Category Analogous Situations

“We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways.” – Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer …*

"We have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways." - Our Interview With Akarsh Sanghi, Designer ...* | rethinked.org - Photo Credit: Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi

Akarsh Sanghi is a Singapore based interaction designer. You may recall seeing him on rethinked …* a few months back when I featured his prototype for a “wearable tool to assist learning,” Grasp. Grasp, a timely and thoughtful design provocation, prompts us to question our assumptions about traditional learning practices and environments. It is representative of Akarsh’s broader body of work which focuses on projects that bridge the gap between physical and digital life by applying computational methods in design and creative contexts. I am delighted to share his interview with you today. Connect with Akarsh, @akarshsanghi.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

The latest project I have been working on is trying to understand the idea of creating urban trails in a city. Today we are able to navigate urban areas with the help of various mapping applications available on our mobile devices, but that is usually a static approach, since it is only to get a job done i.e. get you from one destination to another. But I believe there is a much stronger emotional value in exploring a city by following a trail created by somebody else. The experiences that this kind of serendipity can provide can amount to something great for an individual who is exploring a new place. This is an ongoing experiment in Singapore where I am currently based.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

The one thing I fear most is getting myself involved in a project or an organization in which I lose interest or faith in while in the middle of it. As a designer, I am constantly thinking and developing new ideas and putting them out into the world. But while being committed to a project in which I lose faith half-way through, it becomes extremely frustrating to see it through till the end. Some ways in which I try to avoid this situation is by having adequate research and knowledge about what I am getting into. Also you have to completely believe in your own vision that you are trying to achieve irrespective of what other’s have to say about it, and do your best in achieving that.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I very strongly believe in the idea of applying existing forms of technology in the most creative and innovative contexts to solve some of the most pressing problems in society. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time we are trying to create something new. There are numerous situation, contexts, problems and people who are still untapped by the use of modern technology. To cater for those segments of society, we have to unpack the experiences of existing technology in broader ways. There are times when I feel extremely disappointed while working with some big organizations, since they are constantly resisting change and are so afraid to take risks in any form.

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Everything that Elon Musk has done in the past decade, whether it is in space exploration, electric cars, solar energy and the latest idea of introducing home batteries. It is inspiring to see and entrepreneur born from the Internet Age has taken up and succeeded in businesses which were earlier restricted only to men and women in white coats working in research laboratories. His work clearly showcases that an idea however crazy or absurd it may sound at the time, can be pursued to alter the way humanity progresses.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

I wouldn’t really say that I have had one transformational moment in my life till now (I am 24 years old) but when I was able to create small projects and put them online which other people could use and give feedback was extremely enriching for me. It really motivated me to continue creating and putting ideas out in the world. You never know what form those ideas take once they are out of your system.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

At some point of time I want to look back at my life and sum up all the experiences I have collected, the journey I have been through, the people I have come across, the work I have done in one words, i.e. “FUN”

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Being able to distinguish between First Principles and Intuition. Some of the most powerful entities that a human possesses can do wonders in difficult situations where one can make decisions based on formal logic or a simple gut call.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How can we develop tools and communities to bridge the gap between physical and digital lives of people by empowering them to control the technology and not the other way around?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Books

  • Evocative Objects: Things we think with by Sherry Turkle
  • Beautiful Evidence by Edward R. Tufte
  • The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming
  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan
  • Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

Films

  • P.K. by Rajkumar Hirani [Hindi film challenging the traditional ways in which we see god and religion]
  • The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum
  • Interstellar by Christopher Nolan
  • The Prestige by Christopher Nolan

Essays

  • By Isaac Asimov [access here]
  • By Bret Victor [access here]

. . . * 

THANK YOU, AKARSH!

“How can I make my life as full as possible?” – Our Interview with Adventurer Alastair Humphreys …*

"How can I make my life as full as possible?" Our Interview with Adventurer Alastair Humphreys ...* | rethinked.org

Alastair Humphreys

I am delighted to share our second interview, this time with adventurer and authorAlastair Humphreys. Among his various adventures, Alastair has biked around the world, walked across India and rowed the Atlantic. These days, he is working hard to help us rethink our rather narrow assumptions about adventures as epic time-consuming and costly expeditions in faraway places by pioneering the concept of microadventures for which he has been named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Cheap, simple, yet effective, microadventures are “short, perspective-shifting bursts of travel closer to home.” Alastair also runs a fabulous blog filled with inspiring and informative content which is sure to tickle and trigger your wanderlust. He has a delightful new film on vimeo about an imaginary journey round Scotland, linking together wild bothies and landscapes. Connect with Alastair on Twitter @Al_Humphreys.

 WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

The microadventures I have been doing in the last few years have become very popular and people are now far more interested in me than they were back when I cycled round the world and was working hard to make a go of the world of epic expeditions. I find it amusing that people are more interested in me sleeping on my local hill for a night! So that felt like quite a big risk when I switched direction.

 WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

I fear getting old, wasting my opportunities and my potential. I am not sure I manage it very well. It makes me rather incapable of relaxing or having fun! I suppose I manage it by trying to do something about it: I don’t want to get old and regret things, so I try to just get on and do stuff rather than just dreaming about it.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEAR? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

People achieving extraordinary things in their field. This often manifests itself through elite sport, but I also loved the film The Theory of Everything for those reasons. I’m also really moved by wild, empty, quiet and beautiful places. I wanted to combine wilderness and doing something extraordinary through my expeditions.

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

I’m not sure this is quite what you are looking for, but the increase in our sedentary lifestyles, screen addiction, getting fat and unfit and disconnected from the world’s wild places all make me frightened, sad, angry, and determined not to end up that way myself.


 CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

Climbing on my bike outside my front door to cycle round the world was a key moment. A minute before I was someone who had never done anything exciting, but dreamed of it. And now, here I was, actually doing it.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

To make the most of your potential and your opportunities. To be kind and to make the world a little better than you found it. To laugh a lot with friends.

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN? 

When you look at successful people, do not make the mistake of thinking that they are better than you in anyway. And do not make the mistake of equating success with guaranteed happiness.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION? 

How can I make my life as full as possible?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND? 

http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/adventure-reading-101/

…*

Thank you, Alastair!

How to have a [ happy family ] in 2015: Using analogous situations to develop better methods for family success…*

Happy holidays everyone! As many of us are spending these weeks visiting family and loved ones, I thought it appropriate to talk about rethinking family dynamics. This time of year can be particularly stressful on families. While I don’t yet have children of my own, this TED talk by Bruce Feller is a great one if you are a parent with children and are looking for some ideas on how to improve your own family dynamic.

Family_Portrait

In true rethinked…* fashion, this talk is all about analogous situations. Particularly, Feller borrows from the Agile software development method. This method involve collaboration between self-organizing teams, promoting adaptive, rapid, and flexible responses to change. He uses it’s bottom-up idea flow, feedback, accountability, and adaptiveness in his own family.

In 2001 17 software developers created the Agile Manifesto. In this talk, Feller discusses his own Agile Family Manifesto. This manifesto has three tenets:

#1 Adapt ALL THE TIME

Happy functioning families should be flexible and openminded. You can’t just set rules and stick to them. Instead, you should build in a system of change. For example, Feller suggests holding family meetings each week and discussing 1) What worked well this week? 2) What didn’t work well? 3) What should we work on next week? Based on the answers to these questions, the rules can adapt to the current situation. Which leads to the second tenet…

#2 EMPOWER your children

In these family meetings, have children come up with the answers to these questions. Enlist children in their own upbringing. Feller suggests that we let our children succeed and fail on their own terms. We should let children make mistakes.

#3 Tell YOUR STORY

As much as the rules and family structure should be adaptive, it is imperative to have a foundational core. Feller urges parents and children to work together to define core values and develop a family “mission statement.” Additionally, studies show the importance of telling your children where they came from – about their grandparents, your childhood, or struggles their family members have overcome. Children with a sense of how they fit in a larger narrative have greater self-confidence. Research has indicated that knowing where you are from predicts emotional health and happiness.

Feller speaks more about these tenets, and other tips for thriving families, in the talk below. Overall, I think this talk is both a stellar example of using analogous situations. A great way to rethink is to apply methods traditionally used in one domain in another. And – empowering children to take a role in their own upbringing sounds like a great way to improve education to me.

 

 

 

The Grand Canyon Trail of Time: Interactive Museum Exhibits and Embodied Cognition

Two weeks ago I went on a family vacation to the Grand Canyon. In addition to hiking and exploring one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, I loved learning about the geology of the area and the earth science involved in the creation and continued evolution of the Canyon.

One of the coolest educational bits of my trip was a walk along the Trail of Time. This 2.8 miles interpretive walking timeline trail winds along the Southern Rim and every handful of steps there were pieces of rock layer or vistas with stories to explain their place in the timeline and how the Grand Canyon formed. Every meter of the walk signifies one million years, and my journey through the trail helped me to understand the magnitude of geologic time.

These sorts of exhibits are powerful educational tools to teach scalable large or small concepts. The American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium has a similar walk – Scales of the Universe – where the SIZES of very very big very very small objects are put into perspective through comparisons along a 400 long walkway. In my college Astronomy class, my professor used objects like tennis balls and the length of our lecture hall to give us a combined idea of the vast sizes and spaces between planets and solar systems in our universe.

One mechanism behind the effectiveness of these tools is embodied cognition (an idea that Karin expands upon in this post). While many models of human thinking over the past half century have focused on a model of abstract thought, recent cognitive learning science and neuroscience research has shown overwhelming evidence that cognition is inextricably tied to perception. Therefore, grounding learning in perceptual experiences, thought modal simulations, bodily states, and situated action can increase students’ deep understanding of concepts. Perceptually-grounded cognition research has indicated numerous ways to make learning more meaningful by embedding it within the ways a learner interacts with her world, integrating learning with experiences (Black, Segel, Vitale, & Fadjo, 2012). Embodied cognition models prescribe learning environments where motions and actions are congruous with mental processes. The trail of time uses human motion to drive in the concept of vast periods of time and sensory tactile and visual experiences to help learners better understand the look and shape of the geologic formations.  After sweating through a long walk across the millions of years of geologic formation, one can begin to truly understand how long it took for the earth to form the beautiful canyon below.

 

 

Can students learn something about failure from the design world?

Can students learn something about failure from the design world? This is not a novel idea for this blog, but it is something that I am going to begin to explore empirically (with research studies) over the next year.

failure-and-success

 

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the design world’s mantra of “fail early, fail often,” or the more recent idea of “fail forward.” In the tech industry, there’s talk of a “failure fetish.” As outlined in their book Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win, Babineaux and Krumboltz explain that the idea behind the mantra is that successes arise out of hundreds of mistakes and failures. The earlier you fail, the earlier you begin to learn.  Therefore, you should push ahead with an idea early, knowing full well that you won’t get it right on the first try, in order to gather feedback. The President of Pixar calls it a process of going from “suck to non-suck,” and the director of Finding Nemo stated that “I won’t get it right the first time, but I will get it wrong really soon, really quickly.”

The benefits of this iteration process are often told through case studies in the design world. For example, in the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards) of Art Makingthere is a story about a ceramics class.  In this class, one group of students was graded solely on the quantity of their work (e.g., 50 pounds of pots is an A, 40 pounds is a B), while another solely on the quality of their work (the single best piece will be graded). At the end of the term, the students who made the most technically and artistically sophisticated work all came from the quantity condition. These students experimented and learned from mistakes as they created piece after piece. In contrast, students in the quality condition carefully planned a handful of  “flawless” pots across the course and with limited practice, showed limited improvement.

Photo from theycallmebc.com

 

I’ve blogged about the Marshmallow Challenge before, but in case you missed it – in a 2010 TED Talk, Tom Wujec discusses the same principle in terms of his design exercise, the Marshmallow Challenge. In this task, groups of four are given 18 minutes to produce the tallest freestanding tower using pasta, tape, string, and one marshmallow that must be placed at the top. Wujec has facilitated over 70 marshmallow challenges and one of his biggest findings is that teams that prototype iteratively over the 18 minutes have time to learn and adapt their towers and therefore perform better on the task. Teams that carefully build out one idea for 17:50 and then try to place the marshmallow at the top during the last 10 seconds almost always see their towers collapse.

 

Photo from my most recent Marshmallow Challenge with 7th and 8th grade students at Grand Street Settlement

Photo from my most recent Marshmallow Challenge with 7th and 8th grade students at Grand Street Settlement

 

In the design world culture, failure is simply a part of the journey towards innovation and is part of every day practice. While this “permission to fail” culture is often view negatively in education (the phrase is used to mean giving certain -often minority- students permission to do poorly), it is something that highly successful design firms such as IDEO pride themselves on and feel directly contributes to their successes.  Why is failure celebrated in these spheres, rather than taking on the same motivation-killing, gut-wrenching connotations that it does in academics?

I’m currently conducting research on a pedagogy known as “Invention with Contrasting Cases,”  (Invention for short) for middle school science learning. Invention is guided exploration where students analyze a set of data and are asked to “invent” an external representation or “index” of an underlying principle that runs through the data. This data takes the form of contrasting cases: examples of scientific concepts or phenomena with predesigned contrasts to highlight key features that will clue young inventors into the abstract ideas. Students are given some time (in our current study we give 15 minutes for each set of cases) to explore the meaning of these cases and invent their own principles, often with scaffolding from teachers or in small groups. Then, students are given a traditional lecture to explain the principles. Multiple studies of this pedagogy have demonstrated that it is an effective form of instruction, compared to traditional tell-and-practice methods, inquiry learning, or reading and summarizing text.

Invention involves what are called “productive failure” tasks, which are characterized by giving students novel problems to solve before giving them direct instruction (as opposed to traditional tell-and-practice pedagogy). Studies have shown that exploring and generating multiple solutions and grappling with the relevant concepts can be productive for learning when direct instruction is subsequently given, and learning gains are found even when problem solving leads to initial failure. In particular, Invention has been shown to foster deep understanding of science concepts and transfer to novel contexts.

However, anecdotally we have noticed that students often have difficulty generating ideas for new inventions after an initial invention fails, requiring high levels of teacher guidance. We have also noticed that sometimes students hit a wall motivationally when they first come across an invention task. I don’t blame them – asking a 13 year old to “invent an index using math” is asking a lot, and it is very different than what they are usually asked to do in a science or a math class.

Photo from learningfirsttutoring.com

 

But what if these students could think like designers? or like the start-ups in Silicon valley? If we can get students to dive right into the challenge, expecting and aiming to fail early, learn from that failure, and continue on, I’d expect to see less hesitation and far more progress as they move through these invention tasks.

SO – I am currently developing an intervention where students can learn about design thinking, internalize its failure philosophy, and go through a short design task to experience the utility of failing forward. I’m interested in seeing how it affects their persistence and success on the invention tasks, but I also think this sort of thing could be generally useful for teaching and learning. For example, how would computer programmers benefit from the mantra? Or students writing essays that need multiple revisions? What other academic tasks require this willingness to fail at first and understanding that with iteration, you can improve and succeed?

I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

 

References:

Babineaux, R., & Krumboltz, J. (2013). Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win.  The Penguin Group, New York, NY.

Bayles, D., & Orland, T. (2001). Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. The Image Continuum, Santa Cruz, CA.

Wujec, T. Build a tower, build a team: Tom Wujec on TED.com | TED Blog. (2010). Retrieved from http://blog.ted.com/2010/04/22/build_a_tower_b/

 

 

Shalom [Hello!] from Israel: Reflections from my Spring Break – Part IV

This is the final entry in my series of Israeli traditions and cultural aspects that I hope to integrate into my own life in New York. Click here for Part IClick here for Part II. Click here for Part III. Thanks for reading along!

#4 The Shuk… a community-based market with healthy food

The Shuk is an open-air food market and where Israelis buy their weekly groceries. It’s lively, colorful, and a lot less expensive than the supermarket. It’s also an important space for community, where you have “your butcher”, “your cheese man”, and develop relationships with vendors and stands. I love the open air, hustle-and-bustle feeling of this market, and I don’t quite get the same feeling standing in the 30 minute checkout line at my local Trader Joes. The standard Israeli grocery purchases are also a lot less processed- lots of vegetables, fruits, pita, chicken, eggs- basics that lead to a more healthy lifestyle.

I’d love to find a local farmer’s market to buy my produce from more regularly and also make an attempt to eat more “real” foods, something I’ve already been slowly transitioning towards. As a native New-Yorker I’ve always been sort of entranced and jealous of the relationships I’ve seen people have with their local butcher or bakery (mostly on TV or in my small college town) because I feel like that rarely happens here, but who knows- maybe I can find that with somebody too.

I invite you to incorporate any of these sorts of experiences into your own daily lives as well. Travel is a great way to get inspiration on how to do your own life a little bit better.

Shalom [Hello!] from Israel: Reflections from my Spring Break – Part III

This is the second in my series of Israeli traditions and cultural aspects that I hope to integrate into my own life in New York. Click here for Part I. Click here for Part II. Stay tuned for Part IV!

#3 Hiking!

While Israel may be a small country, it is not densely populated and contains immeasurable natural beauty in the Negev desert, blue seas, and ancient mystical towns and cities. Due to the mostly warm weather and ample open space, Israelis are outdoors a lot, and hiking is a pretty common pastime, with families taking kids of all ages on desert hikes, scaling mountains, swimming in springs, and enjoying nature. We literally saw parents with toddlers on their backs and 6-year-olds dutifully climbing alongside on some of our hikes.

In my week here, Laura and I hiked a trail up to Haifa, which is a city located both on a big hill and in a harbor, and we hiked Ein Gedi, a national park near the Dead Sea. Both hikes were exhilarating, beautiful, and a great way to feel more in tune with nature.

Living in a the concrete jungle, I walk a lot but I rarely experience vast open spaces and nature in this way. To take this tradition back to the states, I’d like to go on more nature-y adventures in and around NYC (e.g., North Fork of Long Island, upstate). I’d also like to make a great effort to walk to places rather than take the subway, especially as the weather gets nicer. The upper west side has Riverside Park, Morningside Park, and Central Park and I haven’t thoroughly explored any of these yet.

[Top and bottom right: Hiking in Ein Gedi. Bottom Left: The view of Haifa from the top]

[Left: Hiking in Ein Gedi. Right: Hiking in Haifa]

[Top: A small oasis in Ein Gedi. Bottom: a view of Jordan across the Dead Sea.]

 

 

Shalom [Hello!] from Israel: Reflections from my Spring Break – Part II

This is the second in my series of Israeli traditions and cultural aspects that I hope to integrate into my own life in New York. Click here for Part I. Stay tuned for Part III.

#2 A day of rest

Shabbat is the weekly day of rest in the Jewish religion, lasting from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. Shabbat Shalom is the greeting you’ll hear between friends and family during this time, and my favorite translation of this is “May your wholeness be restored as you cease work on the seventh day.”  In Israel, Friday and Saturday comprise the weekend, and students are let out of school early on Fridays (they go to school six days a week, with only Saturday off).  While Tel Aviv is fairly secular, Shabbat is sort of an enforced break from the craziness of life because many stores are closed and there is no public transportation. Traditionally, Jews will have a big Shabbat dinner Friday night and spend Saturday in religious services, walking around their communities, playing games, or enjoying time with friends and family.

Friday night, Laura and I cooked ourselves dinner and had friends over for wine and a movie. Saturday, we walked down to the beach and people-watched for a few hours. We saw a giant group of Israelis doing traditional dances in a big city square (think a line dance, but Jewish dances usually go in a circle), people playing Matkot (a mix of ping pong and squash), and lots of kids out on their bikes and scooters with parents chatting nearby. We grabbed lunch (I had shakshouka which is an amazing egg, tomato, onion, cheese concoction served with bread), and we sat outside, enjoying the breeze and the peacefulness of a beautiful, relaxing day.

As the type of person who never stops moving (and a full-time doctoral student with two part-time jobs), I love the idea of incorporating a 24-hour mandatory relaxation into my schedule… or maybe a 12-hour mandatory relaxation period? Providing myself with a guilt-free respite from work could definitely contribute to my overall wellbeing.

[Clockwise from upper-left: Tel Aviv Beach, Shakshouka- a traditional Israeli breakfast, women dancing on the boardwalk, men playing Matkot]

 

Shalom [Hello!] from Israel: Reflections from my Spring Break – Part I

I spent my spring break visiting my friend Laura in Tel Aviv, Israel, and the week was a whirlwind of excitement, cultural immersion, and hummus. This was actually my second time in Israel- I went on Taglit-Birthright (a 10-day free educational trip to israel) six years ago and did the more typical tourist trip.

This time around, I enjoyed more of an authentic experience in Israel, specifically the more liberal, secular experience of twenty-something native Israelis and American ex-pats. Tel Aviv is on the Mediterranean coast,  small (population 410,000), and known for its party scene, youth culture, and importance as the business hub of Israel. Laura is actually making aliyah – immigrating to Israel- because she loves it here so much. It is easy to fall in love with the culture and natural beauty of this place, and many Jewish Americans make aliyah each year.

One of the principles of design thinking is seeking analogous situations and looking outside the box for inspiration when rethinking a how might we situation, and I feel as though I walk through life with the constant goal of how might I make my life more enjoyable/efficient/fulfilling. As I explored Israel and this amazing city, I was struck by many traditions and cultural norms that I wish we had in the states, or that I wish I had in my own everyday life. So, as my reflection on this trip, I would like to describe a few Israeli traditions and cultural aspects that I hope to integrate into my own life in New York. I’ll also include some of the photographs that I took during my trip. I’ll be blogging this in four sections, so stay tuned for more over the next two weeks!

#1 Standing weekly hangouts with friends

Israeli groups of friends develop standing weekly hangouts that they prioritize. For example, a group of men that Laura knows have a weekly brunch at this incredible hummus place at the same time, same place, every single week. Getting together with multiple friends at one time in NYC can sometimes feel like a crazy jigsaw puzzle, between hectic schedules and last-minute cancellations, and I really really love the idea of a pre-established weekly hangout time where I can catch up with friends.

[A variety of customers enjoying hummus at the amazing hummus place]

I’ve already put this one into action, establishing a regular Tuesday half-off sushi night with two of my friends and we plan to invite more people into our little group after we see how it goes. However, I’m away at a conference next Tuesday so I’m already missing our 2nd session, and I hope this isn’t indicative of how hard it will be to schedule a standing date with my sort of schedule.

 

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