It’s Christmas – Time to Kill a few Orcs!

December 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, Fun for Your Family, Musings | Leave a comment
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Hi Everyone, it has been – well – awhile since I posted on this blog.  OK, it’s been 5 years.  Weirdly enough, my kids have grown up as well.  They are now 8, 10 and 12…still very interesting ages, but not the ages when they want to be listening to their dad sing “Piggy” one more time.  No, what they want to be doing (at least the 10 year old), is going to see The Hobbit part deux with their dad at the local theater.  I mean, let’s face it, going to see your dad sing is not a guarantee of Snowcaps, Popcorn and a large, refillable drink – but watching a few (or shall I say 1000 (000000000000) ) orcs get killed definitely primes a (young) man’s appetite – and MAN was I hungry when I watched the latest Hobbit flick with my son…and I mean hungry to see a few nasty, smelly,  snarly, scarly, orcs meet their maker (Peter Jackson?)…and they did at the hands of two VERY ninja-esque elves.  (Yes, Harry Potter, Dobby was free, but pretty lame compared to these Bad A** elves – just think what would have happened to Bellatrix LeStrange if Tauriel had been on the job…)

As for the rest of the movie – it’s alright. OK, maybe more than alright, but other than the awesome Peter Jackson-esque vistas and the lovely soundtrack, it’s pretty standard fare. It’s the old story of a quest to recover the dwarves homeland, restore Thorin to his rightful place as King Under the Mountain and rid the world of the terrible scourge of Smaug (who should have been named ‘Smug’ with his know-it all attitude and British accent.  Seriously, how is it that a dragon can speak better English than the orcs when he lives alone and never talks to anyone?)   Then there is the mysterious Necromancer – threatening impending doom to all the world.

With that same-old heroes questy thing going on in the background, Jackson needed to jazz it up with some pretty exciting fight scenes – and he did.  A good example is the one when the dwarves are floating down a river in barrels beating off attacking orcs aided by the elves Tauriel and Legolas. Legolas leaps back and forth on the dwarves heads (I just can’t get over how far elves have come since Herbie wanted to be a dentist!) This fight scene, like every other one, involves impaling, shooting, beheading, tripping, teasing, and generally ridiculing orcs.  Not that they don’t deserve it, they are ugly and bad mannered, and their noses are all scrunched up so undoubtedly they snore.

On a literary note – orcs weren’t in the Hobbit.  The dwarves were bothered by goblins and some wolf-like things called, if memory serves, wargs.   No, Jackson created these pesky creatures himself.  And, they fit what seems to be Jackson’s pattern: the tougher and meaner you look, the more ridiculous a fighter you are – the big spiders fit this pattern and ***SPOILER ALERT*** so does Smaug who will end up being killed by a single arrow (in the next film, assuming Jackson follows the text).

My ten year old loved every minute of it.  As I watched him watch it, I was reminded of my 9 year old self watching the first Star Wars way back when.  In that movie it was the tough looking Storm Troopers who literally fell like flies.  I watched, wide-eyed and open mouthed with awe back then in the same way he watched today .  All in all, it was definitely worth the $20 it cost us to get through the door and then the additional $20 we spent on snowcaps, drinks and popcorn.  And, with it’s white bearded magic dude, elves who make miracles, snowy landscapes,  and desire to make the world a better place (albeit by killing orcs), it may just become the next great holiday classic.


Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker and the Trans Siberian Orchestra

December 2, 2008 at 10:52 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, Reviews | Leave a comment

Rumor has it that Pyotr Tchaikovsky wasn’t that interested in writing the music for the Nutcracker Ballet. The story was originally titled “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” by E.T.A. Hoffmann. It had been adapted by Alexandre Dumas père when Tchaikovsky was hired to write the music in 1890.

Maybe it was because he had just finished writing a ballet about Cinderella, a beautiful, exploited young woman who finds her way to fame and glory by marrying a handsome prince. Somehow, writing music for a dancing kitchen utensil just didn’t seem that exciting. But, thankfully, Pyotr persevered. The result was the most pupular Christmas ballet in history and the sale of millions of nutcrackers every Christmas that couldn’t crack a nut if their life depended on it (but they can dance around and kill a mouse king…). If you don’t believe me about the most popular ballet thing, check here: Nutcracker Performances, it lists performances in all 50 states and nine countries outside the U.S.

This thing vs. a walnut?  Please...

This thing vs. a walnut? Please...

We took the kids to see The Nutcracker this weekend – and I have to admit, it was great. I probably should mention that we left the three year old at home, and toward the end, my five year old son wanted to crawl out of his own skin (The only way I kept him from running up the aisle was by telling him that a pirate ship was going to come crashing through the wall any minute…when he asked me at the end why it never did, I said, “That must be in Swan Lake, I always get those confused…”)

BUT in spite of that, for well over half the show, both kids were enthralled. And why not? This show has it all. Big scary mice, a creepy old man, a castle made of candy, a seemingly random mix of dances from different cultures (The Spanish dance, the Arabian dance, the Chinese dance, the Russian Dance, the Dance of the Reed-Flutes (from Reedflutia), the Dance of the Shepherdesses and so on…)

AND, if all that’s not enough, the Trans Siberian Orchestra has given us a rocking version of the Nutcracker Suite music to run around the house and pretend like we’re ballerinas after the show. I have to hand it to the TSO, it features amped up guitar solos that children of 80’s metal/glam bands love: Nutcracker Guitar Solo as well as being true enough to the original to keep the classical music lover in me happy: Nutcracker Intro

So, take your kids to see the nutcracker, pick up a copy of the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Nutcracker Suite and start the holiday season right!

The Upside Down World of Parenting – Daylight Savings and the Elusive “Extra Hour”

November 2, 2008 at 7:10 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings | Leave a comment

I won’t hazard a guess on percentages, but I think it’s safe to say that most people celebrate the fall back in Fall thing. Here we are, about to turn our clocks back, which means an extra hour of sleep on the morning…ENTER THREE YEAR OLD…

Here’s the thing, when you’re three, like my son, you don’t really pay attention to clocks. What’s more, you’re not really interested in an extra hour of sleep. You are, in fact, interested in an hour LESS of sleep…”I NOT go to bed,” he says every night as we walk up the steps. Which brings me to tonight. This is the night that MOST people look forward to because they get an extra hour. For my wife or me (depending on who loses the coin toss), we look forward to (psychologically, at least) an hour less of sleep…he’ll wake up at HIS 6:00am, which will be 5:00am for us (having turned the clock back and all…).

I will say that this upside down/backward thing goes both ways. On the downside, you lose an occasional hour of sleep (ok, you lose ALOT of sleep), but you also do a whole lot of other things you’d never have imagined. You hang REALLY bad art on your office wall, for example. (Or should I say, MOST people do… I ACTUALLY believe that my 5 and 7 year olds are budding artists – my 7 year old is drawing in perspective!) You start to feel affection for astoundingly irritating characters like Elmo and Barney simply because they are reliably harmless. And everything you consider unthinkable before having kids – changing a poop filled diaper, caring for a sick child all night, changing a peed on sheet at 2am, cleaning up vomit, wiping a kid’s nose for the 10th time in an hour- all of it becomes do-able – your hesitation swallowed up by your concern for the kid.

In short, you plumb the depths of your emotions – all of them. You have never felt more in love, proud, amused, confused, bemused, defensive, frustrated or happy. You are, in effect, more alive (for more hours) than you ever were before.

Enjoy your extra hour tonight, if you’re one of the majority who gets it…but think of me. I’ll be up at 5:00am making the kids’ breakfast and looking at their amazing drawings…

In honor of the time change, here’s a link worth checking out: THE CORRECT TIME. I guess cell phones have have made trying to find out the correct time obsolete, but, if you need it, it’s there.

p.s. I do know that I haven’t written for awhile. I have a lot of updates to write about – my niece’s song, Disney and moms, twinkle-twinkle, reggae, my epiphone guitar and so much more….stay tuned updates in a day or two.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame – A great free MP3 for summer!

June 27, 2008 at 5:08 am | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | Leave a comment

Sorry I haven’t written for so long – I was busy coaching t-ball for the past month and a half. For those of you who coach the sport, you know that there’s not supposed to be any competition involved – our goal is to instill the young ones with a love of the game. I think we managed to do that here in Francestown, but not many games went by when at least one member of the team came up and asked, “Coach Steve, who won?”

Here I am, looking very non-competitve…

I hope I wasn’t yelling something like, “COME ON!!!! A SIX YEAR OLD COULD HAVE CAUGHT THAT!!!”

Anyway, to make up for the absence, I thought I’d give you a CLASSIC mp3 to put onto your Ipod. This was recorded in 1915 by Bill Murray (long before his Caddyshack days, I’m guessing…). Enjoy!

Take Me Out to the Ballgame – An MP3 for You – Bill Murray 1915

Girls Have Power…

February 29, 2008 at 6:46 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings, News and other stuff... | Leave a comment
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My niece is in 3rd grade – and she’s a real zinger. I remember playing songs for her pre-school when she was three or four (the kids were rocking out to “Five Little Speckled Frogs”…so that’s my age reference) – and Celia walked out in front of the entire class, like a sergeant leading her troops through a basic training drill. I mentioned it to her teacher, and she responded, “She is an organizer – ” That’s the kind of appropriately vague, non-evaluative statement that makes me wonder. At the time, I decided to take it as a compliment to Celia.

About a week ago, I was watching the brood (my 3 plus my sister’s 5, and, yes that does equal 8 kids…), when Celia asked, “Uncle Steve, will you write me a song for the talent show we’re having at school?” I said (of course), “Yes, honey, what do you want it to be about?” She said, “I’m not sure, I’ll think about it…”

Celia called tonight and said, “Uncle Steve, can you write my song about how girls have power?” PAUSE – this is my 9 year old niece talking – allow me to review that quote, “Uncle Steve, can you write my song about how girls have power?” WOW! I hope, when my daughter is 9, 12, 15, 18…and so on, she wants me to write her songs about how girls have power, about how she has power – I’ll start writing those songs now and (hopefully) continue for a long time.

Girls have power? Indeed they do!

I did have to ask Celia what it means to have power as a third grader (mainly because I don’t want to invest all MY hopes, dreams and political opinions in this song). It may well be, in her perception, that having power means having parents who have the best car – but I really hope (and believe) that it goes deeper than that. She’s writing me a list of the things that make her feel powerful – so it remains to be seen – but I actually think that Celia is tapped into something that’s pretty profound as far as our society goes. She is a girl who knows she has power – she’s not second guessing herself at all.

My experience as a teacher suggests a similar dynamic – girls know they have power. I have asked my eighteen year old students how many would call themselves feminists, and felt like a dinosaur because none of them would- the term itself feels obsolete (don’t get me wrong here, I do call myself a feminist and I argue the cause), but girls today seem to look at you like an alien when you even suggest that the idea of feminism is needed. “Of course we are equal – why wouldn’t we be?” (Could this be why Hillary’s campaign has found traction among middle-aged women, but not in the younger crowd – for them, is it just a detail that we haven’t had a woman as a president?)

So Celia is writing her list, and I’ll be writing her a song…I just hope I can do the sentiment justice – stay tuned!

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – the 2nd variation (and another free MP3…the deals never stop!)

February 28, 2008 at 6:33 am | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | 5 Comments
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Here’s variation #2 – Twinkle Twinkle.mp3

(Go here to get variation #3!)

After writing about this song (here), I set to work recording it – you may have been one of the few lucky ones to have downloaded the now rare (and deleted) version that I posted earlier today – I tried to clean it up, and offer this version now – Mozart did 12 variations on this tune – I’m on my second, and may try a few more before it’s all said and done. It’s an interesting song – weird that I could do a bass line that isn’t too far from Pachabel Canon in D – Anyway, enjoy this variation – I’m going to shoot for at least 10 more. Look for them to pop up every now and again.

(…MORE than a few months later, I finally got to number three…check it out here!)

Oh yeah, here’s the entire poem…if you wanted to keep singing –

The Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky!
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Then the traveler in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.
In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.
As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,—
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
– Jane Taylor, 1806

I love my Mom, I love my Wife…why doesn’t Disney?

February 13, 2008 at 6:10 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings, Reviews | 3 Comments
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Read the second part of this post here!

The opening lines of the Disney-Pixar film “Finding Nemo” relate a (somewhat) touching exchange between a husband and wife as they settle into their new home and contemplate their soon-to-be family…They are in essence ‘ pregnant’ (the fertilized eggs are outside the fish…cuts down on labor pain), and are setting up the new nursery (we’ve all been there) – here are the lines:
Marlin: Wow.
Coral: Mmm.
Marlin: Wow.
Coral: Mm-hmm.
Marlin: Wow.
Coral: Yes, Marlin. I… No, I see it. It’s beautiful.
Marlin: So, Coral, when you said you wanted an ocean view, you didn’t think you were going to get the whole ocean, did you? Huh?
[deep breath]
Marlin: Oh, yeah. A fish can breathe out here. Did your man deliver, or did he deliver?

In the ensuing scene, Coral (aka MOM/WIFE) and all but one of the eggs are devoured by some ravenous sea creature (an eel?). True to Disney’s longstanding tradition, mom and wife are killed off and taken out of the picture before she has any impact at all. Hmmmmm….

“Mom? Mom…where are you!?”

I’m going to take a little break from the music scene to contemplate this Disney curiosity (pathology?). First a list of films (that I can recollect) that belong to the Disney Dead Mom’s Club (These are in no particular order):

  • Bambi
  • Dumbo (OK,not dead, but caged and considered insane)
  • Snow White
  • Cinderella
  • Pinocchio (Maybe this is unfair, Gepetto is a pretty irresponsible Dad, though, getting pregnant with no mom to support him…)
  • Jungle Book (OK, Walt was an equal opportunity killer there, knocking Mom and Dad off…Speaking of equal opportunity, how about that “Lion King?” Just Dad was killed…)
  • The Little Mermaid (Actually, this may have been a divorce situation…in any event, mom/wife is no where to be seen.)
  • Pocahantas
  • Aladin (neither the hero or the heroine have a Mom)
  • The Fox and the Hound (another orphan situation with Tod, the fox)
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Max and Goofy…(again, it’s hard to say here, who would marry Goofy after all? Some quasi-dog lady probably just went home with him one night after one-too-many at the local pub, then left him with the kid…)
  • Cars (Just kidding, Cars don’t really talk or have relationships – they are made on production lines which, if I remember my high school biology correctly, might also be referred to as asexual reproduction.)

So, as this large body of work demonstrates, Walt Disney, and the whole Disney family, it would seem, has an issue with parents generally, and specifically with moms…why? An internet search of Walt’s family history doesn’t offer a lot of insight (granted, I didn’t look too hard)…Wikipedia states, “Walt and his sister Ruth attended the Benton Grammar School where he met Walter Pfeiffer. The Pfeiffers were theatre aficionados, and introduced Walt to the world of vaudeville and motion pictures. Soon, Walt was spending more time at the Pfeiffers’ than at home… [6]“(Read the whole bio here: Walt Disney at Wikipedia). Does the fact that Walt effectively left home at the age of 9 indicate some deep divisions in the Disney home? Could he have left home because of a domineering Mom who emasculated him and ensured that generations thereafter would suffer through scores of animated features which are, in essence, Walt’s working out his childhood demons based on his fear of his mother? Probably, but without some major research, we can only speculate.

The other option, of course, is that Walt and company needed a quick dramatic jolt to jettison their early films deep into the public consciousness. What better than the death of a mom? What, after all, is more sacred than motherhood? The concept is shocking, and it doesn’t take a cynic to imagine Walt and the boys sitting around trying to figure out how to move their little children’s film from average to blockbuster. The room, of course, was full of cigar smoke, and one of the guys said, “Let’s off the mom…that’ll get some attention…” It’s cheap, easy emotion, and, in a two hour film, it leaves lots of room for musical numbers and some comedy. After that first time, when Bambi hit the big numbers, the boys were hooked, and they’ve never looked back. It keeps paying, as “Nemo” showed us in 2003, sixty-one years after Bambi’s 1942 release.

So why doesn’t Disney love Moms? Simple, it doesn’t pay, and, in spite of what Mickey and the rest would have you believe, this is all about the money…they can’t let a few moms get in the way…

So, in tribute to Bambi’s and all the other Disney moms and wives out there – here’s an Evanescence song…we’re with you Bambi and Bambi’s Mom, Nemo and Coral, Dumbo and Dumbo’s Mom, etc….you live on, no matter what Walt put you through!

Reggae, Anyone?

February 9, 2008 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You | Leave a comment
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Will someone tell me what it is about Reggae that enchants children so? Something tells me it’s not the choice of colors. (although they are appealing):


No, it is the music that captures kids – and I will admit, for me as well, reggae is enchanting…I’ve spent more time in my life than I probably should have at Jimmy Cliff concerts, reggae fests, Wailers shows (Bob had died by then, alas), UB40 shows, Toots and the Maytal shows, English Beat/General Public shows, etc., etc…I get it – and so do kids, from the womb, it would seem (maybe the reggae beat mimics the mothers’ heartbeat…Mom’s Heart – Bob Marley?) .

I’m not kidding here – try it. A friend of mine told me about a reggae album he had for kids – it’s titled “Reggae for Kids” (wow, the originality is overwhelming, there). My response is, why bother? Just put on Peter Tosh (OK, skip “Legalize It” if you want to avoid a strange conversation with your six year old), Bob Marley, Steel Pulse…it doesn’t matter, kids hear that characteristic ‘chunk-kunk, chunk-kunk” (here it is from Peter T. – Pick Myself Up.mp3), or that rhythmic lead in on the high timbale (here it is from Steel Pulse – Steppin Out.mp3), and they’re dancin’…

I have experimented with this a bunch, in my own music…here’re a couple of clips of our attempts at reggae:

…and with my own kids – here, as evidence that Reggae works, are some photos of Gus, who had been sitting at the table painting, but couldn’t helped being moved to dance right in his seat…irie!

“Don’t worry….

…about a thing…

“…cause every little thing…”

“…is gonna be alright!”


A tribute to old friends…

February 4, 2008 at 8:43 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Music for You, Musings | Leave a comment

About six months ago, Abe’s buddy Cayden moved out of town. It was tough for Abe’s four year old psyche to handle, and we ended up having a number of conversations about the transient nature of friendship (ok, I’ll admit I never used the word ‘transient’ in those discussions…also, the conversations usually were more transient than any friendship I know of, because Abe would get distracted by a matchbox dump truck or something after about 90 seconds of deep conversation, but it was still touching…). Anyway, Cayden came back to town this week for a visit, and he and Abe hit every note (sizing each other up, playing beautifully together, arguing about sharing, parallel playing, and even a hug) within about four minutes. It got me thinking about my old friends, and then (and this couldn’t have been better timed unless it was in some bad movie), my long time buddy Chris sent me an e-mail.

I met Chris my first day in high school; you remember that day, don’t you? You wander around, looking for anyone who looks vaguely approachable…Chris was in a bunch of my classes and somehow, in our first conversation, we ended up talking about Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” Chris knew about Springsteen, I had heard Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s remake…who do you think was cooler? Anyway, one thing led to another, and Chris and I formed a band. After looking at a bunch of book spines at a local bookstore, we named our band “Onyx,” after the famous book by Jacqueline Briskin (you know it, don’t you?) You can find it here if you’re interested. Here we are in an undated promo photo (I’m thinking it was sometime in the late eighties…twenty or so years ago (ouch):

Onyx – circa ?

We recorded a few CD’s on a Tascam 4 track – here’s a sample, to give you an idea… Letter.mp3 .

Chris emailed to let me know that he had been checking out my blog and enjoying it – then, like any good old friend, he told me how great he thought the whole thing was…It’s not surprising that Chris, being the cooler of the two friends, started his blog long ago; he’s an old hand at it, so I took his compliments as words from a seasoned professional. He’s at , if you’re interested in reading some of of his sharp and very funny observations about the world. As you’re reading , remember that those little people who are fighting over dump trucks today in your living room, will eventually be teenagers making (very loud) music in that same living room, BUT THEN will eventually become old friends who, twenty or so years later, laugh about it all.

Froggie Went a’ Courtin’

February 3, 2008 at 9:51 pm | Posted in Being a Dad, kids music, Music for You, Reviews | Leave a comment
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Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 release, The Seeger Sessions is a great CD for kids – try it some time. Recently Abe and I were listening to it as background music. “Froggie Went a Courtin'” came on – I’m sure you’ve heard it somewhere along the way, lots of kids singers have done very vanilla versions of the song, but not Bruce – not the BOSS. He does it like it ought to be done (of course), and Abe was groovin’ to the tune. If you’re familiar with the song, you know how it goes – Froggie goes a courtin,’ woos Miss Mousie, they have the wedding and then we get a list of all the guests…”First to come in was a flyin’ moth, she spread out the table cloth…” and so on.

“Next to come in was a BIG BLACK SNAKE!”

I want to pause for a moment here – and say two things. First, our kids are pretty naive. I wish I could tell you it’s because we knew what we were doing. Truth is, it was because of inertia. When Isabel went to pre-school, we had never moved beyond Sesame Street – why would we when it worked so well? (OK, I do need to admit that it took me awhile to get over Baby Bear‘s speech impediment.) I’ll never forget ‘Daddy Pizza and Movie Night’ when we went to the pre-school with all the other kids and dads. The movie was “Finding Nemo,” and Isabel didn’t make it past the first scene (by the way, what’s Disney’s issues with Mom’s?) All the other kids wondered why my daughter was crying and saying “I want to go home…” At the time, I felt like saying, ‘It’s because the kid’s/fish’s mother was just killed – the biggest crisis she’s ever had to deal with on TV is Big Bird having trouble finding Ernie!!!’ I didn’t say that to all the jeering four and five year olds, though, I just picked up my crying little girl and left. The second thing I need to tell you is that Abe is a lyrics-hound. He listens intently and repeats lyrics to himself. He likes the sound of words. Sometimes, days after we see a movie, we’ll hear Abe repeating the lines…a little like the guy I hung out with in college who used to repeat Caddyshack lines…scary.

So, back to “Froggie Went a Courtin.’ As we made our way through the wedding, we eventually came to the line that Abe would repeat again and again. He’d listen to it with the same sort of glee that someone might go into a haunted house at an amusement park . The line is of course, “Next to come in was a Big Black Snake – chased them all into the lake…” Here it is, that line is, from Bruce, in all it’s glory – Springsteen Froggie Clip – For a coupe of weeks, that snake was the villain in our games, he woke up Abe (and, consequently Tonya and me) more than once in the middle of the night…to have the imagination of a child. Strangely, though, this song has intrigued a lot of people over the years…

Here’s one loyal Springsteen fan’s attept to list all the other recordings of the song – Versions of Froggie Went a Courtin’ . Another devotee of the song has listed the over 170 verses of the song that have been written or sung since it’s first printed incarnation in 1611 here – Froggie Verses . The song’s one drawback…it’s repetitive. Man, is this song repetitive – but that, of course, cuts both ways. It drives us adults crazy, but sucks our kids in – it’s probably the reason why this song has lasted so long, and probably why, 400 years after it was first written, it can still give a little boy the chills.



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