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Christina and Me – Down East

This July marks the centennial of Andrew Wyeth s birth, with exhibitions across the country commemorating the iconic American painter. Novelist Christina Baker Kline has spent the last three years immersed in Wyeth s most famous and divisive, and enigmatic work. A dispatch from inside Christina s World.


I grew up in Christina s World Andrew Wyeth s and my own. When we moved to Bangor in August of 1970, I was 6 years old. My parents, from North Carolina and Georgia, had Southern accents; my sister Cynthia and I, born and raised in Cambridge, England, where my dad was pursuing a PhD, had British ones. The kids in my first-grade class at Mary Snow Elementary crowded around me on my first day, demanding, Say ham-bur-ger. Say ba-na-na. Our accent made us odd, but it wasn t the only thing that set us apart. My parents were hippies and self-described culture vultures, and except for a few other young professors (most of whom lived closer to the university in Orono, 8 miles away), they didn t look or act like most of the residents of what was then a distinctly working-class town. Our neighbors viewed us with a kind of bemused curiosity, the way you might look at a dog wearing a dress. Mom and Dad didn t care. They were busy planting giant sunflowers in the backyard, cooking with dandelion greens, making goat s milk yogurt, and blasting Joni Mitchell on their flea-market turntable.

My parents were determined to learn everything they could about the culture and terrain of our new state. As our family expanded two more sisters were born in Bangor (bona fide Maine natives!) we explored the craggy shoreline, hiked trails in Acadia National Park, paddled lakes in our green Old Town canoe. We drove to maritime museums and small-town historical societies, attended outdoor concerts by local musicians, collected hand-thrown pottery at crafts fairs, and cheered community theater productions. My dad read us children s books by Robert McCloskey and E. B. White. And we all became a little obsessed with the artist Andrew Wyeth, who was also from away, also perceived by the locals as somewhat odd and who, like us, found inspiration and beauty in Maine s rugged and sometimes inhospitable landscape. Wyeth lived most of the year in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and grew up spending summers in midcoast Maine. Over the span of 30 years, he obsessively sketched and painted one particular house in Cushing and its inhabitants, the Olsons. A print of Wyeth s best-known painting, Christina s World, hung in our kitchen. One day, my dad led us on a field trip to the Olson house, spreading a picnic on a quilt in the grass where we guessed Wyeth had painted Christina Olson. We were trespassing, I now realize; the house was private property. Today, though, visitors are welcome to explore Rockland s Farnsworth Art Museum[1] acquired the Olson house 26 years ago.

It was a sunny Saturday morning in 1973 when my mother spied a three-line ad in the Bangor Daily News: a paper mill in Millinocket was offering a 100-year lease for an island on Ebeemee Lake, complete with an A-frame house, for $50 a year. We jumped into our rusty gold station wagon, our canoe strapped to the roof rack, and drove an hour and 15 minutes north to meet a paper company rep. He pointed from the shoreline to a speck way out in the lake, and we piled into the canoe to paddle to the tiny island, 50 feet wide by 500 feet long. The house was a wreck, with no indoor plumbing or electricity, but Dad had been a carpenter in his youth and was looking for a project. He signed the lease on the spot. From then on, we spent weekends and summers at that secluded place, washing dishes at the end of the dock, lighting kerosene lamps and candles at night, crunching across pine needles to the outhouse, drifting to sleep amid a symphony of high-pitched loons and deep-throated frogs.

Christina And Me - Down East

Illustration by Jing Jing Tsong

My parents fell easily and rapturously into this life, inclined as they were toward an off-the-grid sensibility and a rebellious sense of adventure. As Cynthia and I entered our teens, we sometimes rebelled in the opposite direction, grousing about the hard work and lack of amenities, negotiating shorter visits. But the weeks and months I spent there ended up having a profound effect on me. When I began writing novels, in my 20s, I found myself, again and again, creating stories about people whose lives are stripped to the basic elements. In my first novel, Sweet Water, my main character inherits an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere; in The Way Life Should Be, a young woman moves into a shack in a small coastal village. Orphan Train details the lives of impoverished people on the edges of society in early-20th-century America. And my latest novel, A Piece of the World, is about the hardscrabble life of Christina Olson, the subject of the painting that hung for years in our Bangor kitchen.

I share my first name with my mother and grandmother. Like Christina Olson, my grandmother, Christina Curtis, was born around the turn of the 20th century. Both women were raised in white clapboard houses on family farms with chickens, pigs, and mules; hardy apple trees; and rows of pole beans. Both were precocious girls who loved reading, and both grew up quickly, taking on the burden of caring for their families from an early age. I ve spent hours in front of Christina s World in that crowded hallway, listening to the enthused, perturbed, intrigued, dismissive, passionate comments of passersby from all over the globe.

As research for my novel, I read art histories, biographies of Wyeth and Olson, accounts of the Salem Witch Trials (which loom large in Olson family history), seafaring journals, memoirs about living in Maine, memoirs about choosing to live without modern comforts. I visited the Olson house, talked with friends and family of both the artist and his subject, relied on the invaluable advice of tour guides and museum curators, and watched documentaries. I took pages and pages of notes, hammering out a timeline from sources that often gave conflicting dates and details. And as I delved into Christina Olson s real-life story, the stories my grandmother told about her own childhood merged with hers, creating a portrait that came vividly alive for me as I wrote. Both Christinas were stubborn, headstrong, and fiercely intelligent. But my grandmother went to college, became a teacher, got married, and had children a life denied to Christina Olson, who was thwarted by her domineering father, a degenerative disability, and the fact that she lived in such a remote and isolated place. She spent her whole life with her brother, Alvaro, in the house her family had inhabited for generations. Over time, she was rendered immobile by a mysterious disease that first became apparent when she was 3 years old. (Today, neurologists suspect that Christina may have had Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, or CMT, a type of muscular atrophy that affects one in 2,500 people and damages the peripheral nerves.) Despite this, she cooked, cleaned as best she could, and did the family laundry by hand, with a wringer until becoming almost entirely incapacitated later in life. She refused a wheelchair, instead dragging herself where she needed to go. Wyeth got the germ of the idea for Christina s World when he looked out the window of an upstairs bedroom in the Olson house, which he used as a studio, and saw Christina pulling herself down the field to visit her parents graves in the family cemetery.

By outward appearances, Christina Olson and Andrew Wyeth couldn t have been more different. Wyeth was 22 when they first met, rakishly charming and movie-star handsome. A rising star in the art world, his work was already displayed in museums and galleries around the country. His father, N. C. Wyeth, was a world-famous artist and illustrator. Christina, meanwhile, was a shy, provincial woman of 46 who had only ventured twice, briefly, beyond the Maine state border. As I worked on my novel, I came to feel a deep kinship with the woman in the pink dress who shared my name.

But appearances can be deceiving. Both Wyeth and Christina had fathers who set the parameters of their lives: hers put an end to her schooling at age 12, so she could work on the farm; his kept him out of school and essentially raised him in the studio. As a child, Wyeth had been frail and sickly, a loner. Like Christina, he had a severe physical impairment one leg was shorter than the other, forcing a limp, and he had a painful hip defect. I don t fit in, he once said. I pick out models who are misfits, and I m a misfit. By the time she was introduced to Wyeth, Christina had resigned herself to a quiet and uneventful life. In her 20s, she d fallen in love with a dashing Harvard student who summered in Maine; after four agonizing years of empty promises, she discovered he was engaged to someone else. Her life since had been consumed with domestic and farming chores, even as her infirmities worsened. She d given up on happiness, though she undoubtedly craved it. Wyeth s appearance in Christina s life was transformative. Enamored of the setting, the house, and most importantly its inhabitants, he practically moved in each summer. He collected eggs from the Olson hens to mix his tempera, trailed eggshells and turpentine-soaked rags up the stairs to the rooms where he worked, splattered floors absentmindedly with paint. At various points during the day, he d drift downstairs to the kitchen, where he spent hours talking with Christina while she baked and mended. He admired her flinty independence, and she appreciated his frankness. They found to their mutual surprise and delight that they shared a wry sense of humor and a general disregard for social niceties, as well as an irreverent attitude about things that other people considered important (church, for example). They also shared some interesting contradictions. Both embraced austerity but craved beauty. Both were curious about other people and yet pathologically private. They were perversely independent and yet became reliant on others to take care of their basic needs: Wyeth on his wife, Betsy, and Christina on her brother, Alvaro.

It s as if MoMA can t figure out how to integrate Christina s World into the rest of its collection or doesn t want to.

Nine years after meeting Christina, Wyeth began the painting that would become his masterpiece. He was 31, and she was 55. As he worked on it, he confided to Betsy that he thought it would make his reputation, but when he finished, he feared it was a complete flat tire. Almost immediately, the painting was snapped up by Alfred Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art. He paid $1,800 for it, $1,400 of which went to Wyeth. Today, the painting is considered priceless, too expensive to insure for travel. It has been loaned out just twice: in 2000, to the Farnsworth, and in 2009, after Wyeth s death, for a memorial exhibit at the Brandywine River Museum in his hometown of Chadds Ford. Despite the fact that Christina s World is one of the most popular paintings in MoMA s collection and, indeed, is one of the 20th century s most iconic American paintings the museum seems to have an ambivalent relationship with it. The painting hangs somewhat ignominiously in a hallway, across from an escalator and down the hall from a bathroom. It s as if MoMA can t figure out how to integrate it into the rest of its permanent collection or doesn t want to. A curator at another prominent American museum, requesting anonymity, once lamented to me that Christina s World isn t at a place like the Brandywine or Boston s Museum of Fine Arts, where it would be displayed appropriately, in the context of other works by Wyeth and the artists who influenced him. One art critic called Wyeth a virtual Rorschach test for American culture during the better part of the last century.

Wyeth s reputation changed dramatically throughout his lifetime. For the first 25 years of his career, he was widely recognized as one of America s best artists, but by the 1960s, following the rise of pop art, conceptual art, and minimalism, his status in the art world plummeted. Compared with abstract artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Wyeth was considered conservative, even reactionary. Art critics derided him, dismissing his technique as just sort of colored drawings, as critic Hilton Kramer once sniffed in 1987.

It s provincial, it s sentimental, it s illustration, and it s without substance, Kramer went on. It s one of those illustrated dreams that enable people who don t like art to fantasize about not living in the 20th century. Among museumgoers, Christina s World remained immensely popular, but this didn t help Wyeth s critical reputation; rather, the painting was scorned as dorm-room art. For decades, Wyeth was the art world s equivalent of a wedge issue. In his obituary for Wyeth in The New York Times, art critic Michael Kimmelman called him a virtual Rorschach test for American culture during the better part of the last century. I ve spent hours in front of Christina s World in that crowded hallway at MoMA, listening to the enthused, perturbed, intrigued, dismissive, passionate comments of passersby from all over the globe. Because of its inconspicuous placement, museumgoers often begin to walk by the painting, then realize with a start what they re seeing the way you might do a double take if you glimpsed Meryl Streep at the grocery store. After all this time, I m still amazed at the power of the painting to draw people s attention, pull them close, spark conversations. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion. Some stand at a distance, appraising it critically in hushed tones. I ve heard people reminisce about how they grew up with a print of Christina s World in the kitchen or on their bedroom wall. Others peer closely (under the watchful eye of a security guard) at those minutely detailed blades of grass, as if trying to understand the painting s strange duality, its photo-realist detail, its unsettling otherworldliness. My favorite comment was from a Danish woman who stared for a few minutes with a look of wonder, then shook her head, sighed, and told her companion, simply, It s just so . . . creepy.

Christina And Me - Down East

I understand what she meant. There is something creepy about it, something not quite right: that mysterious haunted house, the mysterious haunted figure. For my part, I admit that when I began my novel, I was secretly worried I d grow tired of Christina s World. That didn t happen. In fact, I was surprised to discover that its meaning and power have expanded for me over time. The arid, dry-as-bones grasses, the lone piece of laundry floating like an apparition in the breeze, the mysterious circling birds, the solitary figure in the foreground yearning toward the house . . . or is she hesitating? Who is this mysterious woman, and what is she thinking? If she were to turn her head, what would we see? These were the questions that preoccupied me as I wrote.

Today, 100 years after Wyeth s birth, his reputation continues to evolve. Historians, critics, and curators have begun to reassess his legacy. In a recent collection of scholarly essays, Rethinking Andrew Wyeth, art historian Wanda M. Corn argues that his
style is deeper and more complex than critics have allowed. It developed in the 30s and 40s under the disparate influences of American regionalism and figurative surrealism, fusing into a kind of metaphoric realism in which the ordinary is heightened to reveal fundamental aspects of human existence. Like his contemporary, the abstract artist Mark Rothko, Wyeth infused his work with introspective emotion. But unlike Rothko, Corn writes, Wyeth s work made the grave mistake of appealing to the masses. In the snobbish and insular art world, accessibility is often equated with superficiality. All I know is that I found plenty in Christina s World, and in Christina s world, to occupy my mind and heart for several obsessive years. As I worked on my novel, I came to feel a deep kinship with the woman in the pink dress who shared my name. From my own freewheeling childhood experiences, I related to her quest for knowledge, her grit, and her temerity. The real-life Christina Olson was a true individual, a feisty, complicated woman whose life was filled with disappointments. But she found beauty, meaning, and grace in unexpected places. Because she didn t live a conventional life, she was able to open her home and herself to Andrew Wyeth. Her generosity to him, and her trust in him, created an environment in which his work could flourish. Over three decades, he created more than 300 works temperas, watercolors, sketches depicting Christina, Alvaro, the house, or the land. The best of these have had a profound effect on people s lives and carved out an enduring space in the public imagination.

Near the end of my novel, the character of Christina muses, This place this house, this field, this sky may only be a small piece of the world. But it is the entire world to me. For a time, it was the entire world to me, as well. I m grateful to have dwelled there.

Andrew Wyeth at 100

Drop in on the Farnsworth Art Museum[2] before December 31 to tour five exhibits covering an array of Wyeth-alia, from a deep dive on Dr. Syn, the artist s surreal, skeletal self-portrait, to a sublime exploration of the Olson house, as seen over the years by a dozen or so photographers.

16 Museum St., Rockland. 207-596-6457.


Christina And Me - Down East

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References

  1. ^ Farnsworth Art Museum (www.farnsworthmuseum.org)
  2. ^ Farnsworth Art Museum (farnsworthmuseum.org)

CEO Forum: Three Pillars of a Successful Managed Security …

The managed IT services market is arguably undergoing its most dramatic changes since its inception nearly 20 years ago.

The need for businesses across all industries to be digitally connected particularly in the SMB market is rapidly increasing, and the onset of cloud computing, a widening skills gap in the IT labor force and unrelenting cybersecurity threats are forcing service providers to re-examine their core competencies and find new means of optimizing service delivery and scaling profitably.

This article is the fourth in a series that explores how these new market dynamics are impacting managed services providers (MSPs) and IT solution providers (ITSPs).

In the first installment[1] of this series, we explored why managed security services will be one of the top MSP growth drivers in 2017 and beyond.

CEO Forum: Three Pillars Of A Successful Managed Security ...In this article, we ll take a deeper dive into several key requirements, challenges and opportunities presented by security-as-a-service offerings in the MSP space. Since the advent of the Internet, we ve spent the last 20 years becoming digitally connected and integrated through a vast global network of businesses, devices, tools and technologies. These changes have transformed the way information is delivered and consumed and have also left the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) market more vulnerable than ever before.

Cybercriminals and their attacks are becoming increasingly widespread, technically complex and difficult to detect and attackers have found a way to exploit the SMB via ransomware. As far-reaching attacks like WannaCry receive national media coverage, SMB owners are beginning to accept that it is now mission-critical to have a meaningful security strategy in place. The reality, however, is that SMBs are largely ill-equipped to protect themselves from the growing variety of viruses, malware, phishing attempts and other malicious activities that cybercriminals are employing today and as such, they re seen as easy targets in the eyes of the attackers.

Managed services providers (MSPs) that can offer true vulnerability management, detection and remediation services to their customers are poised to solidify themselves as trusted advisors and to tap into significant new revenue streams while building long-term value with their clients. When paired with core services like remote monitoring and management (RMM) and backup and disaster recovery (BDR), security enables service providers to offer a complete end-to-end IT management platform and act as the true one-stop-shop that today s customers are looking for. To effectively deliver these services, the right blend of personnel, technology, and processes and education must be in place and with enough capacity to scale and support the complex nature of today s attacks and threat landscape.

The combination of these three pillars forms a solid foundation on which MSPs can build and deliver robust security services to the small business market.

Intelligent Security Software

The detection and isolation of any technological anomalies, suspicious behavior or infected machines are central to any cybersecurity strategy and that starts with comprehensive software. The longer it takes to become aware of an attack, the more deeply and broadly that attack will penetrate; and as time passes when attempting to remediate and resolve the issue, the risks and damages associated with that attack also increase. With a combination of monitoring tools, anti-virus, anti-malware, firewall, threat management and other technologies, MSPs can leverage a ready-built security suite that offers effective defense against many types of ransomware and other security threats.

It s also worth mentioning that if security technologies and services act as a frontline perimeter to protect against outside threats and attacks, then BDR is the last line of defense that an MSP can leverage to minimize damage and restore critical systems following a successful attack or breach. By regularly backing up data to a protected appliance and building additional redundancy via cloud replication, providers can ensure that applications and information will remain accessible even when security systems and processes fail. As such, it s important that an effective integration between security, BDR and other systems is in place.

Human Intelligence and Services

In the managed IT services market, any software is only as effective as the human resources that are supporting it and security is no exception. Security experts and specialists can be highly expensive resources, but service providers must ensure they have access to the right personnel in order to respond to alerts, issues and threats that arise within client businesses and networks. This need only further highlights an already growing skills gap in our market, where the demand for technical specialists, engineers and other human resources has become far greater than their actual availability (we discussed this skills gap at length in a previous article[2] in this series).

Security expertise and specialists demand an absolute premium, and many are out of reach for the typical service provider; this will force MSPs to carefully consider which resources they should hire and maintain in-house, and look to strategically outsource and leverage third-party providers to augment and extend their capabilities as needed. Additionally, it s essential that MSPs work with their customers to develop strong incident response plans and process documentation that ensures all parties understand roles, accountability and required actions following any data loss incident or breach. This includes identifying mission-critical vs. non-critical systems and information, plans to restore systems and data should any downtime occur, and more.

Such processes play a critical role during an actual incident, and are another example of a valuable offering that MSPs can deliver services atop the technology and software solutions they re providing to customers.

User Training and Education

While technology alone will play a critical role in the detection and remediation of any security-related risks or incidents, end users themselves must also act as a line of defense and understand the role that human behavior plays in a successful IT security strategy. The simplest path for hackers and cybercriminal to tap into a network is often through its users, whether via a malicious email, imitation of a legitimate URL or other social engineering attack. As such, ensuring that all employees are properly trained on how to identify and isolate any potential threats is critical and a study[3] by Wombat Security Technologies and the Aberdeen Group confirms that behavioral training and employee education can reduce the risk of a security breach by 45 to 70 percent.

This is yet another area where service providers have an opportunity to present themselves as educators, trusted advisors and more than just software vendors. Delivering ongoing training, building process documentation and coaching end users can help SMBs remain vigilant and aware of emerging threats and risks to their businesses; knowing how to identify and flag a suspicious link in an email, for instance, might be the difference between avoiding or falling victim to an attack. These services can also help ensure client retention and stickiness, as the SMB increasingly relies on the MSP for their knowledge and expertise in addition to software tools and infrastructure management.

The goal of these training programs should be to increase employee awareness and education, test users understanding and knowledge of processes and best practices, and provide up-to-date information about current threats and emerging or zero-day attacks. It s also worth noting that security training should not be focused solely on web-based activity or email threats physical workplace security, keeping a clean desk, password management and a number of other factors should be considered as well to protect as much of the office environment as possible.

Bringing Managed Security Services to Market

Today, security technology and breach remediation are no longer confined to traditional endpoints like servers and desktops. The sheer complexity and variety of attacks being carried out are forcing SMBs to find new means of protecting the entire office and avoiding uninvited access to corporate data and applications.

This evolution has created myriad opportunities for service providers who can deliver the right combination of software, services and education to these businesses. The key to success lies in the MSP s ability to effectively leverage and align these three pillars, in order to provide an effective technology platform and perimeter defense. Making the right hires and leveraging third-party personnel and resources is also necessary, as is building a strong framework through which to educate customers and train end users to ensure processes and best practices are followed.

Understanding and integrating these pillars into your managed security services offering will ensure you re able to capitalize on the tremendous opportunity presented by the growing SMB demand for cybersecurity services. As the SMB continues to be seen as an easy target with weak defenses, and cybercriminals and their attacks continue to innovate and work to avoid detection, now is the time for MSPs to build and deliver these offerings to market. This is your chance to capitalize on a well-understood and increasing problem in this market, and an opportunity to redefine your company s offerings and capture market share expanding your portfolio of offerings and earning the business of the customers you have longed to win.

Michael George is CEO of Continuum Managed Services[4].

References

  1. ^ first installment (mspmentor.net)
  2. ^ previous article (mspmentor.net)
  3. ^ study (www.wombatsecurity.com)
  4. ^ Continuum Managed Services (www.google.com)

Fleet Week is coming back to Portland: 7 things you need to know

Fleet Week[1] is returning for 2017 – either an exciting event or mild annoyance, depending on your point of view – bringing big ships, bridge lifts and sailors in their dress whites to downtown Portland from June 7 to 12.

It’s a time-honored tradition for Portland and the Rose Festival, though the modern event is a far cry[2] from its glory days in the 20th century. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, more than 25 ships lined the seawall downtown, with half a dozen berthed elsewhere, sailors flooding local businesses with cash. Today, the event is lucky to get 10 ships, as the U.S. Navy has scaled back its port of call significantly – a victim of both a decrease in fleet and post-9/11 security measures. Despite the smaller showing, Fleet Week carries on, returning for another week of ship tours, sailors and, yes, rush hour bridge lifts. Here are seven things you need to know about the big event.

1. A “unique” new Navy ship is coming

The Navy hasn’t publically released the name of the new ship that’s coming, but Rose Festival spokesman Rich Jarvis said it’s a “unique” vessel that will leave people in awe. What we do know is that it’s a littoral combat ship, and that it’s “the latest technology.” It’s scheduled to be the last ship to arrive for the big event.

2. No disruptions expected

Back in April, the Rose Festival Foundation received criticism from protesters who disagreed with the show of military vessels in Portland. Jarvis said the foundation has heard no direct threats since then, and doesn’t expect the event to be disrupted. Either way, security will be coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, which might handle protests differently than Portland police. “When they’re in the house, it’s their house,” Jarvis said.

3. Be prepared for bridge lifts

Fleet Week tends to be a pain for downtown commuters, who grapple with more bridge lifts than usual during the four days the ships are coming to and going from Portland. The ships will be coming in on June 7 and 8, and leaving June 11 and 12. Most bridge lifts are scheduled between noon and 4 p.m., but don’t expect the ships to stick to that.

4. Sailors are toning it down… or so they say

According to a well-worn local stereotype, sailors during Fleet Week are known to receive a particularly warm reception[3] in town, especially at downtown watering holes, and especially from the women in Portland. But two years ago[4] some sailors coming into town said that attitude “was from the old guard of the Navy,” and that while nightlife is always a part of visiting Portland, the visit is more about “command relations” than partying.

5. Free tours

As always, the ships coming in for Fleet Week will be made available for free tours. The general public can show up for tours between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. June 7-11. Rules for the tours are a little strict, at least in regard to what you can bring. No bags, strollers or wheelchairs will be allowed onboard, and there won’t be any holding area for your belongings.

6. Schedule

Fleet Week officially runs between June 7 and 11 for 2017, but ships will be coming in on June 7 and 8, and will be leaving June 11 and 12.

7. Ship lineup

The full lineup hasn’t been released, but there will be eight ships in all: U.S. Coast Guard cutters Alert, Orcas, Bluebell and Ironwood; two Canadian Coast Guard vessels; and two Navy ships, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser and the new littoral combat ship.

–Jamie Hale |

References

  1. ^ Fleet Week (www.rosefestival.org)
  2. ^ a far cry (www.oregonlive.com)
  3. ^ a particularly warm reception (www.wweek.com)
  4. ^ two years ago (www.oregonlive.com)
  5. ^

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