Category Archives: Current Events

Political Virus

By Lloyd Graff

I am so tired of never ending graphs of suffering. I am tuning out more each day. But I am highly intrigued by the politics of COVID-19, particularly in a presidential election year.

Monday, Joe Biden, likely the Democratic nominee to run against President Donald Trump, called him to chat. This was a play right out of The West Wing playbook. With the Democratic primaries all but over, Biden has been pushed off the screens of America. Trump’s approval ratings have been going up by the day as he holds 2-hour “news” briefings, answering almost every question from reporters who he usually dismisses with scowls and sarcasm. He defers to VP Mike Pence, Dr. Deborah Birx, and the 4-star general handling logistics. He is generally holding his egotism in check and acting like a leader who is in command, and the role becomes him.

Biden’s aides must be tearing their hair out as they see their guy look like the janitor waiting to clean the room when the CEO finishes the meeting.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, possible presidential nominee?

Equally worrisome for Biden is the blossoming of Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, who does his briefings in the mornings. Cuomo comes off as a capable, self-effacing, CEO handling the complex needs of New York City, often in a growing partnership with President Trump and the military. His stage presence and command of details set him up, at least to me, as the Democrat’s logical Presidential nominee, though he did not enter any primaries.

I am sure the rise of Cuomo, with his rapport with the media which is so New York centric, has to make Joe Biden and his associates very shaky. Perhaps Trump’s growing respect for Cuomo is pushing an interesting triangle into the presidential election. Biden not only has the Bernie Sanders wing of the democratic party to contend with. Now he has the unexpected rising star of Andrew Cuomo.

Am I crazy to imagine that a Democratic convention in which not enough primaries have been held to give Biden the easy nomination, punts on round one of the voting and a groundswell of support from right, left, and center in the party, hungry for a winner, begins a Cuomo for President snowball at the Milwaukee convention?

Joe Biden has no passion in his campaign. He has become the front runner almost by default. If Cuomo appears to guide New York through its COVID-19 crisis and continues to look like the president of a besieged state and region, Joe Biden ought to be plenty scared.

Question: Have you tuned out the daily COVID-19 news?

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Ep. 76 – Focusing on Obstacles with Gabriele Oettingen

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at NYU and author of the book “Rethinking Positive Thinking: the Science of Motivation.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom that asserts “positive thinking is always positive,” Oettingen’s studies have shown that people who embrace only positive thinking as a way to reach their dreams are often the least successful in achieving their goals.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Gabriele’s strategy for success requires people to identify realistic, specific goals and then identify potential obstacles along the way. She calls it WOOP which stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. I’ve used the strategy myself and I have to say it’s really worked for me.

Main Points

(4:10) Gabriele gives her story. She came from the field of behavioral biology, but later switched to psychology because she was interested in the concept of hope. She was interested in how people could keep going when they inherited difficult circumstances. She studied how people’s expectations determine their success. She found that when people had successful experiences in the past, they were often successful in achieving goals. She also found that people who had positive fantasies and daydreams not based on successful past experiences often did not achieve their goals.

(6:35) Gabriele defines expectations as judgements of how likely something will happen in the future, based on past experience. For example, she says a business owner with many years of past success will likely be successful in the future. However if a business owner has positive fantasies and daydreams about the business doing well despite having a poor past performance, the business probably will not do well in the future. Gabriele gives another example of a smoker imagining that he can reject a cigarette. If he hasn’t had good experiences trying in the past, he probably will fail. 

(8:35) Gabriele says that the general consensus around the world is that “positive thinking is positive” and that positive thinking will lead to more effort and more motivation. However her studies show that the more positively people think about the future the less well they do. The more positively people in weight loss programs fantasize about their success the fewer pounds they lose, while the people who permitted negative thoughts in their minds lose more weight. She said that tests on university students show that the students who fantasize the most positively about their job prospects are the least successful at getting employment when they graduate. This is due to them often studying less and sending out fewer job applications. 

(11:15) Gabriele says her research shows that the more people fantasize about having a relationship with someone they have a crush on the less likely they are to have one. Her research also shows that hip replacement patients who imagine their recovery to be the quickest are less successful in recovering than people with more moderate expectations. 

(13:20) Gabriele says that fantasies and daydreams hinder success because they cause people to expend less effort to reach their goals. She says her research also shows that the moods of people with positive fantasies and daydreams are worse in the long run than people with less fantasies and daydreams. The daydreamers’ moods were great initially, but in the long run they felt worse because their dreams did not come true. She says the problem is that positive fantasies and daydreams cause people to feel almost as if they have accomplished their ambitions. This takes away their energy.

(16:20) Gabriele says that the positive fantasies and daydreams are still important because they stem from people’s needs. They remind us of the voids in our lives we need to fill and give us motivation. If you are in a job you don’t like you start fantasizing about having a different job. If you are in a bad relationship you start fantasizing about being in a different situation. After you know what a problem is, then you can start to find a solution and go in a new direction. 

(19:10) Gabriele says the way to energize people so they can accomplish goals is to encourage people to identify the obstacles that hinder their ambitions. First this demonstrates to people they are not yet where they want to be. Then it helps them make a plan of action to get there. She calls this mental contrasting. 

(21:42) Gabriele says that imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of accomplishing goals triggers non-concious processes in the brain that cause behavior change. 

(22:10) Noah asks Gabriele’s opinion of when people say their belief in God helps them to reach their goals. Gabriele says in desperate circumstances where the obstacle in front of people seems insurmountable or is impossible to identify then thoughts and daydreams might be more useful than mental contrasting, because it at least they can provide hope. But she says in cultures and circumstances in which people have freedom and the ability to chart their own paths mental contrasting is the best option to succeed as well as decide which goals are most sensible to go after.

(26:50) Gabriele explains WOOP, a framework used to assist people with implementing mental contrasting. WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. The framework helps people formulate ways overcome potential challenges, by utilizing the mindset: “If I meet obstacle (X) then I will do the behavior (Y) in order to overcome it.” The thought process non-consciously makes people behave in a way that enables them to fulfill their wishes. Noah brings up the free WOOP app that assists people with mental contrasting, which he has used many times to accomplish his goals. 

(29:15) Gabriele suggests that people go to the www.woopmylife.org to learn about mental contrasting before using the phone app. Noah says that he will do a demonstration of the WOOP app, assisted by Gabriele, in a video on the Today’s Machining World website (to be released shortly).

Question: Do you usually think about obstacles when you set a goal?

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An Awfully Productive Period

By Lloyd Graff

I am finally taking the time to stretch my neck and shoulders, and particularly my rotator cuff, during my quarantine at home (too many curve balls thrown over the years). I had never taken the time to do it until now.

I believe we will look back in a few years and say what an awful yet productive period we are living through right now. I decided to list things I think we will look back on with fondness about this frightful corona time, and ask you to add to the list.

1. Manufacturing is coming back to the US from China. We are hearing from many of our clients that they are getting scads of prints to look at because China has shown itself to be a self-serving and now unreliable source. Cheaper, yes, but when companies figure in all of the negatives of outsourcing to China, more and more firms want to reduce their reliance.

2. Reliable workers are becoming more available for hire with the unemployment shake-up we are going through. Young people will see the need for ventilators as a symbol of the importance of manufacturing in America, and a shift will take place away from office work.

Assembling a ventilator at Ventec Life Systems

3. A tremendous shift in medicine, education, therapy, religious services, office space usage, and a myriad of other things is taking place overnight. Some of these shifts will revert back, but the rapid change in the way people connect via interactive computer software is the beginning of a huge and permanent shift which will improve accessibility to quality services immensely and reduce costs in money and time. Just consider the time you spend traveling to the doctor’s office when often an interactive computer visit would be just as effective.

4. Families and friends coming together. People are going out of their way to connect these days in Zoom, or by phone, Facebook, or FaceTime. Quarantine has brought a strong desire to reach out to people who are important to us. Separation has brought a yearning to connect much greater than in “normal times,” when we are often complacent about relationships and the tendency is to ignore them.

5. Even the politicians are getting along. Republicans are talking to Democrats, governors are talking to the president and each other, bureaucrats are connecting with other bureaucrats in different departments. The Food and Drug Administration okayed the use of hydroxycoloquin for COVID-19 on anecdotal and preliminary data. Normally it would have taken forever and a day. Pelosi and Trump still can’t stand each other, but they both hold their noses and get vital legislation done. The Fed gets ahead of the markets and props up soft spots before they become crises.

6. Despotic countries like Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba are falling apart for various reasons.

7. Money is finally going into vaccines, which for many years have been an area starved for funds.

8. The country is preparing for the next pandemic or at least a possible next wave of COVID-19. Next time we will have the machines in place to test with a pin prick and blood test in 15 minutes.

9. We are cooking more and getting better quality take out. McCormick Spice Company stock is booming and quality eateries are doing takeout and delivery like never before. A pricey restaurant in Menlo Park, CA that my daughter and her husband go to on special occasions is now doing take out cocktails in mason jars. My local deli has chicken matzo ball soup to go, delivered to my car.

10. GM is making ventilators on two weeks notice. Not Tesla, but GM, that takes 6 months to PPAP a screw is putting together a ventilator with the cooperation of the UAW, made with hundreds of parts in an empty Kokomo, IN plant. Sounds like World War II. Who would have thunk it?

11. Companies all over the country are being recruited to make approved design face shields for people on the front lines of the illness. A company in Columbus, OH took a working design from a local hospital, copied it in their software, quickly got it approved at the local hospital, and bought five new printers to run it 24 hours a day. The printers were delivered by a truck driver who drove all night to get the cargo to them. Now they are making the design available to anybody with 3D printer capacity.

I am not a Pollyanna. You can’t be one and run a business, but the list is impressive. Please add your own observations.

Question: What positives do you see coming out of the COVID-19 war?

 

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To Work or To Quarantine?

One of the more perplexing and upsetting things about the barrage of news about the coronavirus is the fact that its primary danger is to older, compromised people. 

I’ve always associated that with other people, but the objective fact is that, statistically, I and now my wife, Risa, are members of that group. Fortunately I don’t feel old or physically compromised. I am still playing in a young man’s game, the used machinery business, and blog writing, and I think I can compete with all comers on both fronts.

The dilemma is “how do I play it” now and when the current scare is over. My children admonish me that I must be ultra cautious because I am a heart patient who barely survived a heart attack, and several cardiovascular blockages that should have killed me eleven and a half years ago. Four bypasses, valve repair, luck, and maybe God, saved me. But now I live a normal life, exercise, work a lot, and still remember the middle name of my mother. But does that still mean that I have to act impaired when I don’t feel impaired?

Yet I am also scared enough by the virus to be self-quarantining for a couple weeks because they say I am highly vulnerable. I am a member of the old and sickly 10% of the population. 

Lloyd on quarantine at home

I was feeling pretty good about myself. I was getting cocky, complacent, and aching to get back to work at the plant, when I wrote the first draft of this blog. I knew I could keep my distance and protect myself.

Then I read about Northern Italy in the Wall Street Journal. 

I know people in Milan and Bergamo. My brother-in-law, Maury, was born in Genoa. I know the Tajariol family that owns ZPS Machine Tools quite well. They are my age.

Their world, and it is a beautiful place, is in chaos because of the coronavirus.  Hospitals are completely overwhelmed. Hundreds of human beings like me are dying everyday — alone — because people are not allowed to be with them for fear of spreading the plague faster. 

It is estimated that 60% of the Italian population has been infected. There is a real possibility of tens of thousands of people dying in Italy. 

It is a terrifying reality, and it cracked my bubble of cockiness about myself and America when I read it.

China is beating the virus back now. Korea is too. Civil liberties and privacy are being abused by the government to snoop on people to guarantee separation and quarantine, but in this case it seems necessary.

In America we are depending more on individuals using common sense and tending to themselves for the greater good.

I am going to do my part. See you on the “other side.”

Question: Are you working or quarantining?

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Ep. 72 – Coronavirus and the Supply Chain with Daniel Hearsch

By Noah Graff

On today’s podcast we’re delving into a topic that’s been on many people’s minds these days, the coronavirus.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast

Our guest is automotive supply chain expert Dan Hearsch, Managing Director at AlixPartners. Dan is briefed daily by his associates in China about how people in manufacturing are dealing with the coronavirus. FYI, this interview was conducted one week ago on Feb. 26, 2020.

Main Points

(2:55) Dan gives his background working in the automotive industry for OEMs, as well as Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers. Today he is a consultant, focusing on supply chain and procurement projects.

(3:55) Dan says many people have been comparing the coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, to SARS, the last serious epidemic in Asia back in 2003. He says the big difference between the SARS outbreak and the current one is that in 2003, China was roughly only 4% of global GDP, while today China has a much more significant role in the global supply chain and its own internal economy is much larger than it was 17 years ago.

(5:30) Dan says one of the hardest things about the coronavirus outbreak is knowing what the local response is going to be. He says that it seems like the quarantine policies in China, Korea, and Italy are the correct response.

(6:00) Dan says he’s briefed daily on the latest news in China from his associates in there. The news is based on what they are seeing from the Chinese government and what they are seeing in real time from the companies with whom they work.

Daniel Hearsch of AlixPartners

(6:55) Dan says he hears there is a decreased incidence of new coronavirus cases and the death numbers seems to be falling, which makes people hopeful that business will get better soon. He says the worst thing to do is to send people back to work too soon because they could get sick again and the quarantine process would have to start over.

(7:40) Dan says the Chinese New Year amplified the spread of the coronavirus because of all the people traveling back to their homes in the countryside. However, he said that from a business standpoint the Chinese New Year was helpful because people who buy goods from China were already planning for an eight day shut down. People had planned to have extra material already in transit on the water, but had not planned for further delays.

(9:40) Dan says the majority of factories in China that were down have opened up again. He sites a Chinese government survey of 982 enterprises that said 41% had resumed by February 14 and predicts over 80% should be back up and running this month. He says the biggest problems relate to transportation and workforce issues because a significant number of people are quarantined or have trouble traveling. His sources say that Chinese manufacturers in the survey are running at only 30-40% of their potential productivity. The Chinese government is comparing the current electricity usage in various industrial areas to past years to gage productivity. It found that the level of usage was about 57% that it was at this same time of year in 2018 and 2019.

(12:15) Dan says that the automotive sector has a very lean supply chain, meaning companies hold very little safety stock, which makes it vulnerable to the decrease in supplier productivity.

(16:40) Dan says that some North American manufacturing companies are going shorten their supply chains as China, Korea, and Italy can’t supply enough parts. He says this trend would lend itself to machining processes that are fast to set up. He says capacity shouldn’t be a big problem because the domestic automotive market has been down of late.

(18:50) Dan says China has both a supply and a demand problem because many of the domestic customers who buy parts are also closed. This differs from the United States that only has a supply problem because companies are still purchasing goods and consumers are still buying.

(20:40) Dan says that many of the large scale supply chain problems caused by the coronavirus are not new. He draws a comparison to the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, which exposed the problems that occur when companies have too many suppliers concentrated in one region and do not have enough relationships with backup suppliers.

(23:45) Noah asks if the pharmaceutical supply chain in China has similar issues as automotive. Dan says the problems are probably similar. He says the transportation issues could be significant as suppliers try to catch up on a backlog of shipments, though he predicts the production processes might not be as labor intensive as those of automotive.

(27:45) Dan says that the coronavirus is a common type of virus—the same type of virus as the common cold. He says the Covid-19 epidemic is quite contagious and has a high fatality rate of 2.5-3% compared to .05% for typical flu. He says limiting personal contact with other people and washing hands regularly is the best practice to protect oneself against the virus. He says that a lot of people make mistakes such as wearing the wrong type of protective masks and wearing a mask more than one time.

(31:20) Dan says if the United States has an outbreak the impact on its economy shouldn’t be as dramatic as China’s. A higher percentage of people have the ability to work remotely while quarantined because a smaller percentage work in factories. Still, he admits an outbreak will still significantly affect the domestic supply chain.

(33:30) Dan says out of China’s study of 982 surveyed Chinese companies 42% of those enterprises will run out of cash in the next three months and 10% will run out of cash in one month because they can’t cover their fixed costs. He says it is likely the Chinese government will act as a safety net, though he is not familiar with the bankruptcy laws there.

(36:40) Dan says the best case scenario is that the most problematic countries get the Covid-19 epidemic under control and it doesn’t become a global pandemic. He says it is possible that in 4 to 5 months most suppliers will be back up to speed in the problematic countries.

(38:25) Dan says the precautionary health measures by governments seem to be the correct plan to deal with the coronavirus epidemic. He says saving people’s lives is more important than keeping factories running, not just for humanitarian reasons, but also for long-term business success.

(39:30) Dan says it is vital for manufacturers to set up alternate suppliers as soon as possible to prepare for a pandemic or other supply chain setbacks.

Question: Have you noticed supply chain interruptions due to the coronavirus affecting your business?

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Mobility is the Game

By Lloyd Graff

I’m in the mood for sports today.  In baseball, Washington won the World Series for the first time after losing Bryce Harper to the Phillies. And they won it in seven games, winning all four played at Houston’s ballpark. Never happened before. And the Nationals’ best pitcher, Matt Scherzer, got hurt in the Series.  Unpredictable game.

In football, the traditional drop-back quarterback, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, is being gradually surpassed by the mobile, elusive running quarterback.  The three most likely MVP quarterbacks this year are Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes.  All were misjudged coming out of college and fell in the draft because they didn’t look like Brady or Brees.  Wilson was a third-round pick for Seattle, Jackson was the last pick of the first round for Baltimore, and Mahomes was thought by many football savants to be a better pitcher than QB.

College football is also seeing change. The two top candidates for the Heisman Trophy this year are both transfer students who were not deemed to be good enough to start for the college teams they were recruited for out of high school.

Joe Burrow sat three years at Ohio State.  He did study enough to graduate from OSU which made him eligible to transfer to LSU and play football without the usual NCAA baloney that restricts the transfer of athletes.

He played well last year but has been amazing this season, throwing for 55 touchdowns and leading the Tigers to the top seeding in the national playoffs.

The Ohio State quarterback, Justin Fields, also had an undistinguished career at Georgia. He graduated but had a year of eligibility left. OSU’s All-American from last year, Dwayne Haskins, was the first-round pick of Washington after his junior year which left an opening for Fields with the Buckeyes. This year he threw for 40 touchdowns with one interception.

Potential MVP Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks

It brings to mind the one season that Russell Wilson had at Wisconsin. He had had an okay career at North Carolina State, graduated with eligibility, and played minor league baseball till the Badgers called him for a last college hurrah. He was only 5’9” tall but played like a giant leading the team to the Rose Bowl and setting up his current NFL MVP status with the Seattle Seahawks.

To end this, let’s throw in a little NBA. Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA Championship after a difficult, injury-riddled year with San Antonio. Some folks saw Leonard as temperamental and even faking the severity of his injuries while with the Spurs. He wanted out of Texas for his last season before becoming a free agent in 2019.

Toronto had an awful playoff record despite having good players. They gambled on trading for Leonard, knowing it might just be for one year. Kawhi recovered from his injuries, carried the team to the playoffs, and then played inspired basketball to help them win the NBA title.  And in the off season he headed home to Los Angeles and signed a mega contract with the LA Clippers.

Sports changed a lot in 2019. The athletes took more and more control over their short playing careers.

Questions:

Are today’s professional athletes too selfish?

Who is your NFL MVP for 2019?

 

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Under the Tarp

By Lloyd Graff

Homeless people spook me. I hate it when somebody wearing a sign proclaiming their homelessness, holding a cup and looking forlorn, shoves the cup toward me begging for coins. Yet their plight, if they really are homeless, is a terrible thing.

It struck me hard recently when Noah and I were driving to a business conference in the city concerning hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of unsold screw machines.  We drove by a tiny makeshift shelter covered by a couple of blue tarps next to an apartment building which appeared empty and possibly being prepared for demolition in an area in the process of “gentrification” in Chicago.

It was a raw day in November ahead of Thanksgiving.   I saw nobody around it.  The blowing tarps were a more hurtful reminder of the misery of life on the street without a roof to call your own.

It brought to mind a story my friend Jerry Levine had told me at one of our weekly Saturday breakfast idea fests recently.  Jerry had volunteered to help kids at a Chicago high school several years ago.  One of the kids who was a star student had a problem giving an address of his residence.  The reason was that he was sleeping in a dumpster.  We have a dumpster at Graff-Pinkert.  Occasionally I haul a plastic bag of office garbage out to the dumpster.  Every time I look inside I think of that poor kid climbing inside and probably covering up and trying to keep warm with a blue tarp he hid away.

By the way, Jerry said the kid ended up getting a full scholarship to a prestigious college, somehow.

Chicago homeless sleeping under tarps

For many years I volunteered at a local homeless shelter.  It rotated among various churches and synagogues in the neighborhood I lived in.  I came in at 5:15 a.m. and helped clean and put the mats away the shelter people slept on, gave out toothpaste and Band-Aids, and cleaned up after breakfast was served.  It was a good education for me, that homeless guys (there were only guys at this shelter) were mostly just human beings who were at a down part of their lives.  Some had jobs (fast food joints, car washes, guards), but usually the jobs didn’t last long enough to enable them to get an apartment that required deposits and credit checks.  Many had drug and drinking problems.  A lot of them hung around the local White Castle or McDonald’s till they were urged to move along.  A few had cars; some of the younger guys rode bikes. I once hired one of the friendlier men, but he did not last long because of a chronic drinking issue.

The rotating homeless shelter no longer exists at the local synagogue.  My friend Jerry Levine and other local people somehow managed a minor miracle.  They found a mayor in the area who, rather than avoid a permanent shelter in his town, embraced the idea.  He claimed his mother on her deathbed told him to do it.  There was an unloved piece of real estate that the mayor obtained for granting zoning privileges to a developer who wanted to build a shopping center in the village.  The three-acre piece was far enough away from neighbors that nobody yelled much.  Jerry and friends with government connections got every grant the government had on the books and built a $18-million multi-story building for homeless people with good credentials to get nice temporary apartments.

Someday I hope the poor people under the blue tarps in Chicago or kids like the one living in the dumpster find their way out to that beautiful haven in Country Club Hills, Illinois, within walking distance of my office.

Question: Do you prefer to give money to people on the street or to an organized charity?

 

 

 

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I’ll Take What I Can Get

By Lloyd Graff

Lisa Goldman is living with a Stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. She writes a blog called Every Breath I Take, aimed at people like herself.

In her latest piece she talks about surpassing five years on her medication, which she says has a “median effective time of 18 months.” She says she knows of less then six people in the world with her diagnosis who have been on her medication that long or longer. She writes, “It is oddly isolating, way, way, out here on this ever-narrowing branch with this ever-dwindling number of fellow-travelers. My doctors keep telling me the branch will break at some point, and the longer I’m here, the closer I am to that breaking point, prompting the doctors to be more and more vigilant with me, rather than less.”

Lisa Goldman knows she’s not cured, yet she writes, “The truth is, it is hard not to get a little comfortable out on this narrow limb. As I drift ever closer to a likely recurrence, I also log more and more days, weeks and months and years without one, strengthening my ability to paradoxically feel positive and hopeful for a miracle. I’m not naive, but I have tracked myself into an unlikely optimism. I’m locked in a positivity paradox. And, frankly? Like my husband often says: I’ll take what I can get.”

Me too. I’ll take it.

Happy Thanksgiving. It’s a great gift to be able to feel good and celebrate in America.

Question: What is one thing that makes you happy to be alive?

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