Monthly Archives: October 2014

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

Spending the night at a bookstore or a museum

It only took one tweet – and thousands of responses. A Texan tourist found himself accidentally locked inside a Waterstones bookshop at Trafalgar Square in October. After trying to find a solution with the security company for two hours, he tweeted about it to Waterstones. He got out in no time after this, but the number of retweets and responses adoring the idea of a lock-in at a bookstore perhaps startled the bookstore even more.


Last Friday, Waterstones and Airbnb answered to these requests and organized a nocturnal sleepover in Europe’s biggest bookshop, the Waterstones store at Piccadilly. 19 lucky competition winners got to spend the night in a bookstore, wearing pyjamas while browsing books and having discussions with other literature afficiados. It had a lot to do with PR of course, but the event turned out to be an excellent marketing gimmick on its own.  It answered directly to the public’s needs and wishes of experiencing something very unusual in a public, ordinary space.

Sleepovers are not a strange phenomenon to London’s nightlife with many of the top museums – such as British Museum, Science Museum and National History Museum – all organizing them. However, these are mainly aimed towards children and schools. Organizing late night or nocturnal events for adult visitors as well is clearly something that the public wishes for.

A legendary institution already familiar with popular late night events is The British Library, located just around the corner from the Finnish Institute at King’s Cross. For example this Halloween, The British Library organizes a late night event at their premises called The Sorting. How would you feel about celebrating Halloween with DJs, live music, installations, bar and food in a library? The event walks hand in hand with the library’s current exhibition Wonder and Terror on Gothic imagination, which is also included in the ticket price.

Late night events for adults are also a part of the programme at Dublin Science Gallery, where Tuomas Olkku from Heureka in Finland has been working as part of his M0bius Fellowship during the autumn of 2014.  More from one of these events, the Dark and Stormy party in August 2014, can be read in Finnish from Olkku’s blog.

These are just a few examples of how the options for using public spaces are endless and can in the best case profit both the organizing parties as well as the crowds wanting to experience something new. And in a city as big as London where the work days and commutes are long, getting a few extra hours each day is an idea certainly worth experimenting with.

Well played for a historical skatepark

Dating back to 1978, the Rom skatepark in east London’s Hornchurch is still said to be as popular amongst skateboarders as it was back in its early days. This time the site also has an even bigger reason to be proud of: it was just granted Grade II status by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, meaning that it is now a protected heritage site in the UK.

But what makes this decision so important? An article in The Telegraph describes how Rom skatepark is of course the first skatepark to become a listed site in the UK, but also the first of its kind in Europe. All in all, there are currently only two skateparks in the world that have achieved listed status, with the other one being the Bro Bowl in Tampa, Florida.

Rom was one of the skateparks that were built in the 70s, when skateboarding surprised the Brits with its popularity. But due to the sport losing its momentum within the following years, many of the original concrete skateparks were demolished. Nowadays only around 6 or 7 original 70s skateparks are left, with Rom being the oldest and most important one.

The designation director at English Heritage, Mr. Roger Bowdler states in the article how the listing will give the whole meaning of heritage an extra twist. Skateboarding is surely something that is nowadays extremely popular, but it is still in many ways a youth subculture. Protecting a skate site in the UK is hopefully something that can help other countries knowledge the value of even the most common sites, such as historical skateparks.

An interesting read close on the subject is also English Heritage’s Played in London book by Simon Inglis. The book describes London sites that are important to the heritage of sports culture, with Rom being one of them.

Designed in the 70s by two of the leading skatepark designers of their time, Adrian Rolt and G-Force, Rom skatepark also brings out what has truly mattered over time. Its design, modeled after the Californian skate bowls, is ageless and still attracts skateboarders – and nowadays also for example BMX drivers – every day after almost 40 years.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.
‘Mowing the lawn’ – What it means to you and what it means to a politician
Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about serious things. For politicians, it seems, talking about anything is often seriously difficult. In this week’s Guardian George Monbiot writes about the peculiarity of political rhetoric and how governments talk about human beings. According to Monbiot politicians don’t, for example, speak about ‘people’ or ‘killing’ because it would make it too difficult to do their job. Monbiot has made interesting observations about how the people in power use dehumanising language in order to detach themselves from the issues they are dealing with.
A recent example of a dehumanising euphemism was offered by Lord Freud, a minister in the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions. He was in the headlines for saying that disabled people are “not worth the full wage” and to make things even worse, according to the official parliamentary record he spoke of them as a “bulge of, effectively, stock”. Also, according to the British government, people who claim benefits live in ‘benefit units’ rather than ordinary families.
Another graphic example comes from the States where Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser Bruce Riedel used somewhat cryptic language when justifying the drone war in Pakistan. Riedel voiced: “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.” The director of the CIA, on the other hand, chose a different approach and instead of gardening went with medical terms when claiming that with “surgical precision” his drones “eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al-Qaida terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it”. Those operating the drones considered their victims, in turn, as ‘bug splats’.
In addition to human beings, the surrounding living world is discussed in similar terms. Nature is ‘natural capital’ or ‘green infrastructure’ whereas wildlife and habitats are ‘asset classes’ in an ‘ecosystems market’. A Norwegian health trust combined the two, people and nature, in a delightful manner when it described the patients on its waiting list as ‘biomass’. Yes, biomass, which is more commonly known as “biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms, most often referring to plants or plant-based materials”.
In Finland the language used by politicians is unfortunately not that different. Earlier this month Merja Niilola wrote an article in Yle Uutiset about the complexity of political rhetoric. She interviewed a language expert Vesa Heikkinen, who raised concerns about jargon’s effect on democracy. Heikkinen was worried about the possibility that a vague and unclear language might result in overall confusion about what is actually going on in society.On the other hand, Heikkinen warns about the risk of taking rhetorics too far in the opposite direction. The rising populist movement has introduced us to a new kind of political language, that of pseudo frankness and honesty. As intriguing and fresh as this type of expression might at first seem, in reality it often oversimplifies complex issues.

Yet again, the key seems to be finding the famous middle ground. Using the correct terms when talking about human beings, nature, warfare and killing is crucial not only in order for the public to know what is going on but also for the politicians’ themselves. No citizen wants to be represented by an MP who escapes moral responsibility by denying the existence of living things. Also, oversimplifying is effectively undervaluing the public’s own intellectual capability and hence, shouldn’t be favoured. Let’s not talk about bad elite and good poor but please, please let’s not talk about biomass or mowing the lawn either.

The risky life of a two-wheeler

Bike thieves have it too easy. Hundreds and hundreds of unguarded bicycle racks offer an all-you-can-eat buffet for these nasty, bike-hungry criminals. Luckily, however, there is a new and simple way to track stolen bikes and control the skunks’ appetite.

On Check That Bike website you can in many cases make sure that a second-hand bike you’re planning to buy is not of stolen origin. The site has a vast database of stolen bicycle frame numbers which allows the victims and potential buyers to cross check their data. When more and more data on bicycle crimes is open the theft hopefully decreases as criminals will find it more difficult to sell on the stolen bikes. The site depends heavily on open data and freedom of information request.
Making it more difficult for bike thieves to steal our two-wheeled friends is very much necessary, especially if you happen to live in Oxford, Cambridge or South East London where the bike theft rates are the highest in the country. According to The Telegraph these somewhat surprising locations are the biggest black holes for our green means of transportation. Checking ‘your’ new bike’s origin might lead to a happy reunion of two old friends and an unhappy end for the thief. Well worth it, I’d say.
P.S. On a positive note, it seems that London’s famous Boris bikes do not attract criminals. Since the scheme launched about four years ago, just 27 bikes out of a total of 11,000 have been reported stolen. That is an extremely low number, especially if you compare it to the annual 1,200 thefts of public Vélib’ bikes in Paris.

How can Institutional Mechanisms Safeguard for Tomorrow, Today?

Head of Society Programme Antti Halonen blogs about a recent conference on long-term decision making.
 
University of Oxford’s Oxford Martin School Programme of Human Rights for Future Generations organised an afternoon seminar under the title of “How can institutional mechanisms safeguard for tomorrow, today? In particular, the seminar addressed how and what kind of long-term goals should be introduced in today’s policy making and what kind of theoretical and practical challenges should be tackled.
According to speakers, there is a plethora of drivers for short-term policy making, accountability for short-cycle time horizons being one of the most concrete. Governments and parliamentarians need to convince voters to re-install them every four or five years, leading to a setup which easily ignores the long-term perspectives. Professor Jörg Tremmel noted that a politician who wants to act beyond the scope of next election, is in fact in a disadvantaged position against her opponent who focuses on very tangible, albeit short-termist solutions. It is not only politicians who act in their short-term self-interests, but voters as well.
 
Given that some of the most crucial problems our generation should solve, such as climate change and growing inequalities, demand long-term solutions, we must ask what should be done in order to promote long-term policymaking and subsequently promote intergenerational justice.
 
Professor Simon Caney introduced three possible proposals. Firstly, a mandatory “state of the union” -styled speech with a specific focus on how the country will look like in 50 years time. Secondly, establishing parliamentary mechanisms working to develop tools for long-term decision making, after the inspiration given by Finland’s Committee for the Future, and thirdly, establishing an audit system and performance indicators, which would measure the long term impacts of government policies.
 
Dr Juliana Bidadanure experimented with an idea of introducing youth quotas in parliaments. Ideally, youth quotas would tackle both substantive and symbolic questions of representation and decision making. Younger people are more disillusioned with representative democracy and political parties than older generations, who are subsequently overrepresented in democratically elected institutions. This leads to a democratic deficit due to misrepresentation of youth at the decision making bodies. Yet, younger people have higher stakes in decision making, since all possible mistakes and their long-term consequences will affect the youngest hardest.
 
A whole new, and arguably much larger question is the representation of yet unborn generations and how can future generations be represented in today’s decision making, if at all. Decisions are being made by those who are eligible to vote, but not necessarily by those who are affected by the decisions. Devil’s advocate might, however, be tempted to ask whether, given the political reality and level of societal and scientific thinking in the 19th century, we’d like to have been represented by the 19th century parliamentarians ourselves.
 
What about tangible examples of institutional mechanisms? The Wales We Want is a Welsh national conversation project which will
 
hear directly from the people of Wales about the most important issues for them in improving their lives and those of their families, communities and businesses. It is an opportunity to look beyond the short term pressures of daily life and focus on our long term legacy.”
Similar calls  have been made in other parts of the UK in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum of independence. Clearly, citizens are interested in making an effort to influence the national conversation about the long-term development of their society. This kind of independent citizen-led initiatives would ideally be free of party-political pressure and can presumably look longer into future than the parliament can, whose work is bound within four- or five-year electoral cycles.
 
Finland is often used as an international benchmark when discussing institutional mechanisms for future. This is partly due to many organisations whose task is to analyse the potential long-term solutions for the Finnish society and fund potential ideas, but mostly it is thanks to Finland’s parliamentary committee for future, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Current vice-chair of the Committee, Oras Tynkkynen MP, gave a clear and well-structured account of Committee’s work and challenges. When addressing Committee’s impacts, one interesting fact that emerged was that recently Finland’s prime ministers and other leading cabinet ministers (including former PM Jyrki Katainen and former Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen) have often been longstanding members of the Committee. On a sidenote, Mr Tynkkynen said that even a future-oriented body such as the Committee lacks certain vision when determining what is considered properly long-term approach and what really are radical, emerging technologies. Too often, according to Mr Tynkkynen, the Committee focuses on topics that are admittedly emerging, but not radical enough. Consequently, the Committee should look into even further in future and take much bigger risks when addressing the potentially emerging issues.   
 
Another Finnish innovation that has gathered some international recognition is the citizen initiative. Citizen initiatives have been enshrined in the Finnish constitution since March 2012 – if an initiative receives more than 50.000 signatures, then the Parliament is obliged to discuss and vote on the initiative. However, so far every one of the six citizen initiatives that have gathered the necessary number of signatures has failed to make it past parliamentary procedure and emerged as a piece of legislation. Moreover, after the next Finnish general election (due to in spring 2015) those citizen initiatives that are still under discussion on this parliament, will be aborted. In terms of long-term decision making, surely it would be desirable to oblige the next parliament to take those citizen initiatives that have been made so far into consideration, too.
 
The Finnish Institute itself is one of the many future-oriented Finnish organisations, with our tagline, or mission, of identifying emerging issues in contemporary societies and promoting positive social change. To tackle these questions we have recently steered our thinking towards the concepts of fair knowledge society and future archives:
 
Our idea of future archives parallel some of the questions regarding participatory historical culture, which aims at both improving historical consciousness and offering citizens a possibility of tackling their own present concerns and thinking over how to make a better future for themselves. This is in parallel with the ever-increasing urge to further empower citizens to take part in public life and open up the public discourse for equal advancement of interests. One of the goals is indeed to provide ways for people to educate themselves in preserving historically and culturally valuable information, and to increase the historical knowledge.”
 

Consequently, one of the most important services we can make for future generations is to make sure that they have direct access to our thinking and reasoning behind the decisions we have made. What we see of the culture of 18th or 19th centuries is only tip of an iceberg, but the technology has developed so much that we should theoretically possess relevant knowledge and tools to preserve our current societal thinking for future historians significantly better than our ancestors in 18th or 19th centuries could do.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

For the literary unity of the Commonwealth

When the Trustees of the Booker Prize Foundation announced in September 2013 that they would open up the Man Booker Prize for the first time for all authors writing in English, and not just to the citizens of the British Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland, the rationale behind the decision was clear. Including all the literary works written in English for the first time could easily help the 46-year-old award to enhance its position as one of the most prestigious and admired literary fiction prizes in the world.


However the backlash and nuanced discussion that followed was perhaps something that the Trustees hadn’t seen coming or certainly hadn’t hoped for.  When the shortlist for the 2014 Prize was announced in September, two out of the six nominees, Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler, were American citizens. This was something that the British press – and the literary world – noticed quickly.

Australian author and two-time winner of the Booker prize Peter Carey was one of the most vocal opponents of the new rules. In an interview in the Guardian on October 13th, the established author criticized the change, because of the effect it could have on the real Commonwealth culture and Booker’s particular cultural flavour. Is globalization really the way to go for literary culture?

 
Another Australian writer had the honor of being awarded with the prize on Tuesday the 14th of October. The Man Booker Prize for 2014 was won by Richard Flanagan and his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North about an Australian prisoner-of-war working on the Burma death railway. The newly-appointed winner expressed his worries as well about the recent changes to the rules.

Image: fantasticfiction
The discussion behind Booker Prize’s globalization occurs at an interesting time. The Foundation had its ambitious reasons for changing the rules to include a broader set of contestants, but the arguments against the change are valid too. The unity of the commonwealth and the long history behind it have been brought to the table, but is there really such a thing as a unified culture of the commonwealth?

All in all, the annual Man Booker Prize of 50.000 British pounds, has been a great opportunity for writers from smaller, historically less acknowledged literary cultures. From this perspective, it’s easy to understand why some of the most vocal opponents have been Australian writers.

Peter Carey also noted that a change such as this to the Pulitzer prize, the most acclaimed literary prize for US writers, would be highly unlikely. In the end, does it all boil down to an issue of British people not thinking very highly of themselves? If this really is the case then that should be addressed in the future, just like the new Booker Prize winner Flanagan spelled it out in a recent interview.


The Tube of the Future

A morning tube ride in London would hardly be the same without the driver kindly announcing that the tube is being held at a red signal. Even when several announcements have been automatised, the presence of a driver on the London tube is definitely something that the commuters have been fond of in a public transportation system as hectic as this.

Last week the London design studio Priestman Goode announced the new design for the future London tubes. The news were featured in for example It’s Nice That and Dezeen. The new tubes will include Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and screens in the place of the traditional paper adverts. Even when the stylish, new design is receiving a lot of praise, one issue seems to have upset many Londoners. By the middle 2020s, these new tubes will be driverless and some trains will be automatized already before that.

Helsinki metro, the only metro in Finland,  is currently going through automatization as well. Though in a city a lot smaller than London – and with just one tube line -, the effects of getting rid of the drivers do not even start to compare to the consequences that could be faced in London. In London, the new driverless trains would transport passengers on four tube lines of the legendary underground system.

Another interesting part of the story is the designing process itself and the challenges it has faced. London underground is the oldest underground system in the world, which also means that the tunnels are small and this had to be taken into account with every step of the process. Also, with the amount of passengers commuting each day, the task of designing the new tube was neither quick nor easy.

The new tubes will be introduced in 2020 and at first with drivers. The designers noted that the new trains could be serving the London underground system for the next 40 years.

In the Media

 
The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.

London – the most expensive and most attractive city in the world
London is expensive, that’s hardly any news. It has been made official though that London is not only expensive, but now also the most expensive city in the world. Oh, how we are honoured. This dubious recognition was based on a new study, which showed that London has overtaken Hong Kong as the world’s most expensive city to work and live in. Cities falling a little behind London included New York and Paris. London is nearly twice as pricey as Sydney, and four times more expensive than Rio de Janeiro.
One major cause in pushing London up to first place in the rankings is its skyrocketing property prices. Property values have risen by 18.4% in the past year only and office rents too have jumped significantly. Also, the pound’s strength against the dollar has had an effect for the worse, whereas a weakening currency contributed to Hong Kong’s ranking. Calculations in the ranking were made, however, from a business point of view and hence indicate the annual cost of an employee based in London for the employing company. This means that, for example, property expenses are still a lot higher for private people looking to buy in Hong Kong compared to the UK.
Despite the price tag that comes with settling down in London, UK’s capital appeals to many. Based on a recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group and totaljobs.com, London is where most people in the world want to work. Of the more than 200,000 people questioned, nearly one in six (16%) said they wanted to work specifically in London. Other popular places to work in included Sydney, Berlin, Toronto, Madrid, Barcelona, Singapore and Rome. Big drawcards of London are thought to be high salary prospects, cultural attractions, public health care and the multicultural atmosphere.
There truly must be something magical in London. Rated both as the most expensive and most attractive at the same time seems somewhat bizarre. Only in London can you see people paying 1,200 pounds a month for one-bedroom apartment, travel to work extremely slowly but yet expensively and still be having the time of their lives.  
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – a restaurant utilizing food waste
Most of us don’t like wasting food. We see a food product that has gone past its use-by-date in our fridge, turn up our noses and throw it in the bin.  We feel pretty bad for a moment, but get over it extremely fast. Luckily, though, not everyone does.
A not-for-profit restaurant called Skipchen has opened its doors in Bristol. This small restaurant is quite different from traditional restaurants with its daily changing menus. Skipchen’s staff, you see, don’t order in their supplies but instead go and find them. Teams of volunteers either dive dumpsters or look for donations and then prepare eclectic dishes for customers. A lucky customer might get to choose from options such as: crab and prawn salad, kiln-roasted salmon, baked beans on toast and even lobster.
Even though it’s not legal to scavenge from supermarket skips in the UK, the team justifies it by arguing that it would be even a bigger crime to let it all go to waste. Nothing in Skipchen is discarded: customers are invited to pay what they want and if there’s any food left by the closing time, it’s all given away to passersby. People are delighted both with the food and the concept and there’s no shortage of customers.
What a success story! Hopefully the concept will spread wider and by the looks of things, the chances are it will. Last month in Finland an event called ‘Saa Syödä!’ was organized as a part of the food consciousness week ‘Hävikkiviikko’. 5000 portions of soup made of discarded vegetables were given to people and speeches fitting the theme were held. Taking into consideration the vast amount of food that is being thrown away annually, this is all very welcome and necessary. Maybe next time we think twice before opening that waste bin lid.

In the Media

 
The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the  worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

Where does analogue art stand in a digital world?

The distinction between digital and analogue technologies as well as the effects of the rise of Digital Data has had in both contemporary art and our society are topical and dividing subjects in the art world. This was, for example, seen at two events held in London just a few days apart this September.

The first one, a panel discussion organized by the British Library’s Digital Research team, went by the name Digital Data and Artistic Expression. The discussion focused on how Digital Data is defining the new aesthetic expression of our age and how artists and audiences could benefit from this. The latter one was London Analogue Festival, held at the Bargehouse of OXO Tower Wharf from the 12th of September to the 14th. The event was described to celebrate the beauty and aesthetics of analogue technologies in an era when digital technologies are ubiquitous.

The panel discussion held at the British Library on Wednesday the 10th of September was chaired by Professor Anthony Lilley and amongst the excellent panelists were both artists and researchers within the field: visual artist and researcher Michael Takeo Magruder, Professor Ernest Edmonds, artist Julie Freeman and Dr. Kevin Walker. One of the topics discussed was how science uses digital data, but what about contemporary artistic expression? And how could using Digital Data affect the art?
The discussion pointed out how artists integrating Digital Data into their work help translate large amounts of information into meaningful content to their audiences. An excellent example of this was Michael Takeo Magruder’s digital installation PRISM on Edward Snowden, in which he had utilised real data related to the case. The artist highlighted how, in general, the information is all there, but the context is not usually clear to the audience. The artists can help with this, and digitality can help people to see their surrounding society in a different way.
Another fitting example was artist Julie Freeman’s digital work The Lake , where the artist had tracked natural biological motion – in this case, of fish –  via electronic tagging systems and transformed the data collected into a musical composition and animation. In the end the artwork became a part of the local fishermen’s community and it was used to help their daily lives of finding out where the fish were. Freeman also pointed out how Digital Data offers us new ways to make us think how society is changing.
London Analogue Festival took a different stance toward the subject. Conceived as an event to showcase analogue aesthetics and to promote analogue technology and its use in art, this multidisciplinary festival took over the Bargehouse at OXO Tower Wharf for a weekend in September, exhibiting art works and holding discussions.
 
The event was an interesting experience with many floors of artworks, including in its artists for example the Helsinki-based sound artist James Andean. Sponsored by the likes of Fujifilm, the festival aimed to bring out the idea of how important it is to support alternative ways of creating art. This is the case especially in a digital world, where it is necessary to hold events such as this to introduce new generations to various analogue technologies.
Although the comparison between digital and analogue technologies is evident, both of these approaches still feel necessary in today’s world. At the end of the day one question arises, however, which analogue technologies might find it more difficult to answer: is datavisualisation a new method for contemporary art aiming to bring art closer to the public? Art made with Digital Data usually demands interaction which, in a way, brings it closer to the public than the more traditional analogue technology does. But like the panel discussion at the British library pointed out, in the end, the most important thing is still creating art.
The power of photographs in constructing our society
Although we are living in a world more visual than ever before, the importance of photographs in constructing our societies already began many decades ago. The new exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, Constructing Worlds, explores architecture and its relationship with the world as well as the power of photographers through more than 250 images from 18 artists. The buildings featured in the photographs are from architects such as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright and the photographs themselves span 80 decades from the 1930s to today. (http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=16264)
Also featured in an article on It’s Nice That, the works in the exhibition are displayed in a gallery space constructed by the Belgian architects OFFICE KGDV. The exhibition is not only impressive from its architectural point of view, but the actual gallery space has been constructed to imitate the atmosphere of the buildings photographed.
On top of this, the exhibition brings out two important questions: first of all it discusses how our cities and societies have grown and what kinds of changes have taken place in them throughout the years. And above all,  the second question highlights the importance of photography in collecting evidence of our own history and how our societies have changed.  Good art lasts a lifetime, and sometimes it doesn’t matter whether its in analogue or digital form.
Constructing Worlds exhibition is open at Barbican Art Gallery until the 11th of January 2015.
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