Friday, February 27, 2009

ASTD 1998

After reading my prior post on the Red Shirts, a couple of former Red Shirts asked me if I still had copies of the reports that I posted on the listserv while at the ASTD International Conference and Exposition in San Francisco's Moscone Center in 1998. I finally found them on my old computer...

Day One and Two

After an hour delay in the airport in Houston due to weather from the day before in San Francisco (can you believe that weather can affect flights over 24 hours after it is bad?), I arrived in San Francisco with my buddy, Brook Bickford (also from Performa Solutions). My luggage was the first off of the plane since I arrived at the airport ten minutes before the scheduled time for the flight. Brook's was the second luggage off. Thank goodness for bad weather- I have clean underwear on today. At least we did a quality job with the group we facilitated yesterday before running out in a panic like chickens with our heads cut off! That is what was important.

We found a nice van to take us to our hotel in Fisherman's Wharf. This hotel makes our business manager, Cliff, very happy because it was relatively inexpensive. We are planning to tape tonight's performance for Cliff so he can appreciate it just as much as we did last night. Just as we were falling asleep... the music began... You see, San Francisco is two hours earlier than Houston in the time-zone thing. We had been up since 5:30 a.m. on our biological clock, facilitated a high (climbing tower)challenge course group, taken a harried three and a half hour flight, and it was midnight as far as we were concerned. Our personal serenade-dude was just starting to get some decent business at 10:00 p.m. his time. He was not that bad, but not many people were putting coins in his hat. Fortunately, the concert ended within 30 minutes. We think Cliff will like this tape played real loud in his front yard at midnight some day... But hey, the price was relatively good for this street-level corner room!

Today is our first day. Brook is in a pre-conference workshop on measuring return on investment. We ate lunch with several people from his workshop and they agreed that they had better get $150.00 worth of training after lunch. They expect to of course, but they are definitely looking at things in a different light already. They asked the waitress at Willow Street Pizza about the value of each item on the menu and ended up giving her feedback on four different levels after our meal, how they liked the pizza, what they learned from the pizza, how they utilized the pizza, and how the pizza will impact their stay in San Francisco overall. I told them that they needed to review Kirkpatrick's Level 4 Evaluation before returning to class. That last piece of feedback was slightly off the mark.

I have been pre-selecting the workshops that I plan to attend. I have been reading my program guide thoroughly. I am on page 66, the Sunrise Sessions (7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.) for Tuesday. Only 140 pages to go! There are a ton of quality listings so the picking is difficult. I am going to have to network pretty hard to find people who attended every other workshop here so I can get a copy of their notes. So far I have met five people and I have two business cards/prospects. Only 6,493 more people to go according to the lady at the information booth. I think I need more of my own business cards...

I have met one lady from Quaker Oats/Gatorade and it seems like a certain sell. She really wants to find out the value and application of experience-based training and development for her company. Now that Peforma has a commission structure these contacts are extremely exciting. During lunch we talked about how many different models there are in my industry and which one I use and who I have worked with before, all of those pressing, pre-qualification questions that potential clients always ask. Then she told me about the companies she has contacted so far. One of them was Performa Solutions. I asked her about that particular company and how well they were received by her. Our sales dude will be happy to hear she likes us so far. I wonder how many other prime prospects I will meet that he has already talked to! So much for commission sales...

I hope everything is going well for you while you slave away at work. I am enjoying this tough assignment, learning in San Francisco. Until I get access to a computer in the Cyber Cafe again, this is Darin, signing off.

Brook and I stayed out too late for the harmonica man last night so no tape for Cliff yet, tonight we will turn in early for Cliff's special surprise...

So.... The conference is progressing nicely. I attended the orientation yesterday and was thoroughly educated and entertained. Eduardo Ramirez from the Sacramento Chapter was a hoot! He modeled the volunteer clothes with perfect runway precision and made the best of a phone ringing in the room during his piece. The icebreaker afterward was also very good. I wish they had someone different for tonight's session unless we get to see something different, but the politically incorrect and brash style of the Maven of Mingle eventually entertained me when I realized she was only joking. The International Reception last night was also a big hit with the Moscone Center turning off the lights several times before they could get the several hundred participants to leave.

Some key learnings from Saturday's opening day:
Susan Roane, the Maven of Mingle, is not shy.
Michele Nieman of Synopsis is going to take off and rule the world of CBT in the next five years with her spunk and determination (and an engaging smile doesn't hurt either).
Most of the American delegation attended the International Reception while I have not met any other Americans when networking since that reception.
There are an estimated 15,000 attendees over the course of the conference. (9,000 more than I heard yesterday)
You have to leave really quick to get lunch before the next workshop because there are so many people doing the same thing.
So far, ASTD has made sure that there was enough room to accommodate everyone.
Abalone is $60.00 a plate at Aliotta's. Don't worry Cliff, I did not order it for dinner last night.

Day two, Sunday the 31st---

The day began with Jim Collins' plenary session on the successful habits of visionary companies. The prime lesson from the last 45 minutes of the session really hit home with me because I seem to be involved in a lot of culture blending/merger and acquisition programs right now: No matter what changes your company is facing, stay true to the core values that brought you into the world and drive your organization.

There was also an annual meeting, but I was networking like a big dog. I can not report the results of that meeting, but my filters would have greatly affected what they want to publish anyway.

I attended a super workshop by Lois Webster and Phillip Hoffman who are both expatriates for their companies, Motorola University, China and General Motors China. It was great at bringing those subtle differences back to the forefront of a trainer's mind when considering the concept of training across cultures. The salient points to consider would include: translations must be done locally with content being confirmed by the home office, surround yourself with trusted advisers/consultants who will make you aware of when you have made a gaff or how you might wish to properly approach a particular subject, and do not offer green hats to your male Chinese employees to wear on a retreat. Their presentation validated for me the level of quality and value that the presenters that have been chosen bring to the ASTD conference.

Tomorrow I shall report on any of tonight's key learning's as we eat in China Town (I am determined to find a restaurant void of Anglos), attend the Networking Session (I am committed to deepening my contacts in Japan, China and South America where they hunger for my industry's programming), and check out the first set of Forums.

Until I find a computer free in the Cyber Cafe,

Day Two and Three

Sunday ended exceptionally well with a super networking event! The two poor speakers were drowned out by a largely inattentive group because we were intent on meeting and greeting our peers, but that was a minor learning moment for the association. The speakers finally gave up and we stopped talking really, really loud to each other. I did discover some interesting things: Earthlink, the Internet Service Provider, has grown from 2 to 1,000 employees in three years. They sent three staff; Tami, Margaret and Kristin; to find the latest technologies to help a Fast Company that is also in a fast-changing technology market. The stories were excellent reminders that training is not always the solution though traditional managers continue to ask for it.

Leaving the Moscone Center is always a treat since the Catbert of my world, Cliff the Penny Pincher, has Brook and I rooming next to Alcatraz. We get to ride the cable cars daily! A week-long pass is only $15.00 which will win Brook and I plenty of bonus points with Cliff. We have been applying our new knowledge to the cable car industry as a result and have the following recommendations to the supervisor of the gripmen and conductors: create an organization and a system that encourages and expects customers to be treated with dignity and respect. I did not take names to protect the innocent, but there are several 'heroes' in the industry that we have met, but there is also an element of evil that made us believe that 'The Boys from Brazil’ might have been based on a true story and that there are survivors. One evil gripman made incessant fun of several tourists from other countries, entertaining only himself in the process. He went so far as to stop the car altogether to yell at someone who failed to understand what he was asking them to do because of a language barrier. This is not purely a training issue, it is an organizational performance issue due to its lack of isolation. He was just an extreme example. We will submit our proposal to the city if we find time tomorrow...

We did get one extreme adventure last night because we went into Chinatown. We ate at Chung King because there were no other Anglos inside but it was very crowded. If you get the chance, try 'The Ants on the Trees'. It was excellent! I had attended a workshop on China and was able to say thank you in Chinese several times. The waiter was able to say thank you in English as well. Those were the only words we were able to say in each other's indigent languages and he could not speak Spanish so I can't tell you what was in 'The Ants on the Trees', but I can tell you that I have no ill effects 19 hours later. We also wandered aimlessly about after leaving the restaurant before finding the cable car tracks again. When we found them we even got to push the cable car up hill to help get it started. That was pretty cool. Apparently it stopped in the one place where the grip can not reach the cable so we got to be 'official engineers' for almost two minutes. I think I can add it to my business card now. I will certainly be a hero to my nine year old son.

By the way Cliff, the Abalone had Sea Cucumbers in it (an invertebrate that looks like a large intestine) so Brook would not eat it, saving us almost $20.00! (anything to make Cliff happy...)


I missed the Sunrise Sessions and breakfast, but I made it to a program on remote teambuilding. Gerhard Buzek uses portable challenge course events for three days to help virtual teams connect effectively down the road. His model was informative and relied on phone, fax, video and e-mail to continue the collaborative work environment. It was obviously a test case and it proved to have some merit. Cultural differences are clearly the big barrier still in distance teaming and none of these technologies were said to clearly overcome those obstacles. I look forward to other people's attempts and experiences.

I also saw Deltapoint's Rapid Performance Improvement model as it impacted PageNet of Orange County (a huge paging service provider). The results were amazing and Joal Wellman is my hero only because her organization did not make PageNet dependent on their services. They trained people in-house to implement RPI so that future issues could be tackled. The best idea I took away from that presentation actually came out of the Q&A at the end: Deltapoint has an annual conference for the in-house trainers once/year. They share best practices, discuss issues and learn updated information! Cool.

I also attended Geary Rummler's workshop. I am familiar with his Performance Improvement work and had seen it before so this was an update. The best piece was his connection between the material and his anecdotal, real-world applications. I want to check three huge bags when I leave San Francisco just to see how the ticket agent handles the situation! You can check his website in the near future to get the notes, you will have to e-mail him for the anecdotal stories.

I am presently nine minutes late to the meeting of the Red Shirts so I must sign off... Until tomorrow, HA HA HA HA YOU ARE AT WORK AND I AM NOT!!!

Learning and growing,

Day Three and Day Four

Monday Evening...

The Red Shirts met at the top of the Marriott and we were all excited to meet several of the faces behind the text. Scott Simmerman caused quite a stir as did the sleep-deprived Marcia Conner. Scott was actually in the elevator with me on my way up to the meeting and read my nametag first. He thrust out his hand (covering his nametag) and I was appalled. How did this homeless person make it all the way into the elevator? There was no way I was going to give him money as we raced toward the View Lounge!!! I am not sure what my facial expression was, but he put his hand down quickly and I finally realized who he was. Bob Pike was also in attendance though I did not have any quality time with him. Three people who play for a living in one room at the same time. Yes, it was that type of defiant and loud group. For people who are on the computer a lot there were no real shy or introverted personalities. It was like finally being among friends instead of potential clients. Interestingly enough, I got back to my room last night and realized that I think I met the star of Fast Company's article on teaching the company culture through stories. I met the Chief Storyteller himself! He was extremely gregarious as would be expected, but I did not hear any stories. I also can not report on dinner because I was being polite in talking to someone at the end of the meeting and the dinner party left without me. At least Cliff will be happy to hear that I only went to Burger King ($2.99 value meal Cliff).

I spent the rest of my evening going through the 2,345,870,342 pieces of mail that I received in the three weeks prior to ASTD advertising that I should visit the 'best' booth around. I shuffled them numerically so as I walk through the 2,600 exhibits, I can enter all of the contests. The Expo is really quite amazing. I suppose I will miss at least one workshop just walking through half of the Expo. There are more workshops at the Expo (marketing ploys) than there are outside of it. Some look really, really good! There are also great deals on products during ASTD only. I need to ask Cliff Catbert if I can spend a couple of dollars...

So, on to Tuesday's kernels of wisdom:

I attended the Financial Services Forum and found that the 25 people I have already met are in all of the workshops that I am in. This may be stalking behavior, but we may share the same interests. The FSF was excellent. I finally got to meet Thiagi, a fellow game master. He did a forty-five minute workshop on icebreakers to get things rolling. At least 100 non-FSF people attended just for that piece and they got their time's worth. We began with an activity in which Thiagi used the pillars in the middle of the room. Everyone had to have their entire palm against one pillar and know at least eight other people's names around that pillar. The pillar with the most people (and with a randomly-chosen person who could say eight names) wins! Next we wrote on a sheet of paper the one trait that was most important for any icebreaker. We marched around reading each other's sheets and when he said, "Stop!" we partnered with the person who was reading our sheet. We then decided on which trait of our two was the best one and would have moved on to making a foursome if there had been time. It is like cumulative musical chairs or blob tag. He was also incredibly funny. Catch his workshops whenever you can!

I also liked the case study approach to many of the other workshops. Examples of what other people are really doing is always so helpful. My favorite was First Union's presentation because they shared openly about the mistakes that they made so that others might avoid them also as they turn to computer-based training for rote skills. I even learned about a few things I had not considered that could be applied to what I am doing. The best hints were: have the instructions for how to turn on the computer and start the program on videotape right next to the computer, put a phone next to the computer with the technical help phone number on it, make the work area a model of the area that they are learning about, and TELL THE STUDENTS TO TAKE BREAKS! They will just keep on going and going, losing track of time.

So far I have given away about 120 of the 200 copies of my book on disk. I have been using the signature line about asking me for a copy for the last four weeks. This tells me that I am running into a decent number of people who follow the listservs. We are out there somewhere and we keep finding that we are relatively normal people. But hey, it's still only Tuesday, this could change.

Until someone walks away from their terminal tomorrow,

Day Four and Day Five

I missed my Performance Consultant Competencies workshop in the afternoon because I lost track of time when writing to all of you so there is nothing to report. However, I do have a CD with all of the workshop handouts (except the Forums) so I can read them later. The CD is just one of the many innovations that are making this trip extremely efficient and effective for everyone involved. Of course, before the Expo opened yesterday many workshops were full and had to turn people away. Now the crowd is more evenly distributed. Hopefully ASTD tries to learn from this year's format and finds some way to spread out the crowd during the first few days as well. The time left between sessions in different buildings also causes many people to eat on the fly after standing in line for up to 45 minutes just to get a sandwich for lunch. I have experienced little sleep, missed meals, and sore calves with the frantic pace, but I would not miss the opportunity for the world! (Sorry Cliff, I did find time to eat breakfast today.)

So, on to the Expo! I spent two hours in the Expo yesterday and another hour between sessions today. I got from the 200 row to halfway through the 800 row so far. The rows go up to 2700. I will certainly not have time to see all of the exhibitors before they close tomorrow. This story is being repeated by everyone that wants to see the exhibits. Those who just wanted to get free stuff are finishing the rounds in about 55 minutes. The booths are so crowded that any company with fewer than two representatives has a small line and anyone with only one space has several people waiting in the aisles blocking traffic. If you plan on having a decent booth in Atlanta for ASTD '99 I highly recommend three knowledgeable staff at all times (trainers and the like, not sales people, because of the informed audience and level of questioning) and at least two spaces. There is little time for people to use the interactive video pieces so have several computers if you have a sample for consumers to try. Use outrageous colors/cartoons and give away something cool, if it is food, make it bananas or something tangible and nutritious since no one has time to eat. Also have enough handouts, running out too soon limits your efficacy reallllll quick.

The evening was my first Meet-To-Eat. The principle is to have people sign up for a meal at a local restaurant and all go together. Next year I hope they go ahead and have cabs lined up too. We had sixteen people headed to a restaurant and one cab was ready. We found a limo and had them call for enough vehicle space to move the lot of us to The Stinking Rose, a vampire-free restaurant. The food was really good if you like garlic (hence the vampire theme), and I love garlic. It was okay to have garlic breath amongst our crowd who turned out to be outrageously fun and loud. 'The Stinking Rose Gang' included several of the same people that I am finding myself surrounded by over and over: Mean Jean the Fly Fishing Queen of Orvis, Lora Wasson of, and the three Earthlink women. Of course Brook and I were there, but we also met Bruce and Bruce, Karen Shaffer Penny of Comsat, and Kathleen Stanley of Small's Tuxedos. I suspect they will all subscribe to the TRDEV-L now that they fear what I might say about them. Needless to say, they can really put away the Ben and Jerry's! I will post a picture of everyone on my website later to help tie this whole story together... One of the coolest things was the initiative we faced in reaching the restaurant. Brook and I both facilitate experiential learning so we each rode in separate vehicles. We challenged the group and they were able to get six trainers in one Lincoln (plus one driver) and ten trainers in one limo (plus one driver). Just like any team building activity that is worth any money at all, we experienced each other in an intimate way and will be forever changed because of it. If anyone's spouse reads this, the change may be more detrimental than beneficial. I still think we could have all fit into one new VW bug.


After the six hours of sleep that is becoming the norm, I rushed out and hit the cable car. Today's lessons come from three very informative and well-planned workshops.

Sheila Paxton can kick your butt. That is just a fact, I am sorry if it offends you, but she is one dynamo that I will never tangle with. She also did one of the coolest things in her workshop to encourage participation: when someone took the risk to acknowledge the issue they were thinking about, Sheila had them come to the front of the room, speak into the mike, beat their soul... and then she gave this lady a big pile of videos and a 3 inch binder of material! There were several volunteers after that though only the first person got 'Sheila in a Box'. The poignant lessons that will forever change how I do my performance improvement and training interventions: I will add an informational piece to the coaching manuals that I already use so that people can list resources that will help them maintain their action plans/commitments AND I will add a pre-learning piece to my work for the participants to research the vocabulary and articles surrounding the type of training or commitment that they are going to seek prior to the workshop/training session. Make them take some prior ownership in their learning! Duh! Why didn't I think of that before? I can't wait to read her PhD dissertation on self directed learning. Ask her for it in about one year at .

One of those kind-of-technical-you-got-to-really-want-to-learn-this-stuff-to-keep-up-with-the-presentation workshops was actually put together in an effective format by Phil Landsberg and Joe Willmore. The subject matter was on putting Royal Dutch/Shell's Scenario Planning model into a Deming and Performance Improvement program in order to use Strategic Planning in deciding what actions to take or to be prepared for as certain events/signs emerge. Have I lost you yet? Email Joe for copies of the handouts that were eaten up in the feeding frenzy that immediately preceded the end of the workshop at . I did not get one so I have to ask as well. It was really neat, but this is not the place to discuss such matters, my wrists are killing me as I stand here typing!

I am saving the creme de la creme for last: the marriage of experiential learning and cyberspace. Yes, it is beginning. Finally, after years of my own search for code heads and ex-gamers to help me put my talents in creating experiential metaphors for work and facilitating learning through activities, someone has gotten a grant to create a soft-skills training platform on the computer. It is not ready yet, but the results thus far seem promising for high-context societies that speak English and need diversity-valuation training. The military has supplied the Franklin Institute with a grant to develop a program that will teach adults through a virtual environment. The Consortium for Advanced Education and Training Technologies (CADETT), which includes Univ. of Pennsylvania and HRDQ among others, has created Cadett Interactive Multi-user Business Learning Environment (CIMBLE). CIMBLE allows for a multi-user 3-D environment controlled by a mouse and including actual voices of the distant participants (up to 6 plus one facilitator). You can manipulate objects in the environment by point-and-click, see avatar representations (like 3-D cartoon characters) of the other participants, view real time video, enter text as needed from the keyboard, and complete a project in about four hours if you use good team skills. There is still no accounting for tactile stimulus or actual participant faces on the avatars so that you can read expressions such as sarcasm (thus no application for low-context cultures such as the Chinese that use a lot of expression and subtle inflection to convey meaning) and the team always succeeds which tells me that the ownership of success belongs entirely to the facilitator, but overall this is a quantum leap in technology merging with training. The consortium also started from scratch so this is not a Doom-ripoff or multi-player game based on someone's existing code or engine. It will also become available to the public I suspect because of the government financing. If nothing else it will spur copycats. The project still has a year left so don't get hungry yet. However, if you are extremely interested in investing in a competing project, I can be bought to advise and play with the next generation of training.... Does this mean all trainers will soon be designers only? No way, the real heart of training has to start with real interaction, not a simulation in a virtual world. Star Trek is still a few hundred years away for the general consumption of the public.

Well, I must find some rest before the big Exploratorium Cosmic Bash tonight! Catch you tomorrow,


Day Four and Day Five

Wednesday Night

I hit the Moscone Center at 8:20 pm with my room mate Brook only to find that the buses left between 7:30 and 8:00 ONLY. Three other lost souls were also standing there. Then to disprove the theory of natural consequences a limo pulled up and offered the five of us a ride to the Exploratorium for $5.00 each! This was my first time in a limo. We got to catch the end of the NBA Finals Game One on the way to the Social Event. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA... This is directed at all of those poor souls that fought for space on the crowded buses to get there on time.

The food was excellent, the drinks were plentiful, the karaoke was unbearable (which is just what karaoke is supposed to be) and the 'real' band had some serious staying power. They did not even take a break that I noticed from 8:40 pm to 11:00 pm! And they were awesome. People were dancing, carrying on, laughing incessantly. Even the reclusive souls like myself found tons of mind-expanding toys to play with in the museum. Everyone left with a new friend or two, but that is another story... and not mine to tell.

True to form, the final day came hard and fast with little time to sleep once again.

DAY FIVE, the end

Man, did 7:00 a.m. come early. I think I got six and a half hours of sleep one night, but that was on accident. This was the most jam-packed conference I have ever been to and I have been to dozens over the past five years. I don't know how this was pulled off with so few mistakes, but I commend those who made it possible! It was extremely difficult to make the early workshops and I found myself more interested in visiting and learning from more of the Expo vendors. I only made it to row 1200 out of 2700 overall and that was my biggest disappointment of the entire event. I erred on the side of attending the maximum amount of workshops and neglected the Expo. The Expo was itself an event of epic proportions with tons to learn if one took the time to ask. The booths with real trainers and facilitators were exceptional (at least in the first 11 rows). Everyone was extremely willing to discuss best practices and to share their products. Of course, those with the best products will get calls from me in the future as partnership opportunities arise, but everyone was helpful and informative. There are far too many people to list here but some of the key ideas I heard:

* Have everyone stand when they are done with a task to keep their blood flowing (Bob Pike).

* Many companies are narrowing their practice to helping the client only with one very, very specific issue, facilitating the client through to its resolution. This helps prove ROI, but no one I met promises results or full refund. I also did not find anyone with a program or video/book/game on dealing with women who hate men, most blatantly denied that it was an issue. I did hear that someone had it, but they must have been on row 1300 or later...

* Human Performance Technology seemed to be the keyword that attracted in-house trainers to potential outsource consultants and trainers (a non-scientific and informal survey done after overhearing some sales conversations). The trend toward solving problems, not training to instill knowledge and skills is growing and you had better be prepared for it.

* People are willing to ask for up to $3500.00 for individual activities that are available for free if you dare to ask on the listserv... of course, you have to buy your own Legos or cards or dice, etc.

* There are a ton of new personality inventories again. I am not going to go into the arguments for or against, but I was tremendously impressed with The Big Five by CentACS out of Charlotte, NC. They had great information and a great printout for the respondents that took the test.

* Louis Allen had their model of training areas broken down into the most pieces of the circle models that I found (20 on the outside, 5 on the inside). The circle was the most-used model of a company's methods or systems in rows 200 through 1200.

* The best handouts (another informal survey to help me determine what to do if Performa Solutions has a booth next year) were articles by company principals that taught the reader a skill or idea.

* The best 'goodies' were T-shirts. Those were few and far between so I only got one, but I gave a few out to really good leads.

* The most heavily-attended booths were full of games, toys and fun.

* Most AMA members get to use their new intranet-based training software as a benefit of membership. That was really cool.

* Several of the people who mailed me a 'get yours free at ASTD' post card were not present. I will not use them for sure!

I hope these tips serve to educate those who might have a booth in the future.

The closing remarks were fairly well attended with many people leaving late Wednesday or early Thursday to report back to their jobs ASAP. I was fortunate in that I was allowed to stay (at my own expense) until Saturday. I hung out with my old college room mate and his bride for the remainder of my week, which would probably not interest you except for the Comemanga. Brook and I did finally get to see some of San Francisco before he left late Thursday night, and we visited Alcatraz with our buddies from Space Camp, Christy and Tracy. See? Contacts do last beyond the conference! If you are interested I will attach the one last piece of non-conference adventures to another posting, but for now suffice it to say- never go to a town like San Francisco for a great conference without allowing some time on the front end or back end to see the town. ASTD '98 was an unwavering success, no doubt about it. The time was solidly filled with quality programming and attractions. There could have been five more days and I still would not have seen or done it all. Leave time to enjoy the host city because you must take the time to maximize your investment in ASTD. It is well worth it!

The previous two postings lack the typical wit associated with most of my writings due to exhaustion. If this takes away from the essence of the posting for you, too bad. I don't care about anything but sleep right now.

good night,

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