In Defense Of Ben Affleck As Batman

Ben Affleck getting cast as Batman in the upcoming Batman vs Superman film has–as one could easily predict–sent shock waves of rage through the internet. I get it. Really, I do. His acting credits are very mixed, with some spectacular lows dragging down many people’s view of his body of work as a whole.

But he has it in him to be a great actor when he picks the right project (admittedly, that happens a lot more rarely than one would like).  I’ve hated quite a few Ben Affleck movies (or to be more blunt, I’ve hated most movies he’s been in), but I can honestly say that’s because I hated the way the films were written and directed; I don’t recall ever watching one of them and having critical feelings towards his skill in the craft of acting. Responsibility for horrendous dialogue, cliched characters, and stupefyingly dull plots doesn’t fall on an actor.

An actor’s job is to be the character the director wants in his or her film. The brutal truth is that most movies coming out of Hollywood run the gamut from just kinda shitty to spectacularly shitty; unless you’re on the radar of the few quality directors, any actor who wants to regularly work in the industry is going to do some pretty awful films.

Perhaps as indie films, crowdfunding, and alternate distribution channels continue to grow and diversify, that’s won’t be the case in the future. Maybe (hopefully) we’re nurturing a generation of creative types who can and will insist on doing movies on their own terms. But most of Ben Affleck’s films, especially the truly lambasted ones, came out long before Kickstarter was even a vague notion in the back of someone’s mind. I don’t blame him for making the decisions he did when the only two options were “arty” independent films almost nobody would ever see and Gigli*.

Ben Affleck has the chops to do justice to Batman.  I hope Snyder gives him a great character to work with, combining both the aspects we’ve come to love in Batman and new nuances to this iconic character that will keep us guessing.

_________

* Okay, I can kinda blame him for Gigli. Plus, you probably would have felt a little cheated if I didn’t find a way to work at least one Gigli reference into this post. Maybe you won’t admit it, but you know deep down it’s totally true.

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Welcome To Night Vale Podcast Exlpodes In Popularity

Welcome To Night Vale, a podcast in the style of old-time radio dramas, experienced a surge of Tumblr-driven popularity over the summer. It went from being relatively unknown to the #1 podcast on iTunes.  This always quirky, often creepy podcast is set in a fictional town called Night Vale, and consists of radio announcements that combine Lovecraftian monstrosities with a shadowy, Kafkaesque local government whose edicts are carried out by “the Sheriff’s Secret Police.” Floating cats, angels, five-headed dragons running for public office, and strange glowing clouds that spew dead animals are among the more benign occurrences in Night Vale. If you’ve been looking for an original, humorous podcast to add to your life, this is it.

You can download it at iTunes, podbay, or FeedBurner.

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Take A Stand Against Sexual Harassment At Comic Conventions

San Diego Comic Con looms ahead, and everywhere the nerds are aflutter; there’s last minute travel arrangements to make, luggage to be hauled from the dark recesses of the garage or attic (not that anyone will bother to pack until the night before they leave, but damn, they’ll feel so productive every time they walk past those suitcases), all punctuated by nail-biting sessions on the Programming page, hitting refresh again and again in the vain hope that the schedule will be released a few days early. Heady images of themed after parties, geek band gigs, or simply the chance to meet Twitter/Tumblr friends for a drink in the hotel bar (and considering what you’re paying for a hotel room during Comic Con, don’t you deserve a good stiff drink?) provide the finishing touch on the fantasy that gets us through the last few weeks of work and general drudgery before we’re let out to play.

But not all is well in the Land of Geek. After almost every major convention, women come forward to talk about the harassment they faced during what should have been a fun vacation from the real world. That is, indeed, why Comic Con and its peers exist: To celebrate the refuges we take from the daily grind, and perhaps inspire us to figure out how to make our reality a tiny bit closer to the alternate realities we so love. Whether SDCC, NYCC, Dragon*Con, E3, Heroes Con, or all of the above are your stomping grounds, I ask you to stop and take a few minutes to read about how you can make these gatherings a safer place for everyone who attends.

The comments directed at women who step forward tend to be rife with opinions about how people think she should have handled the situation. Some commenters will at least limit their criticisms to what they think the convention staff should have done, but there’s a glaring omission from all these responses.

What I don’t see very often are people making suggestions for what we, the convention goers, should do to tackle the issue of sexual harassment. Women are often taken to task for not speaking up about harassment right away, but here’s the thing: On the convention floor, there are usually dozens of immediate witnesses. If something happens, and none of the people who witness it even acknowledge they’ve noticed anything, will the woman being harassed feel like she’s going to get much help from from con staff? If the people who watched it happen act like they don’t care, how can she have any faith that she’ll be believed in a he said, she said scenario minutes or even hours after the fact?

We need to be proactive. If you notice a cosplayer surrounded by a group of guys, take five seconds from your day to slow your pace and listen for anything inappropriate as you pass by. If you overhear something you know is wrong, stop and say something. If you notice a Slave Leia posing for a picture with a guy who’s hand is starting to drift somewhere it has no business being, say something. It’s a few seconds out of your day, but the anger and hurt the woman can feel from harassment can dog her for weeks, for months, or even far longer.

You don’t have to give a dissertation on feminism, or body autonomy, or even the basic manners the harasser should have received growing up.  You don’t have to be clever or powerful or any other adjective you think stands in your way of doing the right thing. Like street harassment, con harassment thrives because the men doing it know that people just don’t like to get involved in a potentially ugly scene. The strongest weapon we can wield against them is not a clever put down, but simply to let them know that we are paying attention, and that we will speak up about what we see. You get embarrassed easily when speaking up in a confrontational situation? Sometimes you stutter or mumble a bit? That’s ok! Because the goal is not “winning” an argument of any type against the person doing the harassing. The goal is to let him know he’s being watched, and to offer support to the girl being harassed.

Look at his badge and make a point of using his name; nothing tends to take harassers down a notch like realizing that all that stands between their poor choices at the con and their “real life” is a quick Google search.

While on the subject, let the girl know you’d be happy to act as a witness if she wants to report harassment to the con staff. If the person who harassed her really got to her, and she looks upset, ask if she has any friends she can call, and offer to stay with her until they arrive. Get other people involved; if you’re meeting friends at the con, casually mention that you’re planning on keeping an eye and ear out for harassment.

Though sexual harassment is by far the most troubling, there are other types of harassment to watch out for. No one of any gender, race, or body type deserves to be made fun of for deciding to cosplay. Remember to speak up when you witness something. Not only will you be helping someone out of a bad situation, you will also be inspiring the passersby to stand up when they see something wrong.

If you see someone who looks a little (or a lot) self conscious, give them a compliment. Yes, even if the guy you follow on Twitter did that costume so much better, and you’re the type of person who just hates it when people put together costumes from stuff they got from the thrift store. There will always be assholes ready to tear someone down; kind people willing to build others up are rare.

Stand up. Be kind. Do the right thing.

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First Desolation Of Smaug Trailer

Sadly, Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice acting didn’t make the cut for this trailer. Some of the graphics still seem a bit rough as well, but it’s early yet.

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‘Kindle Worlds’ Allows Fan Fic Writers To Legally Sell Ebooks

Kindle Worlds, a new Amazon program that’s already being hotly debated among both professional authors and fan fiction writers alike, will allow fans to sell ebooks based on certain licensed TV shows, movies, comic books, and various other media. No launch date has been specified, but an excerpt from the Amazon website lays out the compensation rates.

 

  • All works accepted for Kindle Worlds will be published by Amazon Publishing.
  • Amazon Publishing will pay royalties to the rights holder for the World (we call them World Licensors) and to you. Your standard royalty rate for works of at least 10,000 words will be 35% of net revenue.
  • In addition, with the launch of Kindle Worlds, Amazon Publishing will pilot an experimental new program for particularly short works (between 5,000 and 10,000 words). For these short stories—typically priced under one dollar—Amazon will pay the royalties for the World Licensor and will pay authors a digital royalty of 20% of net revenue. The lower royalty for these shorter works is due to significantly higher fixed costs per digital copy (for example, credit-card fees) when prices for the entire class of content will likely be under one dollar.
  • As with all titles from Amazon Publishing, Kindle Worlds will base net revenue off of customer sales price—rather than the lower industry standard of wholesale price—and royalties will be paid monthly.
  • Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.
  • Kindle Worlds is a creative community where Worlds grow with each new story. You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.
  • Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories. Most will be priced from $0.99 through $3.99.

Although Amazon’s terms have made a lot of people very angry, I have to admit that I don’t think it’s the raw deal some are claiming. People are angry that the original license holders will be given the right license characters created by the new authors without compensating them. But writers playing in someone else’s world have never had rights to anything they created in a licensed universe; they write the book, collect their paycheck, and then they are shown the door.  Timothy Zahn doesn’t get compensated whenever Lucasfilm (now Disney) uses Mara Jade.

There is also the issue of liability. Say, for example, Supernatural becomes one of the available licensed shows, and I decide to write a story about Jimmy Novak’s kid coming to look for him. Even if the Supernatural writers had already planned on doing an episode just like that for months or even years, they’d now be obligated to pay me for it if the Kindle Worlds program said I had the rights to any original ideas I had for my book, or else risk a huge lawsuit. If dozens or hundreds of fans are rushing to sell ebooks for a given show, they are likely, by simple coincidence, to come up with a lot of plots and minor characters very similar to ones the show’s writers are already thinking of doing. The show would essentially have to pay for all those ideas twice.

Writing in a popular licensed universe with millions of die-hard fans in place and ready to hand over their money is not the same thing as creating a novel from scratch, and I don’t think the copyright holders should be obligated to treat it as such. There are a lot of shitty deals out there for writers, from both traditional publishers and vanity presses. I don’t think the Kindle Worlds program is one of them.

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No New Purchases For 3 Months

I’ve set a goal to restrict myself to only reading books and watching DVDs I’ve already bought for the next 3 months. I’ll also use this opportunity to get into more webseries, vlogs, and web comics. I’m one of those people who buys large quantities of books and DVDs, only to stick them in the to read/to watch pile and then move on to other things. As I’m trying to save up to go back to college, I’m hoping this will help me be a lot more mindful of my purchases.

I noticed as I put this list together that my Netflix streaming subscription has really cut down on my pile of unwatched DVDs. Two or three years ago, that list would have been much longer.

A small fraction of the stuff I’ll be going through over the coming months:

Books:

Fiction

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
  • This Is Not A Game by Walter Jon Williams
  • Cryptonomicon & Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
  • Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Restaurant At The Edge of The Universe by Douglas Adams
  • The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
  • Rudyard Kipling’s Tales Of Horror And Fantasy
  • Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  • Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
  • Ringworld and Saturn’s Race by Larry Niven
  • Seed To Harvest and Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
  • Tales of the Bounty Hunters: Star Wars: Book 3
  • Echoes Of The Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker*
  • The Terror by Dan Simmons
  • How To Make Friends With Demons by Graham Joyce
  • The Outlander by Gil Adamson

Nonfiction

  • Firefly: Still Flying
  • Joss Whedon: Conversations
  • Fan Fiction And Fan Communities In The Age Of The Internet
  • In The Hunt: Unauthorized Essays On Supernatural
  • TV Goes To Hell: An Unofficial Road Map Of Supernatural
  • A Brief History of the Universe by Stephen Hawking
  • The Universe In A Nutshell by Stephen Hawking
  • Dinosaurs: A Concise Natural History
  • Write Good or Die
  • Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure
  • Writing a Romance Novel
  • Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence
  • Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way To Success
  • Delusions Of Gender
  • Sister Citizen
  • Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

*Echoes of the Well of Souls holds the distinction of being in the to-read pile longer than pretty much any book I’ve ever owned. I think it was given to me when I was 12 or so. I’m 2 months shy of my 28th birthday at the time of writing this post.

Oh, and there’s quite a few romance/erotica novels as well, but the titles are a wee bit too embarrassing to share. ;)

Comics:

  • Mouse Guard Volumes I&II
  • New X-Men Omnibus
  • Tank Girl Volume I
  • Star Wars Shadows of the Empire Omnibus Volume I
  • Star Wars At War With The Empire Volume I
  • Hopeless, Maine
  • Witchblade Volume I
  • Buffy Season 8 Volumes I through IV
  • Buffy Omnibus Volume I
  • Billy Fog
  • Joe The Barbarian
  • Chew Volume III
  • Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier
  • Essential Amazing Spider-Man Volume II
  • Maus Volume I
  • The Walking Dead: Compendium 1

Movies/Shows:

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trilogy
  • The Crow
  • Stargate
  • Star Trek DS9 season 1
  • Xena Season 1
  • Nightmare on Elm St II through IV
  • Friday the 13th II through IV
  • Heroes Seasons I & II
  • Red vs Blue: The 1st 5 Seasons
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New Star Wars Animated Show: Star Wars Rebels

Hard at work already...

Star Wars Rebels showrunner David Filoni

Disney has clearly decided to fast-track its new Star Wars properties.  Rebels, set during the twenty year gap between the two trilogies, will be premiering in the Fall of 2014 on Disney according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Star Wars Rebels will open with an hour long special on the Disney channel, followed by regular half hour episodes on Disney XD.

The most interesting news (to me, anyhow) is that Filoni says that we will finally be seeing the familiar imagery of the original trilogy.

While I’m not as militant as most in my dislike of the prequels, I’ve always thought that they just didn’t look or feel like Star Wars.  I’m especially pleased by Joel Aron’s statements regarding the palette and lighting hybridization between Ralph McQuarrie’s artwork and A New Hope. I have high hopes that they’ll be moving away from the more sterile, ultra-bright visuals of the prequels and Clone Wars series.  Greg Weisman, executive producer on the childhood favorite of many a 90s kid–Gargoyles–is another great name attached to this project.

Much as I’m disappointed by the fact that Seth Green’s Star Wars: Detours appears to be on indefinite hiatus, I’m very excited for this new series.

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Can You Travel From Bag End To Mordor?

You’ve read the books. You’ve seen the movies. You’ve probably even listened the audiobooks. Are you ready to take the plunge yourself (minus the Nazgûl, orcs and a vengeful mutated hobbit with a homicidal split personality)?

The ladies of Eowyn’s Challenge have been encouraging Tolkien nerds to try the journey for themselves for almost a full decade now, be it by walking, running, swimming, or any other means of self-powered locomotion. The original basis for the challenge was a walk from Hobbinton to Rivendell–timed to finish by the release of Return of the King–but these wonderful ladies have since added distances for all the major characters and locations.

The founder of this fitness challenge is our Ranger Jewel.  She began researching the miles, milestones and time frame of the hobbits’ journey to Rivendell in Fellowship of the Ring.  We were later joined by Karen Wynn Fonstad, author of the Atlas of Middle-earth.  Mrs. Fonstad provided us with very detailed charts of all the Fellowship’s journey through Middle Earth.  Much of the information provided is exclusive to the Eowyn Challenge and can be found nowhere else. The challenge is very simple and flexible; anyone can develop their own variation on this basic idea.

Since then the challenge has seen perennial popularity at a variety of fitness forums and blogs, both the nerd-oriented and muggle varieties. Of all the posts I’ve seen, Nerd Fitness has by far taken the prize, including a multitude of beginner tips, recommendations for helpful apps to keep track of your mileage,  as well as a collaborative Google doc for those who want to see how their journey compares to others.

If you want to stick with Frodo and Sam, your journey will be about 1,779 miles. If The Hobbit is more your style, the journey from Bag End to the Lonely Mountain is 967 miles. The walking distance page has all the distances laid out for you, and you’ll also find milestones that break down the distances even further.

If you expect to have reached your goal by a certain date, I’d suggest dividing the total miles by the number of weeks you’ve given yourself and seeing if it’s reasonable for your level of fitness.  To reach Mordor in one year, you’d need to travel just under 35 miles a week. If you bike and/or run regularly, that might be very doable. If you’re using this challenge to jump-start a fitness program after being pretty sedentary, you’re better off either setting a farther date, or just eliminating the time restriction all together.

I think it’s a fun way to remind ourselves just what taking these epic journeys entails. We may read about them in high fantasy like LOTR, Wheel Of Time, A Game Of Ice And Fire, etc, but few people raised in the generation of cars and mass transportation can even begin to grasp what travel must be like in a time and place where you feel every grueling mile. Heck, maybe it’ll even make TSA security procedures more tolerable by comparison (okay, probably not).

Personally, I’ll be undertaking the journey to Mordor. I hope some of you will join in.

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Confessions Of A Part-Time Sorceress

ConfessionsI had such high hopes for Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress. But instead of a fun, cheeky look at the world of D&D through the eyes of a girl, I got an appalling mess of tacky stereotypes paraded out as ‘humor.’

I tried to quell my misgivings; I hate to give up on a book I’ve anticipated reading for a long time. So, despite the fact that the book opened with her whining that her gamer boyfriend didn’t bail on his friends to spend an hour or two in rush-hour traffic to come change her tire (and, like, OMG, didn’t he understand she was wearing WHITE PANTS!!1!one), because apparently the fairer sex can neither operate a tire iron nor figure out how to call AAA, I kept plodding along.

My misgivings increased as she described her job at Wizards of the Coast, and complained that there was no one to “commiserate with” about how weird and nerdy everything was, and how she had to “endure” her coworkers talking about aspects of gaming (Side note: Who in the sphincter of hell is in charge of hiring at Wizards of the Coast?). Ugh, a guy came to work dressed up as a Stormtrooper, and nobody else wanted to talk about what a weirdo he was. Poor her.

Not content to confine the offensive attitude to her own beliefs, she included a questionnaire answered by her five closest friends, where they proceeded to espouse how creepy and sad they thought D&D players were. Beating a dead horse seems to be the author’s strong point, because she couldn’t seem to quickly address stereotypes about D&D players and move on to, you know, the game she was supposedly writing about. Instead she chose focus on how much the world looks down on the lil’ cave-dwelling, neck-bearded, grimy losers before eventually tossing in a few condescending acknowledgements that they’re not all like that.

In the middle of her tolerance speech about how people should embrace stereotypical gamers instead of trying to change them (generous of her, I guess…?), she refers to nerds as “socially retarded.” That’s the part of the book where she’s trying really hard to encourage people not to look down on gamers. Her attempt to wear a Dungeons & Dragons shirt in public ends with her getting embarrassed after less than an hour (like, ew, people think I’m one of those creepy basement dwellers!) and asking to borrow a friend’s sweater.

Then there are the nonsensical ramblings about shoes and lipstick that leave the reader scratching their head and wondering what it all has to do with the game. Her explanation on gearing up a character is derailed by a discussion about how her character is buying Jimmy Choos at Nordstrom while everyone else is buying weapons.

But I think it would be best if I gave you examples of the content, and let you judge for yourself if this book seems like it would help you learn to play Dungeons & Dragons:

“Sorry, ladies, there are no bonus points for being able to walk in heels over cobblestones or remembering the anniversary of the day your best friend’s divorce was final. There are no deductions for clumpy mascara or visible panty lines. Come to think of it, maybe there should be.”

“Prior to my first game, I spent some quality time with Teddy creating my character. By “creating my character,” I mean using my mechanical pencil to twist my hair into an updo and building some Stonehenge-like creations with twenty-sided dice, while Teddy filled out my character sheet.”

“Picture a star who could remove her toenail polish with hundred dollar bills if she were someone who actually took care of her own toes. This person hates to see nurses and lunch ladies go without cashmere hoodies and MP3 players. If she’s feeling frisky, she might buy you and 349 of your neighbors a brand new Pontiac. But watch it–if she’s feeling wronged, she won’t think twice about outing you on national television. Don’t mess with a Lawful Good celeb.”

“Poor Ursula had a hard time finding scale armor. Yuck. That stuff is so unflattering and it’s almost impossible to find scale mail leggins in her size. Nobody makes a decent pair with a twenty-two inch inseam. I gave her the name of my seamstress.”

Here’s the thing. I know lots of lady geeks who manage to blend geeky and “girly” in a way that doesn’t insult anyone’s intelligence or completely detract from the subject they’re writing about. Shelly Mazzanoble is not one of these ladies. She took an idea that could have worked if it was handled a bit better and just flailed around creating an unreadable mess. At every turn the actual subject matter (the game) was preempted and shoved to the background to make room for yet another joke about lipstick, handbags, and designer shoes.

If the goal of Wizards of the Coast was to make this girl throw up her hands in defeat and buy a book on playing Warcraft instead of Dungeons & Dragons, they succeeded.

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Spoiler-Free Redshirts Review

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi exceeded my expectations on every count; plot, concept, and characterization. I went into it a little hesitant, because I’m not really a big Star Trek fan and I had never read anything by Scalzi before. And most of all, I was unsure that the concept, which seemed amusing enough, could sustain a full length novel. How do you stay true to the convention of redshirts, two-dimensional characterization, and silly classic science fiction plotting, yet still satisfy modern readers who expect so much more from their science fiction?

I’m very pleased to say that not only was the concept worked into a clever plot, but every minor quibble you may have nagging at the back of your mind is actually addressed by the end of the book, resulting in quite a few instances of, “Oh my god, he did that on purpose! Scalzi, you clever bastard!” I actually had to throw out a good 80% of the notes I jotted down while reading Redshirts, because almost everything I thought was a fault turned out to be part of the ride. It was masterfully done, and Scalzi’s background as long-time SF writer and stint as president of the SFWA really shows. He’s well versed in both tropes and predicting how readers will react to the most subtle of cues. He walked the fine line between staying true to the tone of the source and imprinting his own personality on the story.

The one caveat is that this is truly a concept-driven book rather than a plot or character driven one. If that’s something you really don’t like, Redshirts may not be for you.

The plot revolves around Ensign Andrew Dahl and group of Universal Union crewmen who have just been assigned to the star ship Intrepid. The setting is essentially the Star Trek universe with a few strategically changed names to avoid copyright infringement. The ‘redshirts’ of Trek fame start getting wise to the fact that going on an away mission is a death sentence for anyone but a handful of important bridge officers. While most of the existing crew know this and try to cope with a mixture of denial and clever avoidance schemes, Dahl & Co shake things up and try to figure out the cause behind the mysterious circumstances that make serving on the Intrepid so much more dangerous than any other comparable ship in the Universal Union.

Only a very cursory familiarity with the Star Trek franchise is necessary to enjoy Redshirts. If you’ve caught a few classic Trek reruns over the years, you’re all set to enjoy the ride.

This is a video from last year’s W00tstock at San Diego Comic Con. It’s a skit John Scalzi wrote based on Redshirts. It doesn’t involve any of the characters from the book, and there’s no spoilers; it’s just a humorous short that introduces you to the concept.

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