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Get Back to Your Happy Place

Step one to a good weekend is dealing with the essentials. Do these things on Thursday night or Friday morning or first thing when you get home Friday after work.

1) Water: Go get a big glass of water right now. Now. Do it. Water is the means for your body to do a little Discardia of its own. Purge out the bad stuff; set yourself up for the good stuff. Drink that glass of water all up while you put in this little chunk of progress and then refill it when you're done and have another.

2) Food: Nothing fancy, just eat a small meal with something good for you and something yummy. And while you're preparing it, if you come across anything spoiled in the fridge don't you dare set it back in there. Throw it in the trash and carry that nasty baggage out of your house.

3) Sleep: Are your sheets dirty? Change 'em now. (Always have a clean change of sheets; it radically improves your quality of life.)  Now lie down on the bed for a moment and see what the first thing you're going to see when you wake up is. If you don't like it and it isn't nailed to the wall, get it out of your sight. Maybe it’s just clothes strewn around. Maybe it’s something that doesn’t even belong in the bedroom.

4) Motivation: One more step. We took care of the last thing we see before sleeping and first after waking. Now make sure that walking in the front door doesn't drag down your mood. Straighten that doormat, tidy that shoerack, put away (or at least move) that clutter in the front hall. Let the first sight of home remind you of what you like about this place, not of your to-do list.

Ahhhh. Nice.

Posted on March 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

#agileselfdev: Notes from Austin

[This post originally appeared on its own blog, prior to my merging all Agile Self Development posts into Discardia's archives.]

 

Thanks again to everyone who attended our core conversation session this morning at SXSW Interactive! We had a great group to explore these concepts, particularly as they relate to getting the most out of intense experiences like conferences.

While it's still fresh in my mind, I want to share some of what we brought to the session and heard from folks there.

One of my key beliefs, which led to the creation of agile self development, is that personal growth happens most effectively as a series of small, incremental changes. When there is a huge, daunting goal often our little monkey brains freak out and nothing gets done. The mountain just seems too high to climb. When Marcy and I instead think about effectively helping people make small incremental changes, we're finding that we can use some of the techniques for agile software development that help teams build a little bit of software at a time and continue building it into something more full-featured, making adjustments and changes along the way. It's a natural set of tools to adapt to personal growth, especially for engineers. What we've written about so far here on this site is a beginning of a practice we hope will grow; none of it is set in stone and we're looking forward to iterative improvement in the approach itself.

 

So what is "agile software development"? Agile is a lightweight methodology used for writing software. It is a reaction against document-heavy, waterfall-style development. The Agile Manifesto was published in 2001 and the practice community has grown continuously from there.

What does Agile do?

  • Creates early and continuous delivery of valuable results.
  • Adapts readily to changing information and requirements.
  • Measures progress against estimates regularly.
  • Reflects on effectiveness, tunes and adjusts accordingly.

What are some tools Agile uses?

  • 3x5 cards or Post-Its to make a list of possible choices.
  • Stack-ranking them to decide between options.
  • Estimation poker to see how long things will take.
  • Iteration plans at the beginning of a cycle.
  • Team standup and acceptance daily.
  • Retrospective or end of iteration meetings at the end of a cycle.

 

So what's agile self development? Agile self development is a lightweight methodology used for personal development. It is a reaction against all-or-nothing goals, resolutions, and productivity systems. It enables geeks to re-purpose tools they already know and we hope the practice community will evolve from here.

What does agile self development do? Same as Agile! Creates early and continuous delivery of valuable results. Adapts readily to changing information and requirements. Measures progress against estimates regularly. Reflects on effectiveness, tunes and adjusts accordingly.

 

We see Agile Self-Development as a series of sprints, correcting and adjusting as new information is learned. Here (as Marcy described in our last post) is the way we envision it working:

  1. What is your big, exciting vision?
  2. What are all the ways you could start?
  3. Which item is do-able now, and yields immediate results?
  4. What can you measure?
  5. Now, start the sprint!
  6. At the end of the sprint, host your retrospective...
  • How did it go?
  • How accurate was your estimate?
  • What did you learn about the world/yourself?
  • What will you change for the next sprint?

 

Here's an example: Imagine someone whose vision is of a light-filled, uncluttered top floor apartment instead of her current dark and dreary basement one. She knows she doesn't currently have the savings to move, so how can she use agile self development to make progress toward that goal over the next month?

She gets out a blank piece of paper and brainstorms lots of ways –practical and silly – she could get closer to that dream. Then she circles the ones she could start doing right now. From those she picks a couple to focus on for this sprint and she makes an appointment with herself in her calendar for one month in the future to hold a retrospective and review her progress.

She's going to work on her debt by reducing her spending and not using her credit card. That's easily measurable – and she can note in that calendar appointment the current numbers to save herself time when comparing later. Whenever possible be nice to your future self!

One of her uncircled ideas was 'get a raise' which isn't fully under her control, but she can influence it. She decides she is going to check when her next review is, look at what her boss wanted to see in the way of improvement at the last one, and then find ways to demonstrate her progress in those areas. On her work calendar she books half an hour in each of the next four weeks to focus on that. She can measure herself against those review goals.

Her last focus area is to start eliminating junk that doesn't need to move to the new apartment. She sets up a charity box and empties the trash and recycling so that every time she notices something that isn't in her vision of the new place, she can immediately move it into one of those outbound bins. Measurement here is simply how much she gets rid of and how her mood improves as the current place becomes less cluttered.

 

Good so far? Now how can we apply agile self development to get getting more out of SXSW? How can each of us pay attention to this experience and make it a valuable sprint?

Let's start with imagining an awesome next Wednesday (or whenever the end of the conference will be for you). That's another way of saying 'I'm defining a sprint of now until I come back from SXSW and I'm brainstorming the touchstone for a successful, valuable sprint’. What's my state of mind on my way home? Envision a valuable outcome, then examine possible choices – with that touchstone in mind allowing you to eliminate things that won't provide the outcome you're seeking. After that, if necessary, do some rough ranking to reduce down to a non-overwhelming number of options.

Why keep a lot of options? Agility! Our rebellious monkey brains don't like to be told what to do all the time – monkeys don't like leashes – so support your ability to shift into your current most effective gear. 'What is best for me to do now with my available resources, context, and energy?' (Hello, Getting Things Done, eh? Remember what we said about using the tools and tricks from anywhere that work best for you.)

One very small action you can take many times a day which impacts your overall sprint and your bigger goals is to take quick measurements of your current state. Am I a sponge or a faucet or pan full of baked-on gunk? Is it time to collect or share or step back to rest and evaluate? At SXSW, it's good to ask yourself 'Am I ready to absorb more?' Make room for both session/networking time and processing/napping time.

Another tip: Cutting Losses and Splitting Differences. Be where you are, getting something out of being there. When you find you're not making progress toward your goals for this sprint, cut your losses and shift to a more rewarding option. Splitting differences is a conference hack. If there are two sessions you want to attend at the same time which aren't too far apart, relocate between them at the halfway point. Bet on good panelists to select your first-half choice and sessions on stimulating topics for the Q&A to select the second-half choice. You will gain some knowledge from both which will make it easier later to absorb more from further research on the topics; you may also discover that one of them isn't useful to you and save yourself the time of listening to the recording of that session or tracking down the slides later.

[Bonus didn't-get-to-give-in-session tip!] Another great thing to pay attention to is how you're managing hunger. There are so many fun things to do here that you can forget to eat (or forget to eat something healthy). So if your goal was to be alert and happy for SXSW, you could choose to do a sprint where you pay attention to when you eat, and what the results are in terms of alertness and mood. Then the next day, you could choose to eat more or less often, depending on what you learned. A big deal for us is to try to avoid the low-blood-sugar crash state. A friend just told Marcy that last year she was waiting in line for a party, all the restaurants were fully booked, so they ordered take-out, and ate it outside in line. Not the most elegant dining, but it kept her going through a busy night.

 

We had a great group of folks in the session who jumped right in and had a great conversation – hooray! – but, just in case, we had this additional example prepared to kickstart the discussion. It turned out to be eerily like some things that actually came up. (Well, eerie without the context that I specifically looked at popular session topics this year and picked my example details based on that).

Say I decide the valuable results I want are to come back to the healthcare company I work at with new information I can present on the mobile technology landscape (to justify to them the cost of having sent me here) and having met five new people who experienced a move from marketing to product management who might be able to mentor me making a similar move. Next I would brainstorm a lot of ways to do that and let's say from those I choose to [1] hit the all the sessions I can on the state of mobile technology in broad terms or as it relates to healthcare or similar industries specifically and [2] to go to some sessions on product management and [3] to try to find and chat with some product management folks at booths the trade show. I've got a plan of action, with some session alternative lined up and productive things to do during the day when I'm not in sessions. And I've got measurable ways to check my progress: my confidence about writing the presentation and how many potential mentors I've met. If on day three I have a bunch of good mobile tech data for my presentation, maybe instead of another session on that topic I can instead go attend the meetup one of my new product management contacts told me about that's at at the same time and find even more potential mentors.

 

Here are some key points in our initial remarks and the discussion which especially resonated with people:

  • Measurement leads to mindfulness. As @Toshiba_Bill commented in the Twitter hashtag discussion, this is reminescent of the Six Sigma idea that you don't value what you don't measure.

  • Be nice to your future self. Both in the sense of taking information you have at hand now and putting it where you'll need it later and of setting measurable, achievable points of progress in the direction you want to move. Compassion, kindness, self awareness, and reflection are blessings you can give yourself with this approach.

  • A daily standup is an opportunity to ask the same questions asked in an Agile programming context: "What did I do yesterday? What will I do today? Am I blocked?" This can happen with other people or through a brief time spent writing (This is related to the "daily pages" concept frequently mentioned in books on becoming a writer and is thus another example of grabbing tools and patterns which work for you from anywhere and blending them into your own useful combination). @mrsungo and @piercingwit are planning a standup here at SXSW tomorrow morning (Sunday) at 9am at the Starbucks at the Marriott.

  • We quickly went over our principles in the Agile Self Development Manifesto and people seemed to resonate especially strongly with these two: "Quality of life over quantity of achievement" and "Simplicity over complexity".

  • Checking in with yourself to see if you're primed to absorb, share, or, as @piercingwit put it "think and relate" was a popular takeaway.

  • Our wonderful group was incredibly generous with sharing themselves and listening openly to each other. One of the most inspiring comments: "I've stopped trying to smash doors through brick walls, and instead I now look for the open doors before me." There was a recurrent theme of not trying to control everything, practicing more non-attachment, and enjoying the emerging journey guided by our values.

  • A great quote was shared: "“Discipline is remembering what you want.” (I've found three different attributions for this one, but it seems to be from David Campbell, the founder of Saks Fifth Avenue).

  • There were lots of great spins on Agile language. I particularly liked "You are your own product owner" and "What's your self acceptance criteria?"

  • @sabrinacaluori summed up nicely: "So freaking simple. Envision the outcome you want. But leave options. Be agile. Allow yourself to adjust in the moment."

 

===

Comments from the original post:

Dinah A few more notes from the discussion I just found:

- Daily writing as a personal scrum

- Frequent low key assessment: "How do I feel right now?"

- Reflection at end of sprint to listen to inner voice

- Setting goals is about remembering our motivations. Why do I care? What fuels my passion for this?

- habit creation: start with *minimum* viable product (e.g. 1 minute of meditation not 30)

Posted by: Dinah | 03/14/2011 at 02:20 PM

Piercingwit @mrsungo and I followed through on the daily sxsw scrums - and it wasn't easy dragging our happy asses out of bed after 3-4 hours sleep! But it was extraordinarily valuable from the standpoint of focusing us on our goals for sxsw and making us accountable to each other. In fact, it went so well that I'm starting up a group here in Birmingham next week. I hope to set up a simple wordpress or tumblr blog to track our progress over the weekend.

Posted by: Piercingwit | 03/19/2011 at 08:14 AM

Dinah Hooray! That's great. Please do keep us posted on how it goes and what you learn.

Posted by: Dinah | 03/19/2011 at 04:17 PM

Dinah I forgot to include these SXSW session notes from Kaitlin Maud in my roundup: http://plixi.com/p/83488788

Marcy also encountered a nice summary of Agile from Christian Nelson of Carbon5 as "iterative, adaptive, collaborative, and reality-based".

Posted by: Dinah | 04/18/2011 at 11:41 AM

Posted on March 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

6 Steps for using Agile Self Development

[This post originally appeared on its own blog, prior to my merging all Agile Self Development posts into Discardia's archives.]

Posted by Marcy Swenson:

Agile Self-Development is a lightweight methodology for personal development that is a reaction against all-or-nothing goals and resolutions. It lets geeks repurpose Agile tools and methodologies with which they may already be familiar.

When I start working with a new coaching client, they often arrive with a massive list of everything that they want to accomplish in their work and their life. Desires are limitless! This situation reminds me of a CEO who is hungry for every single feature in a software product to be implemented immediately. So how to begin? Here is what we do next:

1. State your big, exciting vision: What is it that you want to create, do, or be? Agile Self Development will help you get there, althought the "there" may change along the way.

2. What are all of the ways you could embark on reaching this vision? This is your chance to brainstorm, and pour out all of the possibilities. (3x5 cards come in handy here, although making a list on paper is also just fine. If you're around other folks, this is a great time to ask for suggestions.)

3. Which item from the list will yield immediate results, is do-able now, and uses your current skills, abilities, and willpower? Whatever you choose will be what you're going to work on for the first sprint. You also need to choose a sprint length: a day, a week, two weeks, or a month.

4. What are you going to measure to know if you're making progress (your velocity)? This might be whether or not you actually did something, how many minutes you did it for each day, how you felt at the end of the day, how many people you talked to about something, or how many hours you slept. Find something meaningful to measure. Then make an estimate of how you think things will go.

5. Now start the sprint! Go! Don't forget to have fun with the experiment; Agile Self Development values quality of life over quantity of achievement.

6. At the end of the sprint, host your sprint retrospective meeting. You can host it by yourself, you can write about it online or in a journal, or you can invite a pal to talk about how things went. Pals are always nice and they provide perspective, which is why some people love working in pairs.

Here are some good questions to ask at your sprint retrospective meeting:

  • How did the experiment go?
  • How accurate was your estimate?
  • What did you learn about yourself/the world?
  • What was the Awesome? (The thing that went unexpectedly well).
  • What was the Mystery? (The thing you can't yet explain).
  • What will you change for the next sprint? (This could be a small adjustment or it could be a huge pivot to a new idea).

I don't use every single one of these questions every time, but some version of this tends to work well for most people. The goal is continually update the experiment to move continually closer to your vision – which could change over time – and to learn about yourself and the world in the process. (In her writing on Discardia, Dinah refers to this as "Perpetual Upgrade"). One of the things I love most about Agile is that it produces both early tangible results and learning.

 

If the term Agile isn't familiar to you:

"Agile" refers to a lightweight family of methodologies for writing software, and a group of developers published the Agile manifesto in 2001. The Agile umbrella includes things already in use at that time like Scrum ('95), XP ('96) and Adaptive Software Development, among many others. Agile and its predecessors were a reaction to heavily regulated, micromanaged, waterfall development methods where most of the results come at the end of the process.

Although there are many different techniques that are now called "Agile", these are common ideas throughout:

  • early and continuous delivery of valuable results
  • adaptation to changing information and requirements
  • measuring progress against estimates regularly
  • reflecting on effectiveness and adjusting accordingly

You can read more about Agile on Wikipedia.

Posted on March 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Using Agile Self Development to Ace SXSW

[This post originally appeared on its own blog, prior to my merging all Agile Self Development posts into Discardia's archives.]

 

OK, so now that you've seen the basics of Agile Self Development, how might you use this in real life? I'm going to apply it to the upcoming SXSW conference, and come up with a plan for how I might do better than I otherwise might at the conference. Here goes:

1. State your big, exciting vision: What is it that you want to create, do, or be? Agile Self Development will help you get there, althought the "there" may change along the way.

  • My vision is to have a super fun time at SXSW, and to be as alert, engaged, and happy as possible throughout the conference.

2. What are all of the ways you could embark on reaching this vision? This is your chance to brainstorm, and dump out all of the possibilities. (3x5 cards come in handy here, although making a list on paper is also just fine. If you're around other folks, this is a great time to ask for suggestions.)

  • I could: get a decent amount of sleep, eat healthy food, get daily exercise, drink less alcohol, take quiet time out of the day to be by myself, and only stay involved in conversations I am enjoying

3. Which item from the list will yield immediate results, is do-able now, and uses your current skills, abilities, and willpower? Whatever you choose will be what you're going to work on for the first sprint. You also need to choose a sprint length: a day, a week, every two weeks, or every month.

  • I'm going to choose: drink less alcohol. I know that SXSW has copious amounts of free-flowing booze, which will be enticing, but will keep me from being my best. Once I have a few drinks in me, I don't track interesting conversations as well as I'd like to, and I end up wanting to curl up and go to sleep just as the party gets going. Here is my plan: I'll drink two club sodas for every alcoholic beverage, so that I get only minimally buzzed, and I'm well hydrated. I'm going to choose a cycle time of one day, so that I can adjust during the conference if I get new information.

4. What are you going to measure to know if you're making progress (your velocity)? This might be whether or not you actually did something, how many minutes you did it for each day, how you felt at the end of the day, how many people you talked to about something, or how many hours you slept. Find something meaningful to measure. Then make an estimate of how you think things will go.

  • The measure of effectiveness is going to be a scale of 1-5 for how fun the night was, and a scale of 1-5 of how I feel the next morning. I'll assess this in the morning each day when I wake.

5. Now start the sprint! Go! 5.Don't forget to have fun with the experiment. (Agile Self Development values quality of life over quantity of achievement)

  • I'll report back on how the experiment went at the end of the conference. I'll be there 5 nights, so I'll have 5 chances to try this out and modify the experiment for the next sprint if I want to. Stay tuned for the results!

Posted on March 6, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Overspending, Underenjoying?

    Above a certain baseline the correlation between money and happiness grows weak. Yet we easily fall into the habit of spending too much and getting too little return on our investment. I was once laid off from a failing startup and went through considerable stress over how I could possibly enjoy life while I got by on unemployment insurance and hunted for a new job. It took a wise friend walking me out to a beautiful park in the middle of a warm weekday to point out to me that I had now had access to all kinds of free or cheap pleasures that were exactly what I’d been substituting for while putting in my long days at the startup. Don’t tie your perception of relaxation or satisfaction to the act of spending money; they aren’t the same thing at all.

 

    What do you shell out money for every month? Sure, rent or mortgage, utilities, food, but what about non-essentials? Take a look at your routine expenses and the time you spend enjoying the results of them. How many hours do you watch those extra cable channels? What's does that mean you pay per hour? Do you still plan to be spending that much time that way or are there other things you'd do if the temptation wasn't there? Do you read the paper every day? Is it worth the subscription? What about the magazines you get? And that gym membership? Are there free exercise methods you'd use just as often? Food spoiling in the fridge before you eat it? It doesn't matter if it's a small expense; if it's not giving you enough benefit, then stop spending that money. Save it or spend it on something that matters to you more.

    As you focus on what you want and don't want in your life, there are probably some things you'd like to save up some money for. It can be hard to do that, though, if you find that you never seem to have extra at the end of the week. Keep your eyes on the prize. Take a look at what you have to spend each month (rent, bills, payments to reduce debt, groceries) and what that leaves you for flexible expenses. Assign yourself an amount that you get to spend each week (or fortnight or month) on optional things.

    Take two index cards. Tape the cards together on the long edge. On the inside left, write the list of things you want to be saving up for and the amount that will take. On the right, put the amount you have assigned yourself as available for optional things. Every non-essential purchase should be entered and deducted on the right. Before making a non-essential purchase you'll see your wishlist and think about whether it's really worth it. You'll also get a clearer picture of where your money goes. For example, here’s what the right side might look like:

                                 $100.00
- latte & croissant $5           $ 95.00
- mocha $3                       $ 92.00

- new TMBG album $17.50          $ 74.50

- latte & croissant $5           $ 69.50

- mocha $3                       $ 66.50
- pizza & beer with pals $20     $ 46.50

- latte & croissant $5           $ 41.50
etc.

    If one of the things on the wishlist side was “espresso machine $200,” it’s pretty obvious that it won’t take that long to save up for it by not going out for coffee drinks (or recoup the cost by buying it now). If the other thing on the wishlist is an exercise bike, knocking off the croissants will not only help save up, but will also make it less necessary.

    When you need to conquer debt as well as save up for new expenses, try taking your charge cards out of your wallet and securing them at home. Wait 24 or more hours before making non-essential purchases. Start paying more than the minimum due on the bill and get yourself out of living in a credit crunch. Mediocre mochas may be a bad way to spend your money, but they are guaranteed to bring you more enjoyment than bank finance charges. Knock out those really needless expenses first, then improve your imperfect ones.

 

    Beware of false savings. In my time I've had memberships to huge warehouse stores. Costco is the archetype for this, but there are other similar places where one gets ‘great deals’ by buying in larger quantities. I always find, after the initial glut of buying lots of things for relatively less money, that I'm overall spending more than I would shopping at neighborhood stores – even non-chain ones – and ending up with more than I can use or things I don't really need. What's even sillier about it is that I wind up buying not quite what I wanted – different brands, other flavors, higher calories – because the selection is more limited. Take a good hard look at your shopping habits and the kind of eating habits they're leading to. Try taking a month off from the big box stores. Shop locally, get more fresh fruit and vegetables, pick out ingredients to cook with or make a sandwich for tomorrow's lunch instead of a frozen entree. Visit the farmers' market and find the nearest good bakery to your house. At the end of the month see how you feel, what you're eating and what you've spent.  Chances are pretty good that the delicious organic produce that's giving you loads more energy has been easily paid for by not having unexpectedly bought a boxed set of DVDs for a show you liked when you were twelve, a five-attachment cordless drill you still haven’t used, and a pair of ill-fitting orange sneakers with totally cool treads.

 

    It’s not just about wasting money; you can also overspend your health. Go read the can or bottle of the beverages you're drinking today. Here's a good example of the kind of thing some of you might find:

Carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, citric acid, caffeine.

What do those ingredients do to your body? Are you draining yourself or fueling yourself? Drink more water and start cutting out the sugary (or fake sugary) caffeine bombs. If you're relying on the bump from your drinks to get you through the day, you're masking a bigger problem and making your body pay the price.

 

    Enjoy what you've got. Maybe tonight's a good night to stay home, make some dinner from ingredients you already have or eat up some leftovers, watch that movie that's been sitting around, read a book off that stack you keep intending to get to, or play a favorite old game that's been gathering dust. Without spending, you can both have a really nice time and remind yourself of what is good about your life.

    When you do spend, target it towards what brings you the greatest returns. Hate cleaning, but love to cook? Hire a maid service, enjoy the freedom from some chores you hate, and offset the cost by eating out less and making more great meals in your nice clean kitchen. Love city life, especially the dining out, but hate your long commutes from the suburbs? Move to a little apartment or condo in a great neighborhood nearer to work and ditch the car. You can make much more enjoyable use of the hundreds of dollars you’ve been spending on gas, car payments, insurance, maintenance, parking, tickets, etc. With a magic wand, what would you eliminate – housework, driving in traffic – from your life and what would you add – culinary adventures, convenient nightlife? Don’t assume it’s impossible. Start brainstorming about all the ways you can trade the bad for the good.

Posted on March 2, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

AgileSelfDev at SXSW Interactive 2011!

[This post originally appeared on its own blog, prior to my merging all Agile Self Development posts into Discardia's archives.]

 

Come join Dinah Sanders and Marcy Swenson for a core conversation on Saturday, March 12th, at 11am in room Rio Grande B at the Marriott Courtyard, 300 East 4th Street (half a block from the northwest door to the convention center).

Official session page

Lanyrd page

 

Session description:

Know how to use an iterative, incremental framework to create improvements in software? You can use those mad skillz to make your life more awesome too! Come learn and share how agile techniques can be used to achieve personal goals and lower your stress – and even to get the most out of SXSW. Walk away with immediate, practical, positive actions you can take.

Ideas to discuss:

  • What day-to-day or minute-to-minute techniques will allow me to satisfy shorter-term goals while building up to bigger progress?
  • How can I exploit my little monkey brain to get it to actually do stuff that will make my life better?
  • How can I stay aligned to the big picture while working on today's challenges?

Tags: productivity, agile, lifehacks, happiness, self-development

Posted on March 1, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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