In Unit 2 of our Crisis Informatics seminar with Dr. Hagar, we learned about the stages and life-cycle of a crisis. There are the “preparation” and “response” and “recovery” main/overarching stages of a crisis; these stages can be broken down into the various phases/sub-phases of the life-cycle of a crisis–the “preparation, warning, impact, response, and recovery/reconstruction” phases of any given crisis (Hagar, 2020). However, crises can be very unpredictable, and some natural disasters do not conform neatly to these stages.

It is difficult to prepare for a disaster that is invisible and unanticipated. There is no warning, and there is no time to prepare. There is only the death and devastation left in the wake of the disaster, and the painful reality of responding to the disaster, seeking to understand what triggered the disaster, and finding ways to prevent its potential recurrence. This was the case with the devastating and mysterious 1986 Lake Nyos disaster in Cameroon. So mysterious was the disaster that it appeared to be the case that most of the residents and livestock of the towns around Lake Nyos fell into a deep sleep from which they never woke up. Or so it seemed to me at the time. I was a little girl growing up in Cameroon, when the Lake Nyos disaster occurred, and I was both mystified and terrified.

The impact and death toll was significant, with 1746 people killed and almost 4000 livestock decimated in the farming communities surrounding the lake–a death toll that extended up to 25 kilometers from the lake (Wikipedia contributors, 2020). Vegetation on one side of the lake was destroyed by what was believed to be a tsunami-like wave of water. As scientists began to research the cause of the disaster, they uncovered what can only be described as a massively explosive amount of carbon dioxide at the bottom of the lake, to the tune of over a million tons of CO2 gas, a portion of which had been released from the lake and had formed a dense, toxic cloud of lethal gas that covered the surrounding towns of Nyos, Kam, Cha and Subum (Krajick, 2003; Wikipedia contributors, 2020).

The residents of these towns could not have prepared for this disaster, because they did not know what the lake contained beneath its placid surface. Also, once the CO2 gas was released, it was difficult to detect due to its being mostly invisible and mostly without odor, perhaps appearing as no more than a light fog moving so swiftly over the land that even if some residents had perceived its approach, they would have had little time to escape and no knowledge of what poisonous levels of gas the fog contained (Krajick, 2003). This fog was moving up to 50 kilometers per hour and extended up to 50 meters above the ground (Wikipedia contributors, 2020). It killed almost every animal, bird, insect, and human in its wake, and the few survivors who eventually stirred and regained consciousness reported waking up to a world that was eerily quiet and lifeless.

These few survivors were left with fear and the loss of most of their loved ones and the double loss of the livestock that was the mainstay of their livelihood and local economy. The government was left with undertaking the costly task of solving the mystery of the disaster and preventing its recurrence, and foreign aid (mainly from the United States) was necessary to cover this expense (Krajick, 2003). With the discovery of just how much carbon dioxide was still forming in the lake, scientists devised a method of degassing the lake by installing pipes and pumps that would release the gas forming at the bottom of the lake, thereby preventing a build up of explosive pressure that could lead to another disaster (Krajick, 2003; Wikipedia contributors, 2020).

The region of Cameroon where Lake Nyos is located is an area of active volcanoes. Geologically, there is a wealth of carbon available and circulating just beneath the lakes in this area, most notably Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun. Lake Monoun is also known to have had a less lethal but equally mysterious eruption in 1984, two years before the Lake Nyos disaster; scientists also set up pipes for degassing Lake Monoun, because it was found to contain high levels of CO2 (Krajick, 2003). Eruptions like the ones at Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun are called “limnic eruptions” (Wikipedia contributors, 2020), and though rare, they are deadly because they occur without much warning, if any at all.

The Lake Nyos disaster is a great example of the need for partnerships between different nations, agencies, and individuals, when it comes to understanding what causes or triggers disasters and taking the necessary action to prevent future disasters (Hagar, 2012). Solving the mystery of the Lake Nyos disaster and installing the machinery for degassing the lake required extensive collaboration between European, American, Asian, and Cameroonian governments, agencies, scientists/researchers (volcanologists, hydrologists), engineers, and technicians—collaborations that were multidimensional, in the sense that they were financial, intellectual, and technical (Krajick, 2003). The Lake Nyos disaster illustrates how future disasters can be prevented and countless lives saved, when people work together, communicate with each other, and take action based on research and knowledge about what causes a specific disaster or crisis (Hagar, 2012; Hagar, 2020).

References

Hagar, C. (2012). Information needs and seeking during the 2001 UK foot-and-mouth crisis. In C. Hagar (Ed.), Crisis information management (Chapter 5). Oxford: Chandos Publishing. Retrieved from https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/crisis-information-management/9781843346470/xhtml/B9781843346470500059.htm

Hagar, C. (2020). Lecture for Unit 2 of Crisis Informatics Seminar for Fall 2020. Retrieved from San Jose State University Canvas Course Site.

Krajick, K. (2003, September). Defusing Africa’s killer lakes. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/defusing-africas-killer-lakes-88765263/

Wikipedia contributors. (2020, August 24). Lake Nyos disaster. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:35, September 13, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lake_Nyos_disaster&oldid=974655822

Posted by: Viola | September 7, 2020

Reflective blog posts coming up!

Dear Readers,

Just a note to say I am back in school for the fall semester, and I will be using my blog for some of my assignments. These assignments will be reflective blog posts, similar to the ones done during my spring semester earlier this year. This spring, the course I took was on globalization, and so I wrote my reflective blog posts on topics related to globalization. This fall, my course is on crisis informatics/crisis information management, and so my blog posts will reflect this focus on crises/disasters.

Thanks so much for visiting my website. Take a look around and happy reading!

~Viola

Posted by: Viola | August 27, 2020

A poem in honor of Jacob Blake and his children

BELL ~ A poem by Viola Allo

A school bell falls to the ground, sleeps in the dust.

Children go by, toss pebbles at the bell for sport, strike it with sticks for music.

How hollow this heart is. But never soundless.

Heart of mine, severed bell, sing in the belly of the Earth.

***

By Viola Allo. All rights reserved. Please contact poet for permission to share this poem.

Posted by: Viola | August 18, 2020

The Ancestors ~ A Poem for Honoring First Peoples

The Ancestors ~ A Poem by Viola Allo

For First Nations/First Peoples of California (Western USA) | For First Nations/First Peoples of Cameroon and of Western-Central-South Africa

Removing all coverings from my body and my being, I prostrate myself upon the Earth and fall before the Ancestors. The voices of the Ancestors fill the air. They rise from the Earth, a mist that settles over the land. These are the voices of the people of this land upon which I stand. These are the voices of the Nisenan. I, who now reside in the Colony of Carmichael, in the Colony of Sacramento, in the Colony of California. Those of us who walk upon the land of the Nisenan, let us bow to the Nisenan. Let us say the names of the Maidu, Miwok, Patwin, Pomo, Wappo, Wintu, Yokut, Costanoan. Tipai, Nomlaki, Achumawi, Atsugewi. Washoe, Luiseno. The Hupa, Yana, Yurok, Yahi, Shasta, Chumash, Karuk, Tongva, Modoc, Salinan, Shoshone, Paiute, Esselen, Monache, Chemehuevi, Mojave, Quechan, and all the First People of this Land. We honor all the First Nations of Turtle Island.

Removing all coverings from our bodies and our beings, we go into the land to meet the Ancestors. To hear the cries of the ancestors. To know their songs of sorrow. To eat and drink with the Ancestors. To dance with them and heal the Earth. We, who are made of clay moistened with their tears and sculpted by their hands. Let us now go into the land. Let us now go into the river that cuts and opens the land. Let us now go into the ocean.

Removing all coverings, removing even the covering of hair on our heads, we meet our Ancestors of Africa. We rise with the ones who first rose from the rift valleys and walked on two feet. The First Peoples of Africa. The first carvers, weavers, hunters, gatherers, toolmakers, wanderers. The first migrants. The first settlers. We march across the land until we find another new land. We fight with the ones who fought the colonizers. We learn a new language. We bargain and barter for the Whiteman’s guns, until our limbs are broken, our children are stolen, our land is taken. We stumble from the holds of the ships. We sleep in the ocean with the ones who never saw land again. We weep with the ones in the slave castles whose voices are now forever in the walls. We work the land and weep on the plantations, in the mines, we run for freedom before we fall, our blood is in the land. We are the ones whose children are sold from farm to farm, limbs of our ancient family, uprooted. We sigh our last breath with the ones who plead for air. We are the people of Africa enslaved in America. We are the ones who still plead for life as we meet the land. We are Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland. We are Elijah McClain, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Amaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd. We are Amadou Diallo, Jamar Clark, Vanessa Guillen. We are Stephon Clark.

Removing all coverings placed on us, removing all names the colonizers placed on us, our Ancestors names are our names. We are Mande, Wolof, Akan, Fon, Fulani, Kongo, Igbo, Yoruba, Makua, Hausa, Tuareg, Ashanti, Bambara, Zarma, Sao, Temne, Tiv, Mongo, Kanuri, Khoisan. We are Mbororo, Herero, Kung, Xhosa, Zulu, Shona. We are Tchamba, who are my people. Tikar, who are my people. Pinyin and Ngemba, Bali and Bamun, Bamileke and Duala, Bakweri and Bakossi, Bafia and Beti, Tupuri and Bassa, Babanki and Bafut, Bayangi and Bafor, Mankon and Nso, Ndop and Wum, Fang and Mandara, all who are my people. I, from the Colony of Cameroon. We of the forests, of the grasslands, of the mountains and plateaus and plains, of the deltas, of the deserts and coastal lands. We are Bantu and Khoisan and many whose names we have yet to learn but feel in our blood and see in our dreams. We are the Bamenda highlanders. The Ancient Ancestors whose bones are in the rock shelter at Shum Laka. We are Baka and Aka and Mbuti, who are my people, pygmy people of the forests of Cameroon, of Congo, of Central Africa. All are my people, all who know the land, who honor it with their hands and bare feet hardened by the ground.

Removing all coverings from my body and my being, I prostrate myself upon the Earth and fall to feet of the Ancestors. I offer my heart as kola nut. I offer my blood as libation. If it pleases the Ancestors, may the Ancestors walk with me. If it pleases the Ancestors, may the Ancestors talk with me.

***

By Viola Allo. All rights reserved. Please contact Viola for permission to use this poem.

Whose Land Are You Living On? ~ A Poem by Viola Allo

Whose land are you living on? Do you know whose land you are living on? Do you know the names of the indigenous people whose land you now walk, stand, sit, drive, run, build, eat, and sleep on? Can you say their names? Do you know their names? The names of all the people whose land was stolen so that you can now call it your own? So you can now believe that it is yours and act like you belong on it? Do you know the names of the people murdered and the villages burned to ash so that this settler colony and its white colonizers could take land and expand, mine for gold and grow rich, take people and enslave them, take and take and take, in the name of being The Great White Man Nation of America? Can you say the names of the people whose land and women were stolen and whose men were killed, the names of the ancestors whose land was taken from their children, whose children were marched and tortured away from their homes and the land that they loved and honored with their hands? Can you weep and fall with the ones who fell on the Trail of Tears? Can you say their names and give them back their land? Can you fall on your knees and say “This land is not my own. This land is stolen land.” Can you teach your children this humility? And can you wake up and begin the healing of this crime and this injustice? Can you atone for and fix the cruel errors of your white ancestors? It’s time to make things right. It’s time to honor the First Nations of this land. Can you say their names and give them back their land?

***

By Viola Allo. All rights reserved. Please contact Viola for permission to use this poem.

On Being Black and Bountiful ~ A Poem by Viola Allo

I know how you go about your day, and as you do, almost no one sees you. A few people do see you, but when they do, they see something negative. They see you as an object. They cannot grasp that you are a person, a vast person full of all the rich emotional and intellectual complexity of humanity. They see you as a negative object. To them, you are a bad thing, a thing to be confined, to be held down. To them, you are a threat, you are dangerous, you are monstrous and terrifying. As you go about your day, you begin to notice that the people you meet react to your presence in a way that indicates they fear you and want to avoid you, and when they cannot avoid you, they snap at you or dismiss you. They seek to make you feel small and unimportant. As you experience their reactions, you pause to re-calibrate your day.

You begin to wonder if you should change something you are doing, if maybe you should change how you move, or if you ought to wear something different or do your hair another way. You ask yourself if you should smile more, if you should put makeup on, if you should soften the brightness of the rich colors you like to wear. You wonder if more pastels or neutral colors would suit the people you meet. You gaze at your fingernails, your toenails, your eyes, your ears, your nose. Is your forehead all wrong? Are your lips okay? And what if something is up with the way you talk, what if your voice and words are all wrong and the way you sound frightens everyone. Perhaps the problem is your name and how it does not fit the smallness of the way people treat you. Is your name too big? Is your voice too big? You wonder all these things and forget the reason you left the house. You lose time. You lose a day. Everything slows down, as you hesitate with each new person you meet. You forget why you showed up, you forget what you really need to do when going about your day, you even forget how the day started, how you woke up with a plan to do something grand.

You make a new plan, as you lose track of your day. Your new plan is to go home and see how you look. You want to hear how you sound. You make a plan to find what is wrong. The day trudges on. Finally, you are home. You go to the bathroom. You look in the mirror. Scrutinize yourself from every possible angle. You even walk back and forth and watch your hips glide softly from side to side. You fake a conversation with a stranger and mimic yourself from earlier in the day. You smile like you did earlier, wave your hand like you did earlier in a gesture of openness. You squint and pout and even frown. You check the colors of your clothes and the color of your skin. But you cannot find anything wrong. All you find is your mother in the way you move, your father in the way you smile, your brother in the way you stand, your sister in the way you frown. Your grandmother gave you the shape of your eyes, and your grandfather’s curls are your own. You open your mouth and say your name, which is the name from your ancestral homeland. The name your father and mother gave you because they knew it to be true of you. Your lips press together and open, as they circle your name. Your name is Bountiful. You say your name again and again.

I am Bountiful. I am Bountiful. I am Bountiful. As you say your name, you feel the love of your mother and father, the love of your brother and sister, the love of your grandparents. You feel the love of all the ancestors who came before you. You feel them rise. You feel them sing. You feel them dance. They rise and sing and dance in you and you are bountiful. You are BOUNTIFUL because of all the people you hold inside you, all the people who walked before you, all the people who lived so that you could live. They are all alive in you and you are bountiful.

***

By Viola Allo. All rights reserved. Please contact Viola for permission to use this poem.

Posted by: Viola | June 30, 2020

Black Lives Matter

The past month has been an incredibly emotional and painful one for me and for so many black people. The police killing of George Floyd is a fresh trauma and a triggering of old traumas, of the deepest racial and historical kind for black people. The police killings of Rayshard Brooks and Breonna Taylor, and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery by white civilians, and the killings of so many more people of color are pure trauma and pure crystallized racial injustice. Racism is torture and terror, and it is not something we humans should continue to tolerate, accept, uphold and inflict on people of color.

Anti-black racism is a specific form of racism targeting black people of African descent. For me, someone who grew up in Africa and is of African descent and who is now living as a black person in the USA, anti-black racism is a form of terrorism. There is no subtle or soft way to describe it. It needs to stop. I hope that in my lifetime, I will see our racist society transformed into one of justice and healing.

The killing of George Floyd has opened the eyes of many people and finally they are beginning to “see” and understand the terror that anti-black racism is, the horror of white supremacy that black people have been living under for centuries. The fact that this horror has gone on and been allowed to exist in our society is an indication of just how deeply resistant to change the myriad white supremacist racist ideologies and socioeconomic structures are.

If people cannot see this horror, acknowledge its existence and its wrongfulness, then it will go on. But I believe that people can change, can choose a new course for our future society, and can become agents of social transformation. The first step toward change is for us to open our eyes, to see what is in front of us, to see the suffering and terror and trauma that our racist culture and society harbors and perpetuates. We cannot close our eyes now. George Floyd’s final struggle for breath will haunt us all if we dare close our eyes.

Time Stamp: 3/29/2020, 11:05 pm.

Our readings, lecture and guest speaker topics/themes this week about mass media, social media, “information war,” crisis/disaster data collection and visualization, and technology and information flows–online, print, audio/visual, and other formats–felt very timely (Ritzer and Dean, 2015, pp. 258-260; Tumber and Webster, 2007; Monsees, n.d.; Hagar, 2020 ). We as a nation in the USA, and we as a global community on the planet, might be feeling the immense pressure of living in a reality where we are constantly inundated with information from an abundance of media outlets and sources, and most especially the Internet, for those of us who have access to it. This pressure is potentially even more acute as we find ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of us lived through the last USA presidential election, which often felt like a “media spectacle” (Ritzer and Dean, 2015, pp. 249-250). The presidential campaigns seemed to be like a form of entertainment, with some political leaders eager to feed the media with sensational comments and dramatic behaviors, which media outlets broadcast over and over again. I am sure for many viewers, it was sometimes difficult to differentiate between political campaigning and reality TV shows. For me, I began to wonder if “following the news” is something one does so as to be informed or so as to be entertained. I think the distinction between the two has become very blurred, because “what entertains us” can often be so much more captivating for our ever-divided/ever-shortening attention spans in a media saturated world, and also because media outlets and platforms profit from our attention-giving, seizing every opportunity to sell ads and products (Ritzer and Dean, 2015, pp. 245-247).

As we face the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us might be tempted to take refuge online, now that we either must self-isolate, or shelter-in-place, or stay/work at home. We might easily view the Internet as a safe place, as an illness-free space, where we cannot get infected with the physical virus. However, this trend of going online even more than we normally would will be capitalized on by others, if not already. It is important for us to be safe when online and protect our private information (and be careful with what we give too much attention to), as best we can, so as not to become vulnerable to scams or misinformation.

One of the phrases one might find on social media in response to the pandemic is the phrase “We are in this together.” This is a wonderful sentiment, if it motivates us to provide care for those in need and perhaps even transform our society/culture into a more caring and supportive one. However, while it is certainly true that the COVID-19 virus affects us all in one way or another, this does not change the fact that there are many who will suffer more from job loss, income loss, or a lack of sufficient resources to handle the economic impact of the pandemic. In some ways, economically, we are not necessarily “in this together.”

When it comes to media, whether news media or social media, and whether we are producers or consumers or “prosumers” (Ritzer and Dean, p. 251), I believe we must be critical thinkers who exercise a high level of awareness as we share or become exposed to information. This is urgent in times of tension, conflict, or war, as we see media deployed to dehumanize others and legitimize violence (Tumber and Webster, 2007, pp. 404-405); however, in times of relative peace, we must still remain alert and aware. Information literacy is something I view as a process of becoming more and more aware of what and how we consume in the ever-expanding information landscape. Our lives depend on this awareness, because in many instances, our individual and collective safety and well-being depend on it.

References

Hagar, C. (2020). Information Systems. [Zoom Lecture]. Retrieved from Info 281-13 Canvas Course Site, San Jose State University, Spring 2020, Dr. C. Hagar.

Monsees, J. (n.d.). The Standby Task Force. [Zoom Presentation]. Retrieved from Info 281-13 Canvas Course Site, San Jose State University, Spring 2020, Dr. C. Hagar.

Ritzer, G., & Dean, P. (2015). Globalization: A basic text (Second ed.). Chichester, United Kingdom: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

Tumber, H. & Webster, H. (2007). Globalization and information and communications technologies: The case of war. In G.Ritzer (Ed.), Blackwell companion to globalization (pp. 396-413) Malden, MA: Blackwell.

From our chapter readings this week, one concept that deepened my understanding of globalization, especially in the context of “grobalization” (Ritzer and Dean, 2015, pp. 219, 227, 231) was that of “the globalization of nothing” (pp. 226-227). At first, I was perplexed by the concept and couldn’t quite grasp the existence of “empty forms” such as “non-places,” “non-things,” “non-people,” and “non-services” (p. 227). I decided to think back to my childhood in Cameroon, to reflect on not just facets of globalization like soccer (soccer is a mainstay of every day sporting activities in Cameroon) but on spaces and places in the towns where I lived. It did not take me long to list out some “empty forms” in the way of “non-spaces”–for example, massive soccer stadiums that could sit empty for months on end, or buildings called “Congress Halls” that always felt somewhat void of life and with floors layered with dust in the dry season, or huge tourist hotels with empty restaurants and unoccupied suites and unused swimming pools, or giant churches and cathedrals that carried echoes, or schools with empty classrooms and deserted schoolyards, or unfinished (sometimes roofless) high-rise concrete-block buildings abandoned to the elements and soon covered in green moss during the rainy season.

These spaces were indicative of modernization, intended to signal the advancement of Cameroonian society into the modern age, but they were completely impractical for every day use in so many ways. They certainly were not similar to traditional forms of architecture designed for the traditional lifestyles and cultural practices of indigenous groups–lifestyles that often included outdoor gatherings rather than indoor “congresses.” It strikes me that these forms could be viewed as failures of Westernization, yet they are very present and highly visible, as if standing sentry and looking over daily life in many parts of Africa and the global South, announcing the arrival and settling-in of a foreign culture that values large mansions and imposing buildings. They are so imposing that they are often adopted to a certain extent, albeit unsustainably so, with the result (in the case of Africa) being the chaotic African metropolis, with a jumble of impractical and practical buildings vying for limited space.

Another concept that struck me as important to consider, especially for the context of LIS professions, was “McDonaldization” (pp. 223-225). I could see the ways in which library services and culture in the USA are standardized, especially in large metropolitan public library systems. There is a constant push toward things like “efficiency,” “predictability,” and “control” (p. 224) over how materials are circulated and how services are delivered. There is even a push toward standardizing the layouts of library buildings and displays/bulletin boards. This is a reality for the metropolitan library system I work for, where there seems to be a strong desire for “sameness” (p. 224) even in the face of so much community and staff diversity and difference. However, because we are serving an audience of several million people, there is a need to control how we do things. It’s contradictory to see this facet of information services, this need to organize chaos when it is virtually impossible to do so. It is even more highlighted in the face of the corona-virus pandemic, as libraries scramble to stay in control of the “safety” of library public spaces and work environments. However, it is hard for me to imagine an alternative to this effort to control things. What would happen if we let go of the reins?

References

  • Ritzer, G., & Dean, P. (2015). Globalization: A basic text (Second ed.). Chichester, United Kingdom: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
Posted by: Viola | February 16, 2020

Reflection Post 1 (Info 281-13): Theorizing Globalization

Reading about neoliberalism can be alarming for someone who views the world through a collectivistic lens. My Cameroonian upbringing certainly left its mark on me; I am more collectivistic than individualistic. Thus, neoliberalism’s stance that goes against collectivism alarmed me (Ritzer and Dean, 2015, p. 89). The impact of neoliberal policies in Africa-structural adjustment programs required by the IMF and World Bank-was devastating to African economies, as they sought to find their footing in a global economy (p. 86). Arguably, what has kept many African societies afloat in the modern world is the collectivism practiced in daily life that emphasizes cooperation over competition. While I am very familiar with some of the ills of collectivism (such as the cultural restrictions of personal choice/freedom), the social injustice and environmental abuse of neoliberalism (p.86) seem far too costly for the individual attainment of greater personal wealth and freedom. Now that I am living in the West, I am often torn between feelings of elation for all the freedoms I enjoy and feelings of guilt at how American society arrived at offering these freedoms. Perhaps, some of my guilt is alleviated by the fact that I am a member of the “precariat” (p. 104), and though I have many freedoms, I continue to have many struggles, juggling multiple on-call library jobs that do not offer job security. Also, working in public services at various libraries means I meet many whose struggles are greater than my own. Ethnography is important, if we want to understand how theories and policies impact people’s lives (Robinson, 2007, p. 136), but we do not have to go far to see the negative impact of neoliberalism, or the benefits of collectivism–our libraries reveal both views, as we see people who are struggling to survive and we see how they benefit from “social services” offered through the library.

References

  • Ritzer, G., & Dean, P. (2015). Globalization: A basic text (Second ed.). Chichester, United Kingdom: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
  • Robinson, W.I. (2007). Theories of globalization. In G.Ritzer (Ed.), Blackwell companion to globalization (pp. 125-143). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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