Top of Mind Networks

Top of Mind Networks Geeked Out Development update 4/27

April 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New Deadline:                 5/14

Code Complete:               40%

Momentum:                      Strong

Current Roadblocks:       None

Confidence Level:           95%


What’s going well?

 For this update, I wanted to switch gears and focus more on the individual components as we refactor them to be better/faster.  The new site is made up of the following areas with status indicated next to them.  

Area Status Coded Details
Dashboard  RED 0% Last thing we’ll do
Call List  GREEN 100% In testing
Calendar  GREEN 80% Almost done, working on integration, shared views
Groups  GREEN 100% Conversion postponed, integration completed, In testing
Campaigns  YELLOW 20% Conversion postponed, integration started
Contacts  YELLOW 40% Working on all the detail pages
Email Service  RED 0% Needs review
Company  RED 0%  
Account  RED 0%  
Help  RED 0%  

 Overall, the conversion back to server side code is going well.  We haven’t run into any roadblocks yet.  It’s really been a matter of just churning out code.  I think by the end of this week, we should have 60-75% of this work done, as company and account are not large components to rewrite, and campaigns is a integration, not a rewrite.

 What could be better?

 On Thursday, we unexpectedly lost a developer for this project.  This meant we had to look back at our feedback and determine which UI elements were going to get the “rewrite for fast access” treatment and which UI we were just going to have to port over till later.  The areas owned by the “no longer with us” developer were not UI components that require super fast access, so we’re just porting that code over now as is.  This is in groups and campaigns.  Fortunately, the loss does not impact our schedule at this point; it just delays rewrites of less critical UI elements.

suREFIre 2.0 CRMS Geeked Out Development Update

April 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 


suREFIre logoCRMS Geeked Out Development update          4/21    


We came, we released, we got great feedback, and as Mark said Monday, we went back to the drawing board.  While this is true, we didn’t really have to go all the way back to the “dragging our knuckles” stage of development and we actually have a lot of evolved and reusable code that fast tracks our User Interface transformation over the next few weeks.

To help keep you more informed and better able to understand our progress and/or delays as we furiously race towards 5/14, we wanted to share more of our internal development operations with you; partially to provide more transparency to our work, but mostly because Mark gets hernias and internal bleeding every time he tries to explain our development process (ha ha ha, just kidding Mark) 🙂 .

Seriously though, it makes  a lot more sense for development updates to be coming from me and I’m happy to oblige every 48-72 hours.  So, here is my first development update for the CRMS system since our early adopter release was jettisoned.

New Deadline:  5/14
Code Complete: 20%
Momentum:  Strong
Current Roadblocks: None
Confidence Level: 95%

What’s going well?

  • The User Interface (UI) – the UI transformation is going well.  We’ve torn apart our dense pages and gone with lots of little pages.  I’m almost completely done with the entire UI framework, next just comes putting all the code into the pages.


  • Back to basic controls – Most of the proprietary (and heavy) controls we were using are going to be ripped out in favor of lightweight vanilla controls.  This creates a little more work on our end to get the functionality we need, but the performance improvements are already noticeable.  The initial work the last few days was finding adequate replacement controls for all the proprietary ones we were using.  We have a solution for all but one, the email editor.


  • Back to basic layout/style – All image elements have been ripped out.  Now we’re just using cheap and free styles (like “background-color:blue;” to differentiate objects and layout, instead of loading images from web pages which increase load times.  Another area creating load time benefit that is already noticeable.


  • Code conversion – We’re slowly moving all code back from javascript/ajax to C# code behind files.  My long term plan is to use Javascript/Ajax “when appropriate” to help with page navigation, layout, etc.  I think we tried to overdo it on the client side to compensate for heavy controls on the server side and just bound ourselves to a sinking ship.  I still definitely think there is a place for Javascript/Ajax and I continue to look for ways to use it sparingly, but I’m generally staying away from it for now until we get data access right and it’s no longer necessary for me to support two different codebases (We currently run C#/ASP.NET code for the CRMS and we’re in the process of converting ColdFusion code that runs our backend operations).


  • Browser compatibility – Making all of the above changes has fixed a number of compatibility problems we were having between IE and Firefox.  I was more relieved than surprised by this, but it’s a win all the same.


  • Dev team is kicking on all gears – We recently brought on help to speed up and improve our development process.  We’ve taken a divide and conquer approach and everyone is busy on their tasks.  We’re still early on in this “complete overhaul in sixty seconds” project, but signs are favorable that things are moving smoothly and we’re going to be able to roll out code on time and on schedule.

What could be better?

This is my section for honest dialogue about what’s not going well with the project.  We’re only about three days in and everything seems pretty positive right now, so I don’t have anything to share at the moment that is concerning me.  My hope is that I won’t end up needing this section very much, but if I run into roadblocks or issues, you’ll hear about it here first.


Save the Date: May 14, 2010

April 20, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

That’s when we will be releasing the simpler & faster Contact Management component of our Surefire System.  In the meantime, please stay tuned to the Top of Mind Blog for progress updates and other Surefire news.

Thanks again to all our clients for your feedback, and your passion, for our suite of services.

Home Value Update – 4th Quarter 2009

March 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

If all we did was listen to the news, our picture or perception of the housing market would be pretty grim. In fact, most people do perceive it that way. Yet viewing housing over the longer term tells a different story, especially if we measure the performance of housing against a few other popular benchmarks.

For instance, if we look at the major stock market indices, an investment over the last 5 or 10 years has you in the hole right now. Conversely, there are only 6 states in which the same can be said for the housing market. In the remainder, values are up from fractionally, all the way to almost 37% over the previous five years.

To those that understand that those are simply nominal returns not further enhanced as they are typically by both tax advantage and leverage, the comparisons to the alternative market barometers are well to the extremely advantageous.

So while all we seem to hear on the news is how housing is down and stocks are up, it’s best to give yourself and your clients the benefit of proper perspective. Especially now that the day trading of homes is largely passe’, it’s time to take stock of what has FOR the responsible also BEEN responsible for the uptick in their net worth over the last 5 or 10 years.

State by State Appreciation Rates

State by State Appreciation Rates

Take a closer look and click the image to the left to download a generic version of this map and reference chart to see the last quarterly, past year and previous five year periodic housing appreciation for each state. Feel free to use this with your clients and referral partners to evidence the historical perspective they should be using when making decisions about their own investment and housing plans.

The question you want to pose is that stocks have already risen significantly from the bottom, housing has not and therefore, which would you consider the best investment for the next 5 or 10 years? It takes guts and foresight to make tough decisions and to do things that the crowds are not. Yet at the end of the day, housing is something we all need. If ownership over time trumps renting and if ownership over time also makes for sound investment, that’s a pretty tough combination to beat.

Aggressive Mortgage Recruiting – Just Business or Bad Business?

February 20, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

So there’s a local Atlanta-based lender who’s been aggressively poaching loan officers from competitors over the past year-plus.  They have an in-house recruiter who allegedly uses fear tactics such as “brokers are going out of business, you need to jump ship NOW” and other one-liners to drum up new loan officers.

To this company’s credit, they’re growing.  But the purpose of this article is to ask:

At what cost?

There are a few different ways to look at this questionable practice:

1)  Game On

One could argue that it’s the responsibility of the employer to loyalize his loan officers by offering a competitive product.  Let’s assume we’re talking about a fair compensation package, access to competitive programs at good rates, streamlined operations and a positive working environment.  If the employer doesn’t have these items in place, they’re putting themselves at risk, and have nobody to blame but themselves.

2)  Dirty Pool

The other way to analyze the situation is to apply the “Golden Rule”.  How do you feel as an employer when your employees are constantly – and aggressively – being poached by a local competitor?  Here’s another way of looking at it:  what if some dude had the hots for your wife and called your house once/week asking her out – knowing full well she’s married?  Nothing illegal about that, right?  But it’s about as scummy as it gets.

As you can probably tell, I think the practice is tasteless and borderline unethical.  But make no mistake, it’s proving to be profitable for the lender I’m writing about today.  At least, profitable for now.  I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how this story ends.  But in the meantime, what’s your take?

GFE 2010, Irony, Hypocrisy or Worse?

February 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

fly[1]Ever hear that Alanis Morisette song, ” ironic” ? The funny thing about it was that the lyrics didn’t pose much if any irony leaving the only irony to be that she wrote a song about a word but didn’t really know what the word means.. - Ex. “A black fly, in my Chardonnay” or “it’s like rain……, on your wedding day” Rather, these were mostly just examples of plain old bad luck. 

Reminds me of the mortgage industry’s own misfortune now that HUD, albeit with good intentions but poor execution, has laid down the law to try to help protect consumers when they engage in the mortgage process. Seems to me that they have their own other worldly definition of protection or enlightenment and all they’ve really done is to encumber and confuse the process.

On the one hand, it only takes six pretty basic pieces of information to constitute an application which triggers the requirement of providing a GFE within 3 days. That GFE stipulates that an interest rate and closing costs be for the most part guaranteed. While at the same time, it’s impossible to know all of the hundreds of intimate details only discernible by comprehensive analysis and discovery (credit reports, appraisals, verifications, underwriting, title examinations, etc.) necessary to prudently come to the contractual conclusion that this form mandates.

To make it all the more difficult, over at Fannie and Freddie’s offices (aren’t these pretty much now a branch of the government?) they have these things referred to as Loan Level Price Adjustments. Add in a little HVCC – you know, that protection for the consumer which has stripped them of that nasty thing called “home equity” and you have the recipe for nothing but good intentions gone bad.

So has HUD become the Department of Unbridled Hypocrisy (DUH)? Or are they smarter than we think and secretly wringing their hands over punishing the industry when in reality, those that deserved it have already left the building?

Too bad that the folks making the rules aren’t the ones witnessing what’s taking place now in our industry from the inside. Gatherings of the best and brightest are taking place at events like the Mortgage Revolution and together, they’ll continue to push for real practical reform that will actually benefit the consumer rather than the aspirations of certain politicians.

Rate Quote Insight

Rate Quote Insight


In the meantime, it won’t change the rules, but for those of you that like to educate your consumers about the potential pitfalls associated with comparison shopping based on rate quote alone- especially when these are delivered via the Internet or without the benefit of thorough discovery, then here’s a little tool that will help make it easier. Just click on the image to open a PDF and you can then save it to your computer for printing or email distribution.

To twist a line from Alanis, HUD has handed us 10,000 spoons when all we needed was a knife. The ultimate irony would be if we use those spoons to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape to deliver to our customers what they really want and need - good honest service, intelligent & well suited advice and all delivered at a fair and appropriate price.

Worried That You Aren't Cut-out For This?

January 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

First off, THANK GOD for blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and all other social media avenues that have allowed us all to reach out and connect with folks we would have NEVER come across if it weren’t for these platforms.

I have had more fascinating, heart-felt, wisdom-filled conversations with strangers in the last year than at any other time in my life. Social media certainly has brought us ALL closer together in an intimate and powerful way, which I believe can only make us each more tolerant, patient, understanding and less fearful. (Now for stepping down off my soap box)

I’d like to direct this blog communication to those in the Mortgage Industry who right this moment are worried that they might not be cut-out for this.

I’ve had a few dozen conversations of late where a Mortgage Professional has expressed that this year would be their, “last ditch effort to make it in this industry” or their, “final chance.” In my efforts to dig deeper to understand the psyche & facts supporting this desperate, final charge into 2010, I’ve uncovered the following recurring themes:

External themes:

  1. They perceive they have absolutely zero professional referral partnerships.
  2. They do not follow-up or further cultivate relationships.
  3. They do not belong to any groups, clubs, associations, networking groups, etc.
  4. They do not ask for business.

Internal themes:

  1. They are constantly comparing themselves and their business to others.
  2. Their thoughts are preoccupied with worry, loss and lack of…
  3. They do not read, listen to or engage in forms of positive re-focusing.
  4. They feel alone, that no one can help them, that they must do it all by themselves.

For those of you who identify with any combination of the before-mentioned, I want to tell you, YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED RIGHT THIS MOMENT TO SUCCEED IN THIS INDUSTRY!

Here’s what I know you have:

The ability to change-You’ve done it before. Just think back over the time you have served on this earth. There have been other times of uncertainty, fear, isolation,…loss. You do not suffer those times any longer. At some point you began to laugh again, to create again, to accept a new way of doing things and to even embrace it.

The power to create- Think about all you have brought into creation, the careers, the ideas, the documents, the systems, the possessions, the friends, the children and the innumerous times you’ve re-created YOU? Your drawing board is still here.

The courage to act-What was it like when you first decided to leap into the mortgage arena? Did your business cards, marketing items, customers, knowledge, etc., simply appear out of your intentions? Or were there a series of baby steps and sometimes, gargantuan steps that you took that got your business off the ground? You couldn’t  do things the same old way that you had done them in the past, right? You’ve taken action in the face of many unknowns and uncertainties and you CAN do it again. Now, is no different.

Your well of worth runs deep. All of that glorious creativity and courage to change and take action are still within you, I promise you. You are a being blessed with a miraculous power to live a life exactly how you imagine.

Instead of imagining this year as your, “last ditch effort” imagine it as your year on the road to your greatest victories.

The struggles you perceive today do not define who you are or what you are capable of accomplishing. At some point in 2010, you WILL look back and all that you feared most will simply be a small blip on the radar of life. It will not hold you captive any longer.

Your choices from this moment forward, from day to day, hour to hour are the only things that you have 100% say-so over. Do not assign “bad” “good” “worthy” “unworthy” to those choices, no one else will. Give your mind peace and your heart hope, no one else can give this to you.

Here’s to all of the battle-weary, scared & scarred…Victory is well on its way, just over the next hill, your comrades know you WILL make it.

Still Don't Have a Business Plan?

January 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

j0438543Yep, it’s THAT time of the year again. Time to put aside a half or full day for some serious consideration of how you intend to grow your mortgage practice in 2010.

Being that I’ve been working with mortgage professionals and their business planning efforts for five years now, I can say, without blushing, I have some expert advice to share on this matter.

Sometimes you’ve got to creep-up on the business of business planning

What I mean is, if you tell yourself,

“Self, we’re going to spend all day today devising our business plan for 2010 and we’re gonna do it by ourselves, locked up in our office, with a blank Word doc or giant whiteboard as our business planning canvas.”

Likely what will happen is your “Self” will get cold feet, create reasons and emergencies and must-dos to keep you from what your subconscious sees as an enormous and brain-draining task.

To combat this, try a business planning warm-up exercise. Just stick one toe into the icy cold water to start. Here’s an exercise that I share with my own coaching clients who feel anxious about beginning the process: I CAN Plan Business ACTION Planning Primer

group meetingBuddy-up with other like-minded Mortgage Professionals

Going it alone truly does decrease the likelihood that one will finish his/her plan. Remember the old saying, “No one succeeds alone!”

Buddy up with 2 or 3 other goal-oriented, enthusiastic mortgage professionals in your area. Set a date and place, preferably NOT in your office or theirs and keep the agenda simple.

Here are 5 business foundations to consider as you begin to brainstorm your goals as a group:

  1. Time Management
  2. Marketing & Lead Generation
  3. Database Management
  4. Building Business Referral Partnerships
  5. Tracking/Metrics

Be specific with your goals and simplistic with your process

Creating dynamic, detailed, action-driven goals is the MOST important aspect of your business plan. All of our excitement, hope and renewed energy comes from the act of creation and creativity. Don’t just stop with a goal like:

Develop methods to cultivate my new business referral relationships.

Take it to the next level with actionable items like:

  1. Invite 5 of my new business referral partners to meet at my office on a quarterly basis as a Mastermind group.Rotate who will set the agenda and lead the group.
  2. Locate and schedule to attend at least 3 business growth seminars, workshops, or presentations per year. Call all of my referral partners to let them know about the event, and for those who agree to go to the event, host a dinner party immediately after to discuss take-aways and each person’s implementation strategy.
  3. Invite my new referral partners to join, and offer to write a recommendation for the ones who accept the invitation.

Pink HighlighterAlways set target action dates for all of the activities you must engage  in, in order to accomplish your goals. Looking at the year ahead can feel daunting. Decide when you’ll start on certain goals by quarter, first. Then take it down to months within the quarter and then finally into the week of that month you have designated as your target action date. Whatever you do, DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. Prioritizing your goals and getting them into your calendar drives a significantly higher percentage of success than passively keeping your goals in a workbook.

There are dozens of seminars, software applications and workbooks with CDs & DVDS on the topic of business planning, all of which can cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars. Much of the content and instruction is complicated and quite frankly, overkill, for what is needed in order to develop an effective plan.

What you need:

  1. Very specific, actionable goals WRITTEN DOWN.
  2. All goals and specific action steps prioritized into your Outlook, ACT, Franklin Covey or other favorite calendar tool.
  3. “Buddies” with whom you can share best practices and brainstorm goals.
  4. An accountability partner that you meet with once or twice a month, without fail, for the entire year.

However you attack the business of business planning, just remember, it’s personal and will drive certain emotions and this is precisely WHY many professionals do not engage in the process even though they know they should.

It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious, conflicted or overwhelmed when sitting down to write your goals and action plan. As the old saying goes, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Your business, your family and most importantly, YOU are worth the effort.

So Wait – this stuff actually works?????

January 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Ok, so I’ve been working on my goals for 2010 and have started implementing some of the easy, low hanging fruit.

First off, per Mark Madsen’s suggestion I have upped my social networking presence. I think I answered one post on Zillow and 2 weeks ago a client popped up that told me he had stopped looking for a home over 1.5 years ago. Turns out he started looking again, was approved by 2 other mortgage companies but saw my post on Zillow and sent me a contact from there. Long story short – we’re closing his loan next week!

Now, the flip side of that story is “Shame on me!!!”. Shame on me for not having an automated program to keep in touch with folks like this potential buyer. I’m lucky that he remembered me (I’d like to think it’s all of the value and education I provided but let’s face it- I’m lucky he found me).

That feeds into one of my other easy goals for the year: Getting some automated marketing out to my existing and past clients and more for my referral partners. I had to be honest – I was AWFUL at this. Again, I was lucky that my clients really feel strongly about me because I do get a lot of referrals from past clients but how many opportunities did I miss because I didn’t have an easy, automated program in place.

So yesterday I powered through and started with an easy exercise. I entered my database of closed loans from this year into Platinum Plus (I actually figured out how to do that on my own – it was pretty easy!).

On the very evening that the initial ‘Thank You’ and ‘here’s the info you should expect over the coming months’ email that went out I had 3 responses from clients with ‘Thank you’ emails of their own. That may not seem like a big deal to all of you but this is something that I’ve been trying to do for years and the elation of getting it done and seeing instant results was great. Maybe it’s just me.

Now, the reality is that 4 people on my list were already being emailed by other Platinum Plus members. While I was very excited to get the program started I was also more than a bit upset that some of my great clients and referral partners are already spoken for by someone else. I KNOW I missed a refi and boy am I ticked – I really did a lot to help this couple buy a home when their loan was declined elsewhere and they went with someone else for their refi. Grrr, well guess what? That was MY fault. You’re welcome to the LO that got that deal – I really rolled the red carpet out for you on that one by not keeping in better touch with them and you deserve it. Lesson learned.

Leave it to me to identify the pain in this situation when there are so many positive takeaways. That’s just my process. If I only look at the silver lining I know I won’t adapt and learn. The hard stuff is what motivates me so I tend to focus on that.

I’ve also started a letter campaign for every client. A 3 year program where I only need to set and forget it once. Mark Green’s is a great place to set something like this up. Holiday cards were a simple click and the 3 year card program is the same. Done.

Will any of this replace the calls, the personal approach, etc.? Definitely not. But I only have so many hours in the day and this really helps leverage some additional contact that is paying dividends already. And guess what? I barely know what the heck I’m doing with this stuff. That’s how easy it is!

It took about a day of work that I needed to carve out so I did a lot of this while on conference calls and I’ve already gotten the responses to show for that work – I love instant gratification

So if you are putting things like this off my suggest is – DON’T. It’s very little effort, money and time but should yield some great results.

Thanks again to the Marks and Mr. Egeberg for reminding us about our BHAGS (Big Hairy Audacious GoalS)!!!

Now go get some easy, effective work done – and start with the low hanging fruit!

Go Completely Mental

December 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Not only, “Tis the season to be jolly,” but I say, “Tis the season to go mental!” It’s nearly impossible to avoid it anyway, right? Just about the time when the leaves wither and fall and the afternoons turn in early, our attention starts to turn as well. Our thoughts move inward and we settle into a gentle reverie, contemplating the meaning of life and recalling what’s dear and important to us. Many of us unconsciously look for an outlet, and many times, it’s a creative one like painting, journaling or photography.

There are plenty of well-documented theories on why the change of seasons directly impacts our state of mind. However, what I believe would be more impactful than reading about the cause is discussing how to capitalize on the effect!

First, let’s illustrate the two avenues people take when they “go mental” during the colder months. There’s the group that searches out creative outlets and there’s the group that stews in their ruminations.

You may recall a brisk December day when you came home to find your significant other curled up in a blanket, staring out into the backyard. You, being the concerned and sensitive partner that you are ask, “Honey, is everything ok?” And your partner, having gone mental, responds without turning to look at you, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about a lot of things…” Unfortunately, the outlet for the “Stew In It” group tends to be the unsuspecting partner.

On the flip side, you may recall a brisk December day when you came home to find your significant other curled up in a blanket at the kitchen table with family photos strewn about, scrapbooking tools at the ready. Or, perhaps your partner had pulled the table saw out from the garage or the paints and paint brushes that had been in the closet since last year. And you, being the interested and curious partner that you are ask, “Honey, what are you up to?” And your partner, having gone mental, responds by looking at you with enthusiasm sparkling in their eyes and says, “I just got this crazy urge to….” (you fill in the blank).

We know instinctively what comes next in both of the above scenarios. So which avenue do you want to pursue?

I believe that allowing ourselves some creative play during this contemplative time of year can ignite and inspire our career and personal aspirations. For most businesses, the winter months dictate a slowing-down period. What better opportunity to release your creative genius and tap into a part of your brain that mostly lies dormant the rest of the year?

So, what can you do right now to draw the best out of this winter “moodscape”?

Like everything else in life, it boils down to choice, which further boils down to conscious effort. Here’s an exercise to get you conscious about your choices. For the best possible outcome, invite your significant other to do this exercise as well.

Select 5 creative activities that you can engage in once a week throughout the winter:

  • Journal
  • Photography
  • Scrap-booking
  • Create a skit with your kids
  • Pencil sketch
  • Play a board game
  • Write poetry
  • Photography
  • Create a skit with your kids
  • Paint
  • Write a letter to a friend
  • Create bead jewelry
  • Blueprint your dream home
  • Crotchet/knit/sew
  • Do a science experiment
  • Create a new logo
  • Write a song
  • Play an instrument
  • Create a new chili recipe
  • Build a house of cards
  • Do a puzzle
  • Make & name your own beer
  • Create a vision board
  • Write a sermon for church
  • Sculpt with clay
  • Write a family newsletter
  • Rearrange your furniture
  • Build a blanket fort with your kids
  • Bake and decorate a cake

Of course, these are just examples to help get your creative ideas popping. Once you have selected the activities that you will engage in, put them into your calendar and treat them like any appointment you wouldn’t dare miss.

By taking advantage of this seasonal phenomenon and engaging the creative mind, we set off a domino effect that leads to more ingenious problem solving, negotiating, strategic planning and brainstorming in our business lives.

The following famous quotes capture the importance of unleashing one’s creative brilliance.

Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

The ability to convert ideas into things is the secret to outward success.
-Henry Ward Beecher

Imagination is more important than knowledge. – Albert Einstein

What if,  instead of giving your boss a 20-page sales plan, you gave her a 30×40 Vision Board instead? How about having your team “Show-n-Tell” their goals during their next performance review? You might be thinking, ‘Has she gone completely mental?’ Yes, yes, I have and though I cannot predict where this creative landscape will take me or you, I know that it will provide solutions, new perspectives and limitless rewards.

I invite you this season to succumb to your creative genius, unleash the possibilities and enjoy going completely mental! I promise that your significant other will thank you for it.

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