Category Archives: Knowledge Management

Déjà Vu All Over Again

I’ve been giving some thought to why I blog, what it is I’m trying to accomplish. As it turns out, I have several motivations that are, in no particular order: Share my observations of the business world; discuss politics; wonder about space, time, and infinity; wax philosophical about religion and spirituality; share my experiences with aging as a point-of-the-spear baby boomer; complain about assholes and assholishness; and blabber on about anything that intrigues me. I guess that pretty much covers everything.

Deja Vu

I could swear I’ve thought about these issues before!

I feel fairly confident in my ability to write about most of these things, but I do have one area in which I’m somewhat reluctant to hold myself out as knowing anything. That subject is business. This isn’t because I haven’t picked up anything useful in the past 52 years since my first “real” job at McDonald’s, but rather because I’ve spent the vast majority of the last three decades working at an organization that is a government contractor and I have a tendency to think we’re very different than other, commercial organizations.

It recently dawned on me or, perhaps after nearly five years of retirement and a return to the organization I retired from, it came back to me the success of the comic strip Dilbert should make it abundantly clear most all reasonably big organizations are very much the same when it comes to bureaucracy, organizational stupidity, and waste. So . . . I’ve now come full-circle I believe and should have no trouble writing about my observations.

Not perzackly. When I first returned to work in mid-January of this year, I ran up against the reality that a large portion of the business, thanks to an acquisition by Aerojet, was now defense and missile related and our work on space exploration was more developmental than production oriented. In fact, I am currently working on what used to be referred to as a “Star Wars” program, a ground-based intercept vehicle designed to “get in the way” of incoming ballistic missiles. As a result, one of the first training modules I was required to take and pass an exam on was regarding Operations Security.

The material wasn’t all that comprehensive, so it requires some real judgment to decide on what I can talk about and what I should not share. It gave me pause – still does, actually. However, I am coming to the conclusion I can speak about any part of normal organizational issues that others (for whom Dilbert continues to resonate with the “truth”) struggle with as well. I think this means issues of communication, knowledge sharing and retention, organizational silos, and cultural constructs that block meaningful progress are probably available targets. Let’s see how good I do.

Why Can’t You Learn, Old Dog?

I am both amazed and highly disappointed at the number of people who believe the ability of colleagues to talk to each other via a tool that is either fairly ephemeral and basic (e.g. MS Communicator) or more persistent and inclusive (e.g. MS Yammer or Cisco Jabber) is a waste of their time. One of my least favorite things to hear is “I’m too busy to learn how to do that” or “I don’t have the time to waste on these things.”

Tin Can Phone

How can I help you?

“These things” are designed to improve our ability to share what we know and to find out what others know; not as a lark or just because, but in support of the work we do every day. How often have you remembered there’s some information that’s available to help you out, but you can’t quite recall where you last saw it or who told you about it? Imagine being able to essentially broadcast a question and have it reach dozens or more people, any one of whom might be able to answer the question for you. How is that a waste and in what way is spending 10 or 15 minutes to learn how to use a tool wasteful given how much time it can save in the long run? Even if you only saved 5 minutes per month, you’d be in the black after only a third of a year.

The business world is changing; grudgingly – at least in many places – but nevertheless changing. A long time ago one of my colleagues who had been a student of Deming’s and who was deeply involved in the understanding of systems, offered his belief that the main reason we survived as a company wasn’t so much because of how good we were at what we do. Rather, it was in large part due to the reality that everyone else was much worse. He wasn’t talking about our organization’s technical skills, but rather about our systems and procedures, most all of which exude bureaucracy from every corner.

I believed him then, and I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from believing it still – even after a nearly five year hiatus and having been back for over six months now. I’m not sure how much longer any organization can continue doing business the way they’ve always done. I can’t possibly predict when it will be too late to change; when another business will match our technical skills and outperform our organizational skills, leaving us – eventually – in the dust.

It will undoubtedly take longer in aerospace than it would in, say consumer electronics, but even with long-term contracts and government funding there has to come a time when failure to learn and modify how things get done, especially those things that rely on people talking to and working with one another, will mark the end of an organization’s viability. I don’t dwell on it, but I do find myself occasionally listening for that other shoe to drop. You?

Why I’ve Seldom Written On Paper

I work in an engineering company and engineers like to write things down, as well as illustrate their points when describing why they did something or how a component/tool/machine works. To that end, just about every one of them carries around a hardcover journal. I, on the other hand, have seldom written things down. In my entire school career, which includes two postgraduate degrees (but no undergrad school), I may have taken a few pages of notes, but that would be it.

White boards are also the domain of engineers and scientists, and every conference room generally has numerous illustrations and equations written on the boards on their walls. As a southpaw who writes backhanded, I’ve never been comfortable writing on a chalkboard or whiteboard. I just end up smearing everything. In fact, even on paper I’ve been known to fill out a form from the bottom up, just so I wouldn’t smear the ink before it had time to dry.


It’s so elegant, it almost feels like a crime to write anything in it. Weird, huh?

Still, just recently I decided to carry around one of the ubiquitous journals the company provides for everyone to use. Not only that, I purchased a really nice Moleskine Folio Professional Notebook, a leather pencil/pen case, and am seriously thinking about some high-quality pens. I did this in an effort to force myself to write more frequently. Unfortunately, I still have a problem getting anything down.

It’s really been bothering me as, at 68 years of age, I’m not sure how much time I have left, either in my life or in my ability to write coherently . . . and to remember what it is I’m doing. I have managed to write a few things down and, especially at work, I’ve found it helpful to keep notes about what I need to do in a journal, rather than on separate sheets of paper, which is what I’ve been doing for a while.

The problem for me is multi-faceted. As a leftie, I’ve never had terribly legible handwriting. Since I had no intention of becoming a physician, a profession where legible handwriting doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite, I gave up years ago and only print, in CAPS. When I actually write something down, that is. I learned to type in the seventh grade and during my second year of law school I got a job as a legal secretary, where my typing speed steadily improved until I was at about 85 wpm. Not blazing, but much faster than I can write/print. The attorney I worked for got an IBM memory typewriter, for which I spent a full day in class at one of their offices. I was enamored of word processing and, shortly afterward, he got a somewhat more sophisticated computer called an Artec Display 2000. It used 8″ floppies and I assembled wills, trusts, pleadings, and interrogatories with it. Keep in mind, this was in 1974 or 75 — forty years ago.

Since that time I have worked with quite a few word processing tools: Wordstar, with which I wrote many a module in dBase II; WordPerfect, which I learned on-the-fly when I answered the call for a temp job at a law office and again at an insurance agency; Lotus Word Pro and a homegrown (Rockwell International) competitor, with which I wrote reports at Rocketdyne, my alma mater and current place of employment (though it’s now Aerojet Rocketdyne – after being Boeing and UTC’s Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne); and, Scrivener, with which I hope to write my memoirs soon, providing I can remember anything clearly.

The thing is, when you write something down on paper it’s very difficult to do much editing whereas with a computer (or even a phone or tablet) editing is essentially a piece of cake. Hence, the problem I have with physically writing anything down is my belief that if it’s anything useful, I’m going to want to save it electronically so I can both edit and post it (if it’s worthy and, frankly, maybe even if it isn’t). That will require a duplication of effort my experience in knowledge management makes it very difficult for me to contemplate. Yet, I will try and find those circumstances where writing something on paper makes sense. So far I’ve put about a hundred words in to my Moleskine.

How about you? Do you take notes? Do you ever write anything down except the occasional phone number when you’re hurriedly listening to your voicemail?

Kicking Up My Heels At 67

Six RS-25 Rocket Engines

A row of RS-25 engines, formerly SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines).

I had a great two-hour meeting with the man who will be my new manager starting Monday, and to whom I’m deeply grateful for bringing me back to the company I lived at for over two decades. My feeling about returning is probably best summed up by an old friend/colleague who still works there. She commented on a Facebook post where I told my friends I had jumped through the final HR hoop, saying “Welcome home“.

I don’t know how many of you have been lucky enough to work at a place where you can feel that way, but I have. Despite the fact I worked for three of the larger, more (shall we say) staid aerospace companies – as parent organizations; mother ships – in no way diminishes the camaraderie, affection, and deep respect I felt for so many of my colleagues.

Also, I think I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday, a few hours prior to meeting with Geoff. I was thinking about how much hierarchy and command-and-control organization are anathema to me, when I realized that I also work best when I’m involved with a team. I need to be around other people from whom I can learn and share experiences with. It’s my nature. The latter is what gives me the strength to live with the former, and I always have the opportunity to make things better. That’s what I’m ostensibly there to accomplish.

These, then, are the continuing adventures of a 67-year-old man, prematurely retired by circumstances partly beyond his control, who now returns to approximately what he had been doing nearly five years ago. I’m really looking forward to this next part of the journey. I have also discovered I have a great deal of difficulty writing about the things I’m deeply interested in – the business concepts and practices I worked on before retirement and have carefully studied since then – if I’m not involved with them. I just don’t feel I possess the gravitas sitting in my home office that I will have when I’m out there actually working with a group of people to make things happen. I think this move is going to change, if not improve, my blogging and posting habits. Time will tell.

Richard Ladd – Professional Eclectic, SMSD

As a noun, Merriam-Webster defines eclectic as “one who uses a method or approach that is composed of elements drawn from various sources.” I think this describes me pretty well. So well, in fact, I once printed up business cards introducing me (see the title of this post) as Richard Ladd – Professional Eclectic, SMSD. I used different fonts for each letter of the title, chosen to stress their difference yet not such that they appeared garish or disjointed. At least, that was my intent. I have no idea if I succeeded because I never really passed any of them out. It was a silly conceit of mine.

I added the SMSD embellishment very purposefully. Although I have two advanced degrees I’m reasonably proud of having earned, I seldom place their initials after my name. However, I intended the business card to be somewhat of a joke and, coupled with some minor discomfort in holding myself out as being a true eclectic, I thought to broaden it and thereby soften the harshness of what I worried might be too heady a self-endorsement. One could easily imply calling oneself an eclectic might be a backhanded way of suggesting one was a polymath.

Merriam-Webster defines dilettante as “a person whose interest in an art or in an area of knowledge is not very deep or serious.” Although I have long had a keen interest in many different fields of study, I am not sure that interest is deep enough for me to really be a person with eclectic interests or tastes, not necessarily a true eclectic. SMSD, therefore, stands for “Some May Say Dilettante.” I considered it a sort of backhanded disclaimer, a way of acknowledging I just might not be very good at my eclecticism.

A recent example from an attempt to recreate a former business card

A recent example from an attempt to recreate a former business card

What caused me to think of this? I was looking at my desk, which I had actually cleaned off not too long ago. It is once again cluttered, as it almost always is. It reminded me that I’ve always been interested in many things and easily distracted as well, and it finally hit me that I will likely never be “organized”.

It’s not limited to what I read and study either. When I was living in Playa del Rey and my family’s business was in Vernon (East L.A.) I often tried different routes to go back and forth. I get bored really easy with doing the same thing the same way, over and over. When I worked at Rocketdyne for over two decades, I often drove different routes to get to work and, even more importantly, I often tried new ways of doing things; always looking for a better way to get my work done.

I once worked with a guy who insisted he was far too busy to take time to learn something new. It was his goto response when I suggested he take 10 – 15 minutes to learn a couple of keyboard shortcuts or learn about a macro command that would save time in the future. I’m always amazed by people who have no curiosity and see learning as a chore or something that impedes their ability to get their work done. That attitude is the epitome of the saying “pennywise and pound foolish”, IMO. It’s also the antithesis of being able to see systems or what is frequently referred to as Systems Thinking.

Hmmm. It seems my propensity for wandering has happened with this post as well. I think my main point was a recognition that one needn’t be “organized” or to see it as the be all and end all of being an effective person. Some of us just aren’t built that way, yet we manage to do quite well overall. Yeah. That’s the ticket.



In Honor of Working Out Loud Week

First off, let me say I’ve been a proponent of “working out loud” since long before it was called working out loud, even before it was “observable work“, though I didn’t actually have a name for it back then. Since I’m mostly retired, it wasn’t until the end of this week I became aware it was “Working Out Loud Week” and, as a result, decided to look back at the history of the concept. That’s how I came to the two links I’ve shared above. I also know both authors, had encountered their work many years ago, and was not surprised to find them listed among the seminal documents describing either phrase.

I have no desire at this point to write a comprehensive history of the idea and how it’s developed, as well as any prognostication on its future, so I won’t be getting into that. Besides, there are others who are still far more deeply engaged in the day-to-day effort than I, so I think — at least at this point — I can leave that up to them.  I will offer, however, I’m a little disappointed at the idea of setting aside one week in which to suggest people all over the world give it a go; believing instead, it’s a concept worthy of continuous admonition and support. Nevertheless, I understand the forces we’re struggling to overcome and the resistance and inertia standing in the way of progress. It’s often necessary to encourage people to take baby steps, get their feet wet as it were. My disappointment doesn’t run terribly deep.

Actually, due to a chance encounter on the interwebs as I was doing this looking back, I mostly wanted to ask a question. To wit:

If last week was “Working Out Loud Week” (#WOLWeek), then what the hell was this? Color me cornfuzzled although, as I have noted, I’m all for #WOLForever. It’s also good to see Ms. Hart provides links to John Stepper’s, Harold Jarche’s, and Luis Suarez’s efforts, but I’m a bit surprised the author is so unfamiliar with Luis she calls him Luis Elsua! :/ That, I suppose, is another story.

PS – I looked a little further and discovered a post of Harold’s that refers to the post of Jane Hart’s I refer to in the paragraph above. So . . . now that I’m dizzy and, really, a bit delighted at the cross-referrals, I’ll leave my original question. I remain curious as to how we got two #WOLWeeks, but I haven’t the time now to do the research to understand. Maybe someone will actually comment on this post and help me out. In the meantime, I’m glad the concepts of observable and narrated work are getting the attention they deserve. It is a very important aspect of knowledge management and essential to building and maintaining high performing communities, IMO.

Firing Up My Wood-Burning iPad

Next month my iPad will be four and a half years old. I bought it as a present to myself for my 63rd birthday, a couple of weeks after I retired from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Technologically, it’s already hopelessly out-of-date, the iOS having surpassed its capabilities a couple of releases ago. I kind of gave up on it and was mostly letting my youngest daughter play games on it.

Then, a couple of days ago, Marcia Conner contacted me, wanting to know if I was interested in helping her update the technology references in a book she co-authored and, perhaps, write a new chapter to add on as well. We talked the following day and I enthusiastically accepted the challenge. This, of course, is provided the publisher goes along with her proposal.

Anyway, to help me figure out what’s going on, she sent me four files, one of which is a .mobi – a Kindle – file. Unfortunately, yesterday I started feeling a nasty chest cold coming on and today I wasn’t really up for sitting at my Mac and reading. I do have the Kindle app on my iPad, so I decided to see if I could make use of it. I had no trouble importing the book into my Mac, but it seemed I could only upload the file on my iPad via a GDrive app and each time I opened it I had to start at the beginning, as there was no bookmarking functionality.

Then I discovered, serendipitously, I have an email address I can send all kinds of files to so I can access them through my Kindle app. The other three I had received were Word docs and a .pdf and I sent all four of them to the email address and, voila, I now have access to all of them via the world’s most expensive Kindle device . . . but at least I can lie down and read, which is how I’ve always enjoyed books. I can also bookmark, which is an absolute necessity IMO when you’re doing research or learning something.

Also, even if the deal falls through I’ve already had a positive experience and . . . the book is not just good, but right in my wheelhouse. More to come if this happens.

Possibly Another Stellar Career Move?

USC Marshall Logo

Yesterday was a very good day. I didn’t make a penny and I don’t care. Jimmy could have cracked an entire bushel of corn and I still wouldn’t care. I had a good morning, posting a few items to my FB page, as well as a special item to my Rotary Club’s group and page. I spent a little time studying a request to get involved in the effort to bring open source, transparent voting technology to bear in California, and I enjoyed some interesting conversations with friends here on FB. I received a copy of a soon-to-be-released, transformational book that I had the privilege to help one of the authors with . . . and it was signed with a nice personal note. I also noticed I received a mention in the acknowledgements. All good stuff.

However, the pinnacle, the apex, the absolutely awesome apogee of my day was an interview at USC’s Marshall School of Business, where I had applied for a position as an Adjunct Professor. At this point I don’t even know who referred me to them. I thought it was a friend who teaches there, for whom I have been a guest lecturer a couple of times, but the woman who interviewed me thought it was a cousin who is a Professor in the Education department. I need to sort that out.

My appointment was for 2:30 pm and, since I live over forty miles from the campus and would have to traverse downtown Los Angeles to get there, I planned on leaving an hour and a half early. It turned out to be perfect, as I ran into the expected traffic, arriving at the entrance a half hour before the scheduled time. It took a couple of minutes to secure a parking permit (they had reserved a slot for me) and the gentleman who did so also gave me a map and instructions.

I parked on the fourth floor of a large structure and, noticing there were no elevators, I walked down the stairs to the street level. I guess I haven’t been in a building that tall in quite some time — at least one without an elevator — and, between the distortion of my bifocals, my being out-of-shape, and what I can only assume is an age related tendency to experience a little vertigo, I felt like a doddering old man, carefully stepping down each flight while holding on to the hand rail. I can remember a time when I could virtually skip down such stairs, but I guess those days are long gone.

As I walked the nearly quarter mile to the building I was headed to, I looked around at all the students walking and riding bicycles and skateboards, as well as the plethora of vehicles that included a large number and variety of electric carts and vans. Coming from the suburbs, I was struck by how closely packed everything seemed to be and I found myself thinking we are preparing the students for life as sardines.

USC Mascot

Tommy Trojan and Traveler – Fight On!

I had little trouble finding the Accounting building, where I was to report and, once inside, I sat down for a moment to get my bearings and to check in with my location on Facebook. I had posted about the interview and was pleased to find so many friends wishing me luck and I wanted to let them know I was there. I once read of a man who, asked to what he attributed his success, answered that he always arrived ten minutes early. As I had long believed a lack of punctuality was disrespectful, I adopted his tactic and, in this case, I was actually 15 minutes early. I don’t know if all this will translate into success, but I’m committed to the effort.

Based on a quick reconnoiter of the office numbers, I figured the one I was headed to was on the fourth floor, so I climbed up the first flight of stairs. At the top I found a sign indicating the stairs provided access to floors one through three, and that there was also access to the roof. I was pretty sure the office I was looking for wasn’t on the roof, but I couldn’t find any sign that pointed out where access to the fourth floor was located. I stopped a couple of students and asked them. They didn’t know, but one offered that she was going upstairs and she would walk with me. When we got to the third floor, it appeared there was another flight, but when we went around the corner it led to a locked door. We clearly weren’t going to the roof.

The student who had accompanied me offered to seek out advice and we ended up finding one of the Deans, who led me down a corridor to a door that opened up to stairs. Not in any way obvious, but . . . voila! I was near the end of my search and still 10 minutes early. I climbed the stairs and found the office I was seeking, announced my presence and the recognition I was early, and took a seat outside. Within minutes, the woman who was to conduct the interview popped her head out the door, introduced herself, and asked me to come on in.

I followed her inside, through the reception area, and into her office where she offered me a seat, closed the door, and sat down at her desk opposite me. We had an interesting opening chat which thoroughly confused me as to how my name had found its way to her, and I intend on researching that a little more, but it wasn’t really all that important. It did serve to show I had more connections to the University than I had realized, which was gratifying.

To make what is now a long story a little bit shorter, she told me I had a very impressive resume and she thought I would be perfect teaching both business communications and writing. She also told me they’re already set with their Spring schedule and that I would likely be offered a position after that, which would probably be teaching either Sophomores or Juniors, students she suggested would be very interested in my eclectic experience and knowledge. She also said I might be able to teach virtually, especially since they’re heading more in that direction and I had fairly recently completed my Masters degree in Knowledge Management entirely online. I would also be assigned a mentor, this being my first experience teaching at this level.

As it stands right now, in the interim I have the opportunity to be a guest lecturer, somewhat at my leisure and with subjects of my choosing. This, of course, would be uncompensated but I consider it valuable experience and a way of showing what I can do. I will soon send her a couple of synopses of what I propose to offer. Otherwise, I wait. Based on her enthusiasm and interest, unless she’s being disingenuous (and I have no reason to believe that to be the case), I expect I will begin what may be a new, interesting, and challenging chapter in my life’s journey within the next year.

One thing I find both interesting and ironic about all this is that I grew up believing I would attend UCLA, if I went to a local University. As it turns out, I never did go to undergraduate school, but UCLA likely would have been my first choice. That I may end up teaching at USC, their bitter crosstown rival, is kind of like growing up wanting to play baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers, only to end up being drafted by the San Francisco Giants. There are far worse things I can think of.

Making Sense of All That Data

Deep Data

Transforming Big Data Information into Deep Data Insights

Yesterday I posted a question to several of the groups I belong to on LinkedIn. It was related to several of the things I’m interested and involved in: Systems Thinking, Knowledge Management, and Decision Modeling. It was somewhat informed, as well, by an article appearing in the Huffington Post, where Otto Scharmer, a Senior Lecturer at MIT and founder of the Presencing Institute, talks about the need to make sense of the huge and growing amounts of data we have available to us. He argues the importance of turning from “Big” data, where we mainly look outward in our attempt to understand what it is telling us about markets and our external influence, to “Deep” data, where we begin looking inward to understand what it’s telling us about ourselves and our organizations and how we get things done.

The question I asked was designed to seek out capabilities and functionality that people would like to have, but that is currently unavailable. My interests include working with others to understand and provide for those needs, if possible. I thought I would present the question here as well, where it will remain a part of my online presence and, hopefully, might elicit some useful responses. Here it is:

With the growing proliferation and importance of data — a development at least one author and MIT Lecturer has suggested is moving us from the information technology era to the data technology era — what tools would you like to see become available for handling, understanding, and sharing the new types of information and knowledge this development will bring?

In other words, what would you need that you don’t have today? What types of technology do you think would offer you, your colleagues, and your organizations a greater ability to make use of data to bring about a transformation from primarily siloed, outward looking data to collaborative, inward looking data as well?

I would love to hear of any ideas you might have regarding the kinds of tools or apps you could use to better deal with data by turning it into useful information and knowledge . . . perhaps even a smidgen of understanding and wisdom.

Does Your OCD Conflict With Your ADD?


Do you find yourself bouncing from one thing to another? I do.

I have always had eclectic tastes and my interests are wide and varied. Couple that with being a bit of OCD in some respects and a little ADD in others, and you get . . . where was I? Seriously, I have long referred to myself as a stimulus magnet. For instance, I was never able to work anywhere near peak capacity if I listened to music, especially if lyrics were involved. It wouldn’t take longer than a minute or two before I’d be tapping my feet and wanting desperately to sing — which, of course, when sitting in a cube farm is not really a good thing to do.

A long time ago, I used to play a game with two friends where we would sit on a couch and the two on the outside would carry on separate conversations with the one in the middle. These conversations had to be more than just idle chit-chat as well; otherwise, it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge. I was pretty good at it and, in retrospect, I’m sure it helped me be able to multi-task, which we all know isn’t possible, except it actually is. I will, however, accept that doing so does reduces each task to being a little less efficient than it would otherwise be if one were to concentrate solely on it.

The advent of the Internet hasn’t made me more focused either. Like many people I know, my browser normally has a couple of dozen tabs open. Part of it is probably just related to my being an information pack rat, and my having a difficult time closing something interesting. I have a hard time escaping the nagging feeling that I’m going to want that document/page shortly after I close it, knowing if it’s any more than an hour or two afterward I’ll have difficulty finding it in my browsing history. I could bookmark it, and I often do, but that’s no guarantee I’ll either remember I did so or will be able to easily find it later.

I also bounce around a fair amount as a word, phrase, or sentence sends me scurrying off to find out more. Thankfully, Chrome includes the ability to highlight a word, right click on it, and look it up in the dictionary. The results also include info from wikipedia and a thesaurus as well . . . most of the time. This is becoming more and more useful as my internal dictionary and thesaurus are suffering from wear and the inevitable gumming up experienced as one ages.

Frankly, I don’t know if others experience these things, or if some of it is age-related as most of my online friends are considerably younger than I am. I’d send out a survey, but I’m quite certain it would piss off too many people or I would just be ignored . . . as I so frequently am normally.

All this greatly affects my ability to concentrate and causes me to constantly struggle to focus. Do you experience this? Is it just normal nowadays, given the firehose of information we are all inundated with via our computers, notebooks, and smartphones? I don’t think I’m the only one who deals with this, but I’m not entirely certain.


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