Navigating Social Media as a Researcher

Here is the 2015 Social Media Map (thanks to Lucy Lyons for sending it to me):

social-media-map-large

It is vast, varied and has something for everyone! But it can be overwhelming. It reminded me of a question I was asked in a recent class discussion about social media for researchers: What are the top 5 social media platforms for researchers? This is actually a tough question to answer, because everyone’s needs are different and social media should be used to showcase a person’s work in the most germane way. While the social media map shows a wealth of platforms, we found ourselves focusing on the most well-known ones: Twitter, LinkedIn, Academia.edu, Storify, and one that reflects on your individual needs as a researcher (i.e. if your work involves visuals, visualisations, etc, then try something like Instagram).

So, why these?

Blogging

When I started blogging, all of a sudden I had another outlet to talk about issues and ideas that matter to me. It was my own forum that I could shape as I wished. I could develop a tone and style that suited my needs. It was an instant means of getting my thoughts on a page and then sharing them publicly. It was also a great way to keep up the practice of writing, particularly during those times that my research was focused more on reading and note-taking rather than writing up chapters. A blog is your very own corner of the research world. I like to show my students this diagram of a blog as a House:

Twitter

Twitter is fast, short and simple. It forces you to crunch your thoughts down and use hashtags, links and images cleverly to relay a point. Twitter is a conduit for showcasing events as they happen (live tweeting conferences etc). Hashtags can be invented and used to generate rich and interesting conversations (see #saturdayschool for example). Twitter doesn’t require heaps of time and input. You don’t need to spend an age updating your profile, filling in one section after the next. Moreover, Twitter is the place to be for scholars during November when Academic Writing Month takes place (#AcWriMo)!

LinkedIn

I’ll start by saying that LinkedIn’s “Job-seeker Premium” option that allows people to, among other things, skip the queue and be placed ahead of people who may be more qualified for them when applying for jobs horrifies me! But, despite this major flaw, LinkedIn is great for managing your CV. The fact that it is public places more pressure on users to keep their information up-to-date. This pays dividends when you need to update your offline CV after a few months of neglect. Moreover, there are some really good groups that you can join and discuss common interests with other professionals in your field.

Academia.edu

Again, this is another way of managing your CV with the added public pressure of making sure you are always looking your professional best. Academia allows users to upload entire papers which can boost the likelihood of citation and amount of times your papers get cited. Of course, there are debates ongoing about the wisdom behind such open sharing of research. It’s really up to the individual. What I tell students is to upload abstracts, and wait until the paper has been published elsewhere before uploading it with full citation details (check copyright issues with your publisher first!). Basically, this platform is useful for scholarly networking: connecting with other academics in your field and letting them know what you are doing. Furthermore, Academia.edu tracks Google searches and gives you the stats, so you know how many people are looking and where they are based.

Storify

This is one of my favourites! Whether you want to record an online conversation/debate/event or create a “story” based on a particular theme, Storify allows you to harvest resources from various corners of the internet and arrange them to tell some kind of story. This one is good for disseminating research, livening up your blog with an embedded Storify here and there, and also as a teaching and learning resource. I already wrote a post about this one.

So, these four plus one other that suits your individual needs forms a basic social media toolkit for researchers. Before concluding, I want briefly highlight another area of social media that may be useful for researchers. Medium is listed under “Content Discovery and Curation.” Medium is a place to share stories and ideas online. In short it is a writing tool, and a variation of the blog. Medium is just one of a few options available to those who want to write and share. Hi is another interesting option that unites concepts from blogging, Instagram and Twitter. More recently Altonito has released its beta version on an invite-only basis. Not only does this signal a new offshoot from the traditional blog, but also new methods of so-called “non-traditional” dissemination.

The Social Media Map this year is massive. It will, no doubt, continue to expand. Because I am generally intrigued by all that social media has to offer (and because I teach social media skills) I tend to dabble in various platforms to see what’s what. It’s hard to upkeep more than a handful and the ones listed above really are a good place to start.

 

Teaching: Digital Skills for Research Postgraduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences

I recently co-taught a module on Digital Skills for Research Postgraduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences (PG6011/DH6014) with my colleague Paul O’Shea in University College Cork. We designed and delivered this one day intensive workshop aimed at introducing research postgraduates (MA MPhil, PhD) to a range of digital tools and skills that they can use to enhance and disseminate their research. Paul and I also co-taught Editing Skills for Research Postgraduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences (PG6010/DH6014) in the first semester. These modules are co-ordinated by Orla Murphy.

When I began my PhD I took this module and it transformed the way I viewed and approached my research. A few years later, it was a pleasure to oversee the module alongside Paul. We designed a schedule that balanced conceptual discussions with practical activities. The challenge was to produce a curriculum that would be palatable for those who needed a complete introduction as well as challenging for those who already used digital skills and tools for their research. To this end we decided to use a crowdsourcing project as part of the practical element. Using Letters of 1916, students were asked to transcribe several letters in class and as part of their assessment (many thanks to Karolina Badzmierowska for joining us via Skype to introduce the project). Students who already had knowledge of XML would see it in use in an interesting way, and be able to consider the challenges of encoding letters written in various formats. Students with no prior knowledge of XML would be presented with a gentle but challenging introduction.

 Paul and I decided to live tweet the class using #TeachTEI as our main hashtag, as well as #TeachingInPublic and #Letters1916. Given the collaborative nature of our approach, and our feeling that digital humanities represents a democratic turn in research practices and dissemination, we see #TeachingInPublic as part of that transparency. In the Prezi he made for the workshop Paul calls this “breaking out of the box.”

Additionally, live tweeting allows us to take the conversation outside of the classroom. To this end, I created the following Storify which gives more details of the workshop contents.

Dark Circles Are Your Friends: Finishing a PhD Thesis

There are lots of posts out there offering useful hints and tips about finishing a PhD thesis. Having recently submitted my own, I decided to write about my experience of finishing. Rather than provide a “top 10 tips” type of article I’ll highlight a few of the major moments and experiences I had.

There she is!

There she is!

Firstly, I had been told many times about “the fear” and “the pressure” that would plant itself without warning in my mind and push me towards the finish line. It’s real. Although I was working towards my final deadline (January

Coffee helps!

Coffee helps!

2015) for about a year before, it was in August of last year that a real drive towards the finish line kicked in. All of a sudden I was banging out 1,000+ words a day, and ploughing through books and articles I needed to read. I organised Shut Up and Write sessions in my university. These were great, not only for the amount of writing and editing I did in them, but also because they allowed me to meet up with my friends and colleagues, thus taking the edge off the sometimes painful loneliness that the majority of us feel at the end. #AcWriMo conveniently fell just two months before my submission date and this motivated me to tie up some loose ends and do a heap of editing. I wrote to the point where my arm ached. I strapped on a TENS machine and just kept going.

I think this maniacal rush to the end is responsible for something that surprised me the most. I insurmountable wall of stress that I expected to be confronted with never really happened. Mostly, my stress manifested itself in some of the weirdest dreams I ever had! I think I was so tired at the end of each day that the only outlet my stress had was within my subconscious mind. To give a sample of my stress dreams, one involved the devil who appeared to me horned, with red skin glowing like hot coals, and a big porn star moustache (thanks Orange is the New Black). He told me he had come to take me to hell because I was finishing my thesis, and pronounced a dear friend of mine who had recently finished hers, “the epitome of evil.” Madness! Another involved me running into my supervisor’s office to beg for help, only to find her sitting inside a glass box, motionless and unresponsive. The most disturbing one involved me sitting at my laptop to write my introduction only to find that my fingers started to fall off, popping off one by one and bouncing of the screen. There were many others, as well as, my Fiancé informed me, a lot of sleep-talking. But my waking hours were spent machine-like at my computer pulling my thesis together.

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Give yourself a break if you can!

Once I had the full draft, one of the best decisions I made was to get it proofread. My colleagues Gwen Boyle and Paul O’Shea were incredibly generous with their time and spotted various errors and inconsistencies that my, by then, weary eyes would not have found. I also proofread it, looking closely at a chapter per day. I read it aloud and this really helped me to find typos and awkward phrasing. I also took a few days off – something I did not think I would be able to do! I was at the proofreading stage over the Christmas holidays and giving four full days to festivities was one of my better decisions as a PhD candidate. Not only was I able to enjoy Christmas, but I returned to my thesis refreshed and ready for the very final push. The break also put a degree of objective distance between me and the thesis. This is essential when proofreading your own work. Over-familiarity only leads to oversights!

Finally, the day came when I was ready to draw the line and submit. I had been told that there would be mixed emotions, but in those final weeks I couldn’t imagine anything other than joy at the end. When I pressed send and my thesis went to the printers my heart sank and I felt like I had lost a limb. For a few hours after I was in a daze. I couldn’t believe it was done and I couldn’t imagine being without it! The next day I submitted it and felt underwhelmed but pleased. It took a few days before I could fully appreciate and enjoy the feeling of submitting my thesis. I was of course helped along by a few luxurious lie-ins and that new Stephen King novel I had saved for my post-submission read!

Finally!

Finally!

Going Out of Print in a Digital World

What does it mean to go out of print in a digital world? This is question I had not thought about until I joined Authors Alliance today. I learned about this group through my colleague, Dr Orla Murphy. Authors Alliance is a group based on the promotion of “authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read. We embrace the unprecedented potential digital networks have for the creation and distribution of knowledge and culture. We represent the interests of authors who want to harness this potential to share their creations more broadly in order to serve the public good.” Basically, I agree with the aims and I fully support anything that helps to promote readership and protect the rights and freedoms of authors.

So I started exploring their blog and watched the following video:

This was shot at an event in Harvard University called “Authorship in a Digital World: How to Make it Thrive.” Even just the first 20 minutes made me think of so many issues I had never really considered in too much depth before now: what happens when book goes out of print? How does this impact the rights of the author/s? How does e-publishing effect contracts and ownership?

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Click image for further details

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Click image for further details

The first speaker, Katie Hafner, told her story of how she became involved with Authors Alliance while trying to regain the rights to her book after it had gone out of print. Her attempts were complicated by a clause in her contract that stated that if her book sold 250 ebooks  or more then it was not technically out of print. Firstly, I did not know that authors would have any right to regain control of their book if it went out of print. Secondly I had never considered how e-publishing could have such an impact author’s rights. Hafner’s story also highlighted the importance of reading publishing contracts thoroughly.

Something that also came through in this talk  was another potential for self-publishing that I had not considered. I usually associate self-publishing with authors who have tried but not succeeded in securing a publisher for their book. However, it would seem that self-publishing is also an option for those authors who did find publishers and, for one reason or another, found that their book went out of print.

However, there is still the issue of e-publishing and the complications it presents to the author when trying to regain rights to one’s book. Perhaps this will be one of the positive things than can come out of an organisation like Authors Alliance: greater clarification in contracts for authors of the roles of print and e-publishing, and clearer definitions of what it means to “go out of print” in a “digital world.”

“Banana Envy”: Notes on a Global Obsession

abortionbananaschoolsThe banana is one of the most popular and ubiquitous fruits in the world. Walmart sells more of them than any other product. The word “bananas” has entered our language not just to refer to the fruit, but also as a slang word for something crazy or bizarre. In terms of imagery it’s slippery skin has become a comedy staple. Moreover, its phallic shape has given rise to a myriad of sexual connotations. However, the banana is the eunuch of the fruit world being sterile after thousands of years of human interference. Despite being an ongoing hotbed of mirth and eroticism their lack of genetic diversity leaves them highly susceptible to disease, and therefore constantly on the brink of extinction.

Furthermore, the phallic banana is most often placed in the company of women of colour. A dangerous triad of primitivism, imperialism and racism have brought about a long history of associating people of colour and other colonial subjects with primates (think of monkeys often depicted with a banana in hand), and women of colour as highly sexed and deviant. Let us not forget the disturbing recent history of human zoos that haunt the world over in which Africans and Native Americans were held in captivity and placed on public display, often alongside other animals. Consider these racist stereotypes and you unearth a long history of discrimination that has seeped into pop culture.

Of course it must be noted that not all iterations of the banana are racist or even erotic. Some, like Gwen Stefani’s idiomatic use of bananas in “Hollaback Girl” is simply surreal and evades definition. However, the pairing of women of colour and the popular yellow fruit is rarely innocent and usually for the purpose of entertaining and, in some cases, “educating” armchair geographers whose knowledge of other races and cultures is rendered and shaped through biased publications.

In light of this I have compiled a Storify of just a few of the cultural expressions of the banana. These range from the innocent and comedic to the erotic and racist:

Storify and Scholarship: Education, Research and Dissemination

I was first introduced to Storify early in my doctoral studies as a tool for telling the story of a conference. To do this, the conference or event needs to have a strong online presence via live tweeting, blogging, etc. So, in the time since then I have used Storify solely in this manner. Recently, however, I have begun to think about Storify in new ways.

Examples

Here’s the first one I ever made for the annual School of English Bookends Conference (June 2012) which I co-organised with my colleague, Michael Waldron:

More recently I made this one to tell the story of a charity poetry reading which I co-organised with my colleague,  Niamh O’Mahony:

As I have noted in a previous blog post, using Storify in this way captures a moment in [real/social media] time and preserves it like a kind of digital memento. Now I am considering other possible applications of Storify for scholars, and how we can use this platform to maximise productivity and aid in research.

What is it?

Storify is a way of collating information from across the web and organising in a particular manner be it chronologically, thematically, etc. It allows you to search various social media and audio-visual distribution platforms and extract the items you need to create a story. Therefore, the possibilities are endless. Aside from storifying conferences and other scholarly events, a researcher can use Storify to create lesson plans or collate online sources for a research project.

Education:

For several years I have been a regular participant in #SaturdaySchool, a weekly teach-in on Twitter founded by Rhonda Ragsdale. The teach-in always generates great discussion and many people share links to relevant articles and resources. A different topic is addressed each week and the tweets are storified to provide learning resources for teachers, students, or anyone interested in the issues discussed. Without Storify, these teach-ins along with the useful resources shared would inevitably be whisked away on the great Twitter conveyor belt. Instead, they are preserved and transformed into an open access teaching and learning resource. I have yet to use Storify in this way, but I hope to incorporate it into my teaching in the future. Click here for an article about how students can be encouraged to use Storify.

Research:

Given that any Storify can be saved indefinitely as a draft, this platform can be used privately as a research tool. My research has recently required me to explore pop culture references to a particular issue. Storify has allowed me to gather a range of audio-visual resources, articles, and digital archives pertaining to my research and organise them in a manner that makes sense to the project. Therefore, I have bypassed tired, one-dimensional bookmarking of web pages in favour of something that not only allows me to collect data, but also to insert my own summaries, notes and pointers. Storify allows me to embed links into my notes as well as displaying the collected resources in the usual Storify manner. Thus, it is a more interactive method of gathering research data.

Why Not Pinterest?

Arguably, one could do something similar with a  Pinterest account. Pinterest boards allow users to “pin” images under particular themes, add short descriptions, and even add another “pinner” to a board for collaborative purposes. However, it does have its limitations:

  • Pinterest is solely image-based, whereas Storify allows for a collection of images, text, videos, audio, and gifs.
  • “Pins” do not stay order chronologically on a board which poses problems if you want to use it to help structure an argument or case study. This also becomes an issue if users want to publish their Pinterest board as part of disseminating their research.
  • While Pinterest allows you to create “secret” boards which are kept from the public eye, users can only have a maximum of three, whereas Storify has no such limit on drafts.

Click here to read about PrezPics, a research project that used Pinterest as  a research tool.

Review | Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years

I first saw Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years (2012) when it was screened at the FWSA Biennial Conference in June 2013 at the University of Nottingham. The film focuses on the time the African American, feminist, lesbian, warrior, poet, Audre Lorde spent travelling back and forth to Berlin between 1984 and 1992, and her influence on the Afro-German community.

The documentary is made up of home movie footage taken by Dagmar Schultz (director), and after the screening, a member of the audience asked  Schultz if she had filmed Lorde with the intention of making a film with it; Schultz told us that she just felt that Lorde’s presence was important, her time in Berlin was important and she was moved to record it. I am thankful that she did, because Schultz has presented us with something very important: a historical document of a period in Lorde’s life that many of us knew little about, a view of a transformative moment in Afro-German History, and also a fascinating, warming, and healing exchange between a transnational feminist sisterhood.

"Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years", DVD cover (USA).

Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, DVD cover (USA).

The film is a collage of dinner parties, social events, public lectures, and planning meetings for several Afro-German community groups Lorde inspired. This is peppered with audio sequences set to still photographs in which Lorde is no longer speaking with her friends or to an audience within a particular shot; instead her voice is stripped of its original setting and she becomes the most prominent narrator of this posthumous documentary, signalling the longevity of her prose, poetry, thinking and activism.

The Berlin Years also gives generous time to Lorde’s significance as a unifying figure; many scenes feature Lorde discussing the notion of difference and encouraging her listeners, both onscreen and the viewers, to approach differences of race, gender and sexuality in positive and progressive ways. We see Lorde as muse who inspired many Afro-German women to write about their experiences and record their cultural history, for example, Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out (eds. May Opitz,  Katharina Oguntoye, Dagmar Schultz). More importantly, the documentary represents the exchange of knowledge and ideas that Lorde encouraged.

At the heart of The Berlin Years is the woman-centred community that Lorde fostered during her time in Berlin. As her health deteriorates the most striking scenes are those in which she is surrounded by women who care for her, comfort her and listen to her. We see Lorde taking simple pleasure in activities such as making necklaces or preparing and serving food for her friends at a time when her appetite was waning. All of these moments involve sharing and giving back in some way (the extras included in the DVD provide even more of these scenes). Ultimately we see the kindness and generosity, as well as activism, that can flourish when women come together to, in Gloria Anzaldúa’s words, “do the work that matters” (The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, 314).

Check out some reactions to Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years at the FWSA conference here:

Every Academic Book Should Have an Index!

The index is the Ctrl f of print books

Is there anything more annoying that getting that book that will almost certainly be an essential part of your Works Cited/Bibliography only to discover that there is no index!? We all know that we can not read every single book we cite from cover to cover. We don’t have the time, and quite frankly, we don’t always have the patience! Therefore, when someone tells you that you should read the bits about the theme of X in Book Y it is natural to flip to the back of the book and check the index unless all the information is contained in one or two chapters. Of course, with Google Books at our fingertips it can make the search through an index-less book a bit easier. But we all know the limits of the preview. Oh, how cruel the world can be!

Quite simply, indexes speed up the research process. We cannot always rely on chapter titles, or even book titles, to tell us exactly what a given book discusses. Often, these cleverly punning chapter titles are fun to read, but give little away about their actual content. A well-stocked index can lead the researcher to the sections s/he needs while at the same time giving an overall flavour of the book and demonstrate connections between various subjects addressed within which may even lead to full cover to cover read.

Indexed books are happy books!

Something almost as frustrating as no index at all are name indexes…..no themes, keywords or other issues….just names! That’s great if you are looking for a person, but otherwise what is the point! Therefore, not only should all academic books have indexes, but they should have fully comprehensive indexes that cover all the potential needs of the reader. Academic books are being priced more and more out of reach of many scholars. When you scrape together a week’s rent to buy that must-have new monograph or edited collection an index is at least a small and useful consolation prize.

Oppression: A Response to Rory O’Neill’s Abbey Theatre Speech

I am moved to write this post after watching Rory O’Neill’s speech in the Abbey Theatre. O’Neill’s speech follows on from comments he made about homophobia on the Saturday Night Show which prompted RTE to pay out €85,000 to the Iona Institute Catholic lobbying group.

O’Neill’s description of oppression in Ireland is familiar to many of us. His account of standing at a pedestrian crossing and feeling the need to check one’s self due to the expectation that a slur or an object (or both) is about to be hurled out of a car in his direction is something that I can certainly relate to. From the time I cut my hair short I quickly realised that a segment of the population is unnerved, even insulted by the sight of a woman daring to appear in public without long Rupunzalesque locks, heels and a pretty dress. I stand at every pedestrian crossing holding my breath, cringing inwardly, waiting for one of the following: “dyke,” “muff-diver,” “lezzie,” “fag,” “fanny licker.”

According to the powers that be, RTE, Iona, the government, it is wrong to talk of such oppression, and worse to claim any hurt from being on the receiving end of it. Apparently those most damaged by homophobia are the perpetrators rather than the victims. I find this hard to believe when I think of the many times I have been publicly accosted. I find it hard to believe that the car full of giggling strangers who don’t know my name, who I am, or what my sexual orientation is ride off into the sunset feeling worse than I do.

My oppressive hair

My oppressive hair

I remember sitting on a bus when an inebriated man twice my size towered over me and proceeded to tell me that all I needed to be set straight was a real man, and that he would come to my home and show me exactly “what a real man could do.” I remember hurrying away from that bus to the safety of my Fiancé’s car and feeling so thankful that I was going home with an evolved gentleman.

I also remember being offered a job on condition that I change my hair to “something more suitable for dealing with the public.” I turned it down.

I could recount so many instances where I have been made feel terrified and oppressed due to my gender and the way in which I choose to present myself to the world. Do I really believe that for each one of these instances a group of repressed Catholics are flagellating themselves amid throes of emotional agony due to homophobia? No. How could anyone?

RTE have donated to €85,000 to continued oppression against those who do not conform to conservative Catholic “values.” I can express this from the safety of my laptop; but Rory O’Neill took a very brave and necessary stand in the Abbey Theatre. For that I salute him and will feel less alone the next time I stand at a dreaded pedestrian crossing.

Mavericks and Miracle Workers: Musings about Teacher Movies

Over the Christmas break I binge-watched several “teacher movies,” one of my regular holiday hobbies along with re-reading the Little Women series and the Harry Potter collection. I never had a Mr Keating (Dead Poets Society) or a Ms Gruwell (Freedom Writers). I certainly had several good, even excellent, teachers throughout my education, but never one who made the classroom a site of potential for major personal and social transformation.

Scene from Freedom Writers (Source is linked to image)

In many ways films like Dead Poets Society (1989), Dangerous Minds (1995), Mona Lisa Smile (2003), Freedom Writers (2007), Precious (2009) and The English Teacher (2013), while at times a little far-fetched, often represent the ideal that many young teachers dream of embodying when first faced with the daunting task of education. These films depict teachers, sometimes very naïve ones, attempting to engage with students who are completely close-minded or cut off from education due to society and/or personal circumstances. Entire classes filled with 20+ students await every opportunity to blatantly ignore or undermine their ever hopeful educator, and ultimately the teacher gently breaks down the barriers and forms incredible bonds with her/his former aggressors. Many “teacher movies” present us with protagonists who go against the grain of the institution or the advice of their loved ones to educate their unruly students, often to the detriment of their careers and/or relationships.

These mavericks and miracle workers were the bread and butter of my younger self as I dreamed of a humble spot at the top of a classroom to call my own. I wouldn’t be so daring as Mr Keating to invite my students to climb upon my desk for fear of injury; my delicate stomach would keep me from riding the biggest roller-coaster with my students à la Ms Johnson; although, I have always dreamed of delivering a hearty rendition of the “[t]here are no victims in this classroom” scene from Dangerous Minds! However, I think the fighting spirit of these teachers against all manner of obstacles reflects at least some of the whats and whys of teaching.

Taking money from our own pockets to fund materials and reward students is a reality. Caring enough about a student to visit their family is a regular occurrence. Managing to get through to the most unruly students does happen. Unfortunately, as is portrayed in Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds,  losing a student to the insurmountable stresses of their particular situation is a real possibility.

For all their melodrama these movies pinpoint many of the hopes and fears we teachers feel:

Hopes:

  • To inspire our students, even one, to make positive changes in their lives
  • To educate them about important issues in the world
  • To give them tools to navigate the ups and downs of life
  • To instill moral values and independent thinking.

Fears:

  • That our guidance may ultimately fail them
  • That the ABCs and 123s of a curriculum will not be enough to prepare them for the outside world.

A life-altering educational achievement like the one we see unfold in Freedom Writers is certainly rare. However, re-watching these films time and again always reminds me of the many reasons why my own education has always been of such value to me, and the many things I wanted to bring to the classroom. One of the best moments I have had as a teacher was a student telling me that I was one of the key reasons she chose to pursue a degree in English. This, and the many assignments that reveal that a student has really got what you were trying to teach them are the many everyday satisfactions that we can take from our role in the classroom.

 

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