Happy Birthday, Millie
Useful Health Related Websites for Elders

Do You Learn Something New Every Day?

UPDATE: Thank you Peter Tibbles for correcting the count of years among us on Millie Garfield's 90th birthday post. Inevitably things go wrong - not important when it was only meant to be fun but still you want to be as accurate as possible. Just because.

So I did some more accounting this morning and the total number of years of the readers celebrating Millie's online birthday is 6576 plus or minus a few other errors.

Thank you all - that was fun.

* * *

Nearly every week – or frequently enough to call it that – there is a new study announcing that old people, to stave off dementia, should exercise and keep our minds active.

I'm not sure there is yet any solid proof about the dementia prevention part but there is no doubt that active bodies and minds are healthier bodies and minds and that has been known for a long time.

Back in February, Jeffrey J. Salingo wrote in the Washington Post, that once upon a time, the purpose of college was to “explore courses and majors before settling on a job and career...”

”[as opposed to]...today’s view that it’s all about getting a job...

“Freshmen now list getting a better job as the most important reason to go to college in an annual UCLA survey of first-year students. Previously, the top reason was learning about things that interest them.

“The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in traditional arts and sciences fields (English, math, and biology, for example) has tumbled from almost half of the undergraduate credentials...The most popular undergraduate major [today] is business."

In another kind of learning inquiry, last year the Gallup organization set out to test the mission statement of nearly every American college which is, to promote lifelong learning as a core value in life.

From decades of their own research, the company believed being “engaged in your work and thriving in your overall well-being” is an excellent demonstration of lifelong learning and that it can be measured with a simple question: "Do you learn something new or interesting every day?"

So here is what they did [emphasis mine]:

”Gallup asked this question of a representative sample of more than 170,000 adults across the U.S. in 2014, and we cut the data by varying levels of educational attainment,” [they explained].

“What we learned is there's no difference whatsoever in the likelihood that college graduates agree with this question compared with those with any lower level of education - even those without a high school diploma!

“What an unbelievable disappointment. So much for the promise of a bachelor's degree leading to lifelong learning.”

Even though I too lament the debasement of the purpose of higher education, if, as Jeffrey Salingo tells us, high-minded intellectual goals have given way to hardcore job skills in college, then disappointment that a bachelor's degree confers no more advantage than high school or less can hardly be a surprise.

But I read the Gallup study differently. I think it's great news for elders – well, for anyone of any age but at this blog I speak about and for old people.

What I believe their study confirms is that a curious mindset and the eagerness to follow it is all anyone needs to continue learning and maintain an active mind throughout life.

The study also reveals that we should not necessarily put as much value on the importance of undergraduate degrees or, at the very least, should not assume that people without one are any less educated or less informed.

One of my pet peeves are the surveys on huge varieties of topics that measure results by educational attainment. They regularly imply that respondents with less education are dumber or, at least, less well informed. It's just not so.

I'm a pretty smart cookie and although I have a high school diploma, I got that in 10 years rather than the standard 12 and didn't spend a moment anywhere near a college.

As I repeat here occasionally – one the things I've LEARNED in life – is that if it is true for me, it is true for thousands and thousands of other people.

If there is something highly particular you want to master – a language, a musical instrument, the history of eastern Europe between world wars, trigonometry or anything else where an expert can point the way, then those lifelong learning classes at colleges and senior centers can be invaluable.

But I am wary of the too-common belief that the phrase lifelong learning almost always is applied to formal teaching. All it really takes to continue learning is to have a curious mindset and follow your interests whether it's a simple question that needs a yes-or-no answer or a long-term project.

For many people I know, the bigger problem about learning is how to keep it to a manageable volume. But old age is fine time for learning however you do it.

What new or interesting thing have you learned today? Do you take formal classes or do you follow your interests on your own?


I just signed up for a fall class with our Lifelong Learning Institute on creating backyards for birds and butterflies....field trips included. Can't wait! And this summer I began meditating with an online course developed by Deepak Chopra and Oprah. My daily meditating has brought a real sense of calm to my days. I am still learning, but it is a wonderful practice.

Going to college to "learn about things that interest you" has become a luxury good; and most kids don't have the luxury to do that. They have to get a job. But still, as you point out, that's no reason why we all can't keep learning things, whether we're in college or in old age. Anyway, I don't take a class. I teach one at the community college ... and you can bet, I learn plenty each and every day that I'm there.

I have begun to learn how to build a skin-on-frame Greenland style kayak. This adventure will be all self help (google) as I am located in a remote area on the west coast. Wish me luck; I failed swimming class 55 years ago.

As Diane is, I'm learning meditation. I have begun with tapes & much encouragement from my son. This is something I've always wanted to do.. Also I've participated in a few Tai Chi classes promoting a class in my area in the fall, & I'm hoping to get into that as well. I think both meditation & Tai Chi are closely linked & they will help greatly in my caregiver role. Wish me luck. BTW, I flunked needlepoint! :)Dee

I am learning a ton about local politics, getting recently involved with grass roots organizations who have supported the ban on fracking here in Denton, Tx.

I helped elect our recent district 2 city council woman who like me shares a degree in Sociology. She encouraged me to apply for a seat on the Planning and Zoning Commission and I was recently approved for that seat. My 2-year tenure begins in two weeks.

I suspect I will learn more than I ever have before about the how city government and economic interests interact.

That was a fun tribute to Millie! A.Word.A.Day from wordsmith.org is an interesting way to learn something new every day. Does it count if I forget what I've learned? And then learn it again later! Ruth M.

Lifelong learning is defined as “all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective”.

So, I don't know what "lifelong learning" means to most people, but it apparently is supposed to mean all sorts of learning taking place as one lives.

I don't know if I learn something every day, but I am still learning some things. I am learning to be a good grandma, to garden, and about the place I moved to three years ago. As long as one is curious, one will continue to learn, I think.

For me Life is my classroom! But I also teach several classes at a community college and in order to teach we have to be active learners as well. Currently I teach Jin Shin Jyutsu Self Help and also digital photography/photo editing using apps on phones and tablets. Am also developing a new class with a friend - Practicing Wellness as We Age based on a class I developed/taught in the past; Practicing Wellness: An Integral Approach to Health. We are both enrolled in an IONS class called Conscious Aging - hmmm, I guess I am taking a class.

Am in total agreement with you Ronni - as usual - on learning. Most of us are engaged in active learning and it's all of great value. Another great post!

I went to college intending to major in journalism, but I loved the theater and literature too much and wound up majoring in Speech and Drama. I therefore spent a lot of time reading fiction and plays from many times and places.

My degree was not at all marketable since I didn't want to teach, so I found a way to become a journalist after all, despite my lack of formal background. I loved my work, but I also loved going to the theater and reading. One summer a few years back I went to two movies--"Becoming Jane" and "Moliere." The former was a fictionalized version of an episode from Jane Austen's life, the latter a fictionalized version of an episode from Moliere's life. I was so thankful as I watched these that I had read all of Austen's books and read and seen several of Moliere's plays.

To me, Austen's books are all about love and money, and the movie portrayed a crisis in her life (probably highly exaggerated) that involved exactly that. As for "Moliere," it wove plot elements from his plays into this outrageous and very funny tale of his life. I could have enjoyed the movie without knowing the plays, but I enjoyed it a lot more because I "got" the allusions.

It's true that I could have read both Austen and Moliere without going to college, but it would have been only happenstance if I had learned about them, since Moliere was writing in 17th century France and Austen at the turn of the 19th century in England. I was introduced to them in my college classes.

I feel very lucky to have gotten a liberal arts education and wouldn't trade my college years for anything. I still love learning, and am always taking classes and workshops. I took a meditation class eight years ago and have had a daily practice ever since. In a few weeks I'll be attending a workshop in mindful self compassion in Portland. I take a weekly yoga class that I rarely miss, and I'm on many mailings lists from places that offer classes of various types.

My parents, who were depression-era people, sent me to college so that I could be trained for a career and have more opportunities than they did. They were distressed when I ended up with a non-marketable degree, but I feel like I got the best of both worlds--the liberal arts background that has enriched my life in many ways and the writing skills I was able to develop in a paying job.

Now that I'm retired, I work as a freelance editor helping individual writers with their manuscripts. I feel as if I'm drawing on my career experience with writing and the liberal arts education that has led me to read widely. It's a very satisfying way to spend my time.

I, with a Master's degree, ended up with a fellow who dropped out of high school, then later earned his GED. He surprised me with his wide areas of knowledge, mostly from reading, one of the best learning tools there is. Keep learning; keep being interested and interesting!

I like your answer Susan, "...Life is my classroom!" As are the people around me. I am a constant reader, too, and alternate fiction and non-fiction, and belong to an on-line book group as well as a "terrestrial" one. I just finished an on-line mediation course, but will take another this Fall. I haven't taken a "real" class yet, as we travel (also always a learning experience) and my work may not allow for consistency in a classroom. But it is constant reading really -- the world is mine to explore, no matter what/where my physical reality is.

Correcting the above: on-line meditation course, not mediation!

Often I take enough classes on something to know whether I'm interested enough to invest more time toward that venture, such as painting and currently, tai chi. I find them difficult to "get" any other way. Youtube has been of terrific value to enhance and provide further refinement with these and so many other interests.

Today, during my morning walk/run on the school track, a large group of very toned, athletic young adult women arrived for their soccer practice. My initial thought was to leave. But I didn't. Rather, I continued running, and was prepared to tell them to move off the track as I approached. My use of the area was as valid as theirs, though I was greatly outnumbered and would once have chosen to back away. There are many new ways of becoming and being.

Many years ago, to keep my sanity and sense of identity while raising children, I began taking on a new task or interest every 3 to 6 months and giving it a good go before choosing another. I still do this, though now those things might be toned down, and my commitment to hang in there is shortened to a couple of weeks. And in 4 days I begin my first solo road trip, for a week or so.

Curiosity, openness, commitment and change - I consider them every day. Sometimes it's as simple as trying soy milk on the oatmeal.

Because I read one book after the other and always have since I first learned to read I do learn something new every day. I'm disappointed when I encounter a non-reader because I know the conversation will be lacking. It's sad that people my age (70) form their opinions by reading bumper sticker slogans (or so it seems).

I learned a lot in college. Mostly I went at night. It took me 18 years to get my BA. My sociology classes were the most interesting, esp. group behavior / dynamics. But I don't think it turned me into anything. Maybe the ideal college experience is one where a teenager gets to go for four years, has formative experiences, and adopts greater discipline and worldliness. However, for the 99%, it's just a piece of paper that tells an unimaginative employer how to separate one group of candidates from another.

Just learned some new things. I read this column and the comments. I think is one stays engaged with thoughts of others and current events as our world changes, they will automatically have a rather good lifetime learning experience. I do belong to an organized discussion group, with diverse membership ranging from university professors to an electrician and retired secretary. That works for me. I don't think formal classes are necessary for lifetime learning, but they may be very useful to others.

A lifelong learner and avid reader, one of the things I'd like to mention is how wonderful it is to be old at this time. At 79 I have some physical limitations but, although I live in "the sticks," and can't drive, I can read the NYTimes every day. As my eyesight weakens, I can buy e-books and increase the font. When a questions pops up,I can go to Wikipedia. or google it. In addition, I have more time to indulge myself in all this than I ever had when I was younger.

Not to forget, reading TGB!

It's ridiculous to ask an 18 or 19 year old to decide on a course of study that will direct the course of his life for years to come. We have been doing things backwards. There should be internship programs set up (either by the private sector or the government) that would allow high school graduates to explore a variety of careers they might be interested in. Then let them apply to a school or college best suited to their chosen careers.

I learned last year, that the beautiful old tree in my dog-owner friends back yard is
a black cherry tree. The discovery of what it is stemmed from the dogs, along with the squirrels and a gigantic aqua spotted beetle taking nourishment in and around the tree.

I learned that the old tree is now scarce in this environment and that the berry-sized cherries tasted pretty good to humans as well, but not much meat there. I learned that the beetle is a Kentucky Herculean Horned Beetle and the shell I found was a male because it had the gigantic horns. Even the beetle species has pretty coloring of the male to attract the female--the horns are used for fighting competitors for the female attention. (I had to wonder why in humans, the females are compelled to pretty-up and flaunt colors. It appears hormones and pheromones could take care of that getting attention need.)

Those beetles feed on the wood of the black cherry tree--and in a hole at the bottom,
the red sawdust is of their making. A "yooge" (huge as said by Sanders and Trump) toad took refuge under that sawdust as the winter set in. I learned of that by discovering the dogs digging at the sawdust. And I covered the toad better than he had been covered. The dogs did not disturb Mr. Toad anymore.

I learned yesterday that I can still be of help to my 24 year old great niece, who has struggled to gain her voice and foothold after high school graduation. The situation is tenuous and I am flying by the seat of my pants, after she called and a conversation went better than ever before. Hopefully the guidance I can give her will help her become her own person by finding what she wants to do in the way of a career and benefiting from success of which she is the sole proprietor.

I cannot imagine returning to a classroom. The internet holds a plethora of information that can be helpful in feeding the curious mind. The natural world, while we have some to behold, has many curiosities right under our noses.

I'm still thinking about what I learned yesterday by reading the lengthy news article about the grueling work culture at Amazon.com. I'm an avid reader of news--both print and online. I also subscribe to several excellent online courses.

I'm always reading a book--which these days tend to be non-fiction books on weighty topics.

I read, read, read--I always have a book with me. I read in bed, while sitting in the bathroom, waiting for food in a restaurant, waiting to be called for hair appointments or doctor visits, etc. I also listen to recorded books while I am doing tasks such as laundry, fixing dinner, cleaning, or driving somewhere.

I volunteer at the archives of a local university, going though materials, cataloging items, finding answers to questions posed by patrons, etc. It is fascinating work, and I learn something new every time I work. I get the added benefit of spending time with my sister who also volunteers there.

I learn something new or relearn something every day from the various blogs I regularly read. I have a list of them that I either receive an email alert about or I just do a quick check every day to see if there is a new posting. I am both entertained and enlightened.

I am also on the board of our local Friends of the Library. I am the membership chair, so I deal with all aspects of that role as well as participating in discussions of funding requests.

So, yes, at the age of 65, I am still learning something new everyday.

For me reading is akin to breathing and living in this tech era still seems nothing short of a miracle... That said the secret of the phenomena of organic life-long learning is curiosity! I cannot imagine what my life would have been without it.

Since last September I have been taking Italian classes. My parents were both native English and Italian speakers but, as the children of immigrants and anxious to assimilate, none of my relatives in their generation encouraged their kids (my sibling and I and our cousins) to learn Italian. Now virtually all of that generation (my parents and aunts and uncles) are gone, and I was driven to finally learn Italian as a way to stay in touch with my roots. It has been amazing fun... the age range in the class is 18 to 80, and we all have so much fun with one another. I also agree with what others here have said about reading -- it opens up worlds to us. Great topic!!

I believe I got my love of reading from my Dad. He went as far as the eighth grade but taught himself enough to become a bookkeeper. He had a curious mind and loved it when he "learned something new". I graduated from nursing school and have taken various courses through the years-art, cooking, Tudor history, nanotechnology, etc. Now I enjoy TED talks...no more classes for me. Learning how to fix a leaky toilet or getting a gardening tip from a neighbor...there's always something new to learn every day.

And I agree with Bruce's comment wholeheartedly.

I no longer attend formal classes, but like some other TGB respondents, I read the newspaper (how old-school is that!) every day, as well as reading on-line news and features, often wandering from one on-line article to another. . .and another. . .and another. Not infrequently, I end up reading about a subject far removed from where I started.

I've always loved to read and would have whether I'd gone to college or not. The post-grad degree I pursued in the mid-'80s while going to school at night (I had to keep my day job) was 98% motivated by career advancement. I've never regretted the time or energy it took, but there were people who worked in my field who did not have any degree. Many were among the savviest people I knew.

Today I'm learning more about how to rescue lost cats. A young woman near where I live lost her lovely 10 Y/O male Maine Coon cat two days ago, and there's a whole network involved in trying to get him home. There's actually a "science" and method to the search process, including the dispersal of (humane) traps. Who knew?

"Get curious. Find out more."

That's what my dad said.

Recently I took conversational French classes to brush up on the language.

Last winter, I signed up for a line dancing class, thinking, "ah, maybe this won't be for me," but as soon as the teacher began showing us how to do some of those cool dances I saw women doing in Shanghai, I was hooked.

He taught us 29 different line dances. One wall, two wall, four wall.

And the music! Italian wedding songs, and more.

Nothing I expected.

Now I'm taking Pilates, Zumba and getting to know the regulars.

I learn some valuable and hard lessons about life inside the ESL classroom where I assist a teacher, working with adults from many different countries. When students describe their lives before immigrating to Montreal, it's hard to imagine something many of us never experienced. When they tell me how determined they are to build their lives here, I am impressed.

The library is my friend. Today, in the stifling heat, I went over there, piled a bunch of magazines, like The New York Times, Writer's Digest, Rolling Stone, Le Journal de Montreal.

Chose a big wing chair, set my mags on the table, started reading.

I love libraries. Any library, any city.

As almost everyone has stated, we continue to learn by being avid readers.

I am currently immersing myself in Medieval culture and just finished a book about a famous Knight, William Marshal. I learned that as knights evolved from mercenaries, chivalry evolved when being a knight became a profession.. I learned that the Crusades became holy wars to save the souls of knights who had suffered unpardonable sins in killing and brutality of the many wars they had been involved in. The Pope was deeply concerned about the souls of the knights and sought to save them by creating a holy war. I guess it was okay to kill for Christ, but not for money.

This is not a topic that many would find fascinating, but I illustrates how many things we inadvertently learn when we read.

I don't think we can say that in the good old days, students went to college to get a liberal arts education and to learn how to think and question. That may have been true in the days when college was reserved for those who could afford it -- before WW2 -- and maybe during the counter-culture days during the War in Vietnam (again, those who could afford college stayed out of Vietnam as much as possible).. But I think that soldiers on the GI Bill after WW2 either studied practical subjects (e.g., medicine, engineering) OR were hired by companies who valued a liberal arts education and would train them in the practical knowledge they needed to be workers.

Since the 80s, companies have stopped investing in their employees. No more social contract. Not only are new employees expected to be able to hit the ground running, they are paid less, wage increases have stagnated, and they have huge student loans. No wonder they're focused on job-related skills. Anyway, my observation.

I went to college in the late 1950s -- a women's liberal arts college -- and I still believe the most valuable thing I learned there was how to learn. Knowing how to learn has been one of the joys of my life, as well as a savior during the inevitable dark times. Many of the things one learns in "practical" courses will be outdated or irrelevant at some point, but learning how to learn never will.

As for what I'm learning now, at 76, it's how to write fiction -- I belong to a terrific writers' group and have a novel in the works. I've been a professional writer all my life, but until now I wrote for newspapers, magazines and corporations. Writing fiction means learning brand new skills and I love it.

Wow, I started reading the comments and finally had to scroll to the bottom since they are all so good and so... long! I am a lifelong learner. Although I did take some college classes, I was very ashamed for some years that I never earned a degree. Then I learned that many of those who did were nowhere near as intellectually curious as I am, and now that I am 72, I realize that learning in a mindset, with no goalpost at all! I love TGB, learn something new here every day, and now realize that I truly have earned my own version of a PhD.

I love this column and count the regular commenters as true virtual friends. You, too, of course. Thank you for continuing to inspire and inform. :-)

Enrolling in college at 34 and attending undergraduate and graduate courses during the late 60s and early 70s gave me what amounted to a second coming of age at exactly the right moment in my personal development. Those years were nothing short of amazing. I had always been an almost addictive reader, but now my world was an exciting every day show-and-tell in which everything I read or learned came alive for me in exciting discussions and real life sociology. I also met and came to love people of all ethnicities and ages and nationalities. Talk about a liberal education. Such times!

Flash forward to the careers that my education earned for me in government and in universities. Work and "careers" are not inherently bad, but those years in my life were so fraught with ambition and gamesmanship that, even though I met many people whose knowledge and intelligence I respected, and even though I continued to read and learn, life in the professional world was so full of subtext that it was difficult to cull the good things from the bad or stressful aspects. Reading about the Amazon cultural environment recently, I didn't encounter anything that seemed alien or surprising to me.

Flash forward again to retirement where I once again had the space and freedom to learn without pressure. But I no longer had a band of brothers and sisters with whom to share my knowledge and ideas, having imprudently moved away from an appropriate environment. But I'm resilient and I discovered that learning can be an end in itself. Having overcome my Luddite tendencies enough to use the available technology, I entered the University of Google. Anything and everything I read about or see on television or hear about on NPR, fact or fiction, sends me to my iPad where the range of facts and analysis is endless and where one thing always leads to another.

Now I have become this silent repository of so much knowledge about so many things that knowing all this seems sometimes like virtual mental hoarding. Where do I put all the "stuff" in my head after writing numerous comments on e-magazines and blogs? What else can I do with it after emailing as much as is tolerable, again with commentary, to my family? Lacking the physical capability to take my interests out into the world of classrooms or clubs and living in an intellectual desert, opportunities to share ideas in person have been few and far between. But the virtual world is still a world and I value my place in it enough to keep my mind sharp and learn new "stuff" every day. Somehow I'll find a place for it in my mental attic.

I'm on the board of the Senior Studies Institute here in Portland, with about 350 members from retired doctors, lawyers, business people, letter carriers, teachers, you name it. This fall we have over 40 two-hour one-shot lectures scheduled on everything from the Cascadia Fault, Baseball, Greek Comedy, to Japanese Arts and more, Most are researched and taught by members with an interest in the subject, and we have eight locations around Portland so we seniors don't have to drive all over town (one is in your town, Ronni, with an open house Sept. 12). It's one of a kind group but could be set up in any town.

Before this I was an avid member of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a national organization with chapters all over the country that also have tons of classes (we lost our grant in Portland due to a bad location). Look it up, your readers might have one in their town, it's great.

I also just finished two wonderful MOOC's (free online courses at universities all over the world, found thanks to a column you did, Ronni). One was on Hadrian's Wall, the other on Literature and the English Country House, both given by different universities in the UK. I've already signed up for one in October on Hans Christian Anderson at the University of Denmark, absolutely love them. One I took from the U of Amsterdam had 22,000 people taking it from all over the world, with mesmerizing discussions as part of it. You also introduced me to Open Culture and several other wonderful sites. Bless you for that. I hope my mind and body let me keep going as I get into my mid-70's and beyond!

I went to UC Berkeley in the late '50s, and, aside from the fact that I had NO IDEA what I should do with my life (in those days the assumption was that women were going to college to meet somebody who'd make a good husband, alas). But I did have straight that I was there to become generally educated, NOT to treat it as a white-collar trade school. Since then I've spent some time beating myself up--did NOT meet a husband, and lived a life quite different from what I might've expected--that I hadn't more seriously used my education to prepare myself for some profession. But it is very heartening to read this piece and have my liberal-arts goals validated.

There are other reasons I didn't develop a career that made me rich and famous, but in the end things have turned out pretty well. I have enough to spend the rest of my life living simply but securely, and I've accomplished more since I retired than I ever did before--I've done more writing, more (paid) editing than I could've possibly predicted, and I've become more active as a classical pianist in my late 70s than I ever was as a gifted child and teenager. Hooray! It's not over till it's over. I now give occasional recitals, and feel as if I'm able to actually make a contribution in addition to enjoying the hell out of it.

Nothing formal, but I do like to keep up with developments in quantum mechanics and cosmology. This does sound as if I'm up myself, but these are the things that interest me.

These days, I'm having a great time studying all the historical topics I missed in schools (and I got a couple of degrees in history.) I also delve into anything else that catches my fancy and often report/opine about these things on my blog.

I spent my youth trying to figure out how to live in the world, my middle years trying to be of some use to the world I live in, and now I'm bouncing through early old age enjoying all the avenues that both earlier phases suggested, to the best of my continuing abilities. Petty damn good life this.

Usually always taking some kind of course or other. Have tried language classes, art, relligion, various types of exercises e.g. tai chi, Pilates. Last couple of years I.ve tried tango, belly dancing and hula. They're more fun than exercising. I've also begun the piano lessons my mother wanted me to take about 70 years ago. Also usually join a poetry writing group.
And as everyone has mentioned--reading. I go to three libraries. One of them has a FREE
area as well as a $1 section and I always stagger out under a heavy load. Then I recycle them
to friends or donate them. There's SO MUCH out there.

Hi there - I just found you through Feedly, recommended as a site I might like, so now I am a new follower.
I am a lifelong learner having just finished my Associate's Degree in Business, taking classes online and evenings for 7 years. Now I am continuing on to my bachelor's in English - I call it the turtle track, it may take longer than usual but I get there eventually.

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