Tag Archives: Kaplan

On reminders and my (revised) BS Study Guide

As I write this I have just over an hour and a half until the deadline to call Prometic and reschedule passes. I don’t plan to, but as each exam arrives, I find the occasion curious. Signing up for each division is gut wrenching, but the nausea goes away after a day or two. As the examination draws near the appreciation slowly begins to rebuild, but there’s comfort in the fact that it is still “x” number of days away. Until the Appointment Reminder email shows up in the inbox. Uhoh, what’s that feeling in the pit of my stomach?

“Hey, just wanted to let you know that dooms day is almost here…want to get out of it? Call this number.”

Two weeks ago I would have called. A week ago I would have called. Today? I’m not calling. I’m feeling….okay. Not 100% but ok.

*cue the Rocky montage music*

*cue the Rocky montage music*

It’s amazing how that one quick note makes you stop and reconsider everything you think you know, and worry about how much you don’t. The “No biggie” or “No way!” moment. The moment to assess if you’re not only prepared academically, but also emotionally for the task at hand. After a discouraging Monday which ended in a tear stained and failed Kaplan practice exam things are looking a little better. (Sleep helped. When in doubt, sleep…I often forget this.) A little more progress was made Tuesday, and today I woke up feeling like I have the confidence to give it a shot. I want to sit for Building Systems.  Maybe I won’t pass again, I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the content, but at this point I’ll feel worse if I *don’t* take it.

I finished the updates to my study guide late on Sunday, (here’s a copy as a PDF) and think it covers just about everything I could get my hands on.  As always, hope it’s useful to someone else too…and apologies in advance for the misspellings and typos, I’ve already caught a few.

The goal this week has been distilling the most critical information and trying to digest as much as I can.  Like the last attempt, I’m feeling pretty confident about the overall concepts for each content area, but am still not where I’d like to be with the details.  That being said, I feel like I already know more than I did last time, so that bit of optimism is keeping me going as I shuffle through all of my notes.  I knocked out a 90% on the NCARB practice problems, but (as previously mentioned) bombed the Kaplan Q&A. I guess I’d rather fail now then on Saturday, and my plan for tonight is to go through the explanations and understand why I got things wrong.  (It really helped me prepare for SS, so why not try it again?)  I’m feeling better about working with the equation reference sheet that NCARB provides and I’m confident about the vignette.  I still need to spend some time looking at diagrams in MEEB and/or Architectural Graphic Standards, but I don’t want to overwhelm myself doing so.  At this point it makes the most sense to focus on the details, and memorizing the the little things like ADA dimensional requirements, typical decibel levels for spaces, and types of conduit to use in different applications.  I also want to get a handle on a few mechanical systems (looking at you VAV and Constant Volume), general acoustics, and Illuminance vs. Luminace concepts that are still a little fuzzy.  Can I pull all of that off by Friday night?  I’m not sure, but I’m going to try my hardest.

For me, the exam doesn’t start when I sit down at the workstation, but when I pass the deadline to call and reschedule. There’s no turning back at that point. Do not pass go, do not recollect your 210 dollars (if only), head straight to Prometric and wait for your turn. As I pass that moment today I recognize that I’m entering into my exam mode. I’m nervous (very nervous), but at the same time my mind feels like it’s 100% turned to the content and comprehension that seemed difficult a few weeks ago is almost effortless now. I guess I’m lucky in that regard.  At this point there’s little more to say then it’s time to aim high in hope and work.

Well, maybe I’ll say one more thing. As I was browsing information about refrigeration cycles, I ran across this educational film from 1944.  No joke, it’s one of the best resources on the topic I’ve seen due to it’s concise explanation and simple diagrams.  It’s also one of my favorites, as the thought alone of a bunch of early-Mad-Men-esque guys sitting around in suits smoking and drinking scotch as one says “Hey Bill, we otta get that picture on refrigeration off to the fellas down at the DOE.” makes me furiously happy.

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on electricty and keeping the faith

So far, my strategy for re-studying has been to start with with the basics and work my way, slowly, through more advanced concepts.  Looking back over my notes (it’s really nice to have a study guide to start with, by the way) and my posts here revealed that I glossed over a lot of information during my first attempt.  I still don’t think that I missed anything, but I do recall moments in the exam when I quietly kicked myself for not getting into the level of detail that I should have. I’ll be damned if that’s the case again.

Last week I worked through an overall assessment of where I stand.  My biggest concerns are really getting a handle on mechanical, electrical, lighting, and acoustical systems.  I’m feeling alright with passive, fire, and pluming, and I’m not quite sure where I need to improve on conveyance and security.  Addressing those will be the goal of this weekend.  I should probably also dust off the vignette and give that a go, too.


no, not these.

This week  I’ve spent the better part of the evenings tying to wrap my head around the basics of electricity.  I was doing alright until I got to transformers, and then all came to a standstill as I stared at single and three phase configuration diagrams.  I read, I sketched, I googled, I YouTubed, everything was either too vague or ridiculously complex to help me figure it out. Yet after banging my head against the desk a couple of times something must of rattled right, because I could comprehend just how Wye and Delta connections work.  That, or walking away for a milkshake was the break I needed for it all to sink in (unnecessary calories included).  My next goal is to address different voltage and amperage types, their characteristics, and common values for residential and commercial applications.  Like transformers, I’m assuming it’s not that difficult once I’m really in the right mindset.   The challenge is getting there.

The studying process for a retake is surprisingly different than the first time around, and I’m I starting to notice that perhaps I’ve gotten myself overly worked up for BS 2.0.  For the first attempt I tried to learn as much as I could, with the mindset that a well rounded approach to learning the content would be the best strategy. With a retake I’ve found myself almost pessimistically believing that what I knew before wasn’t good enough.  I’ve noticed that I’m obsessing over studying and making sure I understand every little detail before moving on to the next topic.  That’s a big red flag. If I keep up with this frenzied attack I’ll stress out or burn out long before exam day on the 25th.  Quite frankly I think I already am.  Stepping back and looking at the big picture, and then zooming in on the most critical details is really the best approach.  It worked 6 out of 7 times, so perhaps it’s time to take a little of the advice I tend to dole out. Keep the faith and keep plugging away.  It’ll all make sense eventually.

I mean it’s a multiple choice exam…it’s not like we’re preparing to fight the Decepticons.


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A Final Push to Study and the BDCS Study Guide

Ladies and gentleman, I present to you for your reading pleasure “Overkill”.

Alright, so maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but I honestly wasn’t expecting to cover this much material while preparing for this exam. But once I started reading Fundamentals of Building Construction, (and trying a few practice exams to gauge what I comfortably knew) I realized that like PPP it was probably better to study more than less. It worked for me in the past…why not do it again, right? So as promised here is my Building Design and Construction Systems Study Guide. At 105 pages, I’m thinking of upgrading it to tome status. It covers just about everything in FBC, on areforum’s FTP site, and a slew of websites I ran across in the process. While it took a ton of time, I’m glad that I went through everything as thoroughly as possible and I hope that it will be worth it come Saturday. Hopefully you might get some use out of it as well.

Now the trick is just remembering everything.

oh to sell traditional materials in the modern age

I’m going to spend the next few nights reviewing as much as I can. I’m still a little unsure about fire ratings and construction types, as well as roof construction. Materials as a whole I’m pretty good on. Going through the guide a couple times a night and working through the Kaplan Q&A book should help tremendously in the final push. I also finally have some time to work on the alternate vignettes which I heard are very useful. I was able to post my roof design vignette on arefoum before it crashed and only messed up an elevation marker. It was a dumb mistake, but I’m glad that was the only one I made. I’m feeling comfortable with the accessible ramp, but want to practice a few more configurations just so I don’t get too cozy with the NCARB example. The stair has been the most difficult for me to wrap my head around. Conceptually it makes sense, but there’s something about actually drawing it that makes me freeze. But like the new Ben Folds Five song Do It Anyway suggests: “If you’re paralyzed by a voice in your head, It’s the standing still that should be scaring you instead. Go on and do it anyway”. If only the Fraggles were here to help out.

I know I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’m feeling a little bit of relief for the first time in weeks. I’m actually looking forward to a few more nights of working hard and getting some rest before the big day. I know I’ve covered everything, now it’s just a matter of convincing myself that I’m ready.

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an update on studying wood/would be a good idea about now…

Oh wow is it time for the obligatory, “Sorry I haven’t posted, I’ve been studying…” blog post?  Time sure does fly when you’re getting stuff done (or trying to  at least…life has a way of getting hectic at just the right times).

barn raising hootenanny step number 6

With 10 days to go, I finally feel like I’m getting something accomplished.  I’ve made it through all of the information on wood, heavy timber, and light frame construction, as well as building code, accessibility, and a little bit on doors, windows, and thermal/moisture protection.   There’s a lot of information to fit into this tiny brain, and I think I’ve started purging information like phone numbers and birthdays of loved ones  in order to fit it all in.   I’m still struggling with Construction Types as keeping everything straight from Type IA to VB has proved challenging for me.   Tonight I’m moving on to Masonry and more miscellaneous materials like interior finishes.  Also, thai food for dinner, which I’m pretty psyched about.

I ran through 85 Kaplan practice problems during lunch yesterday and got a 54%.  Not great, but when I looked at the breakout of content areas I found that I scored quite well in the Wood division.  That’s a good sign.  I’ve fiddled around with the ramp vignette but haven’t touched the stair or roof yet.  Hopefully I can work my way through one of those today.  It occurred to me as I was getting ready this morning that I haven’t read the Dorf chapters on these vignettes yet, probably a smart thing to do ASAP.

Anyone know how to get a few extra hours in the day?  It sounds like I could use about 8 more.

I don’t feel as if I am at a point where I need to push the exam back.  I have until next Tuesday to ultimately decide, but so far I’m feeling okay as long as I keep up the high intensity pace.    Studying for this exam feels hauntingly similar to PPP.  It’s feels almost impossible to know when you’ve reached the point where you know it all.  I suppose that’s the case for architecture as a whole though, we never can really know everything.   Fortunately for the most part it’s all incredibly fascinating and I’ve found myself loosing track of time more than once while reading.

So here’s to another busy night, and hopefully another update soon.

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on fascination and starting the next round

A few years ago, while I was out with an non-architect friend, we walked by a relatively new development downtown.   As was my typical habit, my mouth fell open as my head tilted back to take in as much of the floating facade as I could.  I stopped and stared… utterly fascinated with at what I was looking at.  My friend didn’t realize  my absence until about a half a block later.

“You ok?” he asked, as he walked back.

“Oh, yeah… I was just looking at how they connected that curtain wall system.”

I prepared myself for the usual eye rolling/sarcastic remark.  What he said next has stayed with me ever since:  “You really do see the world differently, don’t you?”

Yeah, I guess I do, and my suspicion is that many of you are the same way.  Unlike other professions, ours is one where we can geek out almost anytime given our built environment.   For me when it comes to building design and construction systems, I can’t help but be anxious to learn as much as I can.  I want to know why things are built the way they are, how materials realize or ruin a design, and what happens to structures as time takes its toll.   It’s art, it’s science, and it’s awesome.  With that in mind, I look forward to using this exam as an opportunity to appreciate the buildings I’m around a little more, and like I have for years, continue to look at my world a little differently.

That being said, I’ve got to hit the books hard sooner than later, and I’ve manged to get my hands on a nice stack of materials, including:

– Kaplan exam book and Q&A book
– Archiflash and Kaplan Flashcards
Fundamentals of Building Construction…another old textbook that I’m glad I kept!
Building Codes Illustrated
Materials from the FTP
Shiff Hardin Lectures … which I think I’ve probably listened to more than the students who were in the actual course.

It looks like I’ll be busy again.  I don’t know how much I will rely on the Kaplan exam book given the other materials, but I do plan on working through the Q&A book like I did on Structures.  It looks like there’s a lot of repeat material from CDS/PPP that I need to refer to as well when I study BDCS as is relates to professional practice.

If only all project types had a handy cheat sheet like this!

Semi-related to that…an architecture firm up in Seattle called BUILD has an awesome blog on the profession of architecture, which I encourage you to check out if you get a chance (they also have a stunning portfolio, but I digress).   While reading recently, I noticed a link to an old post on residential construction costs from 2009.   In it, they put together a really handy cheat sheet (I hope they don’t mind that I’m posting it here, too) on the costs and inclusions typically associated with a project of this type.  One of the questions that I’ve seen come up on the forum is how much architecture fees are in a project and/or what else they include.  While this is aimed for projects in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, it’s still a nice reference to have.
I roughed out my study guide based on the NCARB exam guide and it’s already 15 pages without any actual information written.  As some of you have warned, I can  see how this division is considered a doozie.   Here’s hoping the fascination I’m starting with stays with me through the entire process.   Maybe I’ll try studying  in some of my favorite spaces around town to keep my spirits up… as long as there aren’t any new structures to get distracted by next door.


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the exam day she’s been dreading

For years now I’ve kept this little picture on my desk…75% for a laugh and 25% for days like today.

Not gonna lie, I’m scared.  But I’m also excited to give this exam a shot and (even more so) to get it over with.  At this point I’ve officially done all I can, beside looking over equations in the parking lot before I walk in to Prometric.   The worst that can happen is that I take it again in January, and really, that’s not so bad (it’s always good to have something lined up for the post holidays slump anyway, right?)

I spent the last few nights rereading notes and going over practice problems in the Kaplan Q&A.  I didn’t get through the whole book as I had hoped. I did a set of 150 problems on Wednesday night and ended up getting most of them wrong (hello panic attack, followed by anger). So I spent Thursday night going through all of my incorrect answers and correcting my mistakes.  I think it helped.  Last night I reviewed my notes, read IBC Chapter 16 again, did a few more practice problems, and memorized equations like crazy. I know I broke the cardinal rule of taking time off before the exam to calm down and relax, but I didn’t feel like I could this time around.  Hopefully that doesn’t bite me in ass today.

My mind is still feeling a bit jumbled, but I bet part of that is due to nerves.  I’m ready to give it my all and hopefully knock this one out of the park.  I’ve a had tons of support from family and friends, and lots of well wishes as I prepared…including some from you, thank you!…I guess to be honest, I’d hate to let everyone down.   With that in mind, the best thing to do is stay optimistic that I won’t!

Alright*deep breath* Let’s go get this over with, shall we?

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on shoveling barkdust (and my SS Study Guide)

forget failing an exam, *this* is my nightmare

Over the past few days I’ve found myself in a panic induced routine fueled by stumptown and pandora.  As I explained to Mom, a teacher with a bit of a greenthumb, studying for this exam is like shoveling bark dust.  You start with a mound of material, and with each scoop you take, the pile gives way and more falls in front of you.  No matter how much scooping you do it feels like you’re getting nowhere. There’s always something to be picked up until, all of a sudden, it’s totally gone.

Last night, or this morning around 12.30 I should say, my pile had vanished.

At this point I think I’ve done as much studying as I can.  My head is full of random information and my study guide (yes, it’s posted, hang on…) is as good as it’s going to get.  I’m feeling like I have a good understanding of the concepts, but at this point everything is still jumbled around in my mind.  The next few days/nights will be dedicated to the Kaplan Q & A book and review.  It’s my hope that I will finally be able to tighten my grasp on the material as well as memorize the equations that I’ll need to use later.

So, here’s my structures study guide.  It’s 63 pages of fun-filled general/lateral/seismic/wind structural goodness.  While I probably should have included notes on how to solve beams, columns, and trusses, I found using my school notes to be helpful enough as I studied.  Fortunately there are so many resources available via Kaplan and on the arefourm FTP site that it would probably would have been overkill to include anyway.  Like always, I can’t guarantee that my guide covers everything we’ll need to know for the exam, but sharing it is the least I can do to say thanks for all the support and resources they’ve sent my way.  If I find any mistakes as I review with it I’ll update this link and mention it in a new post.

I kicked back at lunch today and finished re-reading FEMA 454 chapters 4/5/8/9, not necessarily for fun, but more as a review for what I’ve already studied.  Strangely enough, it was much more enjoyable this time around.  I guess that happens when you have a snack in your hand and not a highlighter.  Next up is Buildings at Risk – Flooding.  I didn’t get a chance to study that, but from what I gather on the forum, it’s good to know.

I’m sitting on thesis reviews tomorrow night at my grad school alma mater University of Oregon-Portland. Fun fact: crits are way more enjoyable when you’re the one in the chair making comments.  If you ever get a chance to participate in one, I’d highly recommend it.  I’ve fortunately been able to sit in on a few over the past few years and I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t make me miss school.  Studio one of my most cherished memories and experiences.  That being said, it’s amazing what a few years of profesional growth will do to you.  While I still admire the creativity, passion, and innovation of my peers, I find myself appreciating the attention to structure and tectonics just as much.  I suppose that means engineering is becoming as important to me as art.  Perhaps I really am becoming a true architect.

While I still intend to push hard the next few days, I feel like I’m doing so with a calm confidence.  I’ve come to peace with the fact that structures is a difficult subject for me to grasp and it probably always will be.  All I can do at this point is give the exam my best effort and know that I’ve tried my damnedest. That’s really not a bad position to be in, but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed, just in case.

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I was wrong and I just can’t live without you

The most gorgeous thing I have seen all week.


I am so happy to see arefourm alive and kicking…in part because now I can get “Baby Come Back” out of my head.  Also, because I’ve come to appreciate how much I rely on it.  Studying is a lonely process, and I really do enjoy the comradery amongst peers.

Looks like you can blog over there now, too.  I’m not sure how I’ll run with that yet, to be honest. I like the idea, but I’m feeling pretty cozy here on wordpress.  Perhaps I’ll put up my post exam thoughts or arefourm specific posts there.  While it’s good to have redundancy in a structural system, that’s really not the case with blogs. Keep it simple, right?

Speaking of structures, I’ve been making some progress the past few nights. I finished the Kaplan guide and tried the first 125 problems in the Q&A book.  It took about three hours to get through them all (had a few distractions around the house) so with some practice and focus, I should be able to get that time cut down to two hours. I think it is wise to start doing sets of problems using exam constraints.  It gets me thinking about equations and concepts quicker, and remembering to move on when I catch myself spending too much time on a problem.

I haven’t tallied my score from my first attempt yet, but by the looks of all the red marks indicating wrong answers I’d say I’m still facing an uphill battle.  Still, I’d rather learn from my mistakes now!  I was pleased to see that many of the questions I went with my gut on and marked turned out to be correct.  Today I saw a  post over on arefourm on the errors in the Q&A book, and member AugDog shared the errata they got from Kaplan correcting some of the problems.  Here it is as a PDF in case it disappears over there for some reason.

hope he doesn’t get tension headaches, har har!

The concepts, in general, are making sense.  As I work through the practice problems I’m beginning to see areas that I need to go back and spend more time on.  In addition to rereading material,  I need to dedicate time to memorizing key equations.   I’ll be spending a lot of time waiting in line for the Timbers match vs. Vancouver on Saturday, so that might be a good opportunity to crank through flashcards.

I don’t know if I will be able to get my study guide done by the end of the weekend, although I am still planning on taking a good stab at it.  Personally I need to get over the thought of sitting at my computer typing away in pages for hours…I think that is what is stimulating my procrastination the most.   Perhaps starting with something I’m interested in like architects and building history will get me on a roll.  Reading about great minds like Brunelleschi, Bucky Fuller, and Calatrava, is enough to inspire anyone.

So I guess we’ll see how it goes.  One thing is for sure though, now that arefourm is back it’s only a matter of time before “Reunited” gets stuck in my head.

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keep on keepin on

You would think with arefoum being down I would get more work done.  All that time spent reading post-exam thoughts, and reviewing vignettes, and generally lurking on PPP/SPD/CDS forums  (“I passed and so can you!” comments are fun) would go to working on my structures notes.   Yes, you would think that… and you would be wrong.

“Hmmm…I wonder if it’s working now?”  *refresh*  “Nope.”
*10 minutes later*
“Hmm… how about now?”  

I’ve spent a good chunk of time wondering when, or if, the forum will come back.  As of this posting it still hasn’t, but it’s my naive hope that it will spring back to life sometime during the work week.  And if it doesn’t, well, then I suppose we’ll all get through it.   Between Kaplan, ArchiFlash, old textbooks, and Google,  I think I’m in pretty good shape for materials, and in my last post a few people had some awesome workarounds.  Regarding thread posts, JD said:  “Google-search a question (for example: are forum CDs vignette overlap dimensions), within the google results page, click on google’s chache. Access to the google cache varies per browser, but this will display most of the thread, minus images.”

AREweanArchitectyet (another awesome ARE blog you should read, btw) found an old backup of the FTP files from ARE3.1 days.  Contracts are out of date, and the old 3.1 exam structure is used, but it’s still useful to have!   Here’s the link for your use!  I’m seriously relieved to have heard about this one…I really do rely on the FTP info when I’m getting started on an exam.

you can go ahead and guess which half of my weekend was more exciting.

I cranked through a good chunk of Kaplan over the weekend.  I didn’t meet my goal of finishing it, however.  I have two more chapters to get through: Wind, and Notable Buildings & Engineers.  If I can tear myself away from Antiques Roadshow (guilty pleasure) or, God forbid, actually get it done before its on, then I will still be in good shape at the end of tonight.  I’m excited to start working through the Kaplan Q&A book, words I never thought I would type, but my next priority will be finishing my study guide.   Now that I have a basic understanding of everything I think/hope the guide will go together much faster.  That being said, it’s still going to take some serious time, coffee, and ice cream.  I hear Ben & Jerry’s is a good study aid.

So far the exam content is all making sense.  I’m not sure how many of the random equations that Kaplan mentions (eg: calculating shear in a notched beam) I will have, or choose, to memorize, but my general feeling right now is that if it’s explained in the book, I should damn well know how to do it on the exam.  I took the quizzes at the end of each chapter and scored a 70% or better pretty consistently. Recalling and solving equations is still giving me some trouble, but  I seem to remember that being an issue in school as well.   At least I know where my weaknesses are.

My goal is to finish my study guide by the end of the holiday weekend. I don’t know if that’s insane or not.   I do know, however, that it’s probably sad that I’m excited to have next Monday off from work because it will give me 8 more hours of “good” brain time (I study/work better in the mornings/afternoons than in the evenings).   It’s going to be a busy week for extra curricular activities.  The Timbers take on Valencia FC in a friendly on Wednesday evening and we have our first Cascadia Cup match against Vancouver on Saturday.  After finally getting a win yesterday versus Chicago,  I’m psyched for both.   And speaking of psyched, Nate has a gallery show opening on June 1 for a photography project he’s been working on, and I get to help him out on that a bit as he prepares.

Given all this neat stuff going on, I need to buckle down and work hard in the moments I have free.  It’s certainly doable with a bit of willpower.  I think step number one will be blocking areforum so I don’t keep refreshing the page again and again…. *click* Nope.  Still nothing.

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the current state of my (other) desktop

learn all of this? no big deal…right?

Well the Timbers didn’t win (another 0-0 draw) and now haven’t scored a goal in, oh, 427 minutes.  That’s over 4 matches.  Damn.  On the plus side, Houston’s Stadium was gorgeous, we got a point on the road, and no one got kicked in the face.  Sometime you have to remind yourself to always look on the bright side of life.

The same rings true for studying.  I’m now four chapters through Kaplan, and I think I’ve made it over the nasty calculations hurdle.  I’m able to work through equations and problems fairly efficiently,  but my understanding of what all the components mean is still weak.  I don’t know what I need to memorize what resources will be available,  so I want to review the NCARB supplied list before I go too much further.   The less I have to store in my brain, the better.

I’ve got to admit it’s a little strange sitting at a desk with books.  I don’t think I’ve done this since…well since I took structures in college.  While I’m enjoying  the reprieve from typing in a pages document, I feel like I’m ultimately going to have to take all of the information I’m highlighting and jotting down and put it into my notes later.  I hope I’m not wasting time.

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