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Haircuts

I always feel apprehensive about getting a haircut. I’m not really sure why — it’s not like I was horribly disfigured by a hairdresser as a child (that I know of, anyway), but for some reason, I always feel a certain anxiety that comes with getting a haircut.

Maybe it’s the questions they ask you when you sit in the chair. As a guy, there aren’t many possible answers to the question “what would you like done today”, so I usually mumble something along the lines of “the thing with the scissors”. Other times, it’s “just a haircut, thanks”. I’m not really sure what other things happen at hairdressers. Do they make coffee? Perhaps they can fix my computer, while they’re at it?

But now that I think about, my nervousness probably has something to do with the fact I don’t “do” anything to my hair. I usually just leave it alone — sometimes I’ll run a comb through it, but that’s about it. I don’t use any product, and while spiking your hair was all the rage in primary school, doing it when you’re twenty-something is kinda weird, in my opinion. So I just let my hair do its thing.

I’ve never dyed my hair or done anything else to it. I wanted blonde tips so badly back in primary school because all the cool kids were doing it, but my parents never let me, no matter how much I begged them. I think that’s when I started doing nothing to my hair, just brushing it straight down or sometimes a little to the side.

Doing nothing to style my hair in any way has earned me something of a reputation at work, where I’m now known as the guy who has the same hairstyle, day in, day out. And to be honest, I’m not sure what the big fuss is — some people use some kind of product in their hair, others don’t. Obviously if you’re a girl you have a few options, as far as hair goes, but things are a little different if you’re a guy.

Whatever. I’m not really fussed — which, turns out to my reaction to whatever kind of haircut I get. I mean, it’ll all grow out in a few weeks anyway, right?

This complete drivel is part of Blogvember 14, a thing I made up where I attempt to publish a thing on ye olde blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Pyramid Scheme

This is actually one I’ve been saving up for a while now, only as part of another post. I’m splitting it out and re-publishing it here as part of Blogvember 14 because why the hell not. Enjoy!

Did I tell you about the time I was approached to join what I would later know to be as a pyramid scheme? One day an acquaintance approached me and thought I’d be a good fit for a business proposition he had. I was curious, so I said yes and we ended up meeting with this acquaintance’s business partner. At first we just talked about this guy’s work, and he made a point of emphasising how he travelled a lot and spent lots of time overseas, etc, etc. Then we got to the nitty gritty of it, and he told me that if I joined his business, I’d eventually be making money without lifting a finger.

I don’t remember much of the details of how it all worked, but as with all pyramid schemes, this one involved some sort of partnership with a manufacturing/distribution company where you would buy products, and then get rewarded based on how much you spent. Those rewards were how you were paid — the idea was that you could recruit other people to buy things from you, thus earning you rewards (money) without you having to spend a single cent. Those people could then recruit other people, who could then recruit other people. Profits were then kicked back up the chain; to their recruiter, to you, to your recruiter, and so on.

The way it was positioned all sounded pretty lucrative. The guy I met up with said I’d be earning money even when I wasn’t explicitly recruiting people, and the more people I recruited, the more I would be earning (because those recruits would eventually recruit people of their own, and continue the trend). But in reality, it would have been pretty hard work to get to that stage — not only would I have to have my own little network of recruits, but then they’d all have to have their own little network of recruits, and so on. I think you get the picture.

And, to be totally honest with you, I was pretty tempted by the idea. The potential was there to make a bunch of cash for little to no work, but there were pitfalls to the scheme, as I had learned a few years before.

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xkcd: Photos

via xkcd: Photos.

Remember when I used to be heaps into photography? Yeah, me neither.

I still kind of am, but not as much as I used to be. I don’t know about you, but photography was always a “make an effort” thing for me, for the kind of photography I wanted to do (i.e. mostly street photography). I still want to take photos of random people or things on the street in order to tell a particular story, but that involves actually leaving the house — something that doesn’t happen every day because I’m a hermit used to the comforts of working from home most days.

Take today, for example. There was an elderly couple standing outside my work today, looking up at the construction across the road. I glanced up, and the way our glass sliding doors framed them, just gazing up at the construction work going on, was kind of nice. For a brief moment I considered taking a photo, but decided not to because it would have been a little strange.

I’m drawn to couple photography particularly, which probably says plenty about me personally. There’s stories to be told for inanimate objects and individuals, but couple photography fascinates me. One of the best shots I’ve ever taken was a quick spur of the moment thing, like most street photography, depicting a young girl in a school uniform sitting with a guy, also in school uniform, on a bench in the Hobart mall. You don’t know what they’re talking about, or why they’re sitting there, and you kind of feel like an intruder on their private time, but it’s a nice photo. At least, I think so.

It reminded me of the times when I carried my film rangefinder as an every day carry kind of thing. Some people lug around DSLRs, but my Bessa R2A is compact enough to not get completely in the way or be too much of a burden. I mean, sure, I always have my iPhone 6 with me and that takes some seriously good photos, but digital photography has always felt kind of cheap, like it’s too easy to achieve good results without even trying. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but when you can fire off a single-shot HDR photo just by tapping a button, it kind of cheapens the experience a little.

On the above XKCD: I’ve never understood people who criticise other people for taking photos of things that mean something to them. Why does it matter how other people choose to enjoy a particular sunset, or a bunch of fireworks going off? Just looking is nice, but there are some that want to capture the moment so they can come back to it later and then there are some who recognise the technical challenges of capturing multi-coloured explosions in the sky. Either way, that’s their prerogative. Who are you to say otherwise?

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Gone Home

Thanks to the tweet above, there’s been a bit of discussion on the internet about whether Gone Home is a game or not. For the life of me, I can’t seem to figure out why that’s even a valid question, as the major premise of a game is an interactive narrative with playable character(s), and Gone Home is exactly that.

Contrary to what my Steam stats would have you believe, I have played other games besides Dota 2 in the past year. I’ve clocked 92 minutes on Gone Home, all of which was played in one sitting in early January (which is definitely the best way to play the game). It was so long ago that I barely remember the minor details about what happens in the game, but the one thing I do remember is that it’s an insanely great title that everyone should be playing.

This is the point where I tell you that’s about as much as I can say without spoiling the game, because the game itself is about discovery — so go out, grab it on Steam, and start discovering for yourself why it’s been so widely lauded as one of the best titles of recent times. I was sitting in Good Game’s Q&A panel at PAX last weekend, and I don’t even remember what question they were asked (it might have been something to do with experiences in games and/or how they impacted the panelists), but Hex brought up Gone Home as one of the best games she’s played. As someone who’s played Gone Home, it’s hard not to agree with her, despite how little “game” there is to Gone Home itself.

Undoubtedly, Gone Home is a game. It leans towards the “interactive narrative” side of the spectrum, but it’s definitely a game. It’s kind of like The Walking Dead, only with less characters and less zombies, and without a massively popular TV series to back it up, but it’s definitely a game. There’s no action, per se, but the game makes up for that in spades with one of the most poignant stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing — and coming from the guy who plays the single-player campaign of mass-market multiplayer FPS titles for the story, you know that’s kind of a big deal.

So, yeah, definitely a game, and you should definitely play it.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Custom A40 Speaker Tags

IMG_1638Around the middle of last year, I picked up the Astro A40 headset to replace my SteelSeries 7H, whose microphone had decided it wasn’t for this world anymore. They’re pretty good, as far as headsets go — a little on the large side, but they’re comfortable enough for extended periods. I would have liked the option of leather ear pads for even better noise isolation, but yeah, they’re alright.

The A40 is the most customisable headset I’ve ever used. You can have the microphone on the left or the right, or choose to have no microphone at all. The in-line volume control also houses a mute switch, and secondary microphone, and a button you can use as a kind of push-to-talk (at least, that’s what I think it’s used for. I’ve never actually used it).

But the coolest feature about them is that you can customise the speakers with custom speaker tags. Astro were exhibiting at PAX Australia last year, and I was excited to pick up a set of custom tags for my headset at their booth. Alas, when I asked them about custom tags they said they had so few they were only giving them away if you bought a headset — I already had a headset, so that wasn’t really an option for a set of $20 speaker tags. Not gonna lie, I was pretty disappointed I wouldn’t be able to get some custom speaker tags.

This year at PAX Australia, Astro were exhibiting once again — and this time, they actually had speaker tags on display. During the time only media were allowed into the expo hall, I asked if they would be selling the tags separately this year, and to my delight, they said yes.

IMG_1635

I came back a little later, and after umm-ing and ahh-ing over what I wanted — and confirming that I could pick up two tags for $20 (hey, you gotta ask) — I chose to go with the custom speaker tags you see in the picture above. Ideally I would have liked something Dota-related, but after looking online and seeing nothing that really took my fancy, I chose to go with the guy from Battlefield 4 and one of the official Astro/PAX tags. The Astro rep I talked to was super nice and said she’d give me a set of the official Astro/PAX tags, and throw in the Battlefield one for free, which was kind of awesome and more than made up for the lack of tag availability last year. I was super stoked with that!

The funny thing is, I don’t even play Battlefield all that much. I used to play Battlefield 3 a bit, and Bad Company 2 a LOT, but Battlefield 4 has basically fallen off my radar. I’m not really sure why, but perhaps I was just sick of that kind of gameplay — these days, I’m all about the Dota.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Perfect Last Hitting Mechanics

I call this one the PA that couldn't last hit for beans.

I call this one the PA that couldn’t last hit for beans.

OK, real talk: if a genie appeared and asked me what area of Dota I wanted to be perfect in, it’d probably be last hitting. Perfect decision making might be unachievable, but perfect last hitting mechanics are definitely within the realms of possibility. Not only can you practice last hitting without playing real matches, but it’s something you can improve in a measurable way.

Not only that, but having perfect last hitting mechanics has enormous potential to change your game, purely because if you can out-CS your opponents, you already have a huge advantage. You’ll have better items than them, and if you’re denying (something that’s incredibly important in the current patch), you’ll also have more levels over them, too.

When I started out playing Dota as a support, I didn’t think last hitting mattered all that much, purely because as a support, you’re usually not that farm-dependent. Sure you’d pull every now and again for your carry, but it wasn’t a big deal if you missed out on the last hit on neutral creeps in the jungle. A few more games of Dota later, and I can unequivocally say I was wrong in this regard, because last hitting matters to support as much as it matter for carries, and maybe even more so. Because you’re not getting as much reliable farm as carries, the last hits that you do miss out on matter even more as a support. Supports, generally speaking, don’t need items as much as carries do, but imagine how much better you could support if you had items. A fast Mek or blink dagger could mean the difference between a lost teamfight and one you win.

But I’ve started playing core roles now, and here, last hitting kind of matters. If I’m farming in the safe lane, I can average around 30-40 last hits at the 10 minute mark — not terrible, but OK I think for around my skill level. If I get free, uncontested farm, that number goes up to around 50-60, and if I’m having a bad time, I’ll have less than 30 last hits before 10 minutes. Against unfair Viper bot, with perfect deny mechanics? I’ll be lucky to have 20 last hits at 10 minutes.

I’ve thought about what to do when I’m playing a core role and am behind in last hits, and all it really takes is a couple of waves to get back to where I should be. That either means my team has to create space on the map so I can farm for a few minutes, or I jump into the jungle and hope I don’t get smoke ganked.

Unlike decision making, which can’t explicitly be practiced besides playing more games, you can practice last hitting pretty easily. By typing dota_tutorial_start lasthit will load up a practice game for you to practice your last hits against a single bot opponent, one that will stay the same depending on which hero and lane you pick. Starting up a bot game and just playing that has the same effect, but the last hit trainer means you don’t have to worry about ganks, tower pushes, or anything extraneous to perfecting your last hitting mechanics.

When I haven’t played Dota for a while, I’ll load up the last hit trainer just so I can get back into the feel for it. Because nothing — nothing — is as frustrating as a carry who can’t last hit. I practice last hitting so I’m never “that guy”, but I kind of wish other people would do the same.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Perfect Decision Making

If I had to choose to improve in any area of Dota 2, it would be — without a doubt — decision making. Like, if a genie appeared and asked me which area of Dota 2 I wanted to be perfect in, I’d choose decision making, every time.

I know that’s a bit of a cop-out, seeing as “decision making” isn’t something you can practice or improve on in any sort of measurable way, but it’s true: if I wanted to get better at something in a way that would make a significant impact on my game (and by extension, win rate), decision making would be at the top of my list.

When you think about it, it makes sense: if you have perfect decision making, the only real things holding you back are technical skill and execution. Everything else in the game would become secondary: you’d always know when to farm as a carry, and when you should be teamfighting. You’d always know when to cast your skills as a support, and when to back up and wait for cooldowns. You’d always know when to initiate, when to retreat, when to push, and when to defend.

If you had perfect decision making, you’d know when to push the lane, when to contest the rune, when to go Roshan, when to press your advantage and go high ground. The game would become easy, because you’d know what to do at every stage of the game — no more wandering around as a support, or farming jungle creeps when you should have been teamfighting. You’d always know what items to buy for any given situation, and what kind of item progression you should be getting.

That said, there are potential downsides to perfect decision making, and they mostly come in the form of teammates who don’t know what they’re doing. I’ve watched EternalEnvy’s stream enough times to know how that feels, and it sucks. Even when your team picks imbalanced heroes in the current meta, if they have no idea what they’re doing or go for a weird build, the game just becomes so unwinnable that it’s not even worth trying.

To be clear: Envy plays a completely different level of Dota than I do, but the concept remains the same: if either of us had perfect decision making, teammates not doing the right thing for any given situation would easily be enough to lose the game.

But a guy can dream.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

It has been four days since my last Dota 2 game

…and I’m not sure I remember how to play the game anymore.

Here’s where I’m coming from: since I’m currently unemployed, that gives me a lot of free time during the day to do pretty much whatever the hell I want. A lot of the time, that involves playing way too much Dota, either by myself exploring the depts of the solo queue trench, or with a few friends and absolutely smashing the other team.

I have to admit, I was kind of tempted to play Dota at the freeplay PC area at PAX, but careful consideration meant I realised there were better uses for my time (plus, I could just wait a few days and play it at home).

It’s not that you forget how to play, but certain skills in the game do require practice. Last hitting, for example, can differ from hero to hero, and if you haven’t played a certain hero in a while, you can suck at farming which can potentially change how the game turns out. Same thing with landing skillshots.

While I’m not really into League, the serious numbers of people at PAX watching the Oceanic regional finals of some big tournament is totally understandable. I’ve watched a fair amount of Dota over the past few months, ever since this year’s International, and I can see where they’re coming from — League (or for the matter, Dota) played by professionals is a completely different thing to the Dota and League played by your or I.

Unless you happen to be a pro at either of those games, in which case, you’re the one that should be on stage.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Blogvember 2014? Sure, let’s do this.

Those were the words I opened with as I sat down with the person who was going to teach me how to play Magic: The Gathering at PAX Australia 2014. Not the “Blogvember 2014” part, but the “let’s do this”, after I threw down the gauntlet, informing him I knew how to play Magic but might have been a little bit rusty at it. A story for another time, I’m afraid.

It feels like so long since I’ve written regularly on ye olde blog. I’m not really sure what happened — it’s not that I’m not writing, because I do that every day and get paid for it, but it’s been so long since I’ve written about personal interests. Not that those have changed drastically, either: I play Dota most days, I’ve been really enjoying Shadow of Mordor lately, and I could probably write at length about those, but every time I’ve told myself to write about something other than Apple or consumer technology, hitting that new post button just seemed way too daunting.

So, here’s what’s going to happen in my return to blogging. Every day in November, I’ll be publishing something on my blog. Since I’ve just returned from PAX Australia 2014, a tonne of these stories will be related to that even — little anecdotes from things I saw/did/experienced at the show. Like many others, too much of my writing has gone into Twitter, and while I won’t go as far as saying “Twitter has killed my ability to write”, it’s definitely had an impact on the greater-than-140-characters content I’ve produced, especially on my blog.

The reality is, there’s plenty of stuff that could be written about. Twitter is great for brevity, but loses in terms of permeance. Twitter is too fleeting, and people tend to live in the moment. That’s fine, but I think the opposite is important too; having somewhere you can come back and read something substantial about what you were doing/living six months ago.

Jason Snell at Six Colors sums up the problem nicely:

If you had something interesting to say, but it really couldn’t bear more than a few paragraphs, you had two choices: Just swallow it and not write anything, or fluff it up with empty filler until it seemed more substantial than it actually was.

Plenty of stuff is bigger than a tweet, but there are times when you just don’t feeling like tapping out an 1800-word essay on the Nemesis system in Shadows of Mordor. It’s not that the Nemesis system in that game isn’t worth discussing to the tune of 1800 words, it’s that you could say “it’s bloody awesome” in a tweet and leave it at that.

I thought about imposing an upper word limit on the posts, to prevent me from going overboard and over extending my efforts on any given day, but we’ll see how we go. I have no posts in the queue currently, so all the content will be hot out of the oven, so to speak — sometimes it’ll just be a photo about something that happened at PAX, other times it’ll just be a paragraph or two about downright unrecognisable cosplay, or the differentiation between TF2 players and those with fancy hats for the Melbourne Cup.

At least I’ll be writing on the blog again.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

New Mouse

Logitech Anywhere MXWell, kinda. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

For the past few years, I’ve been using a Logitech Anywhere MX. It’s been my wireless mouse of choice whenever I’m using my MacBook Pro at my desk, and it’s served me pretty well.

There are a couple of things I like about it:

  • It’s compact. I don’t have huge hands, so I don’t need a huge mouse. I prefer to grip with my fingertips instead of with my palm, and the compact size of the Anywhere MX means I can do that easily without having to exert much force to move the mouse around.
  • It uses AA batteries, not some proprietary rechargeable Li-ion pack.
  • Scrolling is awesome. The Anywhere MX has two modes of scrolling, one which has the normal clicks, and one where the ball just spins — and spins, and spins, and spins. The scroll wheel is weighted so it just keeps going, and this makes scrolling a long list of anything as easy as flicking your finger and letting the wheel do the rest of the work.
  • The dual side buttons are a pleasure to use. At first I was really used to middle-clicking links to open them in a new tab, but the Anywhere MX has no middle click (one of its only faults). Using the included Logitech software, you can customise the three programmable buttons (two on the right hand side near your thumb, one on top behind the scroll wheel) to be almost any combination of button or modifier key. I’m currently using what defaults to the back button as my “middle click”, and the what defaults to the forward button as my back. The button on top is usually an application switcher, but I’m using that to take and upload a screenshot.

For the past few years, the Anywhere MX has been faithful. The programmable buttons make a difference in my day-to-day workflow compared to my previous mouse, the bluetooth Logitech V470. That too was a nice mouse — if I had one other complaint about the Anywhere MX, it would be that it doesn’t connect via Bluetooth and has its own separate USB dongle, but that’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

As you can see in the picture above, I now own two Logitech Anywhere MX mice.

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Losing (and winning)

One of the things that annoys me the most about the programming is the zone of suck, and how very large and expansive it can be. Probably because I’m a mediocre programmer, at best, but a lot of the time it feels like I’m single-handedly trying to fight backdoor protection on the other team’s ancient as Faceless Void.

Losses in Dota 2 feel like that, too. Sometimes you’ll realise you have nothing to stop the other team’s push strategy, other times you’ll know that your entire team can’t deal with one hero on the other team who got a few kills early on, and by that time, the game is pretty much over. I hate calling “gg” early as much as the next guy, but fighting against a split push with little farm and little to no hope against of coming back is incredibly frustrating1.

Yes, I’ve been playing a lot of Dota 2 recently, and while it might sound like I say that a lot, it’s the truth. Last weekend, a couple of friends and I gathered at my place for some five-stack ranked shenanigans. Incredulously, we somehow managed to win 10 of the 11 games we played; an impressive win rate on a good day, a downright amazing win-loss ratio on any other.

After a warmup game, we refined the strat we were running. We’d insta-pick the heroes we wanted when All Pick came up, and tried to not get them banned in Captain’s Mode. Provided none of us got off to a particularly bad start in the laning stage, we guaranteed kills with a triple-stun trilane, a mid Drow, and solo Invoker. And even if one of us was killed a few times during the early game, we usually had enough recovery mechanisms to get back into the game; usually involving the other players making space for the fifth to farm. Split pushing, adding pressure around the map, stacking neutrals, that kind of thing. By the time late game rolled around, we would be ready.

We did have a bit of trouble against some really good Tinkers. With no real mechanism to catch him out, an enemy Tinker ended up split pushing every lane while we were taking 4v5 teamfights, which would favour us most of the time. Eventually the Tinker would make a mistake and we’d pull him up on it, securing the kill, and because not even an incredibly farmed Tinker can carry a game single-handedly, we’d go on to win the game off the back of those pick-offs.

For the most part, our strategy carried us through games. Our team hero composition allowed us to be a little lazier in terms of items; Wraith King’s lifesteal aura helped out our team early-game with HP regen, and Maiden was the same was her mana regen. By running two position threes, both with the potent carry potential, any time a game went late always favoured us. At the same time, because our Invoker was building Necronomicons and doing his best to push down towers any time he was away from a teamfight, we’d usually have such a gold lead that one or two farmed heroes on the other team didn’t matter that much. Of the 11 games we played, only four went longer than 40 minutes — and of those four, the three we won we were playing against a Tinker, master of the split push.

But despite our impressive win-loss ratio, the game we didn’t win still sticks out like a sore thumb. Thanks to some combination of the Von Restorff effect and likely some negativity bias, I remember that game more than any of the others, despite the fact we won 10 of the other 11 games we played that night. It hurts even more to know that we could have won that game, too — the scoreboard showed kills that were more or less even all the way through, and we punished them for their mistakes every opportunity we got. Every time they got greedy and tried to push for more kills or objectives after using their ultimates, we’d wipe them, but couldn’t seem to take any objectives off the back of our kills.

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Rite of passage – All this →

My older son had to go to a meeting at work this morning. He works at a grocery store in town and I assume the all-hands meeting was called to prepare the staff for an especially busy day because of a big sale.

Thing is, my son’s a bag boy.
via Rite of passage – All this.

Dr Drang doesn’t believe his 17-year old son should have gone to a store meeting with little to no relevance to him as a bag boy, but I disagree.

As someone who got their first job at 16, I know what it’s like to go to meetings that have little impact on what you do, day-to-day. I was still a high-school student at that time, and on the weekend, I’d work a few hours at the local Apple reseller.

I’ve been to my fair share of meetings that I probably didn’t, strictly speaking, need to go to, being a filthy casual and working one day a week. But here’s the thing, I always wanted to go because it meant I kept in touch with my colleagues I didn’t see every day, including all the ones I wouldn’t see regularly, due to them not working on the weekend. Going to those meetings kept me in the loop with all that was going on in the business and ensured I was seen as the reliable guy who’d turn up for meetings he wasn’t necessarily needed at.

Sure, I didn’t need to go to those meetings. But I’d like to think I’m a better person — a better employee — because I did.

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