Holiday Drinks New Years 2009

Cheers. Let’s celebrate that we’ve all made it through a very difficult year. What better way than to try the top-5 New Years Mixed Drinks for 2009 – all of them? So, with the bitter taste of 2008 behind us, let’s sweeten our spirits with the very warm ones used in the tastiest holiday drinks for the New Year!

Grasshopper Cocktail
Grasshopper Cocktail

1. The Grasshopper

You don’t have to suck the brains out of an insect to enjoy a grasshopper.  It’s actually an amazingly refreshing drink. The Grasshopper brings special holiday memories to me.  A relative used to make these for the adults during large family gatherings on Thanksgiving. He would always let us kids taste them and they were delicious back then, just as they are now. The key to making the perfect Grasshopper is to use a blender rather than a shaker. Use 1 ounce Vodka, 1 ounce Creme De Menthe, One Ounce White Cream De Cacao and one ounce pure cream. Now, just pulverize them all in the blender with lots of ice. The result is a creamy, beautiful-looking, smooth, refreshing New Years delight. Serve in a Cocktail or gimlet glass. The Grasshopper is the Number one New Years drink for 2009.

2. White Russian

Russian in a name is merely an excuse to drink Vodka. (as if we need one). Mix one ounce each of pure cream, vodka and Kahlua. Again, this type of drink is served best crushed with ice in a blender. Another way to make this drink is to pour the Kahlua alone at the bottom of the glass and pour the rest of the blended ingredients on top of it. Either way, serve in a short cocktail glass.

3. Peppermint Martini

Peppermint Martini
Peppermint Martini

Don’t be fooled by the cute, little candy cane. This one is not for sissies. Combine 3 ounces of Vodka, 1 ounces of White Cream De Menthe and 1/2 ounce of Peppermint Schnapps in a stainless steel shaker. Add four ice cubes and shake vigorously until the stainless steel shaker gets so cold it hurts. Next, have someone peel your skin off the frozen stainless steel shaker while joining you in an accappella rendition of Auld Langsyne. Pour into a martini glass with your functional hand. Add one of those cute, mini candy-canes and serve to anyone who is naive enough to think that a drink made of mostly vodka is for sissies.

4. Hot-Buttered Rum

You know how there always seems to be some guy at the ski-lodge with a cast on his leg propped up by the fireplace sipping something steamy out of a big clay mug? Yes, no doubt it’s a flat lander but did you ever wonder what it is that he’s drinking? Do you ever wish you could be drinking it too, but don’t want to break your leg or blow out a knee to ask for one? Good news. 2008 has given us all a good excuse to act like a sedentary, injured oaf.  Making hot buttered rum is much easier than it sounds. Place a slice of butter, 1-tsp brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract in the bottom of a coffee mug. Add 2 ounces of rum and fill the rest of the mug with boiling water. Toast the New Year!

5. The Harvey Wallbanger

In a Tom Collins glass full of ice cubes, add 2 ounces of Vodka, 3 ounces of Orange juice and 1/2 ounce of Galliano Liqueur.  Serve unstirred to anyone in the room who is still standing.


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Popchips Potato Chips

Popchips
Popchips

Healthy snacks are hard to come by, at least according to my standards. I think Popchips potato chips are a delicious, crunchy, masterpiece of ingenious culinary snack cuisine. If you don’t believe me, just bite into a few of these magically, crispy delights and you’ll soon see why. Snacks which are billed as healthy, rarely taste delicious or even good in my opinion. Also, I often disagree with the notion they are healthier, in the first place. So, when my wife brought home these chips in a little blue bag, advertised as “all natural popchips original potato chips”, I was skeptical to say the least. These so-called ‘healthy’ snacks are often baked, giving them that distinctive cardboard flavor and the crunchiness of a wet oreo cookie. However, the bottom of a bag of popchips reads, never fried, never baked. Hmmm. How do you make a crispy snack without baking or frying it? Think popcorn. Popchips potato chips, as the back of the bag explains, are made with heat and pressure. They literally are popped potatoes. What a pleasant surprise it was to bite into a couple of these little goodies and find that they REALLY do taste good. The combination of oil and salt tasted just right. Popchips potato chips are made from natural potatoes, potato flour, potato starch, Safflower oil, sunflower oil, rice, flour, sea salt and soy. I’m not about to make the claim that popchips are either healthy nor unhealthy snacks. Nutrition experts can’t even make up their own mind what is healthy, so why should I? What I will say is that they taste good. Popchips have the taste and crunch that satisfies what I crave in a snack. They have enough oil, yet are not overly greasy. They have enough of a crunch, yet not too hard. In case you insist snacks are supposed to be healthy, here are the nutrition facts:

Calories: 120, Calories from fat: 40, Total Fat 4.5G/7%, Saturated Fat 0, Trans Fat 0, Cholesterol 0MG, Sodium 290mg/12%, Total Carbohydrate 20g/7%, dietary fiber 1g/4%, sugars 0g, protein 1g.

If reading the nutrition label isn’t enough to make you try popchips, you’ll just have to take my word for it. For more information: Popchips Website

Popchips Ratings

Snack Craving Satisfaction Properties: 88
Crispiness: 92
Crunchiness: 92
Flavor: 92
Overall Rating: 91


Enjoy Popchips with your favorite movies.

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Cuisinart Coffee Maker with Grinder

Cuisinart DGB-600BC
Cuisinart DGB-600BC

This Cuisinart Coffee Maker with Grinder is an all-in-one way to get coffee ground and brewed fresh every morning. $129 is a lot of money for a coffee maker. I was the lucky recipient of a Cuisinart DGB-600BC Coffee Maker for my wife’s birthday.  For the full review, scroll below to Read the Rest of the entry. Or…….
Forget the review, I’m sold!

The lesson, here, is that a generous father-in-law is the most affordable way of obtaining a high quality coffee maker. I probably wouldn’t spend over $100 for any type of coffee maker, myself. Well, maybe if I knew it was the best coffee maker in the world. The Cuisinart DGB-600BC Coffee Maker is a stylish, European-Coffee-Bar. It may not be the best coffee maker in the world, but it beats every other one I’ve tried. I’ve had 1 Krups Coffee Maker, 1 Braun Coffee Maker, and several Mr. Coffee Coffee Makers, as well as a few other, off-brand coffee makers. So, I think I’ve had more than enough coffee makers to do have an entire coffee ratings column or entire website devoted to coffee maker reviews. As far as features and looks, the Cuisinart Model DGB-600BC has them all beat, hands-down. First, the pros and cons, then we’ll discuss how well this good-looking machine actually does at making good coffee.

DGB-600BC Pros and Cons


Pros

Nice-Looking, Italian-style design. (Makes your counter look like a real coffee bar)
Built-in Automatic Coffee Been Grinder.
Easy-to-clean, removable coffee basket, grinder and other parts.
Thermal Carafe keeps Coffee Hot.
Programmable 24-hour timer.

Cons

Coffee Carafe only holds 10 cups. 12 would be better
$129 may be expensive for some who don’t want the best coffee maker in the world.


Cuisinart DGB-600BC Introduction

I love dark-roasted Starbucks coffee and though it is expensive, I really haven’t found anything else that I would rather buy. I have learned to buy it in the most affordable way possible.  Costco, sells a “roasted by Starbucks brand” in 2lb bags for $9.95. The price is reasonable, but I grow tired of grinding the beans every time I prepare the coffee.  Imagine my excitement when my wife opened up her birthday present from her Dad and I saw that it was a really cool-looking coffee machine with a built-in Coffee Grinder. The Cuisinart DGB-600BC is a 10-cup coffee maker/grinder with thermal carafe. The price, according to the tag on the box, was $129.00. Hhmmm, looks like I got myself a pretty nice gift, for my wife’s birthday.

DGB-600BC Appearance and Setup

Taking the Cuisinart DGB-600BC out of the box and setting it on your counter will instantly make you crave a cup of hot java. This Cuisinart Coffee Maker is one good-looking machine. Just having one of these in your kitchen will make your friends think you are really serious about coffee.  If you don’t believe me, close your eyes and take a second look at the picture above.  Doesn’t this look like the kind of equipment you would see in a genuine Coffee Bar?  The Cuisinart DGB-600BC is made from double-walled, brushed metal. It looks and feels like a quality machine, rather than the plastico-Mr. Coffees,  Krups or Braun Coffee maker that I had become accustomed to over the last 3 decades of my coffee drinking days.  At 15″, The Cuisinart stands a little taller than your typical Braun or Krups Coffee Maker.  Assembly is only a matter of inserting the coffee grinder and plastic basket. All parts are very easy to insert, remove,  and clean.  A charcoal filter is included and needs to be soaked 10 minutes prior to using. The charcoal filter easily snaps into the water reservoir. The included measuring scoop has a handy little cleaning brush on the reverse end.  The 10 oz thermal carafe includes a locking lid, which is brewed and poured from the same locked position. The coffee filter basket comes with a permanent gold, re-usable filter, or you can use paper filters. (two are included).

Cuisinart DGB-600BC Operation and Use

You wont find a lot of useless digital electronics and lights on the Cuisinart Coffee machine, which suits me just fine. Simplicity is one of the benefits of this product. The electronics consist of one small, LCD clock and a total of 6 buttons: on-off, 1-4 cup setting, hours, minutes, grinder-off and program.   To make  coffee, remove the lid on the removable plastic coffee grinder and insert a few scoops of coffee beens. The instructions recommend 1 scoop for every 2 cups of water, but I like mine quite a bit stronger than that. In fact, I don’t even use the measuring scoop at all. I’ve found that 6 cups of coffee tastes best to me when the coffee grinder is about 2/3rds full. Insert the coffee grinder into it’s compartment at the top of the machine. Next, press a button on the left side and the filter basket comes forward. If you don’t mind having some sludge and grinds at the bottom of your cup, go ahead and use the permanent, re-usable gold filter. Otherwise, use one of the basket shaped paper filters, and push the basket forward until it snaps into place. All pieces are well made, and fit into place nicely. If you are only making 1-4 cups,  pressing the “1-4 cups button” will provide double-heat to your water to compensate for the shorter brewing time and insure that your coffee is just as hot as it would be if you made a full pot. This is a great idea. You can make regular ground coffee as you normally would by putting the grounds in the filter basket, and pressing the ‘grinder-off’ button before pushing power. Programming the coffee pot is as as simple as pressing the program button and choosing your on-time. When you first use the grinder, beware that it will run for about 20 seconds, grinding the beans very finely. When I first tried it, I wondered if it was stuck or something, but it takes a good 20 seconds to complete the job.  When the coffee is done brewing, a subtle couple of beeps will let you know it’s ready; a pleasant improvement over some of the other appliances I’ve tried that double as a full scale fire-alarm.

DGB-600BC Performance

This Cuisinart coffee maker with grinder makes a good, hot pot of coffee, and the thermal carafe keeps it hot for at least 2 hours. I could see plenty of steam coming out of the pot, after my late-sleeping daughter poured herself a cup 2 hours after it was made. I wasn’t crazy about the way the locking lid makes it rather slow to pour. 10 cups is plenty for 2 or 3 coffee drinkers, but when guests come, we’ll be digging out the 2nd hand, $19.00 Braun coffee maker. The built-in-grinder makes it a worthwhile wife’s birthday present for me. I got sick of digging out the bag of beans and grinding them before bed every night. Now, I simply pour the beans into the grinder, put a filter in the basket, add water, and push the timer button. Voila… The coffee self-grinds and brews at 6AM every morning.
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Read Naturally Program

Read Naturally Products
Read Naturally Products

The Read Naturally Program is guided reading software. Why do some children learn to read faster and more fluently than others? The answer is that they are natural readers. We are much better at doing and enjoying the things that come natural to us. Imagine if we gave up bike riding the first time we tried it because we fell to the ground. For most of us, attempting to ride a bike the first time was probably not an experience we enjoyed and it may have even been painful. For some of us, it took lots of prodding, encouragement and courage before we could get back on the bike for a second try. With the proper encouragement and training, bike riding became easier, more natural and eventually turned into an activity that most of us looked forward to and enjoyed doing. Is it any different with reading? Some catch on faster than others. Imagine how it is for some children learning to read the first time. The less natural the experience, the less desirable and easy it is for beginners to learn. For those of us who really struggled to read in the beginning, we needed that same encouragement, help and practice we got when learning to ride our bikes. We wouldn’t tell our kids they can’t ride a bike just because they fell off of it their first time. Neither should we tell a struggling child or student that reading is an activity that can never become as natural and enjoyable to do as riding a bike.  Such is the philosophy behind the read naturally program.  With the proper training, encouragement and practice, even the most challenged student can become a natural reader and learn to enjoy it. So, given that we agree on the concept behind the read naturally idea, what method or system can give us the desired results? The Read Naturally strategy includes three ways: Teacher Modeling, Repeated Reading and Progress Monitoring. A summary of each will provide insight into what the Read Naturally Program is, how it works and it’s effectiveness as a tool for teachers and students.

Teacher Modeling
You saw your Dad or a friend ride a bike, so you knew it could be done, and saw how it was done. We learn by example: Seeing and hearing, then ultimately doing what we saw and heard. Teacher modeling is the training wheels of the Read Naturally strategy. Is it really enough to push books and stories in front of a challenged or beginning reader and make them stumble through it their first time? There may be some improvement in this old-fashioned approach, but the gains are likely to be very slow and a great work of labor for both teacher and student. Also, without guided reading, and a program of reading levels, how do teachers know that progress is being made? Teacher modeling involves reading out loud, while the student follows along with the text of a story. The student is able to gain a better understanding of what they are reading by hearing the pronunciation, expression and learning the vocabulary while it is spoken. Teacher modeling is accomplished through audio CDs or Tapes, allowing the class instructor to be free to work with other students own reading levels at the same time. What comes next is practice.

Repeated Reading

Was it enough to ride the bike 20 feet your first time without falling, or did you need to practice it a few times to get the hang of it? Also, once you got your balance going straight, you had to learn how to make turns, peddle-faster, brake and get on and off without falling. After hearing a teacher model the story, students can practice reading the same story over and over again on their own. Gradually, the student catches on. When it becomes natural to them, they are ready to move on to a more challenging story or reading level. Knowing when a student is ready is the third step of the read naturally program.

Progress Monitoring

I remember watching my daughter teach my son to ride a bike for the first time. She would guide him a long a ways, little by little, and then watch him try on his own until he got his balance and could go straight for a few feet at a time. As she monitored his progress along the way, she would give him new goals, pushing him to go farther and having him try turns, stops and hills. Progress Monitoring lets the teacher know when the student is ready for new goals. The student is rewarded by seeing their own progress and encouraged to go farther and try new reading challenges, just as the beginning bike rider. The goal of Teacher Modeling, Repeated Reading and Progress Monitoring is to make natural readers of students, especially those with special needs. So, what specific products are included in the Read Naturally program and how are they used?

Read Naturally Master Edition (ME)

While the Read Naturally Strategy provides seven different products, the focus of this review is on the Read Naturally Master Edition (ME). The goal of all these products is to improve reading fluency through phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, using the Teacher Modeling, Repeated Reading and Progress Monitoring strategy described above. Teachers and schools can choose any one or a combination of these products they feel are best for obtaining the results for students at a variety of different skill levels.

What’s included?

The Read Naturally Master Edition (ME) consists of a set of training wheels, two spokes and a tire pump. Okay, not quite. Basically, the (ME) edition includes several reproducible, printed stories, audio recordings, teacher’s manual, guides and assortment of other training aids, for both students and teachers. For a more exhaustive list of its contents, go to their website: Read Naturally Masters Edition
The printed stories can be reproduced as needed. Students read along to the audio recording, then practice reading the story on their own. The lines of the printed stories are numbered, so number of words the student reads can be easily counted after a timed reading. When the reader is timed on the first reading attempt, the number of words is counted. This is called the ‘cold score’ and graphed in blue. The final reading is called a ‘hot score’ and graphed in the color red. The performance evaluation provides positive reinforcement and encouragement, while giving readers a fun way to challenge themselves and improve their reading. Before the story is first read, students are allowed to look at the topic and keywords and write a prediction of what they think the story is about. Quiz questions are provided for assessing the student’s comprehension of the story. A comprehensive teaching manual is included, describing how to monitor, measure and evaluate reading levels, goals and progress. The Read Naturally Master Edition (ME) includes five different series of stories: Sequenced Series, Phonics Series, Spanish Series, American Manners & Customs and Idioms Series, and Multicultural Series. For more information on the Read Naturally Program Contents, visit these links: Read Naturally Links

How does it all work?

My wife, a special education teacher, uses the Read Naturally products at her school. She brought the Sequence Series of the (ME) products home to demonstrate.
I was literally blown away by the number of stories included. The Sequence Series includes 13 different reading levels, each having 24 stories. Of the five different series, the entire (ME) product line, alone, includes over one thousand stories. I read the story, Northern Lights, which is among the 24 stories in level 5.6. After reading the story, I listened to the audio CD. The quality of the recording is excellent and very well read by the narrator. All of the stories are well written, interesting and enjoyable to read. Listening to the narrator read these stories with the appropriate expression will definitely help children gain an appreciation and understanding of how to read. Also, I can see how having the students repeat the story a number of times, then grading their progress will add to their confidence and ability to become more fluent readers. Teachers will be rewarded as they watch struggling readers improve on both their cold and hot reading scores.

What does it cost?

The price for one 24-story level with 12 Audio CDs costs $119.00. When you consider how many hundreds of students, year after year, will benefit from reading and listening to these excellent, well-written stories and professionally produced recordings, the cost for purchasing an entire series is a worthwhile investment with immeasurable long-term value. The Phonics and Spanish Series include 6 levels. American Manners and Idioms each offer 4 levels, and the Multi-Cultural series includes two; African American and Mexican American History.

Final Rating 95 (1-100)

I think you’d be hard pressed to find a school teacher or instructor who doesn’t believe in the Read Naturally strategy and enjoy teaching the program. When you divide the cost of an entire Read Naturally Series by the number of students who will reap the benefits, it is one of the most affordable educational investments a school can possibly make.

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Zicam Cold Remedy

zicam cold remedy
zicam cold remedy

Zicam is a homeopathic common cold remedy which claims to prevent and reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms.  Does Zicam Really Work? What Zicam doesn’t claim to do is to completely cure you of a cold that you already have. The key is to catch the cold before it catches you. The key is also that it’s a common cold, not some other nasty virus , which we’ll explain later. Zicam claims to be most effective when it is used at the very first, noticeable symptoms of a common cold. So, the very instant you notice a tickly nose, scratchy throat, sneezing, sniffling or any other cold symptoms that are familiar to you, is the time to begin using the Zicam Cold Remedy.  The makers of Zicam site clinical research that suggests the duration of colds can be reduced by up to 75%. Also, they claim that the severity of symptoms is greatly reduced, though there is no research cited on this. The average cold lasts 3-7 days, so if you don’t begin using Zicam until your 2nd or 4rd day into a cold, it may have little or no benefit. The makers of Zicam make other products designed to treat the symptoms, as well, which can be purchased at the bottom of this article. The emphasis of this review is to describe what Zicam is, how Zicam works, and make a case for whether or not Zicam is effective against the common cold.

What is Zicam?

Zicam is a nasal gel formula, consisting of the active ingredient, Zincum Gluconicum. Clinical research studies have revealed that certain forms of zinc might be effective in treating and preventing colds. According to Zicam makers, the Zincum Gluconicum is the most effective. It is sold in two forms: Zicam Cold Remedy Gel Swabs and Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel. The Gel Swabs Cold Remedy includes 20 swabs. The Nasal Gel Cold Remedy comes in a .5 fluid ounce bottle with trigger applicator.

How do I use Zicam?

The instant you think you’re catching a cold, open up one of the prepackaged Zicam Gel Nasal Swabs and apply the gel just inside both of your nostrils. For the .5 fluid ounce Zicam Nasal Gel, insert the applicator about 1/8″ of the way inside your nostril, point the applicator slightly outward and push down on the trigger applicator. Do not sniff the gel up your nose; gently massage the outside of your nostrils to rub it in. Reapply every four hours, and continue to do so up to 48 hours after the symptoms of your cold have disappeared.

Does Zicam really work?

The answer is yes and no. This is not a very scientific answer, but at least it is consistent with my own research which I will reveal in this non-scientific research article. In the past three years, I have had a total of 11 colds. Here are the results of the Zicam treatment of these colds through three years of use:

  • Year-1
    I either had no colds at all, or the Zicam made it seem that way. On four different occasions, when I experienced cold symptoms early-on, I began using Zicam Nasal Gel in the first two days. In each case, the cold symptoms either completely vanished by 2nd day, or were so insignificant they were forgotten.
  • Year-2
    I experienced what I would consider a ‘common cold’ two times, but neither of them lasted longer than 5 days. I used Zicam throughout, and it seemed to keep the colds in check. The Zicam didn’t completely relieve all of the symptoms, but it did seem to keep the nasal congestion at a tolerable level, and the lingering affects of the cold vanished much more quickly than I expected. Two other times, I felt colds coming on as I did in year-1. After using Zicam, they either vanished, or were never actually colds at all.  I should also mention, that I went to the doctor for a sinus infection. The symptoms were nothing like a cold, and as would be expected, the Zicam was of no benefit.
  • Year 3
    This was my sickliest year in over a decade. In the early fall, I had another one of those almost-maybe-kind-of-sort of colds. As usual, the Zicam seemed to stop it in its tracks. The fun started in December. My symptoms began with body aches, fever and a tickly nose. I began using Zicam, but things got worse from there. I ended up being sick for 10 days with terrible head congestion that later turned into a lingering cough. The Zicam was of no use. It wasn’t until 2 weeks later that I was completely well. As if this wasn’t enough, I got hit again in late February. The symptoms began with a fever that lasted for three days. Again, the Zicam was of no use. I was coughing and sick for 3-4 week with what may have been the honest-to-goodness flu, not a common cold. Then, just for kicks I decided to get sick with another cold in June! This one was your proto-typical common cold. There was no fever, but lots of nasal congestion, even though I was taking Zicam! The cold did seem to stop 4-days later, just as abruptly as it came, so how much good the Zicam did is a mystery.

 

Side Effects of Zicam: Loss of Taste and Smell

The only side effect I’ve ever noticed with Zicam is that my wallet is $11 or $12 lighter every time I purchase it at the local grocery or drug store. As of this writing there were no known side effects to using this product, according to the Zicam makers. New information on Anosmia (loss of taste and smell) is below. For more information, visit their website:

Conclusion on Zicam Cold Remedy Effectiveness

As you can see, there is lots of uncertainty involved in reaching a conclusion about the effectiveness of Zincum Gluconicum-based Zicam Cold Remedies. The common-cold is a bit of a misnomer in that all colds seem to come with their own unique set of symptoms, severity and durations. In using Zicam in the past 3 years; I’ve had 6 possible colds that were nearly non-existent, 3 certain colds  that seemed to end much quicker than usual, and  2 sicknesses that were probably something much worse than a cold. The one conclusion I can make with confidence is that Zicam was of no benefit to the flu-type bug or other severe viruses that began with a fever and coughing. I did seem to be better off against those common, ordinary cold bugs that normally pester and annoy me with a stuffy nose for several days. For this reason, I’ll continue to use Zicam rather than face the risks of lengthier common colds. But, does Zicam really work? To answer the question, a second time: Yes and no. While using Zicam, some colds seemed like they were never colds to begin with, some colds seemed not to last as long as I expected, and some colds ended up not being colds at all, but something much worse. So, yes, the perception is that Zicam really does work. The reality is that there is no way to be sure using my own unscientific research. What’s more important is that sometimes, perception is just as valuable as reality.  Therefore, My rating is based on the perception of how well Zicam worked for me.

Loss of Taste and Smell

Zicam Nasal gel products have been taken off the market, due to a reported side effect from users known as, anosmia. (Loss of Smell)
In my many years of using the product, I have never experienced a loss of smell and/or taste. Apparently, several people have experienced these side effects and several law suits later, Zicam took their nasal gel Cold Remedy products off the market. I have been using the alternative Zicam products like the mouth spray. I will report on its effectiveness in an updated review on Zicam Cold Remedy Products.

Zicam Ratings

  • Effectiveness: 80
  • Ease of Use: 80
  • Symptoms: 80
  • Cost: 70
  • Final Rating: 77
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