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31 Mar 2010

All of my development life I have been fumbling around trying to fit the flash, text, and other content into each page of websites, always worrying about what will break or what will have to be changed. This became more and more frustrating and I was sure there must be an easier way...

After a while I started looking around for ways to ensure structural integrity of my web pages and faster ways of creating and uploading my new pages, I started to realise the only solution was to use a content management system (CMS); Although these seemed to have many drawbacks.

The first problem I encountered was the layout of these CMS’s. They were too confusing and often required more understanding of HTML and CSS than I was led to believe. Other problems included slow navigation time due to poorly written programs, no SEO automation, costs that were not represented by the product and poorly set up support.

Then something happened that never happened before...a team got together and said "we are going to build a CMS that has none of the ridiculous problems that the others hold on so tightly too" and so the CMS to conquer all other CMS's was born.
 
I was inspired to write about the Wickedweb CMS after the latest version was released with amazing updates including this tool that can crop your images while uploading!!

31 Mar 2010

Writing code and creating interesting and useful applications as a forum or a gallery should not limit the creative flight of programmer. Starting to work on my new workplace in a new office could not hold me out of creating my favorite time-lapse shoots.

31 Mar 2010

I am sure many of you are aware of the limitations of using fonts on the internet. Traditionally websites have been forced to use a small selection of ‘web safe’ fonts which don’t exactly inspire. There have been many solutions to this problem, most of which have their own pitfalls whether it be due to accessibility issues, poor SEO, being a pain to update or all the above. The most popular solution is sIFR which is a type of flash replacement text. This works by dynamically replacing the required text elements with a flash object containing the text, because this text is now within flash it can be styled using any font. Also because this is done on the fly when the page is loaded it does not impact on search engine optimisation, neither does it affect accessibility because a ‘hidden’ copy of the original text is left in place for screen readers.

So you may be thinking that the problem has been solved? Well not exactly... Having used sIFR on a number of projects I have noticed many areas where it doesn’t play nicely and inadvertently breaks something or ends up looking wrong. And because this is supposed to be a ‘simple’ solution you can’t quite style the text how you would like in all situations.

So after becoming increasingly frustrated with sIFR and not being able to find a better alternative I decided to write my own which would do exactly what I wanted. So without any further delay I would like to introduce WWIFR (or Wickedweb Inline Flash Replacement, for the want of a better name) to the world... wide web. Actually this is not me introducing WWIFR at all, because without knowing it you have been seeing it all over this website.

The benefits of WWIFR over sIFR are many, but the biggest bonus is that it can be styled in more ways than you ever could with sIFR, and because I wrote it I can update it to accommodate any styling I desire.

31 Mar 2010

The internet is such a vast and wonderful place, full of sneezing pandas and Rickrolling that it's easy to miss some of its entangled strands of delight. Luckily, I'm going to post up a few things which you might like to ease away your midweek blues.

Twitter gets a new homepage

Twitter new web design

Twitter unveiled a new homepage on Thursday and I’ve got to say, it does a much better job at demystifying just what it is that the micro-blogging service is actually all about. As with the previous design, search is still a strong focus but a lot of the vagueness which surrounded the service has been given the boot.

Twitter old web designFor a few months, Twitter was so chic it didn’t need to actually tell anyone what it was about, instead relying on word of mouth and enthusiastic web agencies to pass on its message. Or that’s how it seemed to me at least. I can’t imagine that many curious business owners would’ve felt the need to create an account based on the previous homepage.

With the new web design, it’s far easier for a potential user to understand what Twitter is all about. A nifty algorithm plucks interesting tweets from the Twittersphere and places them front and centre on the page. Couple that with the block of brands and celebrities using the service and the decision to click ‘sign up’ seems a lot easier to make.

The Twitter Blog describes the change as:

“... our recent changes embrace the notion that Twitter is not just for status updates anymore. It's a network where information is exchanged and consumed at a rapid clip every second of the day. With so much being shared, we know that there's something of value for everyone. People who internalize the value of Twitter understand the power of this simple medium. But it hasn't been easy to make that value transparent or obvious for curious folks coming to Twitter for the first time.”

I think that sums it up nicely.

Album covers make great book covers

album-penguin

Something to inspire you next, a collection of album covers re-imagined as Penguin Classic books.

If Picasso had a netbook, this is what he’d be sat doing right now

Well, sort of.

This little project makes use of HTML 5 which will be rolling onto a browser near you in about ten years. This really is a glimpse into the future of what websites could be capable of.

One of the main features of HTML 5 is the dramatic reduction in the need for resource hogging, constantly updating, randomly crashing RIA proprietary plugins like Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight and Java. HTML 5 will also mean that embedding a video is as easy as , and common CSS elements such as and will create much cleaner code for everyone involved.

The good news is that, although it isn’t expected that HTML 5 will become the norm for a few years yet, many aspects of it are currently stable and open for exploratory business. Watch this space...

Dexter has amazing opening credits

The title sequence for the US show Dexter is a work of art. Every time I watch it I am compelled to turn around to whoever is within earshot and tell them just how brilliant I think it is.

On my ‘top title sequences ever’ list, this sits at number one.

And finally...Even evil scientists tweet

LHC-twitter

In the style of a true James Bond villain, the gaggle of Nuclear physicists who are in charge of the world’s largest death ray [which they refer to as the Large Hadron Collider] over at CERN in Switzerland yesterday revealed that their plan for world domination was close to completion. And how did they decide to broadcast this proclamation of doom [and scientific revelry] I hear you cry... Twitter of course.

The one update I don't want from them is 'Oooops'.

Be sure to follow the end of the world in 140 characters or less.

 

Oh...You didn't click the Rick Astley link did you?

31 Mar 2010

Under the hood

by Robert King / Make a Comment

PHP 5.2.13 was released last month and right at the top of the security fixes for this release was "Improved LCG entropy. (Rasmus, Samy Kamkar)". This rather brief note caught my eye so I thought I would take a look under the hood to see what had changed.

LCG stands for Linear Congruential Generator, which is basically an algorithm for generating pseudorandom numbers. PHP uses the LCG algorithm in a few places, the most obvious being the lcg_value() function. It is also used in the uniqid() function if you pass a value of true as the second parameter.

The code for the LCG is located in ext/standard/lcg.c within the PHP source. From the PHP version control we can see the changes have been made to the lcg_seed() function, this is the 5.2.12 code:

static void lcg_seed(TSRMLS_D)
{
	struct timeval tv;

	if (gettimeofday(&tv, NULL) == 0) {
		LCG(s1) = tv.tv_sec ^ (~tv.tv_usec);
	} else {
		LCG(s1) = 1;
	}
#ifdef ZTS
	LCG(s2) = (long) tsrm_thread_id();
#else
	LCG(s2) = (long) getpid();
#endif

	LCG(seeded) = 1;
}

As you can see the PHP LCG is actually a combination of two LCG's which are being seeded in different ways. In version 5.2.13 the code is now (I have highlighted the changes):

static void lcg_seed(TSRMLS_D)
{
	struct timeval tv;

	if (gettimeofday(&tv, NULL) == 0) {
		LCG(s1) = tv.tv_sec ^ (tv.tv_usec<<11);
	} else {
		LCG(s1) = 1;
	}
#ifdef ZTS
	LCG(s2) = (long) tsrm_thread_id();
#else
	LCG(s2) = (long) getpid();
#endif

	/* Add entropy to s2 by calling gettimeofday() again */
	if (gettimeofday(&tv, NULL) == 0) {
		LCG(s2) ^= (tv.tv_usec<<11);
	}

	LCG(seeded) = 1;
}

So the seeding of both LCG's has been changed, but how has this improved the entropy? Previously the second LCG was just being seeded with getpid(), which returns the process id of the PHP process ( which if your running mod_php will be the Apache process ). If you lookup the PHP equivalent function getmypid() you will see an interesting warning in the notes: "Process IDs are not unique, thus they are a weak entropy source. We recommend against relying on pids in security-dependent contexts." Indeed in the most common Apache configurations repeat calls to a script in a short period will return the same process id. To improve the seeding of this LCG then the current microsecond value from gettimeofday has been or'ed in. Why shift the microsecond value left 11 places ? The maximum value of microseconds is 999999 which is 0xF423F, shifted we get 0x7A11F800. So shifting 11 places just fits the microsecond value into 31 bits. The process id from getpid() will typically be up to 0xFFFF so combined in this way they make a seed with a greater range. Lets see what values we get if we write an equivalent PHP script to compare the old and new seed values:

$old = getmypid();
$tv = gettimeofday();
$new = getmypid() ^ ($tv['usec']<<11);
echo "Old value: $old
"; echo "New value: $new
";

Reloading this script with a couple of seconds between I see:

Old value: 14025
New value: 1644429001

Old value: 14025
New value: 2031015625

Old value: 14025
New value: 1393229513

There is clearly, with this change, considerably less chance of seeding the same value to the second LCG and thereby having it generate the same pseudorandom sequence on each run, i.e. improved LCG entropy.

30 Mar 2010

First steps...

by Kalli Daffin / Make a Comment

The initial stage of any project is the key element. It gives us the knowledge and the insight into a company and the brand. Before the project even begins we need to address the overall strategy by considering business versus online digital marketing objectives.

We need to immerse ourselves in your brand, the direction, the objectives for online development, and how this ties in with the overall online digital strategy. By covering the all important elements early on, as part of the groundwork, in a relatively short time frame we create a strong concrete awareness that you have of your brand as working knowledge. This gives us a solid concrete understanding in which to engage your brand with your target audience.

Whilst many see this as unnecessary we see it as a necessity. It is imperative that we gain the insight that you work with as second nature. We are the experts of online marketing and you are the experts of your brand. We use our structured process and strategic approach to gain the same in depth working knowledge.

Without this deeper sense of understanding we would still, no doubt, create fantastic results proven through our long term experience.  However, it would lack any substance, a purposeful direction, and may appear as an afterthought to many users.

Whilst the technological world we live in spends the majority of its time online, therefore requiring brands to have an online presence. The results need to be considered, phasing developments where required, and falling in line with the overall marketing plan from day one.

30 Mar 2010

Email Marketing Agency

We work with a lot of our clients on a regular basis on their email marketing campaigns and have even won an award for our efforts!

Sending regular html emails is a great way to engage your customers, build your brand and to really drive sales. Wickedweb work with a number of household brands on their email marketing strategy campaigns such as NSPCC, Concern Worldwide, Nectar and Ella's Kitchen.

Here are a few tips to what we consider are key considerations to any Email Marketing Campaign:

  • On brand - Like anything you produce, it is important that the Email design is on brand.
  • Personalised - If you have your customers' information then use it to personalise the email. Sending regular email communications is about building a relationship so it's good to get personal.
  • Good subject - A good subject line to your message is very important if you want people to open it and read it.
  • Clear call to actions - If your email has a clear message there needs to be a strong call to action so that the person viewing it can easily take the next step, be it to make a donation, buy a product or just to find out more.
  • Specific message areas - Good structure as well as good design will make your email more readable and effective.
  • Tailored content - If you have more information of customers on your mailing list then you can send them emails tailored to their interests.
  • Cross promotional - Use your email message to help cross-sell other products or services or have gentle reminders encouraging your customers to get involved with your social media activity such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Reporting - It's really important that you can see the effectiveness of your campaign. We produce a report after each broadcast so you can see your ROI.

If you're thinkng of building on your customer relations then give us a call!

30 Mar 2010

Why indeed? At Wickedweb, it is indoctrinated into the team that we always incorporate project management as part of our development process from the simplest website amend to bespoke application development.

You may hear us talk about “the process” and this method of working has helped us gain our ISO 9001 certification.  It isn’t a magical mantra but simply a set of tasks that we adhere to when we develop code for our clients.

We have modified our approach based on the world recognised PRINCE2, (PRojects IN Controlled Environments, version 2) and waterfall methodologies and these two elements form the foundation of our process. Simply put, our process breaks projects down into manageable chunks and is sequential. The objective is to proceed through the steps in an orderly fashion, moving to the next phase upon sign off of the preceding element. In reality there is sometimes overlap, and in this way, our methodology is probably more aligned to that of the Sashimi model.

We find that this approach is fair to all of our clients and we are able to risk assess much easier as projects are broken up into controllable portions. Given this approach, we are able to manage more projects in the studio and this in turn helps us to deliver on time and on budget for our clients. Without an over saturated production schedule, we are also able to deliver ad-hoc requests with shorter lead times.

Our Project Management team will help you along the way of course, and it is therefore our responsibility to guide you through this process. Don’t be alarmed if we chase you as we’re simply trying to secure your next slot on the schedule.

So in answer to the original question, why do I need Project Management? Without it, costs and timelines cannot be managed and that’s the last thing that any client deserves.

29 Mar 2010

Digital marketing is a strange old world.  All too often we have clients with large corporate or retail brands coming to us for help to deliver a new or improved digital presence.  This process invariably looks at the old, giving us lesions to learn from when we create the new.  One lesson many of our customers have learnt the hard way is that they have spent considerable sums of investment on their digital presence, only to have it hosted on a very budget platform.  Often tens of thousands of pounds are spent on SEO, PPC, online and offline marketing all with the aim of driving visitors to the site, only for the problems on the hosting turning these visitors off, meaning they often don’t return or worse, take a negative view of your brand.

The suppliers of these budget shared or unmanaged environments, leverage the mystery that surrounds hosting, use massive bandwidth and disk space allocations headline figures  that draw people’s attention, but there is much more to choosing a hosting supplier than these headline figures alone.

A lot of these budget hosting suppliers will fit as many sites as possible (sometimes 100-200) onto each server regardless of the resources each site is requiring, no or little control is in place to stop one site having a detrimental effect on the other sites it is hosted alongside.  Get lucky and your brands site could be hosted on a server with 199 other sites who are only being viewed a few times a day.  Get unlucky and your site is being hosted on a server with 199 other sites all hogging the resources of the server and your web presence is now destined for slow load times, unavailability and errors.

Here at Wickedweb we can personally take on the responsibility for hosting your solution, leveraging our partnership with Rackspace to deliver top notch hosting for your site.  To deliver what really matters to our customers we look at many elements of the clients requirements including traffic requirements, chronological traffic patterns and the technical activities that site has to perform.  Only when all these metrics have be looked at will we recommend our client a hosting package.

If your brand is suffering the effects of slow or inadequate hosting please feel free to get in touch and we will help take the mystery out of hosting.

29 Mar 2010

The Wickedweb team were excited and proud to be working with the London Vet Show in its launch year, designing the website and integrating it with the WickedwebCMS platform and suite of event specific modules.

Now, after the success of the inaugural event in November 2009 and along with the CloserStill Media team, we are thrilled to announce that the London Vet Show has been shortlisted for an award as the Launch Event of the Year by the Exhibition News Magazine.

The atmosphere at the show was buzzing, created by the packed lecture theatres and exhibition stands, making the event unmissable for the industry.  This exciting new format for veterinary conferences is set to impress again in 2010, and is already booked to take place in a bigger venue based on the record delegate pre-registration figures and exhibitor floor sales, well in advance of the event. 

For more information about the awards and to support the London Vet Show, visit the Exhibition News Website.

24 Mar 2010

Blog High Impact Photography

So you've got your new logo, brand positioning, digital online strategy and a design agency in place and ready to go. You've had a fleeting thought about images and for ease you've decided to utilise what you're already using on the current marketing material. After all you're busy with twenty other things that all needed doing yesterday. Right?

Wrong! The design, technical specification, SEO, copywriting, testing are always taken for granted as elements where studio time and your precious time should be spent. Many businesses do not consider nor understand the importance of image sourcing as a prime element. However, when you stop to think about this in terms of how images are used on a day to day basis by many other mediums; on the television, in magazines, buses, shop windows, the list is endless. Why should the attitude for website imagery be any different.

For years newspapers have used highly emotive photographs to illustrate a story and pull at the heart strings of their readers. A strong powerful set of imagery positions any company at the forefront, demonstrating their understanding and appreciation that users are heavily led by imagery. Professionally composed photography will portray your integrity to your audience by demonstrating that you are serious about your business.

The homepage of a website is the window to your company. The first impression a visitor has needs to intice them in, encouraging them to delve further and interact deeper within your website. By using visually stunning  photography that balances with the overall look and feel of the design you will succeed in grabbing your visitor's attention and retain their level of interest.

Whilst copy is essential for a visitor to understand about your companies offerings, photographs can do some of this work for you. After all, to coin a phrase, 'a picture speaks a thousand words'. A powerful image is more influencial than copious amounts of text as it can be absorbed far quicker.

Your image choices does not have to be high end, high cost as remember it needs to consider your target market. What appeals to your audience the most? A more informal, relaxed, life-style shot will evoke an approachable feel to your website, whereas powerful fashion shots that has been highly retouched will exude premium and quality. Usuability research and analysis can include establishing the overall stylisation and impression that you should be illustrating to support your brand online.

When is comes down to the direction of images we can support you all the way. From our expertise in sourcing a selection of ideal stock imagery, to managing a shoot with a photographer that specialisies within your industry sector. Be it still-life studio product shots to full open action shots in the middle if the ocean. We can cater for your every need right up to post- production, cropping and placement within your website.

It is often considered far simpler, quicker and cheaper to take snaps yourself but there is an awful lot more to seriously take into consideration than just 'point and shoot'. Your visitors will appreciate the extra effort and your business will see the benefits and reap the rewards.

23 Mar 2010

Social Media is a once in a lifetime phenomenon. Remember how the telephone changed the world? Course you don’t. And that’s rather my point. For the first time in over a century, a new technology has come along which changes the way we communicate and do business.

As with the dotcom boom of the nineties, the internet is awash with start-ups who think that they have the ultimate platform – be it a social network, a video sharing site, or an all-singing all-dancing blog. Some, like Twitter, will change the world. Others will sink without trace. Wicked Web pride ourselves on knowing everything that’s out there and knowing what’s a flash in the plan and what’s the next big thing.

But what’s right for one organisation, isn’t necessarily right for another – and too much is as bad as too little. To get your message across you need to be talking to the right people in the right way. My role at Wicked Web is to do just that.

I’ve been working in Social Media for 6 years. In the early days, I was lucky enough to be working for a forward thinking company who let me get on with it. But as time went by, and as “socmed” began to form the bulk of my day-to-day business,  it became increasingly obvious to me that a lot of organisations still don’t “get” social media, despite its importance.

Since then, I’ve built Youtube channels, Facebook groups, marketed through Twitter, set up online radio stations, and then found ways to make them all talk to each other. My current projects include podcasting, Facebook applications, and creating a bespoke social network for a niche client.

The fact is... social media can do a lot, and if you’re just dipping your toe in the water, it can be a bit overwhelming. I will sit down with you, cut through the jargon, and create a bespoke social media package that’s right for you.

 

23 Mar 2010

Alterain Blog

Having worked with Alterian Immediacy for three years, Wickedweb have in recent months become a fully certified partner of the software provider. The move sees Wickedweb's transition into looking to work more with B2B corporate and government clients.   

Stuart Wells, Managing Director at Wickedweb commented, "We’re delighted to solidify our partnership with Alterian Immediacy.  We’ve been a partner for over three years, but now as a fully certified partner agency, and only one of seven in the UK, we’re in a better position than most to help our clients take full advantage of the software. With the possibility of endless customisable plug-ins and integration options, the opportunities are endless. We look forward to expanding our Alterian Immediacy offering in the coming months and welcoming new clients to our Alterian support programme.”

19 Mar 2010

Google

Who has broken into 2010 with the biggest numbers online? No prizes for guessing that Google are number 1 for Search and Facebook are number 1 for Social Networks, but do you know the figures? In a recent report published by the Nielsen company I learnt that an astounding 8,169,550,654 searches were made using the Google search engine in January 2010: that’s 3,050 searches per second! Let’s not forget Google’s recent acquisition of YouTube; at number 6 in the list with 1,261,959,101 visits in January 2010, YouTube remains the market leader for online video sharing, and with Google’s backing I can’t imagine this will be changing anytime soon.

Nielsen’s report lists the top 100 websites visited in January 2010, of which the BBC has then defined into categories. An interactive treemap of these figures can be viewed here. Most of the figures don’t seem to come as much of a surprise, and I’m glad to see that the big internet players of the 90’s are still going strong (e.g. AOL, Amazon and Yahoo!). However what did come as surprise to me was not finding MySpace in the list. Perhaps the social networking site has finally run its course? Or is being phased out by stronger competition?

It would appear out of all of the different sectors, Social Media is the fastest evolving and it will be interesting to see where everyone is positioned and how the numbers will change in next year’s report!

15 Mar 2010

This month sees the exciting launch of the new Wickedweb brand and reinforces a very positive transition into a more strategic digital marketing agency

Traditionally Wickedweb has been known primarily as a team of web design and build specialists but our continued growth over the last 18 months and  recent account wins with Ellas Kitchen, Watts International EC Harris, & Medway Council, sees Wickedweb leading on strategic digital planning and execution and results-driven tactics.

The brand has been given an injection of understated confidence and leadership and effectively repositions Wickedweb into a more strategic and consultancy-led arena.  It also allows for a shift to a more integrated focus as clients are looking for a wider range of activities across the marketing communications landscape that can be pulled together under the umbrella brand.

Wickedweb are proud of our award winning portfolio of work  and continue to push the boundaries for our clients with wicked ideas, wicked consultancy, wicked technology and wicked creativity.

Both the Agency and our Clients are set for great things over the next 12 months...

8 Mar 2010

Focus groups should play a significant role in any project scoping and user-centered design process, helping   agencies to fully understand a client's audience and their motivations, requirements and goals for the client's website before any digital work starts.  We believe that only through combining the project brief with the client's business objectives, target audience insights and the agency's expertise - what we term 'strategic orienteering' - will the perfect solution be developed.

However, the value focus groups provide doesn't stop there.  In addition to helping the agency live and breathe the brand or organisation, focus groups also encourage 'buy-in' from key client stakeholders and ensure that the audience feels involved and considered throughout, and therefore positive about the changes ahead.

Wickedweb has recently run a series of focus groups with Kings Hall prep school and Kings College in Taunton, Somerset, which provides a perfect example of the 'double value' that focus groups can deliver.

During the user research sessions, we met over 100 members of the target audience through 20 focus groups, ranging from catering and teaching staff at the schools, to Head Boys and Girls, students of all ages, parents associations and groundsmen.

From the agency's perspective, our understanding of the schools' ethos and strong sense of community became clear so the online representation of the schools will be able to closely reflect this.  From the client's perspective, there is now buy-in from key stakeholders including the Head Masters, the marketing team and financial director, who are both confident in the value the project can deliver and Wickedweb's expertise as the schools' newly appointed digital agency.  At the same time, the key audiences - teaching staff, support staff, parents and students - feel fully consulted and through participation, excited by the potential of the website to deliver the requirements they highlighted, and passionate about the next steps.

We know we're not unique in this service, but do wholeheartedly believe in the value of user research - the end result will be a website that considers design, usability and functionality from the audience's perspective, thus ensuring lower bounce rates, longer dwell times and higher levels of user engagement.  In short, investment in understanding the audience at the outset will go lengths to achieving ROI in the long-term.

3 Mar 2010

The search engine landscape is changing and digital marketing strategies with it. How results are generated is going beyond algorithmic data generated from indexing of the World Wide Web. Firstly, the introduction of real-time/live search has seen greater emphasis placed on news results; and more recently tweets have been taking a high profile on many page 1 results. Whilst some would argue that Google have introduced the latter too soon and without enough relevancy/authority on the tweets, the additional challenges posed to search engine optimisation lie elsewhere.

Good SEO companies have always adapted their practices and rolled with the Google punches, but effective SEM is going to require businesses to re-evaluate their online strategy.

So what is changing? How you use the internet, what search terms you typically use and what websites you visit are all adding up to a wealth of non-web metric data that will contribute to what you see in your search results. Therefore, Google’s ambition to improve relevance in their results has led to “customised search” right down to the individual’s historic web activity.

This doesn’t spell the end for search engine optimisation. Far from it; it actually puts an even greater emphasis on tying together SEO with social media marketing, pay per click advertising and other SEM techniques. OK, there’s nothing new with this, but for a while many companies have been able to focus purely on SEO for their search engine strategy.

So how can businesses respond? Setting up geo-targeted PPC campaigns could be a good starting point. If historic visits will really contribute to organic search engine positions, then PPC may help you to give your SEO activity a boost.

Visitor loyalty and user experience will also become a factor. Every SEO expert will need to review the Analytics of their site to make ongoing changes to improve the user experience and lower bounce rates as much as possible. Usability testing before website development will be crucial and web designs need to engage visitors at every level.

Search engine optimisation is definitely changing, but realistically, strategies need to be about refinement as much as realignment.

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