Street Art for Book Lovers: Dutch Artists Paint Massive Bookcase Mural on the Side of a Building

Bookcases are a great ice breaker for those who love to read.

What relief those shelves offer ill-at ease partygoers... even when you don't know a soul in the room, there’s always a chance you’ll bond with a fellow guest over one of your hosts’ titles.

Occupy yourself with a good browse whilst waiting for someone to take the bait.

Now, with the aid of Dutch street artists Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed, some residents of Utrecht have turned their bookcases into street art, sparking conversation in their culturally diverse neighborhood.

De Man, whose close friends occupy the ground floor of a building on the corner of Mimosastraat and Amsterdam, had initially planned to render a giant smiley face on an exterior wall as a public morale booster, but the shape of the three-story structure suggested something a bit more literary.

The trompe-l'oeil Boekenkast (or bookcase) took a week to create, and features titles in eight different languages.

Look closely and you’ll notice both artists’ names (and a smiley face) lurking among the spines.

Design mags may make an impression by ordering books according to size and color, but this communal 2-D boekenkast looks to belong to an avid and omnivorous reader.

Some English titles that caught our eye:

Sapiens

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Keith Richards’ autobiography Life

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime 

Pride and Prejudice

The Little Prince

The World According to Garp

Jumper

And a classy-looking hardbound Playboy collection that may or may not exist in real life.

(Readers, can you spot the other fakes?)

Boekenkast is the latest of a number of global bookshelf murals tempting literary pilgrims to take a selfie on the way to the local indie bookshop.

via Bored Panda

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this May for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Art Installation Dramatically Sheds Light on the Catastrophic Impact of Rising Sea-Levels

What does it accomplish to talk about climate change? Even those who talk about climate change professionally might find it hard to say. If you really want to make a point about rising sea levels — not to mention all the other changes predicted to afflict a warming Earth — you might do better to show, not tell. That reasoning seems to have motivated art projects like the giant hands reaching out from the waters of Venice previously featured here on Open Culture, and it looks even clearer in the more recent case of Lines (57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W), an installation now on display on a Scottish island.

All images courtesy of Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta

"At high tide, three synchronized lines of light activate in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland," writes Designboom's Zach Andrews, and in the dark, "wrap around two structures and along the base of a mountain landscape.

Everything below these lines of light will one day be underwater." Created by Finnish artists Pekka Niittyvirta and Timo Aho for Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts CentreLines (57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W) offers a stark reminder of the future humanity faces if climate change goes on as projected.

But why put up an installation of such apparent urgency in such a thinly populated, out-of-the-way place? "Low lying archipelagos like this one are especially vulnerable to the catastrophic effects of climate change," Andrews writes, adding that the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre itself "cannot even afford to develop on its existing site anymore due to the predicted rise of storm surge sea." But though the effects of rising sea levels may be felt first on islands like these, few predictions have those effects stopping there; worst-case scenarios won't spare our major metropolises, and certainly not the coastal ones.

You can get a sense of what Lines (57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W) looks like in action from the photographs on Niittyvirta's site a well as the time-lapse video at the top, which shows the lines of light activating when their sensors detect high tide, then only those lines of light remaining by the time the sun has gone completely down. To experience the full impact of the installation, however, requires seeing it in person in the context for which it was created. So if you've been putting off that trip to the Outer Hebrides, now might be the time to finally take it — not just because of Niittyvirta and Aho's work, but because in a few years, it may not be quite the same place.

via Colossal

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Billy Collins Teaches Poetry in a New Online Course

In its latest release, Masterclass has launched a new course, "Billy Collins Teaches Reading and Writing Poetry," which they describe in the trailer above and the text below. You can sign up here. The cost is $90. Or pay $180 and get an annual pass to their entire catalogue of courses covering a wide range of subjects--everything from filmmaking (Werner Herzog, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese), to acting (Helen Mirren) and creative writing (Margaret Atwood), to taking photographs (Annie Leibovitz) and writing plays (David Mamet). Each course is taught by an eminent figure in their field.

Known for his wit, humor, and profound insight, Billy is one of the best-selling and most beloved contemporary poets in the United States. He regularly sells out poetry readings, frequently charms listeners on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion, and his work has appeared in anthologies, textbooks, and periodicals around the world.

Called “America’s Favorite Poet” by the Wall Street Journal, Billy served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate and is also a former New York State Poet Laureate. He’s been honored with the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry and a number of prestigious fellowships. He’s taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, and Lehman College, and he’s also a distinguished professor at the City University of New York. Now he’s teaching his first-ever MasterClass.

In his MasterClass on Reading and Writing Poetry, Billy teaches you the building blocks of poems and their unique power to connect reader and writer. From subject and form to rhyme and meter, learn to appreciate the pleasures of a well-turned poem. Discover Billy’s philosophy on the craft of poetry and learn how he creates a poet’s persona, incorporates humor, and lets imagination lead the way. By breaking down his own approach to composing poetry and enjoying the work of others, Billy invites students to explore the gifts poetry has to offer.

In this online poetry class, you’ll learn about:
• Using humor as a serious strategy
• The fundamental elements of poetry
• Billy’s writing process
• Turning a poem
• Exploring subjects
• Rhyme and meter
• Sound pleasures
• Finding your voice
• Using form to engage readers
• The visual distinctions of poetry

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

The Mueller Report Is #1, #2 and #3 on the Amazon Bestseller List: You Can Get It Free Online

Peruse the Amazon bestselling book list and you'll find that the long-awaited Mueller Report is not just the #1 bestseller. It's also the #2 bestseller and the #3 bestseller. Collusion and obstruction--it's the stuff that makes for good book sales, it appears.

You can pre-order the Mueller Report in book, ebook and even audio book formats via the links above. But if you want to download the report for free, and start reading it asap, simply head to the Washington Post and New York Times. Or go straight to the source at the Justice Department web site. Politico has a searchable PDF version here.

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9 Science-Fiction Authors Predict the Future: How Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick & More Imagined the World Ahead

Pressed to give a four-word definition of science fiction, one could do worse than "stories about the future." That stark simplification does the complex and varied genre a disservice, as the defenders of science fiction against its critics won't hesitate to claim. And those critics are many, including most recently the writer Ian McEwan, despite the fact that his new novel Machines Like Me is about the introduction of intelligent androids into human society. Sci-fi fans have taken him to task for distancing his latest book from a genre he sees as insufficiently concerned with the "human dilemmas" imagined technologies might cause, but he has a point: set in an alternate 1982, Machines Like Me isn't about the future but the past.

Then again, perhaps McEwan's novel is about the future, and the androids simply haven't yet arrived on our own timeline — or perhaps, like most enduring works of science fiction, it's ultimately about the present moment. The writers in the sci-fi pantheon all combine a heightened awareness of the concerns of their own eras with a certain genuine prescience about things to come.

Writing in the early 1860s, Jules Verne imagined a suburbanized 20th century with gas-powered cars, electronic surveillance, fax machines and a population at once both highly educated and crudely entertained. Verne also included a simple communication system that can't help but remind us of the internet we use today — a system whose promise and peril Neuromancer author William Gibson described on television more than 130 years later.

In the list below we've rounded up Verne and Gibson's predictions about the future of technology and humanity along with those of seven other science-fiction luminaries. Despite coming from different generations and possessing different sensibilities, these writers share not just a concern with the future but the ability to express that concern in a way that still interests us, the denizens of that future. Or rather, something like that future: when we hear Aldous Huxley predict in 1950 that "during the next fifty years mankind will face three great problems: the problem of avoiding war; the problem of feeding and clothing a population of two and a quarter billions which, by 2000 A.D., will have grown to upward of three billions, and the problem of supplying these billions without ruining the planet’s irreplaceable resources," we can agree with the general picture even if he lowballed global population growth by half.

In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke predicted not just the internet but 3D printers and trained monkey servants. In 1977, the more dystopian-minded J.G. Ballard came up with something that sounds an awful lot like modern social media. Philip K. Dick's timeline of the years 1983 through 2012 includes Soviet satellite weapons, the displacement of oil as an energy source by hydrogen, and colonies both lunar and Martian. Envisioning the world of 2063, Robert Heinlein included interplanetary travel, the complete curing of cancer, tooth decay, and the common cold, and a permanent end to housing shortages. Even Mark Twain, despite not normally being regarded as a sci-fi writer, imagined a "'limitless-distance' telephone" system introduced and "the daily doings of the globe made visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues."

As much as the hits impress, they tend to be outnumbered in even science fiction's greatest minds by the misses. But as you'll find while reading through the predictions of these nine writers, what separates science fiction's greatest minds from the rest is the ability to come up with not just interesting hits but interesting misses as well. Considering why they got right what they got right and why they got wrong what they got wrong tells us something about the workings of their imaginations, but also about the eras they did their imagining in — and how their times led to our own, the future to which so many of them dedicated so much thought.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How the Vietnam War Shaped Classic Rock–And How Classic Rock Shaped the War

There are a handful of popular songs that have become cliche and shorthand for filmmakers wishing to take us back to the trauma of the Vietnam War: Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” or Edwin Starr’s “War,” to name two. Yet at the same time, while classic rock lives forever, memories or lessons of Vietnam have not. Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” originally was a comment on the Sunset Strip Curfew (anti-war) riots, but now its meaning is open ended enough to suit any potentially violent protest.

In Polyphonic’s two-part series, cleverly titled “How the Vietnam War Shaped Classic Rock” for the first half and “How Classic Rock Shaped the Vietnam War” for the second, Noah Lefevre performs a needed reevaluation on dozens of rock and soul songs, placing them back in their historical context and showing how the power and message of music evolved as the war descended into chaos and defeat.

The Vietnam War dragged on so long that music and culture were both vastly different by the time Saigon fell and the Americans pulled out. Polyphonic begins with the first line of protest, the American folk singers in Greenwich Village, in particular Phil Ochs and his apprentice Bob Dylan. Folk was the traditional way that protest reached the American public--it needed a singer and a guitar and nothing more--but Dylan would provide the bridge that rock music needed, as he straddled both camps for a while (and Ochs did not).

However, as Lefevre astutely points out, the troops themselves weren’t listening to folk. They were like anybody else their age at that time and listening to rock and r’n’b. Their top of their pops, circa 1965, was The Animals’ “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place” (originally about small town alienation, but perfect for being stuck thousands of miles from home) and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking.”

Things changed as the war escalated in 1966 and the first soldiers returned home, many of whom would join in the protest movement.

And while on one hand psychedelic drugs powered the Summer of Love, advancements in tech powered the images of the war that now got beamed into all our television sets. The war was dirtier, messier, and more horrific than most people imagined, and music responded in two ways. One was to bounce outside that reality and proclaim peace the answer, as John Lennon and Yoko Ono did, squaring off against the government and radicalized youth alike. The other was to create a music sound that tried to match the madness. Jimi Hendrix managed it several times, including “Machine Gun” and his infamous rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” But King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” were even darker. And then there was Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece What’s Going On, which is neither peacenik nor horrorshow. Instead it's a sigh of melancholy and sadness, taking in man’s cycle of violence towards itself and to the earth.

Polyphonic really stepped it up in these two mini docs, gaining access to high quality archival footage. There’s plenty more to learn and hear in them, so click play.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

150 Renowned Secular Academics & 20 Christian Thinkers Talking About the Existence of God

Of the many books released over the past couple decades about the existence or nonexistence of God (and there were a lot) one of the best comes from philosopher and novelist Rebecca Goldstein. Her 2010 36 Arguments for the Existence of God is not, however, a work of popular theology or anti-theology; it is fiction, a satire of academia, the publishing world, the Judaism she left behind, and the bubble of hype that once inflated around so-called “new atheism."

In a book within the book, Goldstein’s hero, Cass Seltzer strikes it big with his own popular knockdown of religion, The Varieties of Religious Illusion, which ends with 36 refutations of arguments for God in the appendix, which itself provides the appendix for Goldstein’s book. If this sounds complicated, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Conversations about God, for hundreds of years the biggest topic in Western philosophy, should not be reduced to syllogisms and stereotypes.

Yet oversimplifying the big questions is what many pop atheist books do, Goldstein suggests. Seltzer’s book arrives when there is “a glut of godlessness” in bookstores. Such books “were selling well,” writes Goldstein, “sometimes edging out cookbooks and memoirs written by household pets to rise to the top of the best-seller list.” The two deep thinkers and religious critics Seltzer self-consciously draws on in his title make his project seem all the more ironically trivial:

First had come the book, which he had entitled The Varieties of Religious Illusion, a nod to both William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience and to Sigmund Freud's The Future of An Illusion. The book had brought Cass an indecent amount of attention. Time Magazine, in a cover story on the so-called new atheists, had ended by dubbing him "the atheist with a soul." 

By embedding arguments for the existence of God in each of the books 36 chapters, Goldstein implies “the joke—or sort of joke,” as Janet Maslin writes at The New York Times, “is that Cass’s conundrum-filled life illustrates and affirms thoughts of the divine even as his appendix repudiates them.” Dwelling persistently on an idea grants it the very validity one argues it should not have, perhaps.

This does seem to be an effect of certain hard-nosed atheist writing, as Nietzsche recognized very well. “I am afraid we are not rid of God,” he once lamented, “because we still have faith in grammar.” Religious ideas are embedded in the structure of the language; language itself seems to have metaphysical properties. It is like ectoplasm, slippery, opaque, made of metaphors both living and dead. It both enables and thwarts all attempts at certainty.

Goldstein’s creative approach to the God debate stands out for its ambivalence and humor. (See her discuss faith, fiction, and reason with her partner, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, in the video at the top of the post.) In the compilations here, Goldstein and 149 more renowned academics offer their agnostic or atheist thoughts on God. Some are less nuanced, some lean more heavily on statistics, physics, and math; many come from the theoretical sciences and from analytic and moral philosophy. Some are sympathetic to religion, some are contemptuous. A wide breadth of intellectual perspectives is represented here.

Yet other than Goldstein and a handful of other prominent women, the selections skew almost entirely male (rather like the characters in most religious scriptures), and skew almost entirely white European and North American. We can do what we like with this information. It should not prejudice us against the finest thinkers in the compilation, which includes several Nobel Prize winning scientists, famous philosophers, Richard Feynman, Oliver Sacks, and Noam Chomsky, as well as a few figures who have recently become infamous for alleged sexual harassment, racism, and far worse.

But we might wish the less engaging contributors to this discussion had given way to a greater diversity of perspectives, not only from other cultures, but from the arts and humanities. On the other side of the coin, we have a smaller list of 20 Christian academics addressing the question of God, below. These include respected scientists like Francis Collins and John Polkinghorne and many well-regarded (and some not so) Christian philosophers. The lineup is entirely male, and also includes an apologist accused of faking his academic credentials and an apologist turned right-wing propagandist who was convicted and jailed for fraud. At the very least, these details might call into question their intellectual honesty.

Here again, maybe some of these selections should have been better vetted in favor of the many women in philosophy, theology, science, etc. But there are voices worth hearing here, from professing intellectuals who can keep the questions open even while in a state of belief, a skill even rarer in the world than in this collection of Christian scientists, scholars, and apologists.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

How Venice Works: 124 Islands, 183 Canals & 438 Bridges

3,000,000 tourists move through Venice each year. But when the tourists leave the city, 60,000 year-round residents stay behind, continuing their daily lives, which requires navigating an archipelago made up of 124 islands, 183 canals and 438 bridges. How this complicated city works – how the buildings are defended from water, how the buildings stand on unsteady ground, how the Venetians navigate this maze of a city – is a pretty fascinating story. These techniques have been worked out over Venice's 1500 year history, and now they're explored in a captivating 17 minute video produced by a Venetian government agency. You can learn more about the inner life of this great city at Venice Backstage.

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How Digital Scans of Notre Dame Can Help Architects Rebuild the Burned Cathedral

“Everyone helplessly watching something beautiful burn is 2019 in a nutshell,” wrote TV critic Ryan McGee on Twitter the day a significant portion of Notre Dame burned to the ground. He might have included 2018 in his metaphor, when Brazil’s National Museum was totally destroyed by fire. Before the Parisian monument caught flame, people watched helplessly as historic black churches burned in the U.S., and while the museum and cathedral fire were not the direct result of evil intent, in all of these events we witnessed the loss of sanctuaries, a word with both a religious meaning and a secular one, as columnist Jarvis DeBerry points out.

Sanctuaries are places where people, priceless artifacts, and knowledge should be “safe and protected,” supposedly institutional bulwarks against disorder and violence. They are both havens and potent symbols—and they are also physical spaces that can be rebuilt, if not replaced.

And 21st-century technology has made their rebuilding a far more collaborative and more precise affair. The reconstruction of churches in Louisiana can be funded through social media. The contents of the National Museum of Brazil can be recollected, virtually at least, through crowdsourcing and digital archives.

And the ravaged wood frame, roof, and spire of Notre Dame can be rebuilt, though never replaced, not only with millions in funding from Apple and fashion’s biggest houses, but with an exact 3D digital scan of the cathedral made in 2015 by Vassar art historian Andrew Tallon, who passed away last year from brain cancer. In the video at the top, see Tallon, then a professor at Vassar, describe his process, one driven by a lifelong passion for Gothic architecture, and especially for Notre Dame. A “former composer, would-be monk, and self-described gearhead,” wrote National Geographic in a 2015 profile of his work, Tallon brought a unique sensibility to the project.

His fascination with the spaces of Gothic cathedrals began with an investigation into their acoustic properties. He developed the idea of using laser scanners to create a digital replica of Notre Dame after studying at Columbia under art historian Stephen Murray, who tried and failed in 2001 to make a laser scan of a cathedral north of Paris. Fourteen years later, the technology finally caught up with the idea, which Tallon also improved on by attempting to reconstruct not only the structure, but also the methods the builders used to build it yet did not record in writing.

By examining how the cathedral moved when its foundations shifted or how it heated up or cooled down, Tallon could reveal “its original design and the choices that the master builder had to make when construction didn't go as planned.” He took scans from “more than 50 locations around the cathedral—collecting more than one billion points of data.” All of the scans were knit together “to make them manageable and beautiful.” They are accurate to the millimeter, and as Wired reports, “architects now hope that Tallon’s scans may provide a map for keeping on track whatever rebuilding will have to take place.”

To learn even more about Tallon’s meticulous process than he reveals in the National Geographic video at the top, read his paper “Divining Proportions in the Information Age” in the open access journal Architectural Histories. We may not typically think of the digital world as much of a sanctuary, and maybe for good reason, but Tallon’s masterwork poignantly shows the importance of using its tools to record, document, and, if necessary, reconstruct the real-life spaces that meet our definitions of the term.

via the MIT Technology Review

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A 16th Century “Database” of Every Book in the World Gets Unearthed: Discover the Libro de los Epítomes Assembled by Christopher Columbus’ Son

The 16th century was a thrilling time for books, at least for those who could afford them: building a respectable personal library (even if it didn't include novelties like the books that open six different ways and the wheels that made it possible to rotate through many open books at once) took serious resources. Hernando Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, seems to have commanded such resources: as The Guardian's Alison Flood writes, he "made it his life’s work to create the biggest library the world had ever known in the early part of the 16th century. Running to around 15,000 volumes, the library was put together during Colón’s extensive travels" and ultimately contained everything from the works of Plato to posters pulled from tavern walls.

Alas, this ambitious library, meant to encompass all languages, cultures, and forms of writing, is now mostly lost. "After Colón’s death in 1539, his massive collection ultimately ended up in the Seville Cathedral, where neglect, sticky-fingered bibliophiles, and the occasional flood reduced the library to just 4,000 volumes over the centuries," writes Smithsonian.com's Jason Daley. But we now know what it contained, thanks to the discovery just this year of the Libro de los Epítomes, or "Book of Epitomes," the library's foot-thick catalog that not only lists the volumes it contained but describes them as well. "Colón employed a team of writers to read every book in the library and distill each into a little summary in Libro de los Epítomes," Flood writes, "ranging from a couple of lines long for very short texts to about 30 pages for the complete works of Plato."

The Libro de los Epítomes turned up earlier this year in another collection, that of an Icelandic scholar by the name of Árni Magnússon who left his books to the University of Copenhagen when he died in 1730. Fewer than 30 of the 3,000 texts in Magnússon's mostly Icelandic and other Scandinavian-language collection (detailed images of which you can see at Typeroom) are written in Spanish, which perhaps explains why the Libro de los Epítomes went overlooked for more than 350 years. Rediscovered, it now offers a wealth of information on thousands and thousands of books from five-centuries ago, many of which have long since passed out of existence.

Colón’s uniquely exhaustive library catalog opens a window onto not just what 16th-century Europeans were reading, but how they were reading — and how the very nature of reading was evolving. "This was someone who was, in a way, changing the model of what knowledge is," Daley quotes Colón’s biographer Edward Wilson-Lee as observing. "Instead of saying ‘knowledge is august, authoritative things by some venerable old Roman and Greek people,’ he’s doing it inductively: taking everything that everyone knows and distilling it upwards from there." The comparisons to "big data and Wikipedia and crowdsourced information" almost make themselves, as do the references to a certain 20th-century Spanish-language writer with an interest in history, language, and knowledge as represented in books extant and otherwise. If the Libro de los Epítomes didn't exist, Jorge Luis Borges would have had to invent it.

via the Guardian

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Watch Umberto Eco Walk Through His Immense Private Library: It Goes On, and On, and On!

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.





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