Most of the facts and ideas presented in this course are well known to everyone who has read a bit about or heard from modern "mind science" or "how our brain works" talks. Yet, Novella's roundup is great to listen to, well paced, always interesting and well worth both time and energy spent.
I really enjoyed, for once, a scientist to remind the listener that he, the scientist, does not know it all and will probably not be right all the time. For one time a tutor explains, in detail, that using your own brain and mind means to check the facts and not just play along. A fair approach.
M. Shermer's "The Believing Brain" is quite similar in general approach, but concentrates too much on personal vendetta of the author and/or believe system. There are more comparable titles, but most, in my eyes (ears), suffer from the same basic problem: Scientists that want to make you BELIEVE that they do not need to believe, because they know all the facts for fact, are ... wretched(?).
Most comparable books start of with or repeat sentences like "well, we know for a fact that ..." - and that, exactly, is not scientific thinking. It's religion.
Novella does not fall for this.
Most books that cover the same topic come up with the ever repeating "experiments" that "scientists" have done, some of which date back to the 1930s or whatever. These experiments as well as the conclusions drawn from them are not that convincing, in setup, target and evidence. Yet, "science" seems unable to come up with new studies, new experiments and new approaches, so most books chew through the same data over and over again, almost in religious circles.
Novella gets around this quite well by just shortly pointing towards those experiments, but explaining thought processes and prejudices in more "today's" contexts, seemingly being still in contact with the real world and not lost in "scientist's drinking clubs". His narration, wit, pointyness (does that word exist?) and personal involvement make you believe he actually means what he says, yet has the distance to always remember you: He might be wrong.
There are a few "funny" side notes that are funny enough to make you giggle or even laugh for a moment, but overall the pace (30 minute lectures) and dedication is just about right to not NEED jokes or horror stories.
Can you expect "new insights"? No, if you have ever read anything about modern brain science or mind theory. Are you looking for a sumup of the current "believe" in why we believe and how we err in making up our minds: This is a great approach that won't even harm a religious listener (and those are often the targets of pity for so many other authors/teachers).
Not that I am of that kind anyway :-)
Worth the ... TIME!
(1, 2 ... 3 - yes, looks about right)
(Audible, could you please come up with even more stupid questions?)
Let me ignore Audible's blabla for a sec and try to say it with my own words:
Sean Carroll really manages to take even the layman (I am from the philosophical side of science) on a tour through classic physics up to more or less the most modern theories about what's "the kernel of the brute". Pace of the lectures, examples and even the honest outlooks on what "we don't know" are one great inspiration for the mind.
Mr. Carroll describes several ideas about how our universe may have come into existence, how the "Arrow of Time" (time always going into one direction and not being reversible) works and why it is there. He does not pretend to have an answer, but gives a nice kaleidoscope of working (and not so working) theories. On sidelines he gives some basics about Quantum physics, the differences to classic physics and ... lots of stirring up milk in coffee to test entropy.
So far I haven't listened to any other of Mr. Carroll's "performances" (Audible, PLEASE rethink the phrasing of your questions, this typing-in of comments is making me feel like a complete idiot).
But the good feeling I have after listening through this course, the believe that I "got it", or at least some of it, makes me think: "Gimme more, Mr. Carroll!"
What really "moved" me is the fact that - although I don't claim to have understood everything - especially not why anyone would actually pour milk in his coffee! - it feels like I have some "vocabulary", to say the least, from the world of Quantum Physics. That's surely not the worst one can say about listening to an audio book. What's next? Rocket Science? Understanding Women?
I may listen to the course again to give me starting points for more in depth explorations of archaeological sites, religious cults and ideas that can be found all over the world through all times.
Mr. Hale has "been there, done that".
He breathes, he lives and he loves what he is talking about. At times that may actually distract him from the topic he thought he planned to stick to (and then, sometimes, he remembers that he had to finish a sentence somewhere), but it has exactly been this personal, engaged, believable approach to both archaeology and "roots of religion" that, to me, make this course one of the best purchases I made on Audible - along with "how to listen to and understand great music", which puts marks on exactly the same checking points.
Oh, please, if it just was possible to have Douglas Adams write and perform the commentary, John Hale be the presenter of the actual sites and Richard O'Brien write the incidental music score - I would actually go to a cinema again, for the first time in over 10 years!
Maybe get Honess to do the editing and G. Fisher for cinematography (look up the first "Highlander" if those names don't mean nothing to you) ...
Tag line? What about "If world ended tomorrow, you'd still have to watch this"?
My resume may sound a bit over-excited, so in order to put it back into its place, let me admit that I had to take a break (the fourth) from Daniel Robinson's "The Great Ideas of Philosophy" with its fundamental Christian bias, his unbearable preaching performance and drowsy narration. This shocking change of experience may explain, to some degree, why I fell in love with Mr. Hale (in a way, you get the picture).
Sure, being the German nit-pick that I am: Mr. Hale could have opened Webster's encyclopedia and have a look what the colleagues have to say about "Sarsen stones" (they seem to be quite sure that the word "Sarsen" is a derivative of "Sarazens" (saracen) and basically means "pagan". There are a few examples like this where one might get the impression that "listening to other discipline's theories" at times might even help the most experienced archaeologist ... But, really, since I am now getting back to Mr. Robinson's "everything that is not Christian is just stupid and a waste" theories, I did not even notice those hickups.
This audiobook contains two chapters: An "introduction" to the learning methods and a unit/lesson.
I had to skip over the self-praising "blabla" of the first chapter (not lesson), because it was self-repeating, overly confident that the sorcerer's stone has finally been found is being broadcast by this very company and that the audience of these lecture will not only learn Spanish but make the world a better place by spending their money on these courses.
The lesson itself is very (and I mean VERY) brief. Basically a man asks a woman if she understands him and she responds "No". Each sentence in the (not really) conversation is then repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and broken down into words and syllables, which in turn, are being repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated.
It FEELS like two hours spent on four words, when in fact it is around half an hour spent on ... well, I didn't count the words, it must have been five or six.
What do you LEARN?
You learn to speak those words. You can NOT make up a conversation from them. You do NOT get an "understanding" of how the language works. You won't be able to understand the words if someone with a different pronunciation speaks them.
But you learn to speak the words. Well.
In the end I was so happy that it ended (the lesson, not the end, the end just was there) that I nearly missed the commendation that I was "ready to take the next unit, if I did master to repeat 80% of the repetitions that were repeated through the repeated repetitions of the words in this unit".
OK, the wording was a bit different and more motivating, but you get the picture.
If someone, who is being bombed with the same few words over and over and over and over and over again, is, in the end, NOT able to repeat the same words, he (or she) must be a politician.
There is no "pace" in the story, as the conversation is completely artificial and school-book-like. In that, the narration definitely matched the pace of the story, yes.
Should I repeat that?
Groundhog day, anyone? Just without the wit, the fun and Bill Murray? And, even worse, without a groundhog?
I think I will buy the rest of the course. It may always happen that I am lying somewhere, tied to a bed (or in a deep coma) and need something to motivate me to get out.
I spent about 10-15 years reading a lot about the Scandinavian activities between 500 and 1200 (and still refuse to call that time just "the time of the Vikings", it just doesn't cover that). My interests cover a variety of topics: Politics, social life, religious beliefs - and, on top of everything, the "why". Why did people risk so many lives in undertaking enormous journeys oversea without guarantee of safely returning home? Why did a society function (quite well, as it seems) that seems to be based on "a human life is worth nothing more than its weight in goat skin"? Why did people believe in the "Gods" they believed in and why did they accept a single "God" over their established religious system?
And why, the heck, did it take nearly a thousand years to make that Christian believe system accept women to have their own rights (like kicking their husbands in the backs and get a divorce for the benefit of everyone) if those "stupid pagans" had it up and running for so long before those "well educated, culturally higher evolved" Christians?
I listened to D.C. Drout's "The Norsemen" (nicely excited tutor, some content should be taken with a LOT of salt there as Drout dislikes to give any proof for what he tells his audience, while he definitely seems to see some things differently to many book authors), I listened to J. Paxton's "The Year 1066" (very brief, a mere overview over political actions without much background, but a good, condensed reminder in that) from Audible. Among these three audio books this course by Mr. Harl is the one I'd recommend for getting some understanding of "what happened", even of some parts of the "why".
Unfortunately I found Mr. Harl's presentation - while being well paced, dramatic, honest and emotionally moving - distracting at times.
The pro is, I loved the fact that I did never feel like falling asleep, there's just too much energy and heart felt action in his performance.
But why, please, does Mr. Harl insist in "American" pronunciations of names of people and places? I do not know of any "King Canude" or any "Hecken". Sure, I do understand that different languages come with different "renderings" of names, no problem. But if you are into HISTORY, if you want to discuss topics with other students, scholars, human beings (that are NOT American-only, that may speak in "foreign" - haha - language), it would make a lot of sense to use people's and place's original names (or at least some approximation of those). "Canude" is, it took me some time to realize, "Knut". "Hecken" is, it was easier to guess, "Håkon". The same goes for places (cities, villages, whatsnots).
If you do not know any of the names mentioned, this is probably not an issue. If you do have some previous knowing-of-who-is-who, you may well get lost as to who Mr. Harl is talking about.
As with most course I listened to (through Audible or otherwise) the thing that I miss the most is PROOF. Where do the tutors get their knowledge from? Why can they say "it was this way and not the other way"? What makes them 100% certain that they know EXACTLY what happened? Where did they get their interpretations from?
If you have the slightest doubt about one topic or the other, it may "block" you from taking the best from these lectures, because you have no way of discussing questions with the tutor. You have to "forget" about UNDERSTANDING things if your personal recherche has come up with some different points of view.
So the best approach to enjoy a course like this is to "just listen, don't think".
This may sound a bit cloudy ... let me put it this way:I am not sure that Mr. Harl's personal area of expertise is "the Scandinavian history from 200-1200". I got the impression, at times, that he is just quoting, without any personal interpretation or even an attempt of critical (scientific?) doubt, what books and scholars present.
THIS he does greatly. Personally I would have wished for some more "I personally think that ..." and less "this is how it was".
My critique seems to be a bit negative. It isn't. I am trying to point out what I disliked, because, all in all, this course is well worth the time spent with it. You do get a great overview not only over the political history, the connections between many of the (Germanic and other) tribes/clans/families/peoples in (North- AND South) Europe. There isn't much time spent on "Gods and religions", but that's ok, as this course tries to concentrate on "worldly matters".
"The Vikings" (haha) had more to offer than just some believable, human-ish, crazy Gods.
If you are into political conflicts, too many characters to handle them in a 4-season family soap and have the slightest interest in real history (along with its outcome in the "modern" picture of Europe): The minutes spent in listening to this short course are definitely of the better ways of killing time.
Mrs. Paxton lectures in a well paced manner, giving her subjects enough differentiation for the listener to not get lost and, most of the time, manages to avoid boredom from simply listing up places, times and names. Well, yes, most of the time - and you do not always get the impression that she is reading her lines from a sheet of paper. Not always :-)
What I like about some of the Great Courses is the impression that the tutors seem to know their topic inside out. In the case of this (very brief, condensed) overview it seems a bit like a collection of data, brought into "digestible dramatic form" and more or less professionally presented, but not necessarily a matter of the heart.
Being slightly familiar with the families, parties and even geographies covered in the course I could "make my way around", but would probably have had my problems in following who is who and what is what about without that background knowledge.
Some actions during that time had a "long time coming", there were certain historic and/or personal events driving individuals and parties to act the way they did. Mrs. Paxton only hinted at a few of those, and too often just in subordinate clauses, where half an hour of additional time spent at those background might have helped.
So one could say: Since this course is not "just about 1066", but about 10-15 years around that date, it could have done with twice the length it offers.
What exactly is it that has caught Mrs. Paxton's personal interest in the time around 1066? I did not get that.
Don't expect much of an insight into "why" things happened. This course is about "what", "when" and, in terms of pure names, "who". Without some basic understanding who the acting parties were, where they came from and what they turned into, you might get lost.
With some overview of the "tapestry" around the 11th century (and, not less important, the 50-100 years before that) this course gives a nice, dense overview on the "English reconfiguration".
I have done a lot of recherche on "Nordic Culture" over the last 20 years and expected this course to "refresh" me from a different perspective. That is exactly what it did. I remembered why I got interested in those strange, funny, furious, free people. Michael Drout seems to "love" them just as well, his will to bridge the gap of time by trying to vocalize the language, his energy (though ignoring time frames and differences in geographic contexts) and the well delivered lectures (often starting with a common misconception / icon that is then revealed as a translation flaw or just poet's invention) make this course a must-have.
The course is short, much too short to even do the topic justice that Mr. Drout touches. This becomes more and more obvious when he constantly takes a short cut saying "but I won't get into this any further here" in the saga-related chapters.
Mr. Drout himself mentions that he would love to see movies being created from some of the sagas he quotes. While understanding why he feels this way, I cannot quite agree: Modern movies are based on very simple, very straight ideas and seemingly try to avoid ANY thinking on the audience's side. This approach obviously would never work with one of Mr. Drout's beloved Scandinavian sagas and he would most likely regret having mentioned his wish if he saw "Hollywood" picking up the idea :-)
That said, a tag line - provocative, sure - could be: They've been there, they've done that. All of it.
I love Mr. Drout's performances of Nordic and Germanic languages, although (being German) I did have my difficulties actually understanding some of the Germanic parts :-D
Nevertheless, by reciting (more or less original) texts Mr. Drout manages to give the listener a glimpse of the FEEL of how those people were, since your (spoken) language really tells a lot about you.
I would have wished for more details, especially on the differences between geographically separated groups of people. My own studies prepared me with some (good and bad) prejudices that I would have loved to challenge, alas there was no time.
Yes, the course does concentrate on literature - and is right in doing so, since archaeological proof is sparse. But there IS material that could be discussed. You CAN learn a lot about the life of someone if you have access to his clothing, the way he/she built houses and villages. There IS evidence that could have served the headline of this course better than written material that was created hundreds of years after the fact.
This topic is widely discussed among historians, and unfortunately Mr. Drout seems to ignore this, delivering what he considers "facts" as "reliable", even basing social critics on his personal view of (out of time frame) "constructed" literature. This was what I found disappointing, since it represents a branch of history education that does not care about facts. In other words: Written history is always faked by "victors". You don't get to hear the "other side" and, except in a very few side notes, Mr. Drout seems to ignore that "Understanding Vikings" (etc) is a more than questionable undertaking if your material is solely created by strangers, foreigners and people who did not understand (and did not WANT to understand) the social, philosophical and religious systems they were mocking about.
This tour-de-force overview over several hundreds of years of popular views on human history is, content-wise, well selected, easy to follow and gives a great first introduction into what historians believe to be next-to-true about "people like you and me living throughout the times".
Since the course only gives a broad overview, a lot (and I mean A LOT) of details are left out, variances in people's life and believes are ignored (and have to be).
Mr. Garland says his area of expertise isn't the "middle ages" (roughly about 1000 years of enormous changes to the way people lived), on the other hand reliable knowledge about people before that time is very limited, no matter how convinced Mr. Garland may seem to know.
So the lectures have to be taken with several spoons of salt.
What bothered me the most was the - sorry for the word - arrogance of a "modern Christian guy" seriously JUDGING the way other people, especially in times long gone, believed or saw the world. Passages like "there couldn't be a more absurd way of believe system" (this aren't his exact words, it is just what I FELT he was saying) about a multi-god-believe-system are absurd themselves, since the very concept of "any god" isn't exactly science. But it isn't just the believe-systems, but also the "state of mind" people were in. The constant comparisons between ancient ways of thinking and modern "we know what is right" attitude made the course hard to follow at times.
Mr. Garland ... separates ... every ......word ......from ......... the ......... next ...(you get the picture, don't you?)
His intonation stays very alike throughout a lecture. It sounds as if he is more or less reading from a script and, although he sounds excited about what he is saying, the CONSTANT excitement along with the ... separation ... of ... words ... without ... any ... professional ... dramaturgy ... would make me fall asleep if I listened to Mr. Garland in a life lecture at university.
I converted parts of the audio book to mp3 and used an audio editing software to narrow down the gaps (without speeding up the actual spoken words), which allowed me to follow the content a lot better.Mr. Garlands narration is, unfortunately, a typical "university professor style":
He knows a lot, he loves his topics, he WANTS to take people part in this and the energy he puts into his efforts to drag students along is overpowering him.Yet: He DOES love his topic and he DOES have a lot to offer. I am very interested in reading his books now and I'd love to chat with him :-)
My original verdict was "1.5 stars on performance". That would have been unfair, there are, by far, worse narrators present on Audible. Mr. Garland is easy to understand, he does not derail from the topic, he gives a lot of good examples and tries to match limited time to an enormous amount of content.
On the negative side my most intense reaction was that the constant "judging" of non-Christian believe-systems along with a very, VERY limited distance to the "modern western" religions shocked me*.
The lack of pointing out a lot of POSITIVE social achievements (that the Christian churches have destroyed by force), especially along the lines of equal rights for men and women, but also regarding the understanding of what a slave is, was sad, it's not as if human society only has improved over the last 2000 years.
On the positive side Mr. Garland tried hard to make "every day life" as understandable to a modern "next door guy or girl" as possible without getting into too much detail. You do not need ANY knowledge of history to understand what he is talking about (this may be part of my issue here).
It is the broad picture, the parallels throughout thousands and thousands of years of human history that gives the listener a glimpse of what "history" is about.
* As an example: Mr. Garland puts Aristoteles, Platon and Sokrates in the same sack, although those three present such fundamental changes in the "image of what a human being is" (including slaves and women). One could easily say that, the closer we get to "modern times", the "worse" (in modern understanding) it got, while nowadays "ethic and moral" are mainly based on the later philosophers (Aristotels in particular), it's exactly those later theories that are racist, sexist and ignorant. But, pointing this out would have contradicted the (unmentioned) theory of the course that "things constantly got BETTER throughout the times" ...
Did Mr. Garland succeed in making me understand how "the people on the other side of history" thought, lived and changed (meaning those of whom the history books do not tell you)?
This course covers too large a time span to really make me UNDERSTAND what a Roman Citizen "ticks" like or what a peasant in 1300 in North-England really believes in.
Mr. Garland takes it as granted that "there is but ONE GOD" and that believing the Christian way is the "natural order of things". NO, he is not teaching religion here, don't get me wrong! He just assumes that his listeners "know their god".
Many - seemingly strange - ways of living in the past are very closely related to the respective religion and/or philosophy. Mr. Garland concentrates on describing official practices (such as sacrifices), but did not succeed in making me understand how people could believe one way or another and let this (religious) believe actually govern their whole lives. I _do_ have some grasp of that topic from other courses (real life) and some decades of personal studies, but I still find it very hard to really comprehend.
To be fair, I can only repeat: It is the span of time this course covers (topic-wise) and the strong simplification owed to that fact that leaves me unsatisfied. 48 lectures seem like a lot, but to really understand the life of someone you just need more than 15-30 minutes of arbitrary examples from every day life.
Since I do not know the printed version of the course I cannot say much about such a comparison. Yet, I would think that for a printed version there's not enough background information (that one could skip over if not interested) in the lectures, which seem to be tailored just right for listening experiences.
What I really enjoyed was the open approach to how heroes, legends and reception of them change over time. This could have even be stretched more, the definition of a hero being an "archetypal muscle muppet", that is repeated a lot, seems too limited to me. I cannot imagine people from 2000 years ago being that hollywood-cliche-addicted.
You clearly get the impression of a tutor loving his topic. Sure, Mr. Shippey's pronunciation of "Don Quixote" is more than disturbing (if I, being German, would pronounce American heroes like "Darth Vader" the way they are written, the result would be, as Americans might "hear" it, something like "that daddy").
But funny "English-is-the-center-of-the-world-all-other-languages-are-obsolete" escapades aside, the energy and warmth-from-the-heart these lectures transport makes you accept the few passages easily, where Mr. Shippey stretches the content a bit to fill the time :)
On a side note: I did have to speed up the playback, because his many pauses between words, more often than not interrupting the line of thoughts, made following Mr. Shippey a bit difficult at times.
If you love literature and want to get some new ideas about how to understand older (and even new) stories, Mr. Shippeys course is a wonderful overview over different types of texts, story telling, dependencies of characters on their historic background, expectations and fears of audience.
It does help to KNOW the texts, but I think that Mr. Shippey has chosen a good canon of literature work that most listeners should be familiar enough with to have their own ideas of what makes the "hero character" a "hero" - or, in some cases, NOT.
Yes, I would have loved some more historic background in some lectures. Yes, I would have loved some critical comments on the "quality" of certain texts (I am not going to name one here). There's a lot more to "understanding" what a literature hero is versus a "real world" hero, I think, but, after all, this is a spare-time hobby course, not some university study :-)
This is a tricky review, since neither topic nor text, reading-performance nor audio technique are "all bad" (or "good"). It has been a mixed experience.
As for content: It's all old wine. Sure, this book is rather old (more than 10 years), so I should not have expected anything surprisingly fresh, still, it's just the same thoughts chewed over. On the other hand, the author makes some astounding claims that, even if you consider them naive, are worth thinking about.
I chose the headline I set, because the author keeps contradicting himself. A simple example: He makes it very clear, that "genes" are not "on or off" values for specific functions or features, but have to be seen as tiny bits of a larger matrix, changing a singe gene may very well lead to hundreds, thousands or more of varying results. Yet, he also claims that some banal tests on "genetically altered food" are good enough to state, once and for all, that no harm can ever arise from such "gene-food".
It is a well accepted rule in science, that you cannot prove a negative. You cannot prove that something does NOT exist (like God). Even if the author claims so, you just cannot prove that genetically altered food is harmless. You can only say "we haven't found any issues so far, but we haven't tested all possible billions and billions of combinations of genes".
Nuff said, that's really just one thing - the author is convinced that he knows all and everything, that he is never mistaken and that everyone thinking otherwise is kind of stupid. He makes this point very clear and that makes BELIEVING him quite hard.
Like I said some ideas or thoughts are worth considering. Pinker's ideas of "discrimination schemes" are "nice", but not necessarily reality-proof, for example.
Unfortunately the author keeps reiterating on ideas over and over again. Once he said something that the reader/listener has to think about and "digest", the author says the same thing again with other words. And then he says something similar. Then he jumps to a different topic, forgets about the previous one - and returns, only to say the same again in new, different words. It is HARD to follow your ow thoughts and understandings if an author thinks he is so all-knowing that he can do the thinking for you!
Three words? Ha!
I did not find the performance of Mr. Bevine very helpful to follow the book. He starts chapters very slow, at a low tone, with very even intonation. Over the run of a chapter his voice gets louder and more dramatic, till he ends chapters with energy, faster pace and sometimes "breathless", only to fall back to a dramatic flatline at the next chapter's start.
I am not sure Mr. Bevine really understood everything he read. Quite often his intonation made understanding the content unnecessarily difficult. A more "to-the-text" performance would have been nice.
The content has been too well known and widely discussed to really inspire me to more than a good espresso.
I was doubting if buying another old "book" with a narration that did not convince me in the sample audio was a good choice.
Now I know I will not do that again. After all, READING the book myself would have been a lot better, being able to skip half of the pages for their repetitions ...
My headline above should make sense if you read or listened to this book/performance. Mr. Crystal gives some good performances (and some not so great), demonstrating what his success is based on. The live performance parts indeed are the better ones, the studio-read ones ... not so much (and the changing quality of recording at times is distracting).
A good book lives on a a good story. You may think that what better story could there be than the life of the author telling it himself? Unfortunately Mr. Crystal cannot make up his mind whether to bring up an anecdote to present a punch line OR to tell you something about himself, his life, "where he's been and where he's going to". When in doubt, he'll always choose the laugh.
That may be what his FANs are after.
I personally love the films I saw him working in, so I admire Mr. Crystal's work. I see how great he is as a stand up comedian. I get a glimpse of how he may be as a family man (although this somehow slips through my fingers in this book). But what do I REMEMBER of the story after I finished listening to the book?
Not much. In fact, I only remember a few good one liners.
For a biography that isn't enough, be it presented as congenially as it is.
I would actually like to listen to Mr. Crystal reading good books that tell a great story. Are there any? Please let me know.
As I said above: Mr. Crystal is a great stand up comedian. So the life performances recorded here live and breath, his interaction with the audience, the TIMING you get there, are just great.
Well, if Mr. Crystal was plaid by, let's say, Mr. Crystal, I surely would love to see a move starring Mr. Crystal performing as Mr. Crystal. I fear it would need a good screen writer to work at the dramatics :)
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