Tuesday, 31 January 2012

What I have done and what I am going to do.

I fancy doing a quick re-cap of what I have been up to, and what I've got coming up soon!

One of the things I've loved about having this blog in the last year is it's a great place for me to keep track of what I've done and it makes it easy for me to refer back to an event/occasion - plus I get to share it with you too! :)

Last Thursday took me to Speke in Liverpool to deliver a talk about local training session with my colleague Mike Rawlins. There's a whole heap of potential for this area when it comes to having an online voice, and we helped representatives from organisations in the area get up and running with their own Wordpress website which will act as a 'hub' for all their activities, and we will be going back later in Feb to finalise the training.

Then on Friday it was the first Birmingham Social Media Cafe event of 2012 and it got off to a great start! Over 60 attendees from all sorts of industries met, networked and talked social media and the coffees were kindly sponsored by Meegloo - a great, free social media app! The next event is on Friday 24th Feb at the Birmingham Town Hall. It's free. So if you are interested in using social media for work or play, and want to meet like minded people, then please come along! Check out the Storify from last week where you can see photos/video and what people were tweeting about the BSMC!

Birmingham Social Media Cafe, January 2012 | BSMC
Photo by Adam Yosef

On Saturday I had a Very Nice Day Out with my Mum in Warwick. I thought I hadn't been there before, but actually I had, many years ago, but I didn't see very much of it back then. I was really impressed with this small town. I have been to the famous Warwick Castle before - it's well worth a visit. I really loved the dungeon part!

There seemed to be more independent shops in the High Street so that was a welcome sight. And there are lots of antique shops with unique items such as

In the olden days, men with mustaches used to use these tea cups to keep their upper lip dry!

I have my eye on these beauties. If you don't mind, ta ;)

And although I didn't buy the earrings, my mum treated me to a new purse, and I treated me to a new red handbag!

On Sunday evening I went out with a few friends to Loco Lounge in Kings Heath. It was my first time there, and I really liked it! It was quiet as it was a Sunday night, but that more than suited me and was a lovely night chilling and chatting and sharing a few drinks.

This Wednesday I'm going all the way to Redruth (pronounced 're-DRUTH)' in Cornwall and delivering a talk about local workshop. I'm meeting Nicky there and we are staying overnight as the workshop is early on Thursday morning. It's looking to be a great workshop with over 20 attendees! I also can't wait to see Nicky, as she moved away from Birmingham in the new year, so it will be great to have a catch up!

View Larger Map

On Saturday I'm off to Preston to Local Gov Camp North West.

LocalGovCamp is an unconference (no charge, no agenda) for people mostly working in or around Local Government to get together for a few hours and talk about stuff.
There's nearly 100 people going, and there will be lots of talk of new digital developments, social media, data, and how to share what's going on, just for starters!

And whilst I'm in that neck of the woods, I'm meeting up with my best friend for dinner and a catch up.

It's going to be a great day!

There we go. That's what has and will be keeping me busy for now :)

Say hello on twitter: @karenstrunks

Monday, 30 January 2012

Two years since my Dad passed away

On a sad note, the 20th Jan marked 2 years since my Dad passed away.

I'm terrible at remembering birthdays. I'm really, really bad at it, but that's a date I don't think I'll ever be able to forget.

I'm okay though, I didn't spend the day weeping or wallowing in it all. I acknowledged it in my own way.

I was speaking to someone only the other day (who reads this blog, so Hello, and thanks for the chat), who lost their Mum fairly recently. I was saying that until I lost my Dad, I didn't really understand what other people went through when they had lost someone close. It's only when it happens to you, that you really know how it feels. They said 'Life never looks the same again'.

And that's what it is. Life does look/seem different now. It's hard to pin point exactly how. Maybe it's the different perspective. If anything good can be found in bereavement, for me, it's been an even more determined attitude to make the most of everything. I'm not going anywhere with regrets!

And I guess that's why one of my new year resolutions is to Be Bolder. Just go for things. I might make mistakes, I might do things wrong, but in the grand scheme of things, I'll least I'll have tried, not given up and done the best I can.

I wrote a blog when my Dad was ill and after he passed away; The Old Songs Are The Best. But be warned, it's a very sad read about hospitals and doctors and death and funerals. Looking back I'm surprised I was able to write it at all. I guess I needed that outlet.

I'm not sure I have any words of wisdom re bereavement really. It's a very strange thing, and it's all a bit hard to comprehend, but the passing of time helps with it all.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Something's been bugging me. Community building and being alone.

There's two things in my life that I love, but that have seemed at odds with each other. It's been on my mind for a month or two and I couldn't really figure it out.

I love community building/facilitating; using social media to garner interest in things and then turning those into offline community events that hopefully people will enjoy. Good examples are the 4am Project, Birmingham Social Media Cafe, and the work I do with talk about local.

I also love being on my own. I spend more time on my own that anyone else I know. I relish it. I work well alone. That's not to say I don't work well with others, I do, but if you tell me I have to work on my own, no problem.

I like doing things on my own too. I've gone on lots of holidays solo out of choice. I'll go to a nice restaurant on my own, or the cinema. I don't avoid doing something I want to do just because it means I'll be alone.

You left the Ark where?
Photo by Nick Lockey

So, how come I love the community building/engaging side AND the solo side? That's what I've been asking myself. They don't seem to go hand in hand. 

This article from the New York Times answered that question! I am so happy to have read it and can really relate to it.

It's titled The Rise Of The New Group Think

As I was reading it I was thinking, 'Yes, I get it. The two things (community and solitude) CAN co-exist!'

It's going to be hard not to just quote the WHOLE piece here, so I will just pick out the snippets that stood out to me to the most. Please read it and let me know what you think!

It begins..

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in
It's certainly a trend I've noticed, and I think that has evolved more now we have the wonderful internet. Being so hyper connected makes it easier to collaborate. Collaboration is seen as a Good Thing. Therefore, let's collaborate, let's Groupthink, let's make something great happen! I can understand that.

And I will add that I couldn't do what I do without other people's involvement or contribution. There's few people that will achieve anything entirely on their own, without other's support, encouragement, perhaps ideas and help and facilitation or simply someone cheering them on from the sideline.

I run the 4am Project alone from behind my computer screen. I do the majority of the work behind the scenes; when there's a global 4am Project date I manage the website, flickr, facebook, twitter account, pr, emails etc. I don't really need to see another person to do that. However, the 4am Project as it is with over 50 countries taken part and 6000+ images would not have happened without the collaboration of other people (and that people love the project enough to give up sleep and take part, I am very grateful!). And when the 4am date comes around, I'll have organised an event in Birmingham and I will show up and take part and make sure everyone is having a good time.

Collaboration is in. But that's shouldn't meet that solo working should be out!

Working alone on my various things, I get a lot done. I haven't got the distraction of a husband or kids. To add to the picture you may have in mind, I also work in silence for the majority of the time. Most the the things I work on I deem important and therefore that needs my full concentration. Sometimes, in the evening, depending on what I'm doing, I'll put the radio on. What a treat! lol. When the clock hits 9 or 10 o'clock, I'll put the tv on and watch something or other and wind down before bedtime.

I have no brothers or sisters, so I guess spending time on my own is ingrained to me. It's not a scary thing at all. Beside, I have all my friends on the internet for company as and when I want! :)

The beauty of the way the internet allows us to work is that we don't have to be in a physical place. Of course, that depends on your job. I mean, I DO have to go out to do some parts of my work. But for the majority of my work, I just need to be online in between team meetings, delivering training workshops in various cities, taking photographs, attending events etc.

small Karen
Photo by Nikki Pugh

 "During the last decades, the average amount of space allotted to each employee shrank 300 square feet, from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet in 2010."
And the article goes on to say that when experiments were done in open offices and workers were given their own cubicles, their own 'nook' to work in they were happier and their output improved.
What distinguished programmers at the top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed. 
Even working from home there are interruptions. That's why I keep my land line phone switched off (no one calls me on that anymore, they have given up lol), and the majority of the time, my mobile will be on silence (but I'll see it flashing and can decide whether to take the call or call them back later). Twitter is usually kept on so I can reach out and connect when I feel like it (though I have switched the 'chimes' off).

Whatever the interruption, whether it's the phone ringing, or a colleague coming up to you for a chat, or answering an urgent email, your brain can take about 15 minutes to shift back into the space it was in doing whatever task you were doing.

As a different New York Times article reports.
 In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.
I tried a co-working space once. A very nice lady sat next to me and chatted the whole day! On that day I wanted to use the space to opt in and out of conversation, but I had no choice with this lady's chatter. I went home early. I got nothing done and was too polite to tell her not to talk to me, even though I made hints that I had a lot to do.

Apparently you can use your ear phones as a 'code':

Two earphones in = I'm busy. Do not interrupt.
1 earphone in = kinda open for chat but keep it brief
Ear phones out = Let's talk!!

If only I had known that back then. Of course, it relies on other people working there to know that code too!

This last week or two has been varied. I met up with the talk about local team in the office. Last Tuesday I went to London to help train people. Tomorrow I'm off to Liverpool to do a workshop. Today I am working alone. Each of those days has a different flow, and I adapt and enjoy that. Even though I'm used to working on my own, I'm not anti-social. I'm out going and friendly and when I do go out socially or go to an event, I have a great time.

Karen Strunks in TIMES Square, NYC
Time Square. I spent a month in NYC on my own and loved every minute, though I still checked in with my friends online and met new people in NYC. Screen shot by Sas Taylor
Solitude can even help us learn. According to research on expert performance by the psychologist Anders Ericsson, the best way to master a field is to work on the task that’s most demanding for you personally. And often the best way to do this is alone. 
 If you want to improve, you have to be the one who generates the move.
Oh the challenges I've set myself! Most recently some website stuff (which I'll mention in another blog post). I don't know that much about the back end of websites or how they work. This year I have spent 50 hours figuring out what I wanted to do and how to do it. Of course, I could reach out and ask for help, or just get someone else to do it for me - save a headache right? But I am very determined, and admittedly I don't like asking for help (maybe too independent), and in the end I worked it out and got there.

Plus, what I have learnt from figuring it out on my own is that I can do things that I intially find hard, and at the same time I will learn something. And I've never regretted learning anything, and that learning has stood me in good stead and nearly always come in useful. It's an investment in myself if you will.

By Dan Johnson Photography
I’m not suggesting that we abolish teamwork. Indeed, recent studies suggest that influential academic work is increasingly conducted by teams rather than by individuals. (Although teams whose members collaborate remotely, from separate universities, appear to be the most influential of all.) 
Remote collaboration. We can all do that very easily now! The internet provides the perfect vehicle to do that and we have some many tools at hand within it do aid the collaboration from a distance; emails, shared documents, skype conference calls, and there are many websites that are made especially to facilitate collaboration under their roof.

Birmingham Social Media Cafe, May 2011
Photo by Adam Yosef

But even if the problems are different, human nature remains the same. And most humans have two contradictory impulses: we love and need one another, yet we crave privacy and autonomy
And that statement just about sums this all up for me. That's the thing that I was puzzling over. My 'need' of wanting to do what I do with social media and community building, and my other 'need' for independence and to be able to work alone at times. And I now happily realise I don't have to choose between one or the other, or wrestle with the concept,  I can do both! :)

In what way do you work best?
Do you prefer working directly with people, or do you crave some peace and quiet to get your work done?
Is the internet a Bad Thing as it removes some of the need to meet up with people face to face?
Do you miss grabbing a coffee and having a meeting with someone? Do you still insist on this even though you could have a meeting online?

I'd love your thoughts! 

4am Project Project Brutal Birmingham Library 24th April 2011
4am Project event at Birmingham Library

Say hello on twitter! @karenstrunks

Monday, 23 January 2012

Speaking at the Birmingham Girl Geeks launch event

Last Saturday was the launch event of Birmingham Girl Geeks

What is Birmingham Girl Geeks you ask?

It's a networking event for geeky girls and women in Birmingham and the West Midlands! 

It was a fantastic first event, with about 40 ladies coming along to Urban Coffee. The event organisers, Rachel McCollin, Nivi Morales and Karen Bugg did an amazing job, and considering it was the launch event, it actually felt very established already. A testament to all their hard work. 

The ladies asked me to do a short talk at the event, and I spoke about the 4am Project, how it began, how I used social media to make it global, and gave a few hints and tips on managing an online project. Btw, there will be another global event coming up in April which I'm aiming to announce next month!

The star guest of the day was Denise Jacobs from Miami, who is an author, speaker and web evangelist! And quite an inspiration. She spoke about encouraging women to become visible web experts

Then it was time for my talk. Hope you enjoy it! I tried to squeeze a lot into 12 minutes!

And last, but not least, Rachel McCollin spoke about launching her own web design business and mobile web design!

And there were cakes!

And a raffle - and I won a book! CSS Detective by Denise Jacobs. Hey, I'll be a Girl Geek yet! :)

And I had to draw the next raffle ticket out, and I pulled out my Mum's numbers! What are the chances of that. She was very happy as there was some gorgeous jewellery to be won as well!

I did a Storify of some of the tweets and pics from the event. 

There are even some dates set in place for the next events:

Evening of 16th Feb, 17th March, 19th April, 17th May, 23rd June & 19th July! A full schedule for your spring/summer diary. Just keep an eye on their website and twitter for more info. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet other ladies and some new faces too, and I really recommend it :)

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

My 4am Project interview in Touch Base magazine 2011 and what I've been up to in 2012

About a year ago I did an interview about the 4am Project with Jayne Howarth for Touch Base Magazine.

I received the pdf recently, so here it is in all it's glory! Thanks Jayne.

If you click it, it will become bigger!

Karen Strunks 4am Project Interview Touch Base magazine

Just wanted to mention that really. I like to keep a note of interviews etc when I can and keep an online record.

2012 is in full swing. I'm just keeping my head down and getting things done. 

Though I have had my first nights out of 2012 last weekend. Yeah, party animal!

They were much needed as I hadn't been out properly since before Christmas - when I managed to catch a bad cold. 

Night 1 was an evening of drinkies and cocktails with a very good friend who I hadn't seen for far too long! She's a fantastic lady, who is so supportive and amazing to be around. 

Night 2 was a party to celebrate Nicky's and Sas's birthdays! Fantastic night and great to catch up with good friends who I had't seen for a while. I also got a bonus belated birthday pressie from Sas! 

Perfect! A lovely mix of Red and Animal Print. My favs!

I had a good excuse to wear my Big Hair Bow!
On Monday it felt like New York City was calling me. I received this stunning gift from a friend. The photo doesn't do it justice. I'm keeping on my desk right in front of my monitor so I look at it every day. 

Then when I got home, I post card from my NYC pen friend was on my door mat! 

They both made me really happy! 

Yesterday myself and Nicky went to Acton in London to deliver a talkaboutlocal training workshop. It went really well, and we have got some new people starting their wordpress hyperlocal blogs. 

I was catching a train back to Birmingham from Euston and mentioned this to my best friend who lives in Cumbria. Well, she was only travelling home from London from Euston at the same time, so we were able to snatch 10 minutes best friend time together! Yay! It's always great to see her, even though it was for such a short about of time. We are meeting up again in Preston as I'm going to Local Gov Camp and we are seeing each other afterwards for dinner. And I just CANNOT wait for March as we are having a long weekend away in a 17th century cottage in the middle of nowhere in Wales! 

Me and my BFF!
This Saturday I'll be going to the first Birmingham Girl Geeks events and doing a little talk about social media and the 4am Project. It's free to come along, and boys can come too! See you there I hope :) 

Next week I'm off to Liverpool for a talkaboutlocal training day. We have quite a few workshops coming up so I'll be heading to Cornwall, Southminster, and back to London a couple of times soon! 

Then on Friday 27th it's the first Birmingham Social Media cafe event of the year. Come along to that too. It's free, and a great place to meet creatives and businesses who share a love for social media. Meegloo are sponsoring coffee! Check out Meegloo's free app too! 

Oh, and I've written a chapter of a book! It's for the Community Lover's Guide To The Universe that Podnosh is curating and the Birmingham edition is called Militant Optimists; people who knuckle down, get things down , give things a go and get the community involved. For my chapter I have written about the 4am Project.  The book should be out in the next few months and an online version will be available to download for free. I'll keep you posted!

Okay, gotta dash! Just a flying update. Say hello on twitter @karenstrunks :)

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Girlwalk Allday - I dare you not to dance!

Since Girl Talk All Day released their mashup, I have been addicted to it. Listen to it online and download it here.

If I need to boost my mood, I play it. When I do any exercise, it's on my headphones. It's helped power me through the miles when running. Every track hits a button.

And now, in case you have missed it, it's been turned into a film - Girl Walk All Day

The most inspiring and crazy and happy film I've seen. And it's set on the city streets of New York, my favourite city in the world!

The creator of the film, Jacob Krupnick, is interviewed in The Gothamist, and tells of how whole the whole project was funded by Kickstarter and how he went about filming dancers in the streets of NYC. The film received $24,817 from 577 Kickstarter backers!

The tantalising thing about the film's release is that it's been broken down into episodes over the last month. And today, the final chapter went live on The Gothamist (who have been supporting the project) website.

I can't tell you how much I have LOVED every second of every video. I've laughed, and danced and even cried!! It's also made my hunger for NYC even stronger (if that's possible!).

So, get off your chair and watch the story unfold from the Ferry beginning! ;)

Girl Walk // All Day: Chapter 1 from Girl Walk // All Day on Vimeo.

And now go here to watch the rest of the videos! 

Thank you Girl Talk and Girl Walk! You have made me a very happy and dancey girl! :))

Say hello on twitter: @karenstrunks

Monday, 9 January 2012

My diary management

Hi! How's your new year going?

Mine is going well thank you! Especially now I am over the cold that slowed me down over my Christmas and New Year holiday. Hurrah!

So, last week I talked about how I have moved my to-do list over to workflowy (one week in and it's working out well so far!).

Today, I want to mention the progression of my diary management over the last couple of years and how I am working on perfecting that. I am also tracking where I spend my time, and I'll blog about that next. I am aiming for a super efficient 2012, and there's always room for improvement!

Up until Feb 2011 I kept track of my commitments with a traditional week-to-view diary. I had been using that type of diary for a good few years (always a silver WHSmith diary. It became a tradition every December to buy one). As the year went by the pages would become more dog eared, and I liked that. This year I haven't bought one, but I kind of feel I should just because I am so used to see it sitting in it's place on my desk!

However, as my work, commitments and areas of interest progressed I knew I needed to take it to the next level, which for me was Google Calendar.

This felt so clean! And I could account for time hour by hour. And all those hours to fill! Whooohooo!

I devised a multi coloured calendar. Each colour representing a different task; social, work, running, time off, blogging etc.

And this is what the result was. Ta da!! So many colours, so pretty! ;)

BUT after a couple of months of this type of diary management I could see it's flaws. 

Yes, I could account for every hour, but as you can see, some days involved jumping from task to task. And more often than not, the tasks took longer than the time I had allocated for it. And then I would have to jiggle things about and it became a bit much really. I also hadn't given myself any room for maneuver. 

So, I had a think and devised a new type of schedule which allowed longer for each task so I wasn't jumping about so much, plus I gave myself more room and flexibility by introducing Leeway Days! 

Leeways days are time I reserved in my diary and keep empty as I've learnt that something unexpected will come up each week, it could be an event, work, or perhaps I need more time to work on something. Or just have some time off! It's handy to have some time in reserve if something needs to be juggled about or re-scheduled. 

These leeway days have been a really beneficial addition. I highly recommend them. 

These first few months of this year are looking to be busy ones already, and I'm looking forward to them and seeing what 2012 brings. 

And if you are looking for some events to fill up your diary with, you won't go wrong with these social media get togethers in Birmingham:

Birmingham Girl Geeks
Saturday 21st January
A meet up for geeky girls and women in Birmingham. And men can come too! Just grab a girl and put your name down. You can come there with me if you want!

I'll be doing a short talk there about social media and the 4am Project. 

Wordpress Birmingham Meet Ups

Wednesday 11th Jan (and monthly thereafter)
WordPress Birmingham (UK) is a monthly meetup group based in Birmingham, UK (unsurprisingly), aimed at bringing together WordPress designers, developers and site owners.

And not forgetting of course......!

Birmingham Social Media Cafe
Friday 27th Jan (and every last Friday of the year)
The Birmingham Social Media Cafe is a place for people interested in social media to gather, get acquainted, chat, plot, scheme and share!

There we go!

How do you manage your diary? Any tips to share? :)

Say hello on twitter: @karenstrunks

Monday, 2 January 2012

Tackling to-do's with Workflowy

In an on-going endeavour to manage and fine tune my to-do list I've made a few changes in the last year or so.

This is how I used to keep track of my to-do's. Each had it's own little post it note. Periodically I would go through it and re-arrange into order of importance and put priorities at the top.

It worked. I got things done. I just had to manage/juggle 100's of bits of paper and they would often end up scattered over my desk and made it look untidy. An untidy desk, and untidy mind!

Then I switched over my diary management to Google Calender (more on G Cal coming up) and I used the Tasks function there to keep track of things. Again, it worked, but I found it a bit clunky and a bit of a nuisance to prioritise my to-do's. It could be done, but there's just too many clicks and dragging for my liking. There is also the option to add further notes to tasks, which is useful, but again, I found it didn't work as smoothly as I would have liked.

And now....

I have discovered Workflowy! A new way to organise you brain.

I really like it. I've transferred my to-do's over there now. I love it's simplicity and how much easier it is to add notes to specific tasks, and break big tasks into smaller ones. You can also add tags and use them to search for specific tasks too.

Take a look at Workflowy's intro video.

Workflowy doesn't have an app yet, but it looks like they are working on it, and in the meantime you can access it through your browser.

Workflowy has been going for just over a year and has 100,000 registered users with 30,000 of them being active.

My only concern was 'What if Workflowy goes down or shuts up shop?". Luckily there's an Export option, so you can keep a back up of your latest lists. I'll probably do a save once a week.

Workflowy also have a blog and you can find them on twitter too.

So, happy to-do listing this year!

If you give Workflowy a go, let me know what you think! :)

Say hi on twitter: @karenstrunks 

Sunday, 1 January 2012

And Hello 2012!

Here we go! A brand new year! YES!

It's my favourite time of year, though my usual excitement was slightly subdued because of a cold.

I celebrated the passing of the old year to the new year in my preferred way - at home, alone. It was a time to reflect and plan and be thankful for all that 2011 brought. It was a jolly Good Year indeed.

I've been blogging here for one whole year now! I love this little space. And thanks for reading! I've had a little look at my blog stats this morning and it's great to see so many peeps from so many countries tuning in!

I want to wish....

...a very happy 2012. Hope it's a blast for you! 

What's on your plans for this year?

Anything new on your radar?

Keeping things the same, or making a change?

Are you aiming for something audacious?!

I've been having a good think about this year, and I've decided I'm going to recycle some of my goals from last year! (No, I'm not being lazy and unimaginative!). Honestly, 2011 was pretty good. No, it was really, very fab! 

I learnt a lot and I'm going to keep on doing what works. I want to keep things moving in the right direction and having some adventures along the way! 

There's a few practical online things I want to put in order. Mainly my profile which I feel is a bit scattered, so I want to bring everything together and have a 'one stop' place for what I do and who I am. From speaking to peeps this year it's clear to me that it's not clear to them what I do exactly! Some know me from my photography, some from talk about local, some from the social media cafe, some from this blog etc... So it's time to bring it all together! 

There's a less tangible area I want to work on. Like being braver and bolder! Do you know when you want to do something a bit big and out of your comfort zone and there's that moment that causes you to pause because a little voice goes, "Mmmm, should I?". Well, that. I mean, I do pretty much go for things I want in general, but overall I want to eradicate that pause and just go for it! 

Positivity! There's a lot of power in positive thought. And a lot of power in having positive friends too! I've got a great group of friends who are just that. Really positive. And supportive and inspiring too! I want to keep it that way and banish negativity and negative people coz they just ain't welcome! 

New York is still at the forefront of my mind and is one of my biggest goals.

There we go! That's enough to keep me busy for now. And I'll keep you posted along the way! 

Have a Super Duper 2012! 

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