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Archive for the ‘Inspire’ Category

I remember watching Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch’s lecture online about a year ago. It has really sweet and relevant life messages, making a must listen-to. : )
The following article was written by Ramit Plushnick-Masti with contributions by Ramesh Santanam.  Enjoy!

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PITTSBURGH – Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist whose “last lecture” about facing terminal cancer became an Internet sensation and a best-selling book, died Friday. He was 47.

Pausch died at his home in Chesapeake, Va., said Jeffrey Zaslow, a Wall Street Journal writer who co-wrote Pausch’s book. Pausch and his family had moved there last fall to be closer to his wife’s relatives.

Pausch was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer in September 2006. His popular last lecture at Carnegie Mellon in September 2007 garnered international attention and was viewed by millions on the Internet.

In it, Pausch celebrated living the life he had always dreamed of instead of concentrating on impending death.

“The lecture was for my kids, but if others are finding value in it, that is wonderful,” Pausch wrote on his Web site. “But rest assured; I’m hardly unique.”

The book “The Last Lecture” leaped to the top of the nonfiction best-seller lists after its publication in April and remains there this week. The book deal was reported to be worth more than $6 million.

Pausch said he dictated the book to Zaslow by cell phone, and Zaslow recalled Friday that he was “strong and funny” during their collaboration.

“It was the most fun 53 days of my life because it was like a performance,” Zaslow told The Associated Press. “It was like getting 53 extra lectures.” He recalled that Pausch became emotional when they worked on the last chapter, though, because that to him was the “end of the lecture, the book, his life.”

At Carnegie Mellon, Pausch was a professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design, and was recognized as a pioneer of virtual reality research. On campus, he became known for his flamboyance and showmanship as a teacher and mentor.

The speech last fall was part of a series Carnegie Mellon called “The Last Lecture,” where professors were asked to think about what matters to them most and give a hypothetical final talk. The name of the lecture series was changed to “Journeys” before Pausch spoke, something he joked about in his lecture.

“I thought, damn, I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it,” he said.

He told the packed auditorium he fulfilled almost all his childhood dreams — being in zero gravity, writing an article in the World Book Encyclopedia and working with the Walt Disney Co.

The one that eluded him? Playing in the National Football League.

“If I don’t seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you,” Pausch said.

He then joked about his quirky hobby of winning stuffed animals at amusement parks — another of his childhood dreams — and how his mother introduced him to people to keep him humble: “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind that helps people.”

Pausch said he was embarrassed and flattered by the popularity of his message. Millions viewed the complete or abridged version of the lecture, titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” online.

“I don’t know how to not have fun,” he said in the lecture. “I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there’s no other way to play it.”

Pausch lobbied Congress for more federal funding for pancreatic cancer research and appeared on “Oprah” and other TV shows. In what he called “a truly magical experience,” he was even invited to appear as an extra in the upcoming “Star Trek” movie.

He had one line of dialogue, got to keep his costume and donated his $217.06 paycheck to charity.

Pausch blogged regularly about his medical treatment. On Feb. 15, exactly six months after he was told he had three to six months of healthy living left, Pausch posted a photo of himself to show he was “still alive & healthy.”

In May, Pausch spoke at Carnegie Mellon’s commencement ceremonies, telling graduates that what mattered was he could look back and say, “pretty much any time I got a chance to do something cool, I tried to grab for it, and that’s where my solace comes from.”

“We don’t beat the reaper by living longer, we beat the reaper by living well and living fully,” he said.

Born in 1960, Pausch received his bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon.

He co-founded Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, a master’s program for bringing artists and engineers together. The university named a footbridge in his honor. He also created an animation-based teaching program for high school and college students to have fun while learning computer programming.

In February, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences in California announced the creation of the Dr. Randy Pausch Scholarship Fund for university students who pursue careers in game design, development and production.

He is survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe; his mother, Virginia Pausch of Columbia, Md.; and a sister, Tamara Mason of Lynchburg, Va.

In a statement Friday, his wife thanked those who sent messages of support and said her husband was proud that his lecture and book “inspired parents to revisit their priorities, particularly their relationships with their children.”

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Here’s a reposting of a news article written by Helen O’Neill that’s certain to pull at heartstrings and induce smiles. Read and enjoy!

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WASHINGTON – He thinks of her every time he gazes at the painting — a blazing orange sun she drew a few years after the tragedy. It is the only splash of color in his tiny K Street office and it gives him great joy, and a stab of sorrow.

He thinks of her every time he plucks a new $5 bill from his wallet and sees the large purple numeral emblazoned in the corner. It reminds him of how he used to sort her money: $1 bills in one envelope, fives and tens in others.

And of course he thought of her last month when a federal appeals court ruled on a case that could result in the redesign of the entire U.S. currency. It was one of the great legal victories of 53-year-old attorney Jeffrey Lovitky’s career, and he wishes she could have been there to share it.

But had she been there, it might never have happened.

For the lawsuit filed on behalf of the American Council of the Blind was never just about discrimination or changing the currency so the blind can distinguish a $1 bill from a $20.

It was about a brilliant, gifted woman who changed so many perceptions and overcame so many obstacles that those who knew her never doubted her ability to continue inspiring enormous change, even from the grave.

It was about the memory of a smile.

___

In his second-floor office, Lovitky sifts through a well-thumbed photo album. “Here’s a Sandy smile,” he says, plucking a picture from the page. “And here’s one. And this is truly a Sandy smile.”

The pictures show a petite brunette nestling into his shoulder under a cherry blossom tree, playfully pushing him in an oversized beach wheelchair on the sand, clutching his arm at a black tie event at which she was receiving yet another award.

His eyes mist at the memory — Sandra Welner, the brilliant physician whose dazzling smile and tenacious spirit stole Lovitky’s heart.

He found her after placing a personal ad in a Jewish newspaper — or really, she found him. He remembers the letter she wrote in response — not the words, but the tone. She sounded so intelligent, so lively, so interesting, and yet there was some obscure reference to a disability.

“I really must meet this person,” he thought.

Their first date was in an Irish pub in April 1994. She was already seated when he arrived, and he felt an instant attraction to the radiant young woman with the gentle brown eyes and tumble of dark curls.

They talked for hours. She told him about her practice as a gynecologist, running a clinic for women with disabilities; about her parents — Holocaust survivors from Poland who had created a new life and family in Pittsburgh; about her travels all over Europe, Australia and Israel.

But there were things she never mentioned in those first few hours. He had no idea that she couldn’t see his thinning hair and clear blue eyes, that she could only barely make out the shape of his face. Or that she had called the pub earlier to ask about the menu, so she could pretend to read it when she ordered.

It was only when they were preparing to leave, when she stood unsteadily and asked for help in getting a taxi, that he realized that she had difficulty walking. She held out her arm. Grasping it, he sensed they would be together for a long time.

Their dates were simple: walks in the park, petting horses at a stables near her Silver Spring apartment, takeout Thai dinners and occasional splurges on extravagant chocolate desserts at the Willard Hotel. She discussed her medical cases. He told her about his legal ones. Devoted news junkies, they often spent Saturday nights by the computer, Lovitky reading aloud the big stories of the day.

Gradually, he learned what had happened in those terrible days back in 1987.

She was almost 30, already a leading expert on fertility and women’s reproductive health. She had a large circle of friends and colleagues, a thriving career as a micro-surgeon and no shortage of suitors.

Traveling alone on vacation in Europe, Welner fell ill — so ill that she checked herself into a hospital in Amsterdam. Her family is not certain what happened next except that she went into cardiac arrest and suffered a serious brain injury.

Welner’s mother, Barbara, 81, still sobs at the shock of seeing her comatose daughter in a foreign hospital. Even if she survived, doctors said, she would be lucky to regain the ability of a 2-year-old.

“NO!” the mother cried. Not my brilliant, beautiful daughter, who could paint portraits that belonged in galleries, who played the violin so exquisitely that she was offered music scholarships in high school, who graduated from medical school at the age of 22. This was a child who, at the age of 12, had begged not to join a family vacation to Florida because she had enrolled in college courses instead.

Now doctors were saying she should lock her away.

“Not my Sandy,” the mother said.

And so, for 16 days in Amsterdam, she read medical journals and newspapers and played classical music for her lifeless daughter. She talked to her and caressed her — anything to trigger a response. She got none. “The doctors thought I was delusional,” she said.

Back in the United States, doctors offered the same grim prognosis.

Again, the mother said no.

And so Barbara and Nick Welner took their child home to New Haven, Conn. They read to her. They fed her. They bathed her. They taught her to count, to swallow, to sit up. They cried with her. Hour after hour, for days and months and years.

It wasn’t a miracle, her mother says of her daughter’s steady, excruciating recovery. It came of a determination so powerful that it burst from her broken body with a force that nothing could hold back.

But there were moments that felt like miracles. The day Sandy took her first tentative steps. The day a friend phoned from Israel, where Sandy had worked, and she began speaking in fluent Hebrew. She hadn’t forgotten a word.

“I was in awe,” her mother said.

Years later, as Lovitky heard these stories, he too was in awe. But not just of the woman he had grown to love. He was also awed by the older woman who became his dear friend.

“Sandy had such spirit and such courage,” Lovitky says, “but her mother did, too. Such effort, such faith.”

This was a woman who had fled the Warsaw ghetto with false papers as a young girl, who with the help of the Red Cross found her way to nursing school in England and eventually married a fellow Polish refugee in the United States. Both husband and wife had families who perished in concentration camps.

The Welners raised four children, two boys and two girls. But Sandy was always the star. “There was just this sense that she would accomplish extraordinary things,” says her brother, Michael Welner.

By the time Lovitky met her, Welner’s vision was severely damaged, her hands shook, and she walked with an unsteady gait. But her speech and mind were clear. And her memory was better than ever.

Lovitky marveled at her defiance. She refused to use a wheelchair. Instead she would pile the chair with her medical books and push it. Or she would use a cane.

She was dependent on others — the stream of medical students she paid to help her read, and write and file, on strangers to help her catch a cab, or spend money. And yet, Lovitky says, “she was more independent than anyone I knew.”

She went skydiving in Australia, alone. She climbed — inch by inch — the ancient historic site, Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea in Israel.

When she eventually moved into her own apartment in Washington, she insisted on cooking great Passover seders for her family.

“If Sandy wanted to do something, nothing was going to stop her,” Lovitky says.

But the hardest challenge she faced was professional — being accepted back into the medical world that had once embraced her.

Dr. Alan Decherney, a leading gynecologist and obstetrician, remembers the young woman with the cane shuffling into his office at Yale University to ask for his help. In a residency, years earlier, he had considered her smart and promising. Now she just looked pitiful.

You can’t go into practice, he told her, knowing how harsh he sounded but trying to be honest. You are legally blind and you are spastic.

But Welner pressed on. And something about her courage moved Decherney to let her sit in with other residents and join him on patient rounds.

She astounded him. This woman isn’t just smart, Decherney thought. She’s brilliant.

“I had to tell her not to answer all the questions all the time,” Decherney said, chuckling.

For the rest of her life Welner called Decherney her hero. When no one else in medicine would answer her calls, he made them on her behalf. With Decherney’s help she landed a job overseeing a clinic for women with disabilities at Washington Hospital Center. At the time, there were few resources for disabled women who wanted to get pregnant.

“Doctors simply didn’t want to deal with a woman in a wheelchair who wanted to have a baby,” said Trish Day, one of Welner’s first patients who became a close friend. “Sandy didn’t just understand the complications of a disabled body,” Day said. “She understood my dream.”

A year and half later, after watching another surgeon perform an emergency Caesarean section, Welner was the first person to hold Day’s newborn daughter, Diana. It was one of the proudest moments of her career.

But Welner did far more than encourage her patients. She designed and patented a special examination table for disabled women — lower and more maneuverable than the standard ones. She lectured on the need for disabled woman to get regular gynecological checkups and mammograms, something some avoid because the equipment isn’t adapted for them.

In a particularly sweet triumph, she returned to the nursing home in Connecticut and lectured the doctors who had once declared that she would function no better than a 2-year-old.

Then, in 1997, Welner’s clinic was closed because of cutbacks. She was devastated. And yet, Lovitky says, as she had so often done, Welner accepted reality and moved on.

She hurled herself into her work — applying for research grants, writing a book on medical care for women with disabilities, becoming a faculty member of Georgetown and Maryland University medical centers, speaking at the United Nations, lecturing around the country and the world.

Few knew that Welner’s masterful hour-long PowerPoint presentations were memorized by heart. She couldn’t see her own slides.

“She just never stopped,” says Lovitky. He worried sometimes about how hard Welner pushed herself, rarely getting more than a few hours sleep a night.

And then, in an instant, everything stopped. It was Oct. 8, 2001 and the country was still reeling from the shock of the Sept. 11 attacks. Lovitky and Welner had talked about it by phone that night. It was the last real conversation they ever had.

The call jolted him awake a few hours later. “There’s been an accident,” said Welner’s neighbor. “It’s serious.”

Lovitky grabbed a Bible and raced to the hospital. Swathed in bandages, a breathing tube in her throat, Sandy was barely recognizable. She had third-degree burns over 70 percent of her body. But she smiled and mouthed “I love you,” and blew a kiss.

She had been lighting a memorial candle for her late father, when the flame caught her nightgown. The neighbor had broken down her door and pulled her from the fire.

The next 13 days were blur of suffering and sadness as Lovitky and Welner’s mother and brother waited, willing Sandy to survive, clinging to the belief that she might. After all, this was Sandy — invincible, irrepressible Sandy. She had come back from near death once before. Surely she could again.

On Oct. 21, Lovitky whispered his last words to the woman with whom he had planned to spend his life. He doesn’t even know if she heard.

She died 10 minutes later. She was 42.

___

In the months after Welner’s death, Lovitky felt bewildered by grief and regret. He couldn’t work, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep.

He went to Israel, trekked to all the most dangerous parts. Family and friends feared he had a death wish. There were times he wondered if he did.

At his darkest moment, Lovitky talked to his rabbi.

What can I do, he cried.

Do something good that will contribute to her memory, the rabbi told him.

And then Lovitky remembered the envelopes, how he would sort Sandy’s money before she went on trips — putting the $1 bills in one envelope, the tens and twenties in others. He remembered her frustration at having to trust strangers for the right change.

And he realized that there was something he could do — something that could both celebrate Welner’s legacy and affect the lives of millions. Elsewhere around the world, accommodations are made for the blind — different sized notes or tactile features such as raised markings.

Why not the United States?

In May 2002, Lovitky sued the Treasury Department on behalf of the American Council of the Blind, arguing that its failure to design a currency that is accessible to blind people is a form of discrimination.

In November 2006, the court ruled in favor of the Council.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they lack meaningful access to U.S. currency,” Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote in the ruling, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld in May. “Even the most searching tactile examination will reveal no difference between a $100 bill and a $1 bill. The secretary has identified no reason that requires paper currency to be uniform to the touch.”

The Treasury Department, which argues that a redesign of the currency would be too costly, has not said if it will fight the latest ruling.

___

Lovitky visits Welner’s grave several times a year — when he travels to Pittsburgh to visit her mother. They rarely talk about the lawsuit, though they know Sandy would have been proud.

For his part, Lovitky says he feels a strange detachment about the outcome. There is little of the personal satisfaction or pride he has felt with other legal victories. He understands why. He understands the long hours he poured into this case — all the research, all the briefs, all the consultations with other lawyers — was never really about winning. Or about money.

It was about commemorating the spirit of the rare and beautiful woman who changed his life.

It was about love.

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Inspired!

I have been inspired by yunyun09 to update my about page! Since I’ll be studying like mad for the next few days for finals/SAT IIs, I probably won’t be posting anything new.

On the subject of inspiring people, I’d like to share a story I first heard from one of my sixth-grade teachers, Mr. Chang. It’s a true story which involves one of his former students.

“One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw
a kid from my class was walking home from school. His
name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his
books. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone bring
home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a
nerd.”

I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football
game with my friends tomorrow afternoon), so I
shrugged my shoulders and went on.

As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward
him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his
arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses
went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten
feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible
sadness in his eyes.

My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him and
as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw
a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said,
“Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.” He looked
at me and said, “Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on his face.

It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude.

I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where
he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him
why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private
school before now.

I would have never hung out with a private school kid
before. We talked all the way home, and I carried some
of his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I
asked him if he wanted to play a little football with my
friends. He said yes. We hung out all weekend and the
more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my
friends thought the same of him.

Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the
huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said,
“Boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles
with this pile of books everyday!” He just laughed and
handed me half the books.

Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best
friends. When we were seniors, we began to think
about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I
was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be
friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He
was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business
on a football scholarship.

Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the
time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for
graduation.

I was so glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and
speak. Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He
was one of those guys that really found himself during high
school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses.
He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him.
Boy, sometimes I was jealous.

Today was one of those days. I could see that he was
nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back
and said, “Hey, big guy, you’ll be great!” He looked at me
with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled.
“Thanks,” he said.

As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and
began. “Graduation is a time to thank those who helped
you make it through those tough years. Your parents,
your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach…but mostly
your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a
friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I
am going to tell you a story.”

I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the
story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill
himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had
cleaned out his locker so his mom wouldn’t have to do
it later and was carrying his stuff home.

He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile.

“Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from
doing the unspeakable.”

I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular
boy told us all about his weakest moment.

I saw his mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same
grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize it’s depth.

Never underestimate the power of your actions. With
one small gesture you can change a person’s life. For
better or for worse.”

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After another one of my web escapades (I seem to be having a lot of those now that I have four frees in one day), I discovered Walter H. G. Lewin, a Physics professor at MIT.  He’s gathered a diverse following of people from around the world and inspired many to begin to explore the wonders of Physics. 

Professor Lewin spends an average of 25 hours preparing his awe-inducing lectures and demonstrations.  Some demonstrations include firing a golf ball cannon at a stuffed monkey to show projectile motion and placing himself in the trajectory of a 33-pound steel wrecking ball to illustrate Hooke’s Law while counting on the conservation of energy to keep him alive.  You can watch a VERY entertaining video of this and more here.   

The following are quotes from people who have been greatly influenced/intrigued by Lewin’s teachings. (New York Times article)

“Through your inspiring video lectures i have managed to see just how BEAUTIFUL Physics is, both astounding and simple,” – – 17-year-old from India

“I walk with a new spring in my step and I look at life through physics-colored eyes.”  – – Steve Boigon, 62, florist from San Diego

“Hi, Prof. Lewin!!  I love your inspiring lectures and I love MIT!!!”  – – 17-year-old fan from China

“You are now my Scientific Father. In spite of the bad occupation and war against my lovely IRAQ, you made me love USA because you are there and MIT is there.”  – – Physics teacher from Iraq

“Professor Lewin…made me SEE … and it has changed my life for the better!!  I had never taken a course in physics, or calculus, or differential equations. Now I have done all that in order to be able to follow your lectures.  I walk down the street analyzing the force of a boy on skateboard or the recoil of a carpenter using a nail gun. Thank you with all my heart.”  – – Mr. Boigon

Professor Lewin tells his students, “Your life will never be the same. Because of your knowledge, you will be able to see way more…”  He is a truly inspiring individual in the field of physics, someone who has made the subject both fun and interesting for millions. 

 Go here to view Lewin’s popular online lectures.

 

 

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Irena Sendlerowa

This post is in dedication to Irenea Sendlerowa (also known as Irene Sendler), who recently passed away on May 12, 2008.  To many, she was known as the “female Schindler” and proof of the existence of selfless goodwill.  Sendlerowa helped save over 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto by smuggling them out in bags and through sewers. 

In 1934, she was arrested and taken to Pawiak prison where she was tortured until the bones of her legs and feet fractured and even sentenced to death.  In spite of this, she refused to turn over a list of the names of the children she had helped to escape.  After she escaped imprisonment, Sendlerowa continued her earlier work.

To end, I’d like to include some quotes from Sendlerowa:

“I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality.”

“Let me stress most emphatically that we who were rescuing children are not some kind of heroes. Indeed, that term irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little. I could have done more. This regret will follow me to my death.”

Let us remember Irena Sendlerowa as an inspiration and carry on her legacy of compassion.

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Spidery Silks

Listening to Professor Cheryl Hayashi’s speech was definitely an enjoyable experience.  Whoever knew that a single spider could produce so many kinds of silks including types used for egg sacks, safety lines, and prey catching?  And some spiders being able to produce silk from not only their spinnerets but their legs too?  Definitely something I hadn’t known before.  It’s also fascinating to know that scientists like Hayashi have come up with a way to mass-produce silk in tomato plants.  What types of amazing uses will they find for spider silk?

It was remarkable that Professor Hayashi hadn’t known that she would become an evolutionary biologist working with spiders when she had first graduated from Iolani.  It was incredibly lucky that she discovered her interest in working with spiders at a part-time job.  She found something she could be passionate about unlike others who complain daily about their jobs.  I’m hoping that this sort of “meandering path” will work for me because I currently have no idea about what to do with my future.  Maybe there’s a career out there that will combine economics, biological sciences, and writing?  It’s all a matter of finding and fulfilling a want of society.

green-spider.jpg

It was also interesting that Hayashi talked about living in small towns with much less diverse populations.  I can’t really imagine actually living as a ‘minority’ after growing up in Oahu but it’s something I’ll probably have to get used to if I do go to college on the mainland.

Overall, the presentation was fresh and entertaining.  It was great to see an example of someone who made a difference and found her special niche in society.  Hayashi’s last remarks about being motivated to prove the capabilities of science and evolution were especially awe-inspiring.

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