The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

November 30, 2008 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Great title for my letter-to-the-editor

November 28, 2008 at 1:16 pm | In business, green, innovation, times_colonist | 1 Comment

I missed this when it was published on 11/13, but my letter in response to Les Leyne’s Times-Colonist column on the carbon tax (see my blog entry about it, Cracking cement: Industry and municipalities could work together) did make it into the paper.

The editor came up with a witty title for it: Cast a solution for cement pollution, and it was minimally edited (for brevity, I guess), so that’s nice.

Why am I blogging about it (again)? Because it’s important to keep solutions like this in the public realm, in front of people. Otherwise, we all climb back into our cozy (not!) boxes and carry on as usual.

Here’s the letter, as published:

Cast a solution for cement pollution
Times Colonist

Published: Thursday, November 13, 2008

Re: “Cement industry fears carbon tax squeeze,” column, Nov. 8.

Kudos to the B.C. Liberals for putting industry under pressure — not to destroy it, but to force it to innovate. It really is time for more creative thinking when it comes to environmental issues. Municipalities and industries need to step up, perhaps to collaborate.

Finding ways to sequester the carbon dioxide produced by cement production continues to be a contested holy grail for the industry. The “squeeze” of a carbon tax might actually make sequestration a more realistic goal.

A Nova Scotia company, Carbon Sense Solutions, recently claimed it has a process that sequesters all emissions from cement production by storing them in precast concrete products.

Our cement factories typically don’t also produce precast concrete products, but consider a scenario where there is more creative co-operation between industry and municipalities. In such a world it might make sense to add facilities that produce precast concrete products, if municipalities (which also need to meet carbon-neutral goals) found ways to use precast concrete (vs. concrete mix) for public works (roads, sidewalks, etc.) projects.

There will have to be a lot more innovative thinking, literally to disrupt traditional supply-chain setups. If the carbon tax “squeezes” industries and municipalities to embrace that disruption creatively and constructively, it’ll be a win-win for us all.

For more on the still-contested methods of carbon sequestering in cement making, see

Yule Heibel


I’m also happy to know (via an email I got from Les Leyne in response to this letter) that he’s on the case, here and in other areas concerning the environment. Good to know!


November 24, 2008 at 10:33 pm | In links | 1 Comment

Sadly, my Sunday Diigo Links post didn’t appear yesterday, which means interested readers will have to visit my Diigo page and look up what I bookmarked last week.

One favourite, worth highlighting, is this:

Introduction: By Paul Hawken – SustainLane

Great defense of cities by Paul Hawken.
Urban migration represents a kind of collective wisdom, and how we configure our cities will be critical to our survival. Regardless of the myths about living close to the land, cities are where human beings have the lowest ecological footprint. It takes less energy, wood, material, and food to provide a good life for a person in a city than in the country. Rather than perceive the city as an ecological sink sucking up the resources of the countryside, which cities can do, cities can also be a kind of ecological ark, places where humanity gathers while we peak in population and develop ecological intelligence for a new civilization. There is wisdom in this that is rather extraordinary. It was not predicted that cities might be the best strategy for our long-term survival and well-being. Yet that is exactly what is happening.

Tags: sustainlane, paul_hawken, sustainability, cities, urbanization, environment, ecology

That’s a site I wish to refer to often, whenever the NIMBYs start beating the anti-urban drum.

Go cities, go!

…Even in this current, depressing period of global economic meltdown…

Speaking of which, the most interesting article on the financial crisis was one by Michael Lewis – but before I even had time to read it, I glommed on to it, twittering and facebooking it right away, because of Ji Lee’s arresting photo illustration of a slain (or sleeping) bull, crashed on Wall Street’s cobbles:

The End of Wall Street’s Boom, by Michael Lewis –

Must-read expose/ explanation by Michael Lewis (author of Liar’s Poker) of Wall Street’s “doomsday machine,” as Steve Eisman calls it. Not sure I understand completely all the ins and outs of “selling short” and “shorting,” but Lewis articulates it well enough. The first passage I highlighted really captures the “sorcerer’s apprentice gone mad” quality: There really weren’t enough unqualified mortgage borrowers to satisfy investors’ appetite for collateralized debt obligation (CDOs) packages, so “shorts” step in to create a kind of magic alternate — like the splinters of wood when the apprentice tries to chop the enchanted broom into bits, and thereby just creates more brooms…. So in the end, you have more losses than loans.

Tags: michael_lewis, wallstreet,, financial_crisis

On a completely different note – because I’m a sucker for interesting pictures – I also bookmarked this:

LIFE photo archive hosted by Google

Google has put the LIFE photo archive online: “Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google.”

Tags: photo_gallery, google, history, archive_photos, reference, resources

That’s going to be a great resource – I hope to have time to explore it fully at some point.

Yeah, and finally – because it speaks to the current financial turmoil (ironically, almost), and to the deathlike sterility of anti-city suburbs (remember, I’m pro-city), and is simply a great photo/ illustration, here’s a photo posted to Facebook by Kazys Varnelis:

Yes, it’s the 21st century equivalent of “let them eat cake,” isn’t it?

Will Victoria grow its start-up muscle?

November 23, 2008 at 12:08 am | In business, local_not_global, victoria | 3 Comments

Via an older blog entry from Richard Florida, a pointer to an article by Ben Casnocha, Start-Up Town, which describes (among other things) how Boulder, CO went from being “a little hippie college town to a little hippie college town also boasting an impressive and growing congregation of Internet entrepreneurs, early-stage venture capitalists, and bloggers.”

Defying the easy “wisdom” of copying all things Silicon Valley, Boulder got lucky insofar as it attracted several key individuals who came for the lifestyle, but stayed to make sure that Boulder’s corral reef (ok, I’m making a loose analogy) could grow. I was struck by some of the similarities (as well as deficiencies) that Victoria, BC has compared to Boulder’s history and trajectory.

Casnocha begins his examination of Boulder’s success by focusing on people: first, Brad Feld arrived (“somewhat on a whim”) in 1995.  He eventually connected with several other key individuals, some of whom were, like Feld, able to inject investment capital into the community. Click through to Casnocha’s article to read the whole (very interesting) story.

The striking similarity is the “somewhat on a whim” bit, which actually speaks to lifestyle choice.  Feld and some of the others came to Boulder not because they wanted to “have” Silicon Valley in Boulder, but because they wanted to live the Boulder lifestyle.  What was lucky for Boulder, however, was that these serial entrepreneurs and venture capitalists just kept doing what they would do elsewhere, which is support start-ups and technology growth. As a result, Boulder now has its own homegrown and unique (not Silicon Valley copycat) start-up culture.

At the risk of provoking the local cynics to snigger, there are some interesting parallels to think about between Boulder and Victoria.  Victoria is also the kind of place people come to “somewhat on a whim.”  They come here for the natural beauty, for the lifestyle, and for the climate (mildest in Canada, most sunshine on the We[s]t Coast in winter, due to the fact that, unlike Vancouver, we’re in a mini-rain shadow).

And we have a number of small start-ups here, even if they fly seemingly invisible, below the radar.  Some have managed to grow bigger — we need more of that. We also have a huge (in proportion to our population) arts community, in theatre, opera, visual arts, literature, film, music, and more: it too belongs, together with technology, into the creative start-up category.

In the week after Labor Day I chatted with a couple visiting from Baltimore.  They were in Victoria for just one night, having planned their trip according to the boilerplate stuff peddled by our tourism industry (that Victoria is a “quaint” and “British” town).  Now that they had arrived, however, they realized there was a lot more to see (but their vacation plans were already set: Whistler next, and then a wedding in Vancouver, with no way to book additional time in Victoria).

I asked them what they thought the city’s number one industry was.

“Fishing?” the man volunteered.

Inwardly I wanted to scream, “Are you nuts?,” but I just said, “Nope, try again.”

“Tourism?” she ventured.

Wrong again.

High tech, I said.

That kind of staggered them (fortunately they were sitting down).  But it’s true — tourism was eclipsed by high tech in 2006/07 (tourism revenue: $1.2b; high tech $1.8b).

I mentioned Abebooks.

“But they’re based in Portland, aren’t they?” he asked.

Hardly!  I told them the story of how the company was founded (and how we’re all hoping that they don’t up and leave for Seattle, now that Amazon bought them).  When the gentleman said that a huge chunk of his disposable income goes to Abebooks each month and that he couldn’t believe he was in the city where it’s based, I gave them directions for finding Abebooks’ office (they were going to be in the neighborhood anyway, as their hotel was across the Blue Bridge).

For as long as I can remember (and well before then), interesting people have come to Victoria — often “on a whim” — while at the same time many have found it difficult to make the connections that would allow the corral reef to take off and develop into a self-sustaining ecosystem.  So they left, or worse they settled for settling.  My hope is that with the help of technology to connect the dots, the people, the ideas, we can lay down the capillaries that will pump a conversational life-blood through the community and perk up the city’s circulation.  Unlike Boulder, we are on an island, and that’s a specific constraint (or is it an affordance?) that can’t be designed away. But every other aspect should be open to change.

News that skews

November 22, 2008 at 12:15 am | In free_press, local_not_global, newspapers, times_colonist, victoria | 3 Comments

This is an entry about a story of local interest, but its implications are broader. It is also about truth in newspaper reporting, about credibility, and the problems that develop under a media monopoly.

The other day I came across two versions of the same article, published by two different papers in the Canwest newspaper empire, about Susanne Butscher, the woman in Britain who recently was able to give birth to a baby because her twin sister, Dorothee Tilly, donated one of her ovaries to her almost two years ago. The article was by Ian Austin, and was sent out by the Canwest News Service: it appeared in my local Victoria paper, The Times-Colonist, and presumably was sent out multiple times to the other newspapers in the Canwest chain. The second version I read appeared in The Calgary Herald.

Normally I don’t go hunting for multiple versions of the same story, but I read the Times-Colonist version first and was intrigued to know whether the story had had much additional exposure. So I googled the names (Susanne Butscher and Dorothee Tilly). While lots of other articles turned up, I was immediately struck by the headline in the Calgary Herald version: Vancouver woman becomes aunt and mother. Why did that seem noteworthy?

Well, living in Victoria, I’ve become a tad over-sensitive to how my city is made to disappear off the national stage, as though out here on the We(s)t Coast only Vancouver existed. Because, you see, the Times-Colonist version reported that Dorothee Tilly is from Victoria, yet it’s a detail that was dropped from the national version (which also didn’t list Austin as the author).

Here’s what the hometown version looked like (I bolded a couple of lines for special emphasis):

Donated ovary allows sister to give birth

Ian Austin, Canwest News Service

Published: Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dorothee Tilly became both an aunt and a mother last week when her twin sister gave birth to baby Maja

Maja was conceived using an egg produced by Tilly’s ovary, which had been transplanted into her identical twin Susanne Butscher.

“It’s a miracle,” Tilly said yesterday. “We have the twin telepathy thing. I feel like I’m a part of her, and she’s a part of me.”

Dorothee Tilly, with her children Johanna, 7, and Lars, 5, is also an aunt of a special nature to her sister's child.View Larger Image View Larger ImageDorothee Tilly, with her children Johanna, 7, and Lars, 5, is also an aunt of a special nature to her sister’s child.
photocredit: Debra Brash, Times Colonist

Tilly, 39 and from Victoria, already had two children, but her sister gave up hope of having kids of her own after she went into early menopause.

Then Butscher’s gynecologist told her of groundbreaking research at the Infertility Centre of St. Louis, Mo.

“The doctor told my sister, ‘You and your twin sister are ideal candidates for this surgery,'” said Tilly.

Tilly said her sister’s request initially made her feel “a little awkward.”

“With two children, I counted my blessings,” she said. “My major driving factor was to help her.”

The transplanted ovary helped Butscher’s battle with osteoporosis, and let her stop taking hormones that had their own negative side-effects.

Her daughter’s birth in England almost two years later was an unexpected surprise.

Despite her genetic contribution, Tilly said she’s not Maja’s parent.

“She’s my niece,” said Tilly. “I don’t think I’m the mother.”

Tilly is planning to visit her sister and baby Maja in England sometime soon.

“It’s the gift of life,” she said. “My sister is super happy. She’s trying to get some rest after the whole ‘miracle thing.’ It’s just amazing the attention she’s getting from around the world.”

Compare that to the version in The Calgary Herald (which I’m guessing is also how it looked if it ran in any of the other Canwest papers):

Vancouver woman becomes aunt and mother

Canwest News Service

Published: Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dorothee Tilly became both an aunt and a mother last week when her twin sister gave birth to baby Maja.

Maja was conceived using an egg produced by Tilly’s ovary, which had been transplanted into her identical twin Susanne Butscher.

“It’s a miracle,” Tilly said Tuesday. “We have the twin telepathy thing. I feel like I’m a part of her, and she’s a part of me.”

Tilly, a 39-year-old Vancouver Island resident, already had two children, but her sister gave up hope of having kids of her own after she went into early menopause.

Then Butscher’s gynecologist told her of the groundbreaking research at the Infertility Centre of St. Louis, Mo.

“The doctor told my sister, ‘You and your twin sister are ideal candidates for this surgery,’ ” said Tilly.

Tilly said her sister’s request initially made her feel “a little awkward.”

“With two children, I counted my blessings,” she said. “My major driving factor was to help her.”

The transplanted ovary helped Butscher’s battle with osteoporosis, and let her stop taking hormones that had their own negative side-effects.

While there isn’t a huge difference between the two versions, there is enough of one to make me worry about the veracity of what I can read in the papers. Yes, Victoria is on Vancouver Island, so it’s technically not a lie to say that Dorothee Tilly is from Vancouver Island – but why the change in Austin’s text from “Tilly, 39 and from Victoria” to “Tilly, a 39-year-old Vancounver Island resident”?

And what about the headlines?  The first version has an accurate, non-sensational headline, and the article specifically includes Tilly’s disclaimer about not feeling like she’s the “mother” of the new baby.  The second version not only leaves out the disclaimer (which was an affirmation of science – “She’s my niece” – and appropriate kinship – “I don’t think I’m the mother”), but in fact offers a headline worthy of The National Enquirer.  With that headline, most readers will probably miss the point of the transplant, which was to help Butscher in her battle with osteoporosis: “[Butscher’s] daughter’s birth in England almost two years later was an unexpected surprise.”  That sentence was left out of the national version.

When I set out to write this post, I was most concerned by how the national version of the article managed to erase Victoria from the map. I’m still concerned by that – it’s a serious issue in my book since it happens too often.

But compare the two versions and decide.  From where I sit I conclude that the locally reported story is stronger, more vivid and accurate; and that dissemination via a media monopoly results in stories that are bereft of complexity and therefore realism, and are skewed to grab eyeballs (perhaps through some level of sensationalism).

Fantasy, failure, and faux: that’s Victoria!

November 20, 2008 at 8:28 pm | In authenticity, heritage, local_not_global, NIMBYism, urbanism, victoria | 2 Comments

There are plenty of important things to write about (like Canada’s miserable inability to defend net neutrality), but I just realized something important about fantasy, failure, and the city of Victoria’s self-deceiving love affair with faux heritage. It’s a mind-set espoused by way too many people, and likely to contribute to our upcoming stagnation.

A man I know quite well wrote a letter to our weekly “alt” <kof> paper, Monday Magazine, and it was published in the current edition, here. He tries to construct some sort of metaphor based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with urban development functioning as the evil towers of bad ol’ Saruman/ Sauron. In a misplaced effort to invest himself with authority, he references the fact that his great-grandfather was the Bishop of BC, as if that contributed anything to the issue at hand.  (And incidentally: In his letter, he writes that his grandfather was Bishop, yet that’s completely untrue. Fantasy worlds do tend to warp the time-space continuum a bit, I suppose…)

He then mentions me by name, and references an article I wrote last April for Focus magazine (and which is available online via Scribd, here).  He writes: “Yule Heibel in Focus magazine talks about having View Towers declared a heritage site. Has Ms. Heibel actually been in View Towers?”

Well, let me answer that last question first: yes, I have. Admittedly, it was a long time ago (the early 70s), but one of my good friends from high school lived in View Towers with her family. There were nice people living in the building, believe it or not, despite the fact that today many (myself included) think it looks like typical “commie block” architecture.

As to the letter writer’s first assertion, I didn’t talk about “having View Towers declared a heritage site.” I was writing about our attitude toward blight, and how we too easily get caught up in aesthetics, instead of focusing on real human needs and usages.  View Towers, importantly, continues to fulfill a crucial role in Victoria by providing much-needed affordable housing to many people.

Here’s what I actually wrote:

Centennial Square replaced an area labeled “blight” by 60s-era planners.  Its decrepit buildings looked awful.  The area was economically depressed, aspersion cast on its social networks and human uses associated with them.  Because they looked “slummy” and undesirable, the assumption was that anyone associated with those spaces was probably undesirable, too.  Whatever embodied energy those spaces contained was deemed less meaningful than a clean slate.

I’m reminded again of the BC Historical Federation symposium last May, “Heritage & Tourism – Compatibility or Conflict?”  A woman in the audience spoke up to say that defining heritage only as “valuable” architecture is far too limiting, since this elides what buildings actually embody.  Stripped of embodied heritage energy, buildings are just containers; but if we consider how they’re used, another real dimension snaps into focus.

The woman’s husband had grown up in Eastern Europe, in a building we’d probably dismiss as a “Commie block” tower.  Yet for him, that “ugly” building was his history and personal heritage.   He’s hardly alone.  In Berlin, there’s a nostalgic and carefully cultivated revival of  “Commie block” style, indulged by middle-aged people for whom those buildings represent their pre-1989 youth: the bars and eateries, the apartments, the cheap concrete — all of it literally embodies their coming of age, before the Wall came down.

And so, consider View Towers.  I’d argue it has a richer history of use than Centennial Square: its embodied energy is tremendous, particularly compared to the square’s suburban one-dimensionality.

Would we endorse knocking View Towers down just because we don’t like its looks?  Or because we (mistakenly) believe it might house dodgy people?  I wouldn’t.  If anything, I’d encourage increasing the density around View Towers with equally imposing (if differently styled) multi-use buildings, to balance its sometimes oppressive and lonely formal energy.

What might this perspective mean for “real” (read: historically and aesthetically more significant) urban heritage?  It again comes back to uses, and the energies embodied in them.  Heritage buildings need to live, which means they need to be used.

In cities, buildings can’t afford to be museum pieces unless they actually are museums – in which case they need to be paid for and maintained by some foundation with really deep pockets.  Otherwise, they have to earn their keep.  This means that buildings have to be adaptable to other uses over time.

In other words, I don’t say anywhere that this building should be declared a “heritage site.”

The author of the letter gives kudos to one of Monday‘s writers whose hobby-horse is development-bashing. This staff writer likes to cloak himself in a green and socially-conscious mantle, all the while espousing the “values” of suburban sprawl: the single-family home with a lawn out front and a nice picket fence, set in low-density zoning.

Folks, that’s not a city.

And it’s not environmentally responsible, either.

But here’s the crux. This letter-writer, who has already given himself a false lineage to claim an authority that escapes him, exposes himself further as a lover of fakery:

My grandfather [sic, see above] was Bishop of B.C. and oversaw the construction of Christ Church Cathedral and I never fail to marvel at those sere towers and magnificent flying buttresses. I suggest City Council are flying, that this mania is akin to the worst of manic highs and that we are going to regret this period of growth when the distinct seven villages in town are no more. One only has to view the gaping hole where the Oak Bay Beach Hotel was to experience an ineffable sense of loss and now I hear that Anne Hathaway’s cottage is slated for demolition. (more)

Note the bolded part: after castigating View Towers, which at least and to its credit is an honest building, built in an age when concrete slab apartment towers were all the rage in Soviet lands as well as their meteorological kin (i.e., the colder parts of Canada), expressing nothing but their own truth (utility and the belief that you could safely warehouse people – which of course you can’t), he exalts two structures that embody all the fakery of “olde Englande” heritage, often known as mock Tudorbethan.

Admittedly, after enough time has passed even Tudorbethan might become “authentic,” providing it can be maintained (which requires deep pockets and a sense of economics).

But authenticity will forever elude people who live only in the past, rely on false authority, create fantasy worlds that don’t even function as thoughtful prototypes for imaginative action – in short,  people who really should move out of the city.’s Visual Guide to the Financial Crisis

November 19, 2008 at 3:27 pm | In ideas | 1 Comment

I came across this excellent graphic the other day, posted by in A Visual Guide to the Financial Crisis.

Click through to’s blog post to read more.  There’s a long comments thread, too.

Low voter turnout

November 18, 2008 at 3:02 pm | In guerilla_politics, ideas, innovation, leadership, local_not_global, politics, victoria | 8 Comments

Last Saturday, British Columbia held municipal elections.  Here in Victoria and the other 12 surrounding municipalities that together comprise the CRD (Capital Regional District), we too voted.

There’s a problem, though: the turnout is low, low, low.

The City of Victoria managed to get just under 22% of eligible voters to cast a ballot; Saanich: 21%; Oak Bay (slightly higher): just under 36%; Esquimalt: just under 27%.  Those are the four “core” municipalities; I won’t go into the slightly more distant suburbs/ municipalities (tricky to define, anyway: the Western Communities are a hub of their own, with Langford as their center).

I tried getting people engaged, and thought in particular about younger voters.  It’s a cliche that in Victoria, you have to get the seniors vote, because they’re the ones who actually bother.  (I wonder if Oak Bay’s much higher turnout had something to do with its demographics: many people retire to that community, although I have to add it’s also home to many younger families — if they can afford to get into Oak Bay’s housing market.)  Younger people, so goes the cliche (which looks to be true), don’t vote.

And yet there were a couple of outstanding young campaigners in Victoria’s election (who didn’t get that many votes, though).  What’s going on?  By a wide margin, the incumbents got back in, and the newbies that were elected are the folks endorsed by the (in my opinion pro-status quo) labour union (long story on that, see my entry from Nov.11).

How do we get progressive people to vote, and how do we move beyond the binary partisanship of “left” and “right” (the status quo)?

Well, according to this letter to the editor in today’s Times-Colonist, we really don’t need to worry or bother:

Low turnout no problem
Times Colonist
Published: Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The concern about poor voter turnout is unnecessary.

For many different reasons, not all of the population is always able to vote responsibly.

It seems best to leave these important decisions to the percentage of the population that does have the time, the interest and the ability to keep informed about the candidates and the issues.

Democracy works well if those who can vote responsibly do so, and those who know that they are not sufficiently informed to vote responsibly (for whatever reason) leave the decisions to others.
Mary Douthwaite

This letter really pissed me off.

I wish it would piss off all the younger disengaged puppies who didn’t bother to vote.  The letter writer is basically telling you that you’re too stupid to vote, which is why you don’t, and that we who do vote shouldn’t worry that you don’t vote.  Why?  Because we are informed and we know what’s right, and you don’t.

Wow, with a defense of democracy like that, who needs detractors?

Ok, young people of Victoria, Saanich, Esquimalt, and Oak Bay (and beyond): are you too stupid to be informed?  Do you need us (who vote) to do it for you?

Or do we just not have your attention?

What gives?  Let’s devise a campaign that gets your attention, then.  Make some suggestions, for god’s sake.

I propose viral campaigning, at least one full year before the election takes place.  Like, the kids love pizza, right?  How about re-branding pizza boxes in a stealth “raise-awareness-campaign,” like The Economist did in the Philadelphia area?

As part of their “Get a World View” campaign, The Economist distributed branded pizza boxes through 20 pizzerias in the Greater Philadelphia area. Each box displays one of a handful of pie charts that show a statistic related to world food distribution, with an emphasis on those used in pizza production. They list things like global wheat consumption, world cheese imports and arable crop land. (SOURCE)

How about getting people to notice — at whatever level of consciousness, whether pizza boxes or pub coasters — that municipal governance is a huge issue?

Maybe get them to notice cool innovative stuff that mobilizes their interest in social media?  How about a wiki where users can go in and tweak government?  (It would have to have constraints that tell users when they’re in contravention of the BC Municipal Act and other provincial legislation, but basically it would allow some “blue sky” thinking while showing what the actual constraints are).

Those are just a couple of ideas.  There are many more.  Even lying in bed with sinusitis (again!) I can come up with better ideas than the worn-out old paternalism expressed in that letter.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

November 16, 2008 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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