omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and niacin, tuna’s a great meat choice if you have to eat meat.  Make sure you get dolphin-friendly tuna that’s packaged in water, not oil.  It’s one of the least expensive meat options you can find, and it can satisfy all of your meat-related nutritional needs. without breaking the bank.

6. Tomatoes.  The tomato is a rich food, with beta- and alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein (carotenoids), vitamin C, potassium and fiber.  Here’s the catch:  tomatoes aren’t frugal.  They tend to be among the most expensive produce items you can buy in a supermarket.  But you can grow tomatoes.  They tend to be some of the easiest things to grow, and you can often grow them indoors.  The health benefits are worth the slight bit of effort to grow them on your own.

7. Brown rice has B-complex vitamins, fiber, niacin, magnesium, and fiber.  I’m not a huge fan of carbs, but for basic nutrition and calories brown rice is hard to beat.  In moderation it won’t cause much weight gain, and its nutritional benefits (and extremely low cost) make it a food worth considering.

8.  Carrots.  Alpha-carotene (a carotenoid) and fiber make this a great food.  It works for rabbits, right?  There’s little reason to avoid carrots.  They are sweet, crunchy, and healthy.  They tend to be some of the least expensive produce you can buy, making this a great choice for healthy food.

9.  Spinach has lutein (a carotenoid), B-complex vitamins, calcium, and fiber.  Dark leafy greens are always good for you, and particularly good for heart health.  Spinach tends to be one of the least expensive leafy greens, so it’s a great choice for health and wealth.

10.  Red wine.  Wine’s debatable for a number of reasons.  It can cause health problems if not taken in moderation.  If you get into fancy wines, it’s not good for your wallet, either.  But wine does provide catechins and reservatrol (flavonoids).  Both have been shown to have potent anti-aging effects, so consider hoisting a glass or two for health.  And inexpensive wines have come  a long way in recent years.  You can have excellent wines without spending a fortune.

It’s not easy to be healthy and frugal, but it can be done; give these 10 items a shot!  And suggest more if I’ve missed a few….

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