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The world’s so big and complicated these days I imagine there’s always some kind of golden age going on in some corner of it, geographical, cultural, commercial, whatever.

It occurred to me that there’re arguably three golden ages going on in bits of the cultural/media world that I pay attention to. I have caveats and pessimisms for this post,too, but let’s do the happy stuff first.

TV drama. I seriously doubt there’s ever been more scripted TV of decent or better quality available for our viewing pleasure. We have relatively modest TV pipes running into the Ruckley residence – Netflix and (only the Brits’ll know what this means) Freeview – but they still churn out more stuff than it’s possible to stay on top of, given the fairly limited time that gets spent on watching the box. But the choice is there.

TV drama reflects, like so many other bits of the cultural landscape, the invasion of the ‘mainstream’ by geek-accented product and I couldn’t be happier about that. And of course with Netflix, the multiplication of broadcast channels and the advent of the DVR there’s an ocean of both old and new material to merrily drown yourself in. I was about to namedrop specific TV shows here, but to be honest there’s no point. The list could go on almost indefinitely. That’s a total transformation of what the TV world was like just a few years ago. And the reponse to that blossoming of availability has been the production of more good stuff than ever before.

Comics. Comics actually have a specifically defined Golden Age, so this isn’t The Golden Age, but it’s surely a golden age. There’s a greater variety of comics and graphic novels more widely available – digitally or on paper – than there has been in a long time. Probably ever. Online bookshops make them accessible in collected form to almost anyone. The graphic novel section is, by all accounts, one of the bits of bricks-and-mortar bookshops that’s actually thriving. They’re a big deal in libraries.

Unless you’ve been reading comics for a while, there’s something you might not be aware of, though. For all that certain types of comics (superheroes, notably) used to sell way more twenty or thirty or forty years ago, I can absolutely assure you of one thing: waaaay more objectively well-crafted and smart and technically accomplished comics are being produced now than was the case back then. The average quality of art and writing has improved a lot. The sheer volume and diversity of comics and titles and graphic novels being published has been accompanied by an uptick not only in the obvious measure – choice – but also in quality of craft and in ambition.

Podcasts. I talk about podcasts often enough here, so I won’t belabour this one. But come on: this has to be a golden age of podcasting, doesn’t it? There are uncounted thousands of the things, in every imaginable genre, covering every imaginable topic, taking every imaginable form. I spend far more time consuming podcasts than I do any other medium and I can’t do more than scrape the surface of the possibilities.

On one level podcasts are nothing more than radio on demand, but my ears are constantly filled with stuff that would never get on radio in a million years, for commercial reasons or because of silly geographic restrictions or whatever. Whoever you are, there are quality podcasts about almost exactly your interests, and accessing them is childishly simple. That’s pretty amazing.

Which is the peak of my merriment and optimism.

A couple of golden ages I’m pretty sure we’re not in. Movies and novels. It’s a commonplace to moan about the current state of Hollywood movies, so I won’t go overboard. I enjoy a spectacular blockbuster as much as the next person, but … well, I can’t summon up any enthusiasm for trying to claim the golden age of the franchise blockbuster as a particularly worthwhile kind of golden age.

Talking about novels, I’m on much shakier ground. I don’t read many these days, so I’m barely qualified to comment I suppose, but it doesn’t feel like a golden age. In many ways it feels just like business as usual, with at best an average distribution of quality product. I don’t detect a glut of innovation, boundary-expansion, inarguable genius. That’s OK. It’s just not what you’d call a golden age.

All the media – every single one – I’ve mentioned above are in the grip of ongoing technological and distributional revolutions. Those revolutions have, I think, caused or at the very least facilitated golden ages in TV and podcasting (comics to a lesser extent, but they’re part of the mix there too). But those same revolutions have emphatically not triggered golden ages in music, movies or prose fiction. If anything, I’d say they’ve had the opposite effect. Funny how things turn out.

Which brings me to my final point: how things might turn out. I reckon two of my three golden ages are heading for a fall. TV and comics. It might take years, but because of the revolutions in distribution and technology, and because of the ‘buzz’ surrounding these media, there’s an inevitable consequence: oversupply.

Once you reach a certain mass of available content, you can add as much new high quality content as you like and people just won’t have the time or inclination to consume it. So producers overextend. Retrenchment sets in. The golden ages wither and fade. I’m far from the first to suggest a tight, maybe imminent, time limit on TV’s golden age. In the case of comics, there might even be a crash – it’s a much smaller and more fragile market and it’s done that before. Probably not, though. Probably just a decline, a re-setting of the baseline. Fingers crossed.

Podcasts, though. Their golden age has legs, I reckon. Obviously, I’m biased, being an addict, but think about it. They’re new, and their audience still has lots of room to grow. They’re the only one of these media that can be easily consumed while you’re doing something else. Digital audio players in cars are only just really becoming 100% standard. And they have one other huge advantage over most other media: they’re free. We have a winner!


As noted many times here, I’m a hopeless podcast addict. The rest of the world seems to be slowly catching up with my good taste, but frankly there are still too many of you out there who need to get on the bandwagon asap. Therefore I stubbornly keep proselytizing.

I’m not much of a binge watcher (or reader for that matter). I’ve got neither the time nor the inclination to gorge myself on exciting new TV shows. One episode a day is more than enough, and more than I can usually manage, no matter how awesome the show is. For the record, the closest I’ve got to binge-watching anything in years was Netflix’s Daredevil, and that took me about three weeks I think – which is not very close to bingeing at all, really. (Liked it a lot, for the record).

Podcasts are a bit different, though. When I happen across one that’s been around for a while, if I like it I tend to power through the back catalgoue pretty fast. That’s the joy of a medium you can consume while doing other things, I guess. So, here are some well-established podcasts that I discovered long after they launched and therefore was able to binge on. Perhaps there’s something here to tempt you?

I Was There Too. Conversations with supporting or bit-part actors from famous movies. Enormous fun, especially when you know the movie in question well. Lots of behind-the-scenes anecdotes, interesting snippets about acting, nostalgia for the movies of your (my) youth.

You Must Remember This. Still on a movie theme, but now with a hint of a historical flavour. As the podcast itself puts it, it’s about ‘the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century’. Mostly, it’s about the lives of the stars and the culture of their times, with bits of specific film history thrown in. It’s often fascinating stuff. The most recent season was entirely devoted to the Manson Family – their crimes and numerous connections to the film and music scenes of Hollywood. Extremely creepy – even disturbing – in parts, but enormously detailed and interesting.

The British History Podcast. Gliding on over to full on history now, and it doesn’t get much more full on than this. This might be the most bonkers (in a good way) podcast history project I’ve come across. The aim is to recount the entire history of Britain, and as of today we’re at episode episode 173 (173!) and haven’t even reached the 9th Century Viking invasions. Everything you ever wanted to know, and a huge amount of stuff you didn’t even know you wanted to know, about the early history of Britain is right here waiting for your ears to be applied.

The History of English Podcast. And continuing our smooth thematic links, here we’ve got history but now with added linguistics. The effort, research and knowledge that goes into this podcast boggles the mind. It’s the history of the English language, from its very earliest roots in prehistoric Indo-European to the modern day. It’s a mixture of historical narrative with heavy – and sometimes I really do mean heavy – doses of linguistics, phonetics, etymologies. For a writer, it’s utterly fascinating. Just as interesting for a reader, really. It does require your attention, though. The information is conveyed very clearly and carefully, but there’s a lot of it and it’s undeniably sometimes complicated and a bit arcane. But if you like words and language, listening to this is endlessly surprising and revelatory in a ‘So that’s why …’ sort of way.

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I’d probably have a whole other list if I did this next month, but I thought it’d be fun to rattle through my five favourite podcasts right now, off the top of my head. I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, so there’s an absolute heap of deserving stuff I’m not mentioning, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. And one other thing: these aren’t exactly recommendations. I’m entirely ignoring the question of whether these particular podcasts might appeal to anyone other than me. They appeal to me enormously, for sometimes personal or idiosyncratic reasons, and that’s all it takes to get them on this list … you have been warned …

In no particular order:

Revolutions – a great history podcast that’s working it’s way through a load of the world’s most significant revolutions, one per season. The British Civil War and American Revolution have been covered, now we’re deep into the big daddy of revolutions: the French. Each episode is reasonably short, the tone is accessible and very appealing. Full of fascinating details and wry humour. Great.

Let’s Talk Comics – there’s no particular shortage of interview podcasts relating to comics out there, and I listen to several, at least now and again. This one is frequent, well-produced and delivers pretty meaty interviews with a pretty wide range of people involved in the mainstream comics industry: artists, writers, publishers etc etc. Tends to take a life-story approach, and it’s always interesting to hear how people first got started in the medium, as both reader and professional creators.

Hello Internet – some folks will just not like this one, I suspect. It’s a fine example of the ‘two guys talking’ podcasting school. No specific theme, though many recurring topics, so its appeal depends entirely on how interesting or engaging you find the two guys and the subjects they choose to talk about. Me, I’m interested and engaged. These guys make their livings from their YouTube channels (in fact, they’re both quite famous YouTubers), and I find stuff relating to that fascinating when it comes up. One of them also has a highly distinctive and structured view of the world and of life that you may or may not always agree with (or even find palatable) but it makes for entertaining, thought-provoking and often amusing listening at times.

Wait, What? – my favourite comics-related podcast. I like it so much I pay for it, via Patreon! Another entry in the ‘two guys talking’ category, this time talking very specifically about comics. All sorts of comics. It’s sometimes meandering, sometimes tangential, sometimes doing a deep-dive into stuff I know very little about, but for whatever reason I always enjoy it.

TetZoo – and here we are at the quirkily unique end of the podcasting spectrum. What’s podcasting for if it can’t produce the kind of audio you just would never, ever hear anywhere else? This is a scientific podcast with a focus on tetrapod (i.e. anything with four limbs) zoology. I’ve got a lot of zoology in my educational background, so I can follow most of what’s going on, but fair warning: quite a bit of jargon is involved. However, because this is podcasting rather than radio, there’s also a lot of silly humour, cryptozoology, sf movie talk, running jokes, vaguely disorganised unprofessionalism. I really like it. Once again, it’s ‘two guys talking’, and it’s very like eavesdropping on them just having a rambling chat in the pub.

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Found this thanks to a recommendation on the TetZoo podcast. It’s strange, striking and I like it quite a bit.

Sounds like a hybridisation of rap and ancient poetic story-telling, looks like a creepy monster horror movie waiting to be made. It’s by a guy called Brian Engh, who describes himself as a freelance artist/musician/monsterologist, and his website is alarmingly easy to spend a lot of time exploring and enjoying. Seems like a multi-talented fellow.

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Here’s some stuff I’ve harvested from around the web of late:

The Nerdist Podcast put out a couple of interesting/fun interviews that caught my ear: Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, talking about the comics and the movies; David J. Peterson, language guy, talking about inventing languages (including for Game of Thrones) and various real-language stuff.

Rio 2 has been all over cinema screens around the world lately. Here’s the real parrot it’s based on, Spix’s macaw:

Very pretty, no? Really quite beautiful in fact, if you ask me. But not as widespread as Rio 2, that parrot. In fact, it’s extinct in the wild as far as anyone can tell. Has been for some time. Good job, humanity. (And yes, I know the whole extinct in the wild thing is kind of a central plot point in the movies, but I still find the whole ‘let’s make fun movies and a bajillion dollars based on this’ thing a bit weird, even if it’s sort of well-intentioned.)

Amazon took over Comixology, the biggest purveyor of digital comics, to absolutely nobody’s surprise. I can’t begin to tell you how despondent the big river’s acquisition avalanche makes me. They’re a fine and clever company, I know; I use their excellent services now and again. But it’s in precisely no-one‘s long-term interest (except their own, of course) the way they’re hoovering up competitors and add-ons that incrementally turn them into a leviathan of truly leviathanic proportions. If you want to buy books online, take a look at Wordery. Good prices, good service, free delivery worldwide.

Talking of comics, I thought I’d take a moment to point out my favourite comic produced by IDW Publishing, the good folks who put out the Rogue Trooper comic what I have been writting. Locke & Key is an inspired, beautifully crafted and beautifully illustrated dark fantasy/horror comic from Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Complex and intriguing, it’s loaded with terrific character writing, clever world-building and eye-popping set-piece action. Give it a try (at Wordery, of course).

And here’s one of my favourite blogs, which I don’t believe I’ve mentioned here before: Abandoned Scotland. An exploration of ruined, forgotten, derelict Scotland that’s kind of hynoptically fascinating if you ask me. Stuff that’s hidden in plain sight, overlooked and disregarded, comes alive when you pay close attention to it. Investigate it. The most grungy and crumbly places and buildings become kind of beautiful. The Abandoned Scotland YouTube channel is a goldmine of strange discoveries. Don’t suppose this is exactly how the Scottish Tourist Board wants the world to see Scotland, but as a resident it’s all simultaneously familiar and surprising. Great stuff.

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My podcast listening is spiralling out of control. I spend so much time with stuff plugged into my ears I’m worried it might just kind of merge with my flesh and become a permanent fixture. It occurred to me the other day that if I added together all the time I spend reading, watching TV/film and internetting, it would fall some way short of the time I spend with someone podcasting into my ear. Thus, podcasts have officially become my primary source of entertainment and information. Weird.

As some might remember, I’m mystified why everyone in the world isn’t similarly addicted, and every so often do my best here to provide gateway drugs for those who haven’t yet acquired the podcast habit.

As I’m about to become a published comics writer (next week, I believe!), I thought it was about time I spread some love around one of my favourite categories of listening: comics podcasts! (And by ‘comics’, I mean word and pictures combining to tell stories, obviously; not people telling jokes and being funny).

I listen to too much comics stuff to get into it all here, so I offer just a sample: seven of the podcasts I regularly consume. With my ears.

ifanboy. Gets listed first because it was the first I really latched on to, years ago. Every week, like clockwork, there’s a ‘Pick of the Week’ episode in which the three hosts talk about a selection of the week’s new comics, answer reader questions etc. It’s tight, structured, pacy, with fairly high production values. Pretty polished as podcasts go, and I do appreciate a bit of polish now and again. Tends to be focused on the biggest publishers and relatively ‘mainstream’ comics, but the hosts have pretty diverse tastes and open minds so all kinds of stuff turns up over time.

House to Astonish. A British podcast (Scottish, in fact!) Yay, go us! Anyway, I like the Britishness of it, which heavily colours the tone and references and humour even though the subject matter is American comics. Another very structured offering, with a consistent format covering comics-related news, discussion of forthcoming comics, reviews of current comics etc. Accessible and fun, imho.

Wait, What?. Now we’re getting into the slightly more deep cut, idiosyncratic realm of comics podcasting, and with it possibly my favourite on this list. Every fortnight (approximately, theoretically), Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan deliver 2hrs+ of digressive, detailed comics-related talk that covers a very wide territory: superheroes, small press, manga, movies, beards, waffles, the weather … and so on. There are occasional rants and conspiracy theories about what’s going on in the industry or inside creator’s heads, nostalgic love-ins for old comics, technical snafus, all sorts of stuff. As with many of the best podcasts, the magic ingredient is the natural chemistry between the hosts which – again, as with many of the best podcasts – you only really come to fully appreciate and recognise after you’ve listened to a few episodes.

11 O’clock Comics. This one took me longer than most to get my head around, get onto the right wavelength etc. Four guys talking about comics and comics-related stuff for at least two hours once a week, every week. They drink, the conversation wanders around, they sometimes stray into rather NSFW territory. The range of comics discussed is pretty enormous, and quite a bit of what gets talked about doesn’t particularly interest me, but it’s talked about with such enthusiasm I stay thoroughly engaged. These guys read a lot of comics, like a lot of comics and like each other, and it shows.

Let’s Talk Comics. (That link is a horrendously slow loader, by the way, but it’ll get there in the end if you give it time – or you could just google the name or whatever). A newish kid on the podcasting block, and I’m already utterly hooked. Unlike the previous listings, this is an interview show, but it’s the kind of interview show you can absolutely only get in podcasts: extended, detailed, conversational. Some of the biggest names in the US comics industry (mostly writers and artists) talk at length and frankly about how they got into the business, how they do what they do, why they do what they do. It’s fascinating, and illuminating. Mostly has the form of what I’d call ‘narrative interview’, in that the talk is largely structured around the progress of the interviewee’s career.

Stuff Said. Another interview show. Another fascinating listen. The discussions tend to be a little bit more wide-ranging, a little less ‘narrative’ driven. Sometimes gets into such minute detail about aspects of the comics-making craft, the history of the industry, the thinking of the interviewee that I wonder if I must be far more of a comics nerd than I realised to enjoy it as much as I do. The truth is, though – and this is kind of the key to my whole podcast addiction – I find it endlessly interesting and enjoyable to listen to articulate people talk in detail about a subject, almost any subject, they care about and know inside out.

Decompressed. An irregular podcast that’s another interview show, but this time it’s a comics writer (Kieron Gillen) interviewing other comics professionals – often writers, occasionally artists – and most of the episodes focus on a single issue of a comic, trying to unpick what’s being done, and why, from a craft point of view. Always interesting to hear two professionals talking about what they do, don’t you think? Well, I suppose it depends on the professionals, but in this case lots of interesting stuff comes up.

Conclusion from all this? I listen to too many podcasts. There’s no getting away from it. It’s possible I need help.

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It’s been a long time since I paraded my podcast addiction publicly here, so just a quick note to flag up the fact that one of the best interview/conversation podcasts out there, The Nerdist, has been on a crazy roll the last few weeks.  Geek icon after geek icon has shown up, with extended discussion about all manner of interesting stuff.  If you’re into movies, TV, superheroes, that kind of stuff, this makes for very fun listening.  Just to mention the most obviously high profile ones:

Kevin Feige, boss man of Marvel Studios.

Tom Hiddleston, he of Loki fame.

Clark Gregg, he of Agent Coulson, Agents of Shield fame.

Harrison Ford, he of just plain old fame.

Daniel Radcliffe, he of Potter fame.

Tom Hanks, he of the biggest fame of the lot of them.

Stan Lee, he of … well, he’s Stan the Man, isn’t he?

And that’s a small fraction of the recentish interviews.  I’ve left out a whole heap of musicians, comedians, TV folks etc.  Almost without exception these end up being relaxed, informal, extended conversations that go places no by-the-numbers publicity interview would ever reach.  You’re very unlikely to go wrong, just picking some that sound interesting and giving them a listen.

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A quick post, prompted by my (very belated) discovery of a blog I really like, which connects to a podcast I also like to jointly deliver a World War II theme.

The blog first: World War II Today is one of those brilliant ideas that only the internet, and blog architecture in particular, makes possible. A day by day chronicle of WWII, presented in a ‘today, 70 years ago’ format with oodles of attention to detail and professionalism. Very cool. Obviously works best if you put it into your rss feed or some other subscription-like service, so you get a daily update. I love both the idea and its implementation. It’s a really remarkable achievement, I think.

The podcast second: The History of WWII Podcast is a staggering undertaking. A biweekly, or thereabouts, podcast delivering an enormously detailed narrative of … well, pretty much everything that happened during WWII. It melts my brain even to consider the amount of time and effort that’s going into this. I don’t even know how long it’s already been running for (I assume years), but it’s on episode 83 or so, and has reached early 1941. Japan and Russia and the US aren’t even really involved yet. This one could run and run. The early episodes are a little bit rough around the edges, but as time goes on they become more and more polished and well-narrated.

If, like me, you like your history, especially with a military flavour, these two are gems. That is all.

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It’s been a rough week or two for your local podcast addict (that’s me).

First, my venerable, cheap little mp3 player reached the end of its useful life. It did so in small increments, over a month or so, but finally started doing so many unpredictable and unhelpful things that I was functionally unable to listen to podcasts. This, it turns out, is not a state of affairs I am comfortable with. I got antsy and agitated. I cursed the poor little mp3 player every time it didn’t work as it should. I got angry with it, which is a frankly pathetic and humiliating state for a grown man to get into with a tiny bit of tech kit that lets him listen to stuff.

Finally, I panicked. Yes, panicked. I entered some weird kind of dissociative state in which the absolute number one priority in my life was to get hold of a new mp3 player. Not in a day or two – which would have allowed me to pick and choose and assess options carefully and buy it online – no, I had to have it immediately. So I went to a shop and bought the cheapest one they had in stock. End result: I can listen to podcasts again, but I’m doing so on a little piece of junk player that’s completely inappropriate for the job and I’m going to have to buy a properly selected new one very, very soon.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not sure precisely what it is so I’ve clearly failed to learn it.  So it goes.

And now, it turns out a patent troll is attempting to destroy podcasting entirely.  You have got to be kidding.  Except not: there really is a company out there (called Personal Audio) claiming it holds a patent for basically the entire concept of podcasting – not the technology or precise methodology or any particular techniques involved, you understand, the concept – and that everyone everywhere should therefore stop doing it or pay them a fee.

This is a ridiculous idea, if you ask me.  With due apologies to any US visitors, I’ve got to say that the US patent and legal systems are not, however, exactly renowned for their unfailing opposition to that which initially appears ridiculous, so the whole thing’s got serious enough that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is now involved, with a (hopefully hyperbolically titled) Save Podcasting Campaign.

Patent trolls are not good or helpful in any area of endeavour, if you ask me (which nobody did, obviously).  Patent trolls who go after something to which I’m very obviously hopelessly addicted (see above) feel like they’ve personally and vindictively researched my interests and drawn up a business plan, the main objective of which is making my life that little bit less enjoyable.  Boo hiss, I say.  If it looks like the evil troll is getting anywhere, I may even have to go so far as to donate money to the knights in shining armour trying to slay it …

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Two of my very favourite podcasts this time around. Paradoxically, the two specific episodes I’m going to point at are not exactly typical of the podcasts concerned (if anything, they’ve kind of swapped their normal areas of interest with one another in these particular cases), but they’re both good and they’re right in the bullseye of some of my own interests. Zombies! Biology! Cryptozoology! This is exciting stuff to me, hence the exclamation marks.

Monster Talk is pretty much always a fun show, especially if you’re interested in … well, not strictly monsters, but cryptozoological and superntural oddities in general.  All of it seen from a skeptical, scientifically informed point of view.

This time around, though, with the March 20th episode, entitled The Zombie Apocalypse, they’re talking real science and real creatures, and real crazy stuff at that.  Fungi that turn ants into zombies.  Parasites that (this sounds crazy, but it’s actual science) … parasites that live in 12% of Americans’ brains, 60% of French brains (!), and can affect human behaviour.  Rabies as a behaviour-modifying parasite.  All sorts of fascinating stuff.

TetZoo is a new kid on the podcast block, and a rather different kettle of fish.  It’s a pretty full-on zoology ‘cast, going into fascinating detail on all manner of things relating to animals, extant or extinct.  Those with four limbs, anyway, which is why its full title is Tetrapod Zoology.  Lots of serious and (if you’re like me) fascinating science, strange facts about the living world, stuff about dinosaurs and their kin.  Plus occasional discussions of sf and horror movies.  Just because.

But the hosts, Darren Naish and John Conway, are also interested in cryptozoology (approaching it from a scientific, skeptical but not entirely dismissive point of view) so this week for their third episode they produced a looong episode all about bigfoot and the sadly ever less convincing evidence for the big hairy ape-man’s actual existence (not that I ever thought it was remotely convincing, mind you).  All the background you could ever wish for, if you’re curious about what sensible, informed folks think about the sasquatch these days.

And as a side-note, John Conway makes nice pictures.  I think he’d be an interesting choice for anyone looking for an out-of-the-ordinary book cover …

Previous instalments of Perusing the Podverse, wherein I reveal just how odd my listening habits are (and believe me, we’ve only scratched the surface of my podcast addiction so far), can be found here.

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