Thoughts on Social Media, Consumer Experiences, and Promotional Product Safety.

I retired from creating brand merchandise for a global tire manufacturer, now I am the Executive Director of Quality Certification Alliance.

Posts here are my own.

A Good Network Involves Separating Givers from The Takers

This post originally appeared on Blue Ink, Johannes Mutzke’s thoughtful Blog. Many thanks to him for allowing me to guest post, and for promoting it.



Did your Mom ever tell you that there are just two kinds of people in the world?

Mine did: “Jeff, there are givers, and there are takers- you are either one, or the other.”

She was probably trying to explain at the time a person that had hurt my feelings- maybe one that didn’t do what they said they would.

She certainly wasn’t talking about networking in the business world, but she could have been. There is something quite powerful in having a great network to rely on, a group of go-to colleagues that have an answer to a problem, an objective opinion to offer, or a “warm introduction” to avoid a cold call. The price of my network admission has become simply that you need to take the time to learn about what makes me tick, and then return a favor once in a while, if asked.

But, lately it seems that I have run into many more takers than givers- it’s almost epidemic. Those that haven’t paid the price of admission don’t let that small detail stop them. Am I theonly one that has had the very first conversation, or email from someone, start with, “Hi, I’m Barry, now- here is what I want you to do for me…”?

Even in today’s digital world of networking, there is a phrase that seems to have some traction: “building a tribe”. If social media is the digital water cooler, then tribe building is the that Monday morning gathering and conversation virtually around it. Social Media Today has even created a “Tribal Map”. There is now a company called Tribaling (http://tribaling.com/) with the mission to “help companies succeed in the new world of tribaling”. What?

If I may I say so politely, “Hogwash”. I’d say something stronger, but this is Johannes’ Blog. It’s really simple. Whether it is the old-fashioned shake-hands-and-howdy, or some shiny penny new tribe-building buzz, it doesn’t change the fact there really are just givers and takers in this world, just like Mom said.

Networking is one of the most powerful tools to move any project or relationship ahead. But, to be successful, you have to give- to be able to get. Slow down, take the time to learn about someone before you ask them to do something for you. I think way too many people in business today have either forgotten, or never learned, this basic principle of any relationship.

How about you, have you found yourself wondering at the expectations of those who have never bothered to even get to know you?


Jeff is a great friend of mine and has the gift of articulating important concepts in a way that “sticks with you.” Based on his engaging personality and depth of experience, he brings credibility and wit to the topics he discusses. He’s someone who practices what he preaches. I’m delighted to have him as a guest on Blue Ink and look forward to hosting him more often.

About Jeff Jacobs: Jeff is the executive director of Quality Certification Alliance (http://www.qcalliance.org/) , the only non-profit, independent certification organization working to provide safe and socially compliant product in the promotional products industry. He is board chairman of Fall for Greenville (http://fallforgreenville.net/) , the largest outdoor festival in Greenville, SC, and the former director of brand merchandise for Michelin, N.A.


Posted at 8:15 PM (1 year ago) | Permalink

Working Where Work Is to Be Done

I asked a priest from Ireland once why he chose to work in Mississippi. He replied, “because that is where the work needs to be done”.

Based on today, and the reaction spinning out of control from incorrect information reported by a couple of news outlets, there could be a parallel to the choice to volunteer at what became the lightning rod of Greenville County Animal Care

The first report that a case of canine influenza had been reported at Animal Care came last night on Fox Carolina by Joseph Pereira and Brittany Vollmer. Though subsequently updated this afternoon, the report said the shelter was going to euthanize all dogs not removed from the shelter by 7PM Friday evening.

That report was picked up by Elisa Black-Taylor reporting for The Greenville Dog Examiner and Examiner.com. While it updated twice on Friday, the headline remained, Greenville shelter faces canine flu emergency; all dogs need out by 7pm Friday (Photos)”

While it is unclear who provided the news outlets with erroneous information- specifically that the entire remaining dog population would be euthanized at 7pm- it is possible that it came from a leaked internal Animal Care memo:

We have a confirmed case of Canine Influenza with a stray dog that came into our shelter. Dogs inoculated with a core vaccine (like DA2PPV) are not protected against Canine Influenza, and therefore prudent precautions are necessary to prevent this disease from spreading. With that in mind, we are taking cautionary measures to isolate and clean areas of our shelter where dogs are housed. In order to do this, we need all dogs whose stray hold is over to leave the shelter for a minimum of one week before introducing them to other dogs.They will Not be altered, they will be given Rabies Vaccines & Microchipped! All Dogs listed below are considered Super Urgent and must be confirmed no later than Friday August 23rd at NOON, and must leave the shelter no later than 7pm that day- No Exceptions.

Note that the memo does not specifically talk about euthanizing the dogs, but the reference to “Super Urgent” is to the term that usually applies to those animals at highest risk of being put down. A reasonable jump to make, I suppose.

I have to admit that I was prompted to post on Facebook that there was a crisis that needed help based on these news reports. Pronto. Many acquaintances did the same- not only locally, but since Pet Rescues can come from anywhere- across the country. Both my wife and I spent time at Animal Care today in an effort to help speed the process.

But then, for the rest of the day, I was positively shocked at the amount of Vitriol spewed forth by those posting on Facebook in response, and in addition to, many of the best-intended posts on the matter. You would have thought the Animal Care folks had conspired with the NSA for a plot of mammoth proportions to fool the general public. Reports of alleged mismanagement, disarray at the shelter, and personal attacks were launched.

In the end, here are the facts. No dogs that remained at 7pm were put down due to canine flu. For today, all adoptions were simply done on a foster-to-adopt basis. All potential adopters were given an information sheet: 

Animal Care

Adoptions will not be finalized for two weeks, ownership would not transfer to the adoptive parents until it was clear the animal wasn’t infected. The dog was to be isolated from other pets in the home. Should the dog be infected, the disease is treatable, and would be taken care of at the shelter, at County expense.

No dogs were euthanized that were being held under the standard 5-day hold for animals turned in to the Lost and Found. No dogs selected for the adoption area were euthanized at 7pm. The only dogs at risk were the same ones that ALWAYS are- the 48 hour Super Urgent. In other words, business as usual.

Side benefits of all this incorrect information and nasty behavior?

The good: A trip through Animal Care just before 7pm brought the smile of empty cages- it was a very busy day for adoptions. Rescues were coming from all over, the sense of urgency obvious , but not as part of some sinister plan by those evil NSA/Animal Care co-conspirators: 

Animal Care

The bad: All of the caustic back-and-forth does nothing to save animals. It alienates potential adopters, volunteers, and donors.

The reason Jeanette and I volunteer is BECAUSE this is where the work needs to be done. The numbers are staggering- Animal Care takes every animal from Greenville County, and some of Spartanburg County, regardless of breed, temperament, health or injuries- there were 20,000 animals taken in last year. Only 10,000 found homes.

There is not an army of professional PR and media folks at hand, so incorrect information and leaks like this are possible. For those that suggest the organization is in some sort of disarray, yes- with two puppy mill raids, and now this in two months, the staff is stretched, and there is work to be done to improve volunteer efficiency. But perhaps, instead of sniping, how about pitching in and being a force for change?

I will admit the information flow from official sources in the County could have been swifter, social media monitoring could have been employed for better response, but given the resources available, sleeves simply need to be rolled up at this point. The final word on today from Animal Care was issued about 8 this evening:

Status Update
By Greenville County Animal Care Services
Greenville County continues to examine the canine influenza situation. As released earlier on Friday, there is still only one confirmed case of canine influenza. However, Greenville County Animal Care continues to take all possible proactive, cautionary measures designed to ensure the best achievable results for the dogs in our care and in the community. 

With that in mind, Greenville County Animal Care will be CLOSED to the public on Saturday, August 24th, but County staff will be working. This closure will allow Animal Care staff to focus on the procedures necessary to address the situation. Also, shelter medical specialist Dr. Gerryll Hall from Atlanta will be on site using her vast experience with similar incidences to assist Greenville County in evaluating the situation and make recommendations. Dr. Hall will be able to add her expertise to the current treatment plan and cleaning strategy. 

As is standard procedure Greenville County Animal Care will be closed to the public on Sunday. However, staff will continue to work and evaluate information throughout the day.
How about you? Care to roll up your sleeves and help? You can start here:

Posted at 10:56 PM (1 year ago) | Permalink

Fins To The Left, Careless Brand Extension To The Right…

Square Peg turns 3 today, so, there’s that.

I think I have seen enough Jimmy Buffett concerts live, listened to enough Radio Margaritaville on SiriusXM, and while wearing Hawaiian prints daily, could be considered a Parrothead.

No need to vote.


Because I am a fan doesn’t mean I overlook a carelessly managed brand extension. But, I’m sure Jimmy doesn’t care what I think. That’s the point. It won’t effect record or ticket sales. Concerts still sell out literally in minutes for a guy that hasn’t charted a #1 hit since “Margaritaville” itself in 1977.

Recently visited the Margaritaville on Navy Pier in Chicago. I went because, compared to other spots in this tourist area, there was no wait. That’s really the only positive reason listed in the 55 Yelp reviews of this Margaritaville. If you are a fan and/or want to go, just ignore them. It’s for the best.

Of the 55 Yelp reviews, only four gave it the maximum 5 Stars, 21 reviewers plopped down in the middle with 3 stars. If you were concerned about your Brand and its extension, reviews like this might be a call to action:

"Jimmy Buffet made a huge mistake building such a small restaurant in this area when his group could have done much better with size and location! Look elsewhere unless you’re really looking for a tourist trap."

"I wish I would’ve done research before I came here- obviously when a place has low stars and a ‘comment’ from the owner on each review, they are spending more time focusing on their reputation, and not their service or food quality. It’s funny how each comment says they will take the comments very seriously- yet they continously (sic) get the same bad reviews. very disingenuous if you ask me.

As far as the food and service, nachos were super greasy, servers weren’t attentive. if you want a margarita, get it to go.”

"I talked up Margaritaville to my husband because I have been to the one in Universal Studios and he was super excited to try it. Needless to say he was disappointed. We will be back for a second chance because everyone deserves a second chance right? I hope your food improves."

That sentiment is in stark contrast to Jimmy’s own message on the front of the menu:


If this visit was to be a “celebration of life” experience, then, I guess I’d be celebrating without the flagship Landshark Beer on tap. In another lack of attention to detail- the key House Brand had run dry.


Like the experience of others posting reviews, the service was uninspired, which matched the quality of the food.

Management is at least looking and commenting on the reviews, even if the result does not appear to show it:


Comment from Courtney G. of Margaritaville Bar & Grill Chicago 8/4/2013    « Hide

Andrea B. - Thank you for visiting and sharing your valuable feedback. We do take all of our reviews very serious. It is not our intention to just look good on these review sites by responding, we genuinely want to be the best in food, service and fun. Good or bad, we want to hear from our guests as it is the best way for us to improve. We can assure you that your comments about our nachos and service will be sincerely addressed. 

Margaritaville Management Team


How about you? If this was your reputation at stake, YOUR “Personal Brand” would you just the let the band play on? ______________________________________________________

Posted at 5:26 PM (1 year ago) | Permalink

Thinking about #Samsung #SmartCam for Home Security? In a word- Don’t.

I admit that I fell victim to a large endcap at Costco, and pricing more than $100 off. Two SmartCams (Model SNH-1011N) for $194.99. Normally $149 each (SRP), I even rationalized the purchase as “Buy One, Get 2nd for less than $50!” If things seem too good to be true…


A quick look at the Amazon reviews (28 as of this writing) show a mixed result. While 15 of 28 were favorable, the rest had many of the same experiences I had.


First, you only get a”Quick Start” Guide, no complete user’s manual. Since the first method listed was set up from your phone, that’s where I started.


Like other reviewers experienced, the second camera never did authenticate for me. We’re now two hours into a “process that takes minutes”. It’s Saturday after all, so I give it a rest. Not ready to take it back. Yet.

Started fresh again this morning. Decided to try setting up the cameras from my computer, the second choice in the instructions. Accessed, or tried to, http://www.samsungsmartcam.com/. Web access was spotty, and very slow. Sometimes, it wasn’t available at all. The suggestion to kill the page, and kill the idea that I will like this product too, comes into focus.


I was able to get the site to load eventually in Safari. Feeling better. Set-up choices much more complete on-line. Adjusted picture quality, and sensitivity. Tested in high contrast in the kitchen.


I knew at this price point not to expect HD quality, Samsung makes no claim to that. But, notice the “R” in the upper right of the frame? What Samsung doesn’t tell you is that unless you are viewing within the confines of your own wireless network, you view in something called “Relay” mode- through a third-party website. While there is no charge for this service, it adds significant delay, and diminishes picture quality further.

Moved on to testing the alerts and YouTube recordings that are generated from the camera to your private channel. Feeling a little better about the purchase- we’ve got two cameras working, alerts viewable on the webpage, recordings viewable there, and on YouTube, as well.

But. That’s where the “what works” list stops.

-> Alerts are supposedly also available to your GMail account. There is no native way to send yourself a text, but a script through IFTTT WOULD have been a workaround. Set this up three times, never worked.

-> Alerts also are supposedly available through Twitter. Again, authenticated Twitter account three times, never worked.

The Samsung support line on this product, of course, is only available for consumer use Monday-Friday. Who would need help on the weekend?

Reached out in frustration to @SamsungTweets because, you know, Consumer Care on Twitter is sometimes a 24/7/365 thing.Samsung

While they had the auto-content blasting out once every 2 hours, I guess consumer engagement took off for an early start to the 4th of July week.

So, bottom line- if you want a webcam quality set of cameras to watch your house (from inside your house), and $200 is in your budget, the Samsung SmartCam is for you. You can set the motion and noise sensors to monitor your movements, and then watch 30 seconds of video of yourself on YouTube. 

Needless to say, there is a return trip to Costco for me in the very near future. I have several Samsung products that I think very highly of. This one misses the mark badly.

Posted at 6:20 PM (1 year ago) | Permalink

Coming Soon: Your Entertainment is Subject to $10 “Cutting Fee”.

Let’s say your neighborhood has a Comedy Club. For years, the club imposed a “2-Drink Minimum”. To help cover overhead and talent costs, your club expected you to buy at least two drinks. Pretty standard practice.

Now, let’s move to my neighborhood. We have a club, let’s say it’s entertainment is Comedy. The proprietor is quite generous, though- he makes margin on reasonably priced drinks, even has “Happy Hour” pricing. But, he’s never had a drink minimum. Nice.

Cutting Fee

Now, let’s assume that my neighborhood comedy club also sells prepared food to go with the drinks. It comes in wrappers, you can buy different varieties, as singles, or in boxes, and you can consume it inside the club or save it for later to use at home, or in another club.

That exact same prepared food sold in our neighborhood “club” is also available at other neighborhood clubs, both brick and mortar clubs, and online (stay with me, pretend there is an online Comedy Club selling packaged food). As is the case with a lot of consumer products, the online version is the same as sold in our local club, and other clubs- just with more variety available in one place, and, of course, cheaper than available in our neighborhood club.

Our friendly proprietor has overhead to cover, you see, and just can’t compete on price with the online stores.

Continuing with the story, our neighborhood club also has lots of branded items with the name of the companies that make the packaged food on them used for decoration. They make nice keepsakes, and some people going to the club apparently also like to have them to use when they eat the packaged food at home. The branded accessories look good as decoration in the basement bar, on the back porch, or at the lake. Unfortunately for our friendly proprietor, people don’t seem to want to pay for these branded items. Ash trays, and even soap dishes from the bathroom, seem to just grow legs and walk off from our friendly little club. Apparently, some of the packaged food grows legs from time to time, too- at least according to our proprietor.

So now, our friendly proprietor is becoming less friendly. He decides to put up a very large sign right at the entry to his store one day. No explanation, really, other than the sign says that if you want to eat packaged food you have purchased elsewhere while you are sitting in his club, you will be charged a “$10 Cutting Fee” to open the package and take the first bite.

By now, you know that I am not talking about packaged food bought outside my neighborhood comedy club and carried in.

But, just for the sake of illustration, and to keep me from more personal discomfort in my next visit to this club, let’s just say that’s what we’re talking about.

You see, many patrons are not pleased with the new charges. The proprietor, who feels he has been taken advantage of, feels he has no choice but new policies for his business. Emotions have run high, and comments appearing on-line have been negative. The proprietor has responded negatively to the criticism, suggesting these patrons can go elsewhere, while mentioning elsewhere is not really better.

In person, he’s even verbally offered, in earshot of others, to have a patron removed who didn’t want to pay the new fee. It’s not Amy’s Bakery from Kitchen Nightmares yet, but who wants to be in the middle of a discussion like that between the proprietor and the customer? It’s not a comfortable environment to eat packaged food in, like it once was.

The takeaways on this:

1) Communication to the ambassadors. The proprietor has every right to charge fees and prevent/recover shrinkage in any way he sees fit. But threats and unexplained charges do not make for a comfortable environment. Good news in the neighborhood on this front. There is a meeting every Thursday of loyal, interested “prepared food eaters”. They call their group "Prepared Food Therapy". The proprietor apparently has plans to explain why he feels the need for new policy to this group this week. Had that been done first, the word might have spread more positively via word-of-mouth, and on Facebook and Twitter. Ambassadors can use their power for good, or evil. Retailers can help make that call. “Help support my business by purchasing from me” is a concept that many can understand. Volume discounts are available to members only, but perhaps they should also extend to others, given the right purchase volume.

2) Clarity of policy is key. This club has many devoted “food eaters” that pay fees for memberships, giving them those discounts on packaged food purchased in the club, and a box to keep their food in that is the proper temperature and humidity for the food. A message to the members describing not only the policy as it pertains to them- “only food bought that day, from this club, but not food bought from the online club and stored in your box”- or something like that, plus a message describing the changes and reasons to pass on, could have worked wonders with the most committed member/food-eaters.

This neighborhood club has a type of entertainment that you can’t get just anywhere, but packaged food you can. It has loyal enthusiasts- but the enthusiasm is balanced between the food itself and the club. The food, you see, can be consumed elsewhere- if you are made to try hard enough.

Retail consumer experience is more than just a balance- the good in the experience must far outweigh the bad, and no retailer is bigger than the product it sells.

Have you had a similar experience? I’d like to hear it.

Posted at 9:18 PM (1 year ago) | Permalink

Horrible Leg Break Leads to Equally Horrible Link Bait

Perhaps you saw the terrible injury yesterday afternoon in the NCAA Elite 8 game between Louisville and Duke. Cardinal role player Kevin Ware suffered a horrendous broken leg many compared to the career-ending injury of Joe Theismann.

It was so bad that CBS chose to not replay it, other media chose not to create a .GIF file…and it reduced some teammates literally to tears.


No need here to replay the injury, or debate the choice to not reshow the video, or create some small video file of it. There is an Outkick The Coverage article today by Clay Travis that does a good job of that.

For now, I’d prefer to focus on the instant nature of today’s always-connected social web. For better, or for worse.

Talk about immediate coverage. After enduring two hours of surgery to set a broken tibia, insert a rod, and repair where the bone had broken through the skin, this photo popped up all over the interwebs:


Assuming all is well with blood flow in the leg, Ware plans to leave the hospital in Indy Tuesday, and make his way to his hometown of Atlanta to be with his teammates for the Final Four.

One person that may now find his assignment to the NCAA Championship a little more uncomfortable will be Sports Illustrated senior reporter Pete Thamel. Though he apologized a couple of hours later, Thamel has been unmercifully skewered on Twitter since doing the unthinkable- choosing the moments immediately after the injury to post a link to his own article in the NY Times about Ware being the central figure in the UCF recruiting scandal. While Thamel no longer works for the Times, and, as Travis points out in his article, “doesn’t get paid by the Tweet”, this incredibly callous choice of timing for link bait merited thousands of reactions like this from the Twitterverse:

You get the idea. Some reactions even included death threats. Twitter has long been the medium of short fuses. Complaints dominate the timeline about everything from bad food to bad service, to in this case, at best, bad form.

But, for better or worse, it IS immediate. Here’s a picture released at 4PM EST Monday by the University of Louisville with Coach Pitino, and former assistant Pitino, visiting Ware, who has his champions hat, shirt, and the regional trophy. Barely 24 hours after the injury, things look a lot better.

Pitino and Ware


Posted at 4:21 PM (1 year ago) | Permalink

3 Words You Don’t Want Together: Content Marketing. Fail.

Shared some posts on Twitter this week that I came across doing some research for our own content marketing strategy at QC Alliance

Brittany Richards from Software Advice was nice enough to follow up with a suggested video from a series they are doing with Joe Chernov.

From the series:


-Put a form in front of everything you create. Set your content free. Forms complicate the sharing process.

-Use excessive words. Cut back on the word count. Then cut back on that word count. Then cut the final word count in half! Twitter has shortened everyone’s attention span. Keep your writing short and sweet.


-Use more photos. Since your writing should be concise, use images to help tell your story.

-Have white space. “Whitespace is some of the most valuable space on the page. Preserve it”

-Assign a name to the content. People should see an author and contact information at the bottom of the post. Personalization is an essential part of relationship building.

If you want to check out the video of Lauren Carlson of CRMSoftware.TV with Joe Chernov:


Thanks to Brittany from Software Advice for making the info easy to get to today!



CRMSoftware.TV is a free online resource for all things CRM. 

The site has videos, product reviews, software demos, and more.


Posted at 12:53 PM (1 year ago) | Permalink

I tweeted @Mailbox, @Mailbox tweeted back. It all seems so…simple.

Yesterday, I got a few hits on a post reviewing the new Mailbox app.

Basically, it’s a nice improvement in interface if you are JUST interested in improving Gmail, but I said two issues were show-stoppers for me. The fact that it doesn’t support landscape mode, and doesn’t allow integration of platforms OTHER than Gmail, made it a less viable option for me. 

Turns out, one of the hits was a response from Mailbox:

Make an objective comment about a potential user experience improvement. Get a response that the improvements have been considered, and actually in the works.

It all seems so…..simple.


Posted at 8:07 AM (1 year ago) | Permalink

Why @Mailbox lasted on my phone… for about 10 Minutes.


If this were snail mail, I’d stamp it “Return To Sender”.

Not because of the timed release of the application. I actually think the concept of an “updating” personal announcement of how many people were in line in front of me, and how many behind, was a stroke of marketing fun. I was “in line” for a couple of weeks, and just checked back now and then.

The idea has caught on- Tempo, a “smart” iPhone calendar app from the folks who made Siri, is employing the same rollout concept. Though, the line is a little shorter- about 20,000 in line in front of me.

Mailbox touts its ability to “get your Mailbox down to zero”. That sounded worth the wait in line. 

Mailbox      Mailbox

The app is rather straightforward and uses swipe gestures to whittle away at your inbox- moving unopened emails quickly into four areas: archive, delete, snooze, and lists.

It’s attractive, and an interface that is better than the Gmail app.

So, what’s wrong with it, then?

Two things that are absolute show-stoppers and has it banished from my iPhone:

* It is Gmail, and Gmail, ONLY. If you have multiple email accounts, other than Gmail, you will be using two email interfaces.

* For the fat-fingered among us- it does not support landscape keyboard use.

If you are looking to simply improve the Gmail experience- and only Gmail- and you are not thick of finger, the swipe gestures (two to the left, two to the right for the actions) offer an interesting way to manage the inbox. 

Mailbox also offers a nice interface with the native iOS Notes function. Seamless integration for, say, a quick grocery list.

It should also be mentioned that there is no access to non-contact emails, the auto-fill feature that Apple uses in its default mailbox does not exist in the Mailbox app.

All-in-all, until some changes, Mailbox is “Returned To Sender”, and other releases will definitely be using the “Velvet Rope Wait” release strategy.


Posted at 4:34 PM (1 year ago) | Permalink

Somebody Else Can Write the “Lessons Learned” Post. Give me the @BurgerKing Hack Humor!

Leave the “Lessons Learned” stuff to the Social Media Ninjas. There is a post coming, I’m sure in, 3…2….1. All the advice on how not to leave your site unfettered so that it can apparently be hacked by Anonymous. All the insights gained, like the fact that @BurgerKing gained 20,000 Twitter followers in the first 30 minutes after being hacked. Nope, the Blog writes itself with just a TINY selection of the unflinching Twitter stream. First, just so THEY put themselves in the clear:

THEY don’t want to be in the clear:

Best comeback from another Fast Food Chain:

From a fake Peyton Manning account:

Oops, a little bit of the obvious:

Several tweets suggested the hackers were, well:

Meat sources were questioned as being involved:

Could be that this actually ends up being a traffic-builder for Burger King:

and perhaps, even a matter for National Security:


Finally, with a name like Hamburger, the last word:

You really don’t have to write ‘em when a major gaffe happens with a poorly-managed Brand account on Twitter. You just have to read ‘em.


Posted at 2:38 PM (1 year ago) | Permalink

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