Mock ’em razors

During the marketing module of my MBA which I did last semester, the subject of colossal marketing failures came up. It appears Gillette is vying to be included in marketing lectures long into the future:


I don’t think I need to explain to my readers how insulting this is on so many levels. A comment over at David Thompson’s struck home, and included a last line which made me laugh:

Society has been bringing up boys according to the feminist model since the 1970s. It’s been going on a lot longer than #metoo or Gilette’s marketing pivot. We have enough multigenerational experience that we should be able to determine how the project of feminizing boys has worked out – do the boys grow up in to happy, successful men?

Even if it wasn’t so problematic, progressives don’t even find it believable that their guys, the oversocialized pajamaboy feminists, have any kind of iron hand inside their velvet glove, so much for the feminist promise to men of being able to access both their masculine and feminine side. They imagine instead that black men, under a kind of carbon credit scheme for their toxic masculinity, can be their street muscle against white Deplorables.

The reaction on Twitter was one of apoplectic fury, with people vowing to ditch not only Gillette, but all Proctor & Gamble products. But not everyone is unhappy:

Gillette has a dedicated page, to support the ad, which speaks volumes (emphasis theirs):

It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.

From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.

As I may have said before, modern corporations are as much standard bearers for a hotch-potch of post-modernist moral virtues than businesses returning value to shareholders. As I have definitely said before, these people would be better off joining a church.

The fact is, this advert has been dreamed up by a marketing department in a giant, multinational corporation. We already know which demographic these companies pander to when recruiting and promoting, and the further you get from the science and engineering branches, the more pronounced the effects of these policies will be. It doesn’t take any great genius to imagine what the marketing team behind this catastrophe looked like, and what views they subscribed to. The irony is companies justify diversity programs in part by claiming they allow marketing departments to better identify with their customers. Well, Gillette’s done a great job of that, haven’t they?

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The Suffering of the Sisters

Yesterday while doing some research I came across an article which contained this gem:

And though women hold 52% of management, professional and related jobs in the United States, that number masks considerable gender-based occupational segregation. Women represent 85% of meeting, convention and event planners and 72% of human resource managers, but just 19% of software developers and 9% of mechanical engineers. You can guess which roles come with more power, prestige and pay.

The way that’s written you’d think there was some sort of conspiracy to keep women out of the higher-paying roles, or to pay men more regardless of what value they added. And if mechanical engineers enjoy greater power than HR managers in large organisations, I’ve clearly chosen the wrong course. I’m not even sure we score better in prestige. They then go on to say:

We spend about a fifth of our waking lives at work. Those hours should be a source of satisfaction — not stress, boredom and frustration.

Research shows that women often report higher job satisfaction than men.

Well yes, because many choose to go into HR and event planning rather than get their heads around calculus and steam tables to become well-paid mechanical engineers. But there’s nothing stopping them, as many of my female engineer friends can attest (and they all went to university in the late ’90s, so this isn’t a recent development).

The article purports to give advice to women on what company they should work for, but seems mainly to consist of suggesting they find one where they get well paid for not doing very much. I think there might be a queue outside that outfit.

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Unforced Errors

This post sort of follows on from this one, and describes much the same problem.

A year or two into my assignment doing weight estimates, we had a big re-organisation which meant I was dealing mainly with offshore facilities and more closely involved with cost estimations (rather than purely weight estimations). One of the principle ways the cost of a facility was estimated is to take various parameters – total liquid processing capacity, oil production rate, gas processing rate, etc. – and use that to work out the topsides weight. This is what they did, and as far as I know they still do.

One day we invited an American chap to visit us from a company which specialises in the design and operation of certain installations. We wanted his feedback on previous work we’d done with him, and his advice for future projects. He was very open, and I found the meeting fascinating. He highlighted the various technical requirements unique to our company which made our installations more expensive than they ought to be, with other clients happy to accept less stringent requirements or use industry standards. He went into detail on this, and in several instances it was the case that technology had moved on and our standards hadn’t yet caught up. For example, if you want to send an intelligent pig down a line you’d have to put 5D bends in (i.e. the bend radius is 5 times the pipe diameter), but nowadays the pigs can generally handle 3D bends. Our standards still required 5D bends, which take up a lot more space in a crowded facility. That was just one example of several, which as an engineer I found very interesting.

Not so my colleagues. After the meeting I raised these points as possible areas in which we could save costs, and the response was:

“Oh, that was all bullsh*t, he was just telling us that to try to get the next contract.”

Not for the first time has an expert in a particular technical field been invited into an oil company to share knowledge and been treated like he’s the dumbest one in the building.

Anyway, one of the things the American chap said was his company had found no relationship between the liquid production rates and the facility topsides weight. There were just too many other variables which affect it, such as the degree to which you want to remove certain contaminants. He even said his company had teamed up with a university to research this relationship, but after a couple of years they’d given up. What this fellow said effectively consigned our entire estimation methodology to the dustbin, because it relied entirely on a perceived association between production rates and topsides weights. This either went straight over the heads of the assembled staff sat in front of him, or they chose to ignore it. Either way, nobody mentioned it again.

Just for fun, once I’d been taught statistical analysis techniques last semester I ran some figures to see whether the methodology we’d been applying back then was mathematically sound. It turned out there was a correlation between equipment weight and topsides weight, but it was a lot weaker than I’d expected. But more importantly, there was no association between production rates and equipment weight, or indeed between any of the parameters we used and weights. So the American was right, then.

Now had I known these techniques when I still worked there, and demonstrated to those in charge of the methodology that we shouldn’t be assuming an association between X and Y when none exists, they’d have said:

“This is the methodology we are using. Your job is to follow it without asking questions.”

In fact, a short while before the reorganisation someone suggested I get involved in cost estimations and apparently one of the managers said:

“Oh, we don’t want him, he’ll just find things wrong with our methodology.”

Major corporations, people. Next time you hear about something like this or this, you’ll know how they happen.

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Chick Magnets

Staying on the topic of diversity, I found this interesting:

At the start of 2019, four of America’s top defense companies will be led by women.

On Thursday, the chairman and CEO of Northrop Grumman, Wes Bush, announced that he was stepping down and would be succeeded by Kathy Warden, Northrop’s current president and chief operating officer who has been with the company since 2008.

As CEO, she will join three other high profile women leading the U.S. defense industry: Marillyn Hewson, the CEO of Lockheed Martin; Phebe Novakovic, the CEO of General Dynamics; and Leanne Caret, the CEO of Boeing Defense, Space, and Security.

This too:

CIA Director Gina Haspel has appointed another woman to the top level of the agency, naming Cynthia “Didi” Rapp as deputy director for analysis, essentially the top analyst in the CIA. The appointment means that the top three directorates of the agency, for operations, analysis and science and technology are now all headed by women.

What this shows is that women are increasingly being promoted to head high-profile organisations with large budgets and lots of employees. This is hardly surprising: campaigns to increase gender diversity among top management of companies have been ongoing since at least the mid-’90s. Since the early ’00s, countries have been slowly adopting mandatory quotas for women on boards, and the EU is pushing for 40%. I understand no country has yet set quotas for women in senior management positions, but with the UK passing a law requiring companies to report on the gender pay gap it’s probably only a matter of time. (Incidentally, the British government’s guidance booklet is called Gender pay gap: creating a narrative, apparently without irony.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Australian government also imposes gender equality reporting requirements on private companies.

One of the things researchers have found resulting from board gender quotas is that there really aren’t many women around with the background and experience to cover all the slots. This means women tend to sit on more boards than their male counterparts, spreading themselves thinly, a point which reader Ken makes in the comments beneath this post. This is also why positions such as HR director were created, making a lot of women suddenly qualified for a board seat. At the beginning this was understandable as there were fewer women in the workplace, but twenty years on the problem remains. Norway insists on 40% women serving on boards which, according to a podcast I listened to between Christina Hoff Sommers and Jordan Peterson, has led to them bringing in American women to make up the numbers. Germany doesn’t have gender quotas, but they still face the same problem:

In Germany a shortage of qualified women led to a surge of foreigners onto supervisory boards (there is as yet no quota for management boards). That could be problematic, says Bernhard Stehfest from the Federation of German Industries, because foreigners are less familiar with the firms or German regulations.

The reason there are so few women to go around despite their filling the majority of graduate places is because, as we’ve known all along, most women choose not to sacrifice marriage, children, and a more balanced life to fight their way to the top of a major organisation. Even if super-intelligent women are pouring out of the engineering and business schools in record numbers, those putting in the hours and effort to make it to executive management are still low. And as Jordan Peterson is fond of pointing out, when Norway cleared the obstacles to women having high-flying careers in STEM fields, they found even more chose not to compared with women in more male-dominated societies. In other words, as societies get more equal in terms of gender, women tend to make choices more associated with female traits, i.e. not going into senior management in traditionally male-dominated fields. My observation is that some of the most competent female engineers I’ve met came from patriarchal societies such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and Turkey where they’re given no free passes.

So given there is an in-built shortage of suitably qualified and experienced women choosing to go into senior management in large organisations, governments are imposing quotas, and gender diversity campaigns are increasing their demands, what is going to happen? Well, that’s obvious. Those organisations with the household name and the money are going to snap up the women who are available, which is precisely what we’re seeing with the defence contractors and the CIA. In addition, these companies will put in the money and effort to recruit the top female graduates, meaning they have a steady stream coming through into upper management even as most quit their career paths to raise a family.

The problem with gender equality initiatives is not that incompetent women may end up running large organisations (for every incompetent woman I can show you ten incompetent men), it’s that once the large, wealthy organisations have snaffled up all the competent women how do the smaller, less wealthy companies manage without reducing standards? My guess is if a company has a low enough public profile it can get away with ignoring calls for greater gender diversity, or fudging it somehow. But there will be companies caught in the middle, too high-profile to ignore gender diversity issues but not big enough to attract what few competent women stick around to take senior management positions. They’ll be faced with no choice but to promote women who are less competent than the men around them, the results of which will be as predictable as they are inevitable.

All of this reinforces my theory that we’re going to see more women employed in large organisations with lots of employees, while men head for smaller companies where gender diversity is not a priority. A possible subject for my dissertation is to look at whether women get promoted into senior management only once a firm has reached a certain size in terms of employees and market capitalisation, and once it has a certain public profile.

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Diversity for thee

You hear a lot of this sentiment these days:

The country’s top judge says her colleagues must become more diverse in order to better represent the public.

Lady Hale addressed the issue as she marked the centenary of the act that enabled women to enter profession.

The first female president of the supreme court called for the judiciary to increase its diversity to avoid the risk of being seen as ‘from another planet’.

This would include greater balance in gender representation at Britain’s highest court and quicker promoting for ethnic minorities and those from less privileged backgrounds, the Guardian reports.

A couple of months back I was at a seminar in which several ageing men on the stage signaled their virtue to the audience by bemoaning the gender balance of the panel, which was around 7:3 in favour of men. About a year ago I listened to another bunch of ageing men on a stage, this time in the auditorium of an oil company, saying they need to do more to promote women into senior positions. My immediate thought was, if these people considered the matter so pressing, why don’t they resign and hand their position to a more deserving female? Similarly, if pasty-white Lady Hale believes Britain’s judiciary should become more ethnically diverse, what better way to kick-start the process by replacing her with a minority?

You can be sure that anyone who has wormed their way onto a panel at a seminar, climbed the greasy pole up to executive management in an oil company, or backstabbed their way to becoming Britain’s top judge has only one person’s career in mind: their own. At every step of their career they would have sandbagged and outmaneuvered anyone who represented competition, be they white, brown, yellow, male, or female. When they were middle managers somewhere eyeing their next promotion they weren’t harping on about the need for greater representation or increased diversity. No, they were promoting themselves. But now the top job is securely under their belt and retirement is on the horizon, they want other people to sacrifice their career ambitions on the altar of diversity politics. The correct response is to either ignore their self-serving virtue-signaling, or to draw attention to their hypocrisy and mock them mercilessly.

Next time you hear someone calling for increased diversity in their organisation, you should ask why they haven’t resigned yet.

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Don’t mention the flaw!

Once upon a time I was posted to a department in an oil company which dealt with the early-stage designs of new installations, much of which was geared towards providing enough information for a cost estimate to be carried out. To a rough order of magnitude, the cost of a new offshore installation (either floating or fixed to the seabed) can be estimated from its weight. Keeping things simple, the weight of an offshore facility comprises Equipment Weight, Piping Weight, Structural Weight, and Others. If you have enough data, it is theoretically possible to work out the total weight of a new offshore installation by taking just the Equipment Weight and applying various ratios from similar, existing facilities. Most large engineering companies do this in order to obtain order-of-magnitude weights and cost estimates, but it is very much a finger-in-the-air approach which, at the early stages of a project, is fine.

The problem with my new department was they did the equivalent of dividing 11.3 by 3.4 and writing the answer as 3.32352941. Any GCSE science or maths teacher will tell you the answer to any calculation cannot be more accurate than the initial input data. But when we did estimates using data with an accuracy of ± 30%, we’d make comparisons of estimates that were within 10% of each other and propose weight savings of 5%. If you think it’s just journalists who are innumerate, be aware there are engineers with the same affliction working in large oil companies.

Then things got a whole lot worse. Weight ratios apply to offshore facilities because they are designed as a single unit relatively unaffected by their location (I’m talking topsides or floaters here, not the jackets or other support structures). I’m simplifying massively, but the point is that the weights of floating and other offshore facilities are not primarily driven by where they are installed. By contrast, the cost and complexity of onshore installations is enormously impacted by topography and geotechnical conditions under the soil. As you can imagine, building a facility on flat, firm ground is a bit easier than doing so on the side of a granite mountain or in a marsh. Civil engineering accounts for approximately 30-40% of the cost of constructing an onshore oil and gas installation, mainly grading the site, bringing in aggregate and compacting, and building the vast underground networks of pipes and cables needed to run the thing. This is why the first things you do when you’re thinking about building an onshore plant is the topographical and geotechnical survey; it’s sort of hard to do anything without it.

But I worked with very clever people, and they came up with a way of estimating the costs of an onshore facility regardless of where it was located. Insofar as topography went we could just assume it was flat, and soil conditions could be ignored or data from a project on another continent used instead. That soil conditions can vary dramatically across a hundred metres didn’t seem to matter. Furthermore, we could use ratios to work out the weights like we did offshore. Now I spied a problem with this. Offshore, on a global basis, there is probably a relationship between Total Equipment Weight and Total Structural Weight; all equipment on such facilities is supported by structural steel, after all. But onshore equipment is generally placed on a concrete plinth sunk into the ground, the size of which is driven by the soil conditions and equipment weight. The structural steel supports some equipment and a lot of piping and cables, but it does a very different job to that on offshore facilities. In many instances, the structural steel around a piece of onshore equipment is negligible. In short, on an onshore plant there is no ratio from other facilities which can be used to estimate structural weight using equipment weight. But here were were, applying the same methodology as if it could.

Having some experience on onshore sites, I began to use my noggin a little. In one estimate, I ascertained that a vessel had no structural steel at all: it rested on its own legs and there was no maintainable valve on top which would need an access platform. But two managers queried this: they asked how the structural steel weight could be zero. I said it was because there is no structure associated with this vessel. They said this must be wrong, and I should apply a ratio of 30% vessel weight. So I asked them what structure they thought I was missing. They couldn’t say, but they told me to add the weight in, which came to several tonnes.

A little later, they got an intern with no post-graduate engineering experience to create a formal procedure for estimating the weights of onshore facilities, convinced that from such data the costs could be derived. They then passed it around all the engineers for comments. I noticed that it did not consider many components of the underground networks, which as I said comprises a huge portion of the costs. The most glaring omission was the firewater ring main, which is big, expensive, and common to all onshore oil and gas facilities. The reason this wasn’t included was because it would be designed “later”, which I found actually meant “nobody here knows anything about firewater ring mains so it’s best to pretend they don’t exist”.

I’d only been in the department a few weeks and I naively thought I’d be being helpful by pointing out, as I have done above, why this new methodology drawn up by the intern was fatally flawed. I drafted a comprehensive email with examples and explanations and sent it to my boss and the head of department, whose brainchild this new methodology was. A few days later I was called into an office where both of them were waiting and told to close the door. Their talk with me can be summarised as follows:

“We have read your email, but the decision has been made to adopt this methodology going forward. Your job is to follow it without asking questions.”

This was probably the first time it dawned on me that in many corporate departments results are meaningless, and all that matters is people obediently follow the process. I fought it for about a year, then just got with the program and pumped out absolute garbage which got wrapped up in more garbage and presented to senior management right up to the CEO. It didn’t take me long to work out whatever rubbish we were generating was not the basis on which decisions were getting made – the company wouldn’t be in business if that were the case – and the entire process, which cost millions of dollars, was merely to keep people employed. I once remarked in the wake of the oil price crash that if the company wanted to cut costs they could get rid of our entire department and employ a child to roll dice every time senior management wanted figures. That went down about as well as my critique of the estimation methodology.

The experience left me wondering how much of this sort of thing goes on in major corporations with names you’ve heard of. Quite a bit, would be my guess.

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Graph Trouble

Maybe my readers can help me out here. I’m researching the link between gender diversity and company performance, and having read about 20 academic papers on the subject I’m now looking at studies various companies have done. Currently I’m on this one (.pdf) from Credit Suisse, in which they evaluate 3,400 companies across 10 sectors in 40 countries including 27,000 CEOs and senior executives. This graph on page 25 is confusing me:

If you were to plot the share prices of two random companies, you’d not expect them to follow the same path. If you were to plot the share prices of two companies in the same industrial sector exposed to much the same market forces, you’d perhaps expect to see them follow similar paths. But how likely is it that you take 3,400 companies across 10 sectors and 40 countries, divide them into baskets depending on the number of women in senior management, plot the share prices and they all have roughly the same shape?

Given the only differentiation between the baskets is the number of women in senior management, I’d have expected each line to be of a different shape, reflecting the combined fortunes of each individual company in each sector in each country. Is this a complete fudge, or am I missing something here?

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Incentives matter, part 23,567

This is a fascinating line from an academic paper I’m reading:

Stanwick (2001) found a strong association between CEO compensation and a firm’s reputation for being environmentally progressive.

This can be read several ways, but one interpretation is that CEOs sign up to green initiatives because it justifies their higher pay, or reduces criticism of it. Which would explain one hell of a lot, frankly.

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The problem of activist proxies

Via a reader, this is a very interesting document (.pdf) from the US Chamber of Commerce containing one of their member’s testimony to a Senate Committee. This excerpt near the beginning gives a flavour of what they’re protesting:

Public companies and their shareholders are increasingly targeted through the proxy system and other means over issues that are unrelated to – and sometimes, even at odds with – enhancing long-term performance. Topics that should be reserved for the legislative and executive branches of government – including a variety of social and political issues that may not be directly correlated to the success of the company – are increasingly finding their way into proxy statements and being debated in boardrooms. This has created significant costs for shareholders and in many instances has distracted boards and management from focusing on the best interests of the company.

In short, activist shareholders are demanding companies adopt SJW-driven policies which have a detrimental effect on financial performance. So who’s responsible?

As the Manhattan Institute has pointed out, labor-affiliated pension plans have historically been the most active at advancing such agendas that do not correlate with long term performance. From 2006-2015, labor-affiliated investors sponsored 32% of all shareholder proposals at the Fortune 250, many of which deal topics of a social or political nature. Both the Department of Labor (DOL) Inspector General and the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit have expressed skepticism as to whether the shareholder activism engaged in by labor-affiliated funds is actually connected to increasing share value.

No doubt those in charge of managing the pension funds have guaranteed incomes and rock-solid personal finances so are happy to risk their members’ retirement incomes to pursue their own political goals. There is some good news, though:

The DOL took action this year in order to ensure that Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) fiduciaries are making investments based on economic factors and not elevating environmental, social, or governance (ESG) impacts over returns.

I wonder how many pension funds divested from oil stock, which traditionally pays consistent dividends, at the behest of SJWs?

A 2015 Manhattan Institute Report found that the social activism engaged in by certain public pension plan systems – such as the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) and the New York State Common Retirement System (NYSCR) – is actually correlated with lower returns for the plans. In other words, public pension plan beneficiaries and taxpayers in such jurisdictions are actually harmed when the overseers of public pension plans emphasize social or political goals over the economic return of the plan.

Outdated SEC proxy rules have allowed motivated special interests to take advantage of this system to the detriment of Main Street investors and pensioners. The problems we face today have in part stemmed from a lack of proper oversight over proxy advisory firms and a failure to modernize corporate disclosure requirements. Activists have been able to hijack shareholder meetings with proposals concerning pet issues – all to the detriment of the vast majority of America’s investors.

So the problem isn’t just that activists wreck the returns for their own members, they wreck those of anyone else investing in the company as well. I suppose the moral of the story is, when choosing a company to invest in, to look at whether their stockholders include public pension plans – particularly those from the New York or Californian public sectors.

This also chimes slightly with what I’ve been said before:

The deficiencies within the U.S. proxy system must also be viewed against the backdrop of the sharp decline of public companies over the past two decades. The United States is now home to roughly half the number of public companies than existed in the mid-1990s and the overall number of public listings is little changed from 1983. While the JOBS Act helped arrest that decline, too many companies are deciding that going or staying public is not in their long-term best interest.

So stay small, stay private, and avoid both regulations and the lunatics. It also won’t surprise many to learn that government regulations have created a cosy little duopoly, either:

Activist campaigns, as well as routine proxy matters that companies deal with today, are also magnified by the outsized influence of proxy advisory firms. Two firms – Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis – constitute roughly 97% of the proxy advisory firm market, yet both are riddled with conflicts of interest, operate with little transparency, and are prone to making significant errors in vote recommendations that jeopardize the ability of investors to make informed decisions in their best interests.

What was I saying earlier about “guaranteed incomes and rock-solid personal finances”? The authors believe the answer is greater regulation for proxy advisory firms, but I don’t know if that won’t just deliver another set of unintended consequences further down the line. My preferred solution is more people stand up to idiotic lefties and SJWs wherever they are to found, using mockery, humiliation, and a refusal to play their game. Alas that will require courage, a trait largely absent in today’s business world.

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Wishful thinking

The other day, Soviet-born demented NeverTrumper Max Boot tweeted this:


Leave aside the silly notions that:

1. Running government is the same as flying an airplane: does a pilot need to juggle dozens of competing interests with one eye on his job between takeoff and landing?

2. Government is about qualifications: if it were, why bother with elections?

3. People who think they’re the sort of expert who should be in government ought to be anywhere near the levers of power.

Let’s instead look at the idea that we want the best qualified people to design buildings. Is it true? Well, I’ve been involved in some civil infrastructure projects and I recall the contracts were generally awarded to the local company with the strongest political connections. I’ve also been involved in several engineering tenders and although lip-service is paid to quality and track record, it generally goes to the bidder with the lowest price.

And then there’s this:

State, local and federal government agencies regularly make a certain number of contracts open to bidding from minority-owned business enterprises, or MBEs. This minority business certification is a designation given to companies with women or ethnic minorities in control or in ownership. Learning how to bid on minority government contracts involves securing appropriate forms of certification and identifying and applying for contracts posted by various state and federal government agencies.

So we want the best qualified to design buildings, do we? If only.

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