An American Editor

October 31, 2011

Silk Isn’t Enough: Amazon and the Library Book Borrower

Disregarding one’s privacy seems to be the in thing for companies to do today. It seems as if every time I turn around there is another story about another company or government agency ignoring privacy rights. And who can keep up with the constant shifting sands as regards privacy at websites like Facebook? A user needs to hire a full-time privacy protector to track the sand shifts.

And now there is Amazon, yet again. If you recall, I wrote about the privacy problems with Amazon’s new Silk browser (see Privacy in the World of Silk) and now I learn that Amazon, in cahoots with Overdrive, disregards user privacy when Kindle owners borrow books from their local library.

Sarah Houghton, a California librarian and blogger at the Librarian in Black blog, posted this video of her rant regarding Amazon, Overdrive, and privacy. I think everyone should take the time to view and listen to her rant; it is an eye opener, at least for any of us who fought for privacy rights when Congress was working on the “Patriot” Act (and who remember the McCarthy era and its aftermath , including J. Edgar Hoover’s wholesale disregard of citizen rights in the 1960s):

It has been said that the data collection that these companies undertake is really harmless. After all, what can be so bad about Amazon knowing every book you have borrowed from your local library? I find it interesting that these same people who aren’t bothered by corporations gathering our personal data will swarm the battlefront when it is the government that wants to collect the same data. Here is the question:

Why do we think corporations are more benign (or will use collected data about us more benignly) than our own government?

Another question to consider is this:

If our government came knocking on Amazon’s door and demanded that it turn over your library records, how long would it be before Amazon caved to the request?

Amazon and Facebook and other data-gathering companies are not our friend. They collect this data for multiple reasons, but all those reasons are for their benefit not yours. In Amazon’s case, the obvious, apparent, surface reason is so it can encourage you to buy similar books from it. But what prevents Amazon from turning such information over to a group that wants to identify, say, all those whose reading indicates they are opposed to gun ownership or all those whose reading indicates they favor abortion rights or all those whose reading indicates that they are fans of Glenn Beck? After all, Amazon and Facebook’s ultimate guiding principle is money — How would you know whether the antiabortion or progun or Anti-Glenn Beck for President group that is harassing you day and night got your name and information from Amazon?

I know it has been a long time since the HUAC hearings (that’s House Un-American Activities Committee for those of you who do not recall the McCarthy era of the early 1950s), but those days are not so far gone that they should be forgotten. The McCarthy era combined with J. Edgar Hoover’s misuse of the FBI in the 1950s and 1960s are largely responsible for today’s distrust of government. They were the foundations for the destruction of what had previously been a trust of government.

Today, many Americans are not only mistrustful of government but they seek to limit what other people know about them — except, it seems, for the younger generations who seem to find the public sharing of private information to be no problem. I admit I do not understand this lackadaisical approach to personal information on public display, yet it is this approach that companies like Amazon and Facebook are exploiting.

The problem with this lackadaisical approach is that we do not sit down and think through the possible/potential ramifications to our careers or about the effect such personal revelations might have in the future. Just because we think we are invincible doesn’t make it so!

Here’s one thought: Looking to get a job promotion, or perhaps a government job? If you don’t get it, could it be because you are reading the wrong books? Or might it have been that Facebook posting of your recent night on the town?

When government attorneys, citing the Patriot Act, demanded that a library turn over user borrowing information, the library and its librarians fought back. Do you think Amazon or Facebook would defend you and your right to privacy? This is worth pondering as we give up our privacy in exchange for being able to borrow library books using our Kindle.

Interestingly, none of the other ebook devices/companies that provide for library borrowing are reported to collect and use the data — only Amazon. Why? Also worth pondering is under what circumstances could today’s benign use of the gathered data turn nonbenign and when that occurs, what will we be able to do about it?

When we sign up for these services, we agree to a set of rules — terms of service. Yet, as Facebook esecially demonstrates on a near-weekly basis, those rules change with the wind. Today’s forbidden use by Amazon may well be tomorrow’s approved, standard use. And every time we use our Kindle or buy a book from Amazon, we say to Amazon, “I approve of what you are doing to me.”


October 26, 2011

How Do You Do It? Amazon vs. Editors (II)

My previous post discussed the problem publishers are facing with Amazon’s stepping into the role of book publisher rather than just bookseller. On October 17, 2011, one New York Times front page headline read “Amazon Signing Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal.”

Read a bit further into the article and one discovers that Amazon isn’t talking about the number of editors it is employing (if any). One also discovers that Russell Grandinetti, a top Amazon executive, says, “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.” Note no mention of editors.

So where does the professional editor stand? To paraphrase an editorial colleague, Amazon pays editors as if the editor lived in a third-world country. The truth of the matter is that the ground is shifting yet again for professional editors.

The standard practice for many editors has been to try to work either in-house or freelance for publishers. We have seen many of those jobs disappear as publishers have found it cheaper to outsource editorial tasks, and the globalization of our profession has caused a lowering of wages. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is forecasting no growth in jobs for the editorial profession for the next decade but a significant increase in competition for what jobs exist.

I don’t have the magic bullet that will cure this problem, but I do have an observation. When I discuss book buying with editorial colleagues, the standard response is that they buy from Amazon. It is like feeding the mouth that bites you. Because we can save a dollar or two, we buy from Amazon. Perhaps that isn’t such a smart idea as it reinforces Amazon’s belief that it is right.

I recognize that many of the books professional editors need are not inexpensive. I also recognize that professional editors probably read more books for pleasure in the course of a year than does the average reader. And I recognize that each dollar saved counts. But perhaps when it comes to Amazon, this is wrong thinking. Amazon is not my friend.

It is important to note what the Amazon model is: a willingness to have very thin margins. Thin margins do not leave a lot of money to be spent on what is considered an intangible, such as editing. I do not expect to suddenly see a rash of jobs for freelance editors at decent pay spring forth from the bowels of Amazon.

We editors can follow the path of publishers; that is, we can shake our heads in worry, wring our hands, and do nothing for fear of what effect our doing something might have on our future. But our future is already insecure.

Everything we have traditionally seen and done as professional editors is changing. I expect that in a few years the only editors still able to get work from publishers will be those in groups, not solo editors. This will be a fundamental change in how editorial work has been done.

An even more fundamental shift that I expect to see is that increasingly less work will come from publishers and the burden of hiring an editor will fall on the author. Should that occur, it will be disastrous for the author, for the editor, and for the reader. Experience so far with authors is that few are willing to invest the necessary resources for professional editing in the absence of pressure from a third party, such as pressure from a peer-reviewed journal. The gamble is too great and the value of editorial services is too ephemeral, not readily seen.

As I wrote earlier, I have no panacea for the troubles the editorial world will shortly begin facing. We didn’t face the original offshoring of the early 2000s very well, so I expect we won’t face these changes well either.

Yet one thing is certain: Editors who continue to buy from Amazon are only helping to bury themselves. Perhaps supporting Amazon is not the smartest idea editors have ever had and one that should be rethought.

October 24, 2011

How Do You Do It? Amazon vs. Publishers (I)

I have been following the story regarding Amazon’s foray into publishing. It reminded me of an old (early 1960s) hit by Gerry and the Pacemakers called How Do You Do It? So let’s set the question with Gerry and the Pacemakers.

As the song asks and says, “If I only knew, I’d do it to you.” And that is the crux of the matter in the latest nose thumbing by Amazon.

If publishers cannot figure out what is happening, cannot see the upheaval that is coming, then perhaps they should fold their tents and slither away in the night.

The truth is that the publishers do have an ultimate weapon, a “nuclear bomb” so to speak, at their disposal if they are willing to stand up and use it now, before it is too late.

It is clear that the future lies in ebooks. eBook sales are growing, paperback sales are declining, and hardcover sales seem to be remaining steady. Although I think publishers should begin to pull the rug out from under paperbacks, perhaps it is too soon. But the one thing that it isn’t too soon for is to put an end to the ebook format war.

By format war, I mean both the underlying format and the DRM wrapper. It is time for publishers to go the route of DVD producers and enact a single standard that all ebooks adhere to and that all retailers must abide by. Doing that now is the only way to tame the Amazon tiger.

In no other field has a retailer been able to set its own standard. If you notice, the DVDs that Amazon sells, just like the TVs it sells, adhere to the same format and copy protection scheme as those sold by Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and any retailer you can name — but not ebooks. In ebooks, we have two different formats — ePub for everyone except Amazon; mobi or a derivative for Amazon — and multiple copy protection schemes — a base Adobe DRM for everyone except Amazon; a proprietary scheme for Amazon.

Now that Amazon has decided to challenge publishers at their own game and has begun signing authors to Amazon exclusives, the publishers need to strike back while they can. For now, as Amazon’s dispute with Macmillan over agency demonstrated, Amazon needs the publishers more than the publishers need Amazon. Yes, Amazon has the largest market share, but that can be changed. Publishers need only to find some backbone.

Once Amazon starts signing frontlist authors to exclusive contracts, publishers will be in trouble. The way to head that off is to make it mandatory that every bookseller sell ebooks only in ePub and only with a standard DRM scheme. Doesn’t matter what the DRM wrapper is as long as everyone uses it, just like it doesn’t matter what the copy protection scheme is for DVDs because everyone is using it.

Amazon is at its most vulnerable now. That status vulnerability will change, eventually disappearing, as Amazon expands its publishing base. Amazon will become a vertically integrated company that handles ebooks from beginning to end. When that occurs, there will be no need for the traditional publisher and other bookstores will be at Amazon’s mercy.

Yet it is now that publishers can act to preserve themselves and bookstores by simply leveling the playing field. Just as publishers were able to force feed Amazon the agency system, they can modify that agency system to require that ebooks be sold in ePub with a publisher-approved DRM wrapper. Amazon needs content to survive and it is in the process of developing its own content. Because it is just starting the process, now is the time to strike.

Following this path has one other benefit. It will allow the publishers to create the ebook version themselves and be sure that errors aren’t introduced in Amazon’s conversion process (or if there are errors, that they appear universally in all ebookseller versions). Of course, this would mean that publishers would need to proofread and edit, but there is always hope that they might do so. This would just be an incentive to do so.

Alas, I expect publishers to wring their hands, palpably worry about their future, and do nothing. Their past practice indicates that they always do too little too late, and there is no reason to expect otherwise now, even though they can see their future demise if they open their eyes.

October 19, 2011

Thinking About Presidents: The Election of 1948

One of the discussions that takes place in my household with some frequency revolves around the questions “who were our greatest presidents and why?” Over the years, Harry Truman has ranked among my top presidents. (I also admit that I love that classic photograph of Truman holiding the Chicago Daily Tribune newspaper with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”)

The issue is not do I agree or disagree with what a president did, but rather the impact of the president on the United States. I cannot imagine making the decision to drop the second atomic bomb after having witnessed the destruction of the first.

Truman was a leader in many ways. Barack Obama’s national health care plan got its first breath of life under Harry Truman. Just as today’s Republicans oppose Obama’s plan, the Republicans opposed Truman’s plan in the late 1940s.

Truman broke the ground on civil rights, too. When the Republican Congress refused to integrate the U.S. military, Truman did it by executive order.

Perhaps, most importantly, I think Truman saved the United States from a crisis that could have been as impacting as was our Civil War. General Douglas MacArthur was a World War II hero and commanded a lot of attention among GIs. In fact, MacArthur was put forth as a nominee for president in the 1948 election by those who were seeking anyone but Truman.

But MacArthur had an ego that was significantly larger than deserved or appropriate, with the result being that he instigated a constitutional crisis during the Korean War. At the time, MacArthur was much more popular than Truman, which helped lend credence to the crisis.

MacArthur was ordered not to cross the Yalu River. Truman was fearful that doing so would bring Russia into the war and potentially could lead to atomic war. Truman preferred to use a “containment strategy” that would limit the scope of the Korean War. Because MacArthur made it publicly clear that he disagreed with Truman’s strategy, Truman ordered MacArthur to clear his plans with Truman, an order he was entitled to give as commander-in-chief. MacArthur disobeyed  Truman’s order by privately communicating with Congress and disparaging Truman in those communications. Consequently, on April 11, 1951, Truman relieved MacArthur of his command.

This firing raised the issue of whether the military was subordinate to the president, something that was part of the American tradition of military-civil relations, but which was strained as a result of the firing. Truman’s firing and its subsequent confirmation by a congressional committee established to determine whether the firing by the president was lawful finally firmly established civilian and presidential superiority over the American military.

What brings all this to the table today? I just finished reading 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory by David Pietrusza. This is a well-written fascinating look at presidential politics of 1948.

Within months of winning the 1944 election, Franklin Delano Roosevelt died and Harry Truman became president. Although Truman successfully completed World War II, albeit not without controversy largely over his use of the atomic bomb, he rapidly became a rejected-by-his-party president. In 1947-1948, the Democrats tried to convince Dwight Eisenhower to run as their candidate. Polls showed that no matter who ran against Truman, Truman would lose the 1948 election.

In the end, as we know, Truman won. Why he won makes for a fascinating story, especially as his Republican opponent, Thomas E. Dewey, even on election day as ballots were being counted, was prognosticated to win the election handily. Surprisingly, it was Truman who won handily. The reasons were many, not least of which was that Americans liked Truman’s feistiness, which was in contrast to Dewey’s play-it-safe posture during the campaign.

Truman’s 1948 victory has lessons for Barack Obama. With the contempt that many prior supporters are showing for Obama, it is clear that Obama needs to do something if he wishes to resurrect himself and be reelected in 2012. He could do much worse than to read about Truman’s approach, especially as Truman faced greater opposition within his own party than Obama currently does.

Regardless, Pietrusza’s 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory is not only well-written, but it is one of the best edited books I have read in a long time (definitely 5-star) — at least the print version is; I did not buy the ebook version as I wanted this for my library. I have ordered The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election by Zacharay Karabell (2000) in hardcover and am planning on ordering Irwin Ross’s The Loneliest Campaign: The Truman Victory of 1948 (1968) so I can compare author insights into this fascinating election.

I highly recommend Pietrusza’s 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory for anyone interested in true life, come-from-behind, against-all-odds stories.

October 18, 2011

Sometimes You Just Gotta Poke Fun at Yourself!

Filed under: A Humor Interlude,A Musical Interlude — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
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The animation at the following link pokes fun at my generation. Please click the link and enjoy.!menu/standard/file/ny-walt-baby-boomers.swf


For those of you who do not recognize the underlying tune, it is Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf.

October 17, 2011

On Today’s Bookshelf (X)

Filed under: On Today's Bookshelf,To Be Read — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

My to-be-read pile keeps getting higher and higher. Fortunately, ebooks don’t take up much in the way of physical space or I would be in trouble. I must have a backlog of close to 500 ebooks waiting to be read.

I’m beginning to think that being a booklover is more akin to an illness than to anything else. The ease with which we can accumulate and store ebooks — and that so many of us are unable to resist adding to our ebook collection — should create a new psychological disorder along the lines of hoarding. I’m not sure what to name it, but now is the time to start thinking of names so perhaps I can get bragging rights when the American Psychological Association finally recognizes my named disorder.

Anyway, it’s time to list the new acquisitions. As usual I begin with hardcovers.

Hardcovers —

  • 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory by David Pietrusza
  • The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election by Zachary Karabell
  • The Annotated Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 by Piers Brendon
  • Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance by Michael Goldfarb

eBooks (a partial list of recent acquisitions) 

  • Show No Mercy: A Michael Dodge Thriller by Brian Drake
  • Mist Warriors by Rebecca Shelley
  • The Chicago Druid and the Ugly Princess by Thomas Kennedy
  • Hunting the Wolfpack by Michael McQuade
  • Starseeker by Stephen Shypitka
  • Openers by Michael E. Benson
  • Dark Moon Rising by B.K. Reeves
  • Dead is Dead by James Gabriel
  • Vindicator by Denney Clements
  • Untouchable by Scott O’Connor
  • The Girl Born of Smoke by Jessica Billings
  • Shadow Touch by Erin Kellison
  • Ransome’s Honor by Kaye Dacus
  • Night Bird’s Reign by Holly Taylor
  • Legwork: A Casey Jones Mystery by Katy Munger
  • Gap Creek by Robert Morgan
  • Birchwood by Robert Taylor
  • Deadworld by J.N. Duncan
  • The Girl Who Tweaked Two Lions’ Tails by Pierre Van Rooyen
  • Mama Does Time by Deborah Sharp
  • Deadly Sanctuary by Sylvia Nobel
  • Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Nance
  • Rys Rising by Tracy Falbe
  • The Society of Dirty Hearts by Ben Cheetham

As is usual with the ebooks, the purchase price of nearly all of the ebooks was “free.” With all of the free ebooks that are available, including from traditional publishers, I am beginning to wonder if there is really a future for the larger corporate publishers. I am accumulating so many freebies that I never have to buy a high-priced Agency 6 book to have something to read — even if 85% of the freebies turn out to be not readable at all.

For the big publishing houses, this should be worrisome. Alas, I do not think it even registers with them — if it does, it isn’t reflected in the pricing of Agency 6 ebooks.

October 14, 2011

Is This Worrisome? A Baby, an iPad, and a Magazine

Filed under: A Humor Interlude — Rich Adin @ 7:43 am
Tags: , ,

Although cute, I find this video worrisome.

It is symbolizes the problem I see with the future of language and the acceptance of Twitter-speak/spelling as the norm. Increasingly, I am receiving e-mails that are in the Twit style. And I can see future writers saying, “If it isn’t wrong according to spellcheck, then it must not be wrong!”

October 13, 2011

Meet the Dwindle: A Bit of Humor

Filed under: A Humor Interlude — Rich Adin @ 7:32 am
Tags: , ,

This Canadian satire of the Kindle, from the Rick Mercer Report, is very amusing. Enjoy it.

October 12, 2011

The Book of Adam: Stimulating Thought Via a Novel

As I have mentioned numerous times, I have a huge to-be-read pile of books — both ebooks and pbooks (at last count, I have more than 600 ebooks waiting patiently in my TBR pile). I have decided that I need to tackle this ever-growing pile and so I determined to sort my ebooks by date acquired and simply start reading beginning from the oldest.

As a consequence of that decision, over the past weekend, I read The Book of Adam: Autobiography of the First Human Clone by Robert Hopper. What I found particularly unique about this ebook is that it, unlike nearly all other fiction I read, actually stimulated my thinking about our world, our future, and the moral, ethical, and philosophical implications that remain to be resolved as we get closer to the ability to clone humans.

My general experience with fiction is that it is either entertaining or not entertaining. I don’t reach that point unless the book is well-written; a badly written book is simply not worth reading because any entertainment value it might have is lost and buried by the poor writing. But the bottom line remains that a well-written fiction book is largely just entertainment that may be worth commenting on but is not a provoker of deep thought; provocation of deep thinking usually falls within the realm of nonfiction.

The Book of Adam is different. First, it is particularly well-written; Adam is a 5-star book. It captured me within a few pages. Second, The Book of Adam is about a topic that is not often discussed in the United States: human cloning. Years ago we had a national discussion regarding cloning and it was resolved that human cloning should be and was prohibited. The Book of Adam ignores that early discussion.

As written, The Book of Adam touches some hot buttons that religion still has to face, not least of which is what would the effect of human cloning be on the religious stories currently being told? By granting a form of immortality, does it destroy the belief in resurrection?

The Book of Adam raises issues that need a philosophical reckoning. Consider this: If human cloning permits a person to essentially be immortal through constant rebirths, does the concept of murder as an immoral and illegal act disappear? What effect would human cloning have on a fundamental pillar of civilization and socialization: Thou shalt not kill/murder?

Human cloning, as described in The Book of Adam, supports the idea of planned suicide, which is another challenge to our current mores. The author assumes that a rebirth essentially causes a remake of the previous life. This is a highly challengeable assumption, although one that is needed for the story. Yet no one knows whether a rebirth would be an opportunity to do differently or to simply relive the same life again.

The Book of Adam doesn’t discuss these conundrums except superficially. But The Book of Adam does cause a reader to pause and think about the implications, which is where, in my fiction reading experience, this ebook differs from most fiction.

The story takes place in the not-too-distant future, and spans the years to the twenty-second century. The ebook also subtly raises questions regarding the differences between cloning and cryogenics, as well as the issue of artificial wombs for nurturing a fetus.

The Book of Adam also asks, albeit with circumspection, what if our brain could be transferred to a synthetic body that never “dies”? What, then, are we?

Ultimately, the questions neither asked nor answered but that form the foundation for all else are these: What makes a human being a human being? At what juncture is “humanness” no longer a viable description of us?

As seems obvious to me, The Book of Adam triggers questions that philosophers have been struggling to answer for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Whether or not this was Hopper’s intent, because of the crisp clarity of his writing, these questions come to mind unbidden, and they remain within my thinking processes even after I have completed the ebook and moved on to the next ebook.

If you want a well-written, 5-star story, The Book of Adam provides that story. If you want your thinking to be challenged, The Book of Adam will challenge you. I highly recommend this ebook.

October 10, 2011

Competition Gets Keener: Agents, Authors, & Perseus

The world of editing is a tough, competitive world that is getting tougher and more competitive. The toughness and competitiveness I refer to is that of finding paying work as a professional editor. The Perseus Books Group has created yet another new wrinkle for the professional editor.

Previously, if a major publisher wasn’t interested in an author’s work, the author was on his or her own. For some authors, agents who believed in the project would act as publisher, but this option was limited. One problem with agents for freelance professional editors is that the agents often do their own editing of client manuscripts. This is not to say that an agent never hires the freelance professional editor, just that it occurs with less frequency than traditional publisher hires.

For professional editors, Perseus is changing the editorial world. It has created a new unit, Argo Navis Author Services, and is offering agent-represented authors whose agency has signed on with the unit an alternative to wholly self-publishing ebooks. Argo Navis is offering marketing and distribution services — key items in the world of self-publishing — to these authors, even as the authors remain the ebook’s publisher. It is a hybrid of traditional and nontraditional publishing.

This is good for authors, but makes it significantly more difficult for professional editors to connect with new clients. Argo Navis is not offering editorial services; each author is responsible, along with the author’s agent, for obtaining such services independently.

The setup shifts the production burden. In exchange, the revenue split is 70% author/30% distributor. (I’m not quite clear on whether or not this is 70% of 70% as the retailer needs to get its cut, too.) The traditional publisher no longer provides the author with financial support, and what services the publisher does provide are fewer than under a conventional publishing contract.

We knew this was coming. There had to be a change in the way business was conducted because top-tier authors see self-publishing as a way to maximize their revenues and publishers need a way to capture a part of those revenues while simultaneously cutting costs. When cutting costs, the first thing to go is editorial services.

Editorial services are the invisible services. They have no perceived value on the publisher’s spreadsheet because no one can point to a particular book and say: “This book sold better than expected because of the high-quality editing.” or “This book sold fewer copies because of a lack of editing.” The average reader is numb, for example, to homonym error — the difference between seam and seem doesn’t register high on the annoyance scale for most readers; there, their, were, where, your, you’re are just interchangeable words that mean what they mean to the reader in context. (“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’” [Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass. Raleigh, NC: Hayes Barton Press, 1872, p. 72.]

With this new role for a traditional publisher, the professional editor will have a harder time finding clients. Where under the traditional model 100 agents funneled 300 author manuscripts to one publisher and editors sought work on those 300 manuscripts by discussion with the one publisher, editors now will need to find and approach the 100 agents and the 300 authors, and hope that the agent doesn’t already provide editorial services, which many do, in-house.

It isn’t clear to me how to approach this changing market. What is clear, however, is that it not only needs to be approached if professional editors expect to survive the transition to ebooks and the world of self-publishing, but that professional editors need to rethink their compensation as agents have a worldwide reach and professional editors will be competing globally, not locally.

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