“As frustrating as it may be” on the Wrong Side of the Bubble, the Bearish Position Remains Right

blammo at VREAA yesterday [24 Jan 2011] taunted the Vancouver RE bear ‘Choir’ for having been wrong for so long -
“I often wonder if more people have been hurt by bear blogs (selling too soon/not buying), than will benefit from them due to future market corrections.”

This is a familiar and expected criticism. We acknowledged to blammo that it has indeed felt silly being wrong for so long, but pointed out that this is simply what happens in bubbles. Bears look silly until they suddenly look right. It is easy to point out that anybody could have made a fortune flipping condos or westside lots, but we know that all markets are made up with an almost infinite number of coulda-shoulda-woulda situations, in retrospect.

Despite being wrong for this long, our outlook remains the same. And, no, this is not out of stubbornness, or out of insanity, but quite simply because there is no information out there that causes us to change our view. The vast chasm between Vancouver RE pricing and fundamentals remains astonishing. In fact, we see even more downside for the market as it goes from very overextended to uber-overextended. Fifty percent price drops become even more likely.

David Rosenberg, by coincidence, has some relevant comments in his ‘Breakfast with Dave’ missive today [25 Jan 2010]. He is, of course, talking about the currently overextended stock market, but the principles are very similar:
“As frustrating as it may be to have been focused on risk-adjusted returns as opposed to gross nominal returns, to have been managing the downside risks and preserving capital rather than chase a mostly speculative run, it is more advantageous to be positioned tactically to take advantage of any corrections or price dislocations that occur over the near- or intermediate-term that are part and parcel of all markets, especially ones that have over-run the inherent fundamentals.”

There you have it. That is why sensible managers of their own funds have not bought into the Vancouver RE market for the last 3, 5 or even 7 years. They have seen how much our RE market has ‘over-run the inherent fundamentals’, and have decided not to participate in a ‘speculative run’ with a significant portion of their own net worth. This is not to be confused with risk aversion. All good investors and speculators have to take risk. But the ones who do well through their investing lifetimes are the ones who take calculated risks, when the odds are on their side. Pointing out that people have made money in Vancouver RE in the last 5 years is like pointing out that a cowboy walked up to a roulette table, put all of his money on a number, and his number came up. And then another cowboy did the same thing, and another. Does this change the way one approaches roulette? Do you line up with the cowboys? No. Sensible people avoid roulette altogether as, over the long term, you can be assured of losing.
Yes, it is ‘frustrating’ for bears as the RE run continues, but memories of this frustration will pale into insignificance when compared with the relentless and ongoing pain of being on the wrong side of the bubble collapse. That collapse has the potential to wipe out many, and to severely impede the financial health of even more for decades. Not to mention the broader adverse effects on our society, that we will all be forced to sustain.
Until the price drops commence, we’ll admit we look foolish. But we fully expect that to be a temporary position.
-vreaa

63 responses to ““As frustrating as it may be” on the Wrong Side of the Bubble, the Bearish Position Remains Right

  1. It will benefit to be a bear if you see the collapsing prices go below what you were willing to pay for a home back in 2006 or whenever. If this run up continues and there is a crash of greater than 50% you may still be paying more for that home in several years than you did back in 2006 when you first had the opportunity to buy. Waiting can be a gamble in itself.

    • Any position has upside and downside risk, and, yes, waiting is a position.

    • My premise is that the average buyer who has been waiting since 2008 won’t pay 2006 prices as they will be too scared or greedy (waiting for prices to go lower) and will end up paying 2008 prices in 2013 (or whenever we get ‘The Correction’).

      The 2008 buyer will have made 5 years of payments against principle at low interest rates while the 2013 buyer will have accumulated 5 years of savings at low interest rates.

      People talk about ‘backing up the truck’ and buying the lows in the stock markets but they never do.

      • Dunno why you think that the alternative to RE is “savings with low interest rates”, blammo. There’s an entire world of investments out there. A good portfolio is diversified.

  2. Being wrong 90% of the time is not clever, it’s just wrong. A stopped clock is right twice a day. It would appear that all markets, everywhere, are driven by momentum only. Fundamentals have almost no effect on valuations. There exists only relative value – anyone looking for absolute value would never invest. All this indicates to me is that money is worthless, and the best use of time may be anything but working. After all, a good education and average job isn’t going to get you into the middle class. A better job isn’t going to change your life. Far better to do what you want to do, although that may mean chasing opportunities elsewhere.

    Show of hands: who thinks the average person can make it in Vancouver? Or how about in any society where assets appreciate exponentially and wages stagnate? Over time that evolves into feudalism. If you’re caught in it, you really ought to go somewhere else. Hint: find somewhere where wages are increasing.

    • Talking about leave Vancouver, here I am!
      I’ve just left a couple of weeks ago (still addicted to a few RE blog though!). I’m back in good old Europe where I got a job offer I couldn’t refuse. I’m living in a very expensive city (London) but with a much better salary, and it’s a truly world class city. I don’t know when/if I’m going to come back to Vancouver. One thing for sure, I won’t go back for as long as the RE prices are so ridiculously high… I had a great time in Vancouver, I have a lot of friends there. But the prospect of not being able to afford a house without gambling my entire future is not for me. I’m now in London, being able to save so much more (groceries are so much cheaper here!). I may go back when I have a nice down-payment and if RE prices are back to sanity. Otherwise, thanks but no thanks. I can go and ski in the Alps…

    • Actually, rp1, Vanc RE bears have essentially been wrong more like 100% of the time, thus far.
      As we’ve said, that’s what happens in a bubble, while it’s still inflating.

      Your take on momentum-over-fundamentals only applies to trending markets.
      Those who have done the best over the last decade have taken up positions in a contrarian fashion when asset prices are at extremes in terms of underlying fundamental values: sell tech in 1999-2000, buy gold/commodities in 2000, sell US housing in 2006, sell Vancouver housing 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011…
      So, fundamentals remain central.

    • Being wrong 90% of the time is not clever, it’s just wrong.

      If the only answer is right or wrong, you’re right. But the markets are much more complex with many variables that can influence the timing of the outcome.

      If I tell you: “You will die one day.” Are you telling me I am wrong too? Because, after all, you’re still alive, so by your logic I am wrong in my assertion.

      A stopped clock is right twice a day. It would appear that all markets, everywhere, are driven by momentum only. Fundamentals have almost no effect on valuations.

      That’s certainly been true for the last 20 years, but not in the least because of all the financial engineering that was done by Greenspan and his disciples. If you look at earlier times the markets had more than one hard impact with fundamentals and reality. The next one will be a bone shaking, if not crushing, one.

      There exists only relative value – anyone looking for absolute value would never invest. All this indicates to me is that money is worthless, and the best use of time may be anything but working. After all, a good education and average job isn’t going to get you into the middle class. A better job isn’t going to change your life. Far better to do what you want to do, although that may mean chasing opportunities elsewhere.

      Certainly, the economic system that has brought a lot of imaginary wealth to us is also deceiving us. But if you realize this, why do you still think that reality will have no bearing?

      You need to take a longer look (as should many) rather than only accept what is right in front of your nose.

      Show of hands: who thinks the average person can make it in Vancouver?

      Define “Making it”. You mean live the Canadian dream of owning the big house, the 2 1/2 kids and the two cars in the drive way? Very few, at least without debt. Live in town though and find their own definition of happiness? Quite a few, though ironically enough I noted that for most of these people it involves spending as much time away from here as possible.

      Or how about in any society where assets appreciate exponentially and wages stagnate? Over time that evolves into feudalism. If you’re caught in it, you really ought to go somewhere else. Hint: find somewhere where wages are increasing.

      Good luck with finding that. The wages have almost everywhere decreased. We’re in the midst of a ponzi scheme of a size the world has never seen. Eventually it will fall in on itself, regardless of what those in power try to do to prevent it. How it will affect each individual is the big question at the end of the day but time will tell on that too.

      But good luck fighting gravity, we haven’t reached escape velocity, what our financial engineers have done instead is recalibrate the speedometer to fool people into thinking they can make it.

      • have you read “The global economic pyramid scheme” by Kalle Lasn?
        Says it all.

      • If you die before the reality/market crashes, you are wrong.

        I completely agree with your premise on financial engineering but I don’t want to argue about ‘reality’ with the dealer in Vegas. And we are all in Vegas.

        You can’t afford to not play the game. Are equities safe? Bonds? Cash?

        Precious metals? Maybe…

  3. pricedoutfornow

    I may be wrong, I may look stupid, but I definitely don’t look as dumb as my friends who speculated on Olympic condos and now have to rent them out for $1000 less a month than the mortgage payment. Thanks, I think I’d rather look stupid for not buying than look stupid for making a move like that and screwing up my whole future.

  4. A financial commentator recently said, “Bubbles often outlast the careers of the people predicting them.” Over many years of being consistently wrong I have learned that it doesn’t matter what I think is sensible, all that matters is what most people think is sensible. I can look at fundamentals and say real estate is overpriced. I might even be right, but if everyone else is piling in it doesn’t matter if, in an abstract sense, I’m right because in a real sense I will still be wrong. Predicting markets is more pop psychology than science. It is further complicated by the fact that governments intervene. 2008 demonstrated that we were right all along until the government intervened with the lowest interest rates in the history of Canada and the market turned around. It’s tough to be a bear.

  5. Wow vreaa. Anyone who thinks a 4% cap on a Vancouver condo is a good investment needs a chromosome donation.

  6. this is a good therapy progress! you admitted it of having been felt silly for so long. but dont fall back to the old silly comfort zone. snap out of it and be happy with the rest of the world.

  7. Fred is projecting his own misery on others.

  8. yes Mike, bear blogs are good places for misery people to comfort one anothers.

  9. I kept having this impulse to call David Lereah up to ask him if he had sold any copies of his “Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust” book lately.
    I wonder if he started a support group for ex-bulls of the US RE market.

  10. David Rosenberg is lookin’ pretty stressed and ragged these days. Justified or not, the S&P is flirting with 1300 now and is up almost 100% from the spring 2009 lows (not even two years ago). I have said all along that there are other forces at play here and that this is essentially a rigged, fantasyland market that is very difficult to bet against. Perhaps one day the Rosenbergs and guys like Peter Schiff will indeed be proven correct as all the tech/dotcom bears were after the Nasdaq imploded a decade ago (well, at least those that somehow managed to remain solvent). In the meantime, I wouldn’t be surprised to see TPTB continue to ramp those oh so high quality stocks like B of A, GE, AAPL, PCLN, AIG, GM etc (and keep their foot on the throats of all those gold and silver bulls even as the USD continues to plummet) and pump the markets back to (and beyond) their 2007 highs first. Finally, when the “new and improved” Lehman is successfully IPO’d and gobbled up by all the very same ma and pa investors that vowed to never again buy stocks in this market, we will have come full circle.

  11. On the harmful effects of rising property prices that VREAA has warned about several times: CBC radio today runs a piece on emergency workers all living far away in the suburbs, and unable to reach the city in a timely manner, if at all, in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake.

    I have been thinking about the same problems, and wonder how much worse the severe traffic congestion we face is because people are not free to choose locations closer to where they work. More fuel is burnt off, less time is used for work or leisure. Of course, if everyone works in the same sort of core area then not everyone can live nearby.

    But talking of misallocation of resources: Shouldn’t this “world class” city put in a maglev high speed train track running from downtown to the middle of some fields in, say, Langley? It would take around 7 minutes one way, as a rough guesstimate based on my rides on the airport shuttle in Shanghai and the Shinkansen in Japan. Then, developers could build self-contained communities with shops and leisure/community centres all within walking distances of peoples’ homes. Bam! several millions of barrels of oil saved; several minutes of lives spared the rush hour commute hell.

    • Your comment brings to mind this quote from the ‘Renters’ sidebar post (from the Vancouver Sun 26 May 2010):
      “Gord Ditchburn, president of the Vancouver Firefighters Union, told The Sun one reason there may not be more names on the list is that most firefighters are already established in their own homes by the time they are hired, at an average age of between 29 and 30 years old. “Most of our guys want to own, not rent,” Ditchburn said. “I think that’s the Canadian dream.”

      • What a load of crappy crap crap. Rent, or better yet get in a cooperative. There are hundreds of rental listings in Vancouver alone; commute not necessary.

      • fair point.

      • But I will add in their defense, that to get a three bedroom coop is incredibly difficult and usually takes years on a waiting list. As many other posters have pointed out, for a families with kids, suitable rentals are not as easy to come by as are basement suites, nor are they as cheap.

      • It’s tricky but it’s possible to sign long-term leases as well. You pay a premium, it takes a bit of searching, and you might need some minor legal advice, but these types of contracts are out there.

        I remember hearing stories 20 years ago of the City lamenting that police could no longer afford to live in certain west side neighbourhoods. Those stories ebbed from the media for a while, only now to return. I know UBC offers new professors an allowance to purchase property close to the university. Your donations hard at work.

    • There is no desire to build public transit in the lower mainland, at least not a working one.

      White Elephants like the Canada Line (way undersized) or the Skytrain extension to UBC are what they want to build, regardless if it makes sense or not.

      That Translink is a Schizophrenic organization that has to cater both to public transit AND cars just reinforces the point.

      Last year on the Trankslink blog I asked why there is no Park & Ride at the Skytrain stations. They got back to me with an answer from the Engineering department, the answer? “We never thought of it”.

      Think about it, if Translink cannot even think of P&R what are the odds that they can build a well integrated public transit system? It’s a combination of patches with decent coverage and a lot of nothing.

      A girl I know who works on her Masters in Urban Planning at UBC told me last year that without a doubt within a decade the only decent public transit will be in Vancouver proper, unless some serious changes are being made in the way public transit is perceived, but she wasn’t very hopeful about that.

      And it also make sense. As everybody here dreams of their own house in the ‘burbs they also dream of being able to drive everywhere, regardless of the long term prospects.

      This is why I think we’re so seriously fucked, because by the time people realize the need for change it will be too late, it takes decades to build a well working public infrastructure and it costs serious $$$$. We’re broke, we haven’t even started and even worse: We continue down the wrong path.

  12. Agree 100%. I have been fortunate enough to live in 6 major world cities with transit infrastructures that kicked the pants off owning a car, and visit countless others. I never owned a car before coming here. Greater vancouver transit is a joke, and a bad one at that; but making improvements would be akin to gutting a house to replace the wiring and plumbing = major dollars, major headache for residents. Extremely unlikely to occur. My proposed least painful solution was to replace highway 1 with said bullet train and simply rebuild.

    The other alternative, which is coming, is the electric car. They don’t burn fuel while idling at lights or in traffic, and will cover 95% of all vancouverites’ commutes before plugging in at home or work. The jams will still exist, but their economic burden will be diminished.

    • or wait… that’s not least painful at all, it’s just a fantasy based on the illusion that the “hippie dippies” here actually give a shit, and that this is a “world class” city with the clout and wherewithal to join tokyo, london, amsterdam, florence, paris, etc etc etc
      oh nevermind i give up. At least this place wins first prize in self delusion.

      • I have to stop with all these self-replies but whadeva, here goes… VERY off-topic as far as RE is concerned, but I have one more gripe:

        what’s up with the vitriolic hatred of anyone who is on a bicycle? Don’t you realize that every bike on the roads means one less car, which means more road for you? Can’t we please have a more civilized attitude toward people who, at great personal risk, are doing the right thing for everyone’s benefit?

      • what’s up with the vitriolic hatred of anyone who is on a bicycle? Don’t you realize that every bike on the roads means one less car, which means more road for you? Can’t we please have a more civilized attitude toward people who, at great personal risk, are doing the right thing for everyone’s benefit?

        I see this as tribal thinking in part. Essentially: If you ride a bike you’re a “do good nothing” type of person who “freeloads” on the poor, hard working blue collar type who needs their car to make a living / drive the kids around (because they live in bumfuck because they wanted the big house).

        At least that’s the public reason. Personally I think the reason why there is such an anti-bike / change attitude here (and in other parts, just look at Toronto to get a similar whiff) is that people are afraid. They know things will change for the worse (or already are) and they try to find someone to blame. See the remarks about Chinese immigrants (or immigrants in general) or the cyclist who has a “war on cars”.

        I do mostly walk, bike or bus it (roughly in that order) and the attitude of car drivers over the last two years or so has really changed for the worse.

        Expect more of this to come though, as people will struggle with their choices they will try to blame someone, anyone, to explain their own misery.

        On that note: A friend got pulled over the other day by a cop for not wearing a helmet. Apparently the cops now have to issue a ticket and no longer have discretion about it. I am pretty sure that came down from Robertson to “appease” the car driving public who likes nothing more but moaning about irresponsible cyclists who don’t wear helmets (right, as if a passive safety device is going to keep you safe. Bike helmets are essentially useless unless you haven’t figured out yet that you need to put at least one foot down when standing still). I wish the city would crack down on all the car drivers who regularly cut off pedestrians, run stop signs and make illegal turns on red. The Westend alone would probably net enough fines to plaster the city in dedicated bike lanes.

        Okay, now I am ranting too ;)

      • @Michael:
        “I see this as tribal thinking in part. Essentially: If you ride a bike you’re a “do good nothing” type of person who “freeloads” on the poor, hard working blue collar type who needs their car to make a living / drive the kids around (because they live in bumfuck because they wanted the big house).

        At least that’s the public reason. Personally I think the reason why there is such an anti-bike / change attitude here (and in other parts, just look at Toronto to get a similar whiff) is that people are afraid. They know things will change for the worse (or already are) and they try to find someone to blame. See the remarks about Chinese immigrants (or immigrants in general) or the cyclist who has a “war on cars”.

        I do mostly walk, bike or bus it (roughly in that order) and the attitude of car drivers over the last two years or so has really changed for the worse.

        Expect more of this to come though, as people will struggle with their choices they will try to blame someone, anyone, to explain their own misery.”

        Good analysis my friend, as always! Tribal… fear… blamemongering… that perfectly describes the fuckshits in trucks that deliberately pass within one inch of you at 80kph, whenever you are unfortunate enough to get onto a “shared” road, as well as the fat bitch who yelled at me from her F350: “Gerrrrofff the fucking road” with a nasty, snarly voice as she roared past.

      • Good analysis my friend, as always! Tribal… fear… blamemongering… that perfectly describes the fuckshits in trucks that deliberately pass within one inch of you at 80kph, whenever you are unfortunate enough to get onto a “shared” road, as well as the fat bitch who yelled at me from her F350: “Gerrrrofff the fucking road” with a nasty, snarly voice as she roared past.

        Yeah, had that too. A few years ago a 16 year old prick with his little girlfriend in the passenger seat came so close I felt the mirror of the F350 go straight over my head (I was in aero bars at that time). I went after him, caught him at the next traffic light, knocked on the window. He looked at me grinning and smug and so did the girl. He cracked the window a bit and locked the door (ha!). I told him if he ever does something like this again he better make sure I am dead in the ditch or I will bury him under his moms pickup. At that point the grin disappeared and he looked scared. It gave me great satisfaction.

        I have had “leisurely” discussions with several car drivers over the years after I chased them down when they did similar stupid things. My attitude by now is that I am taking the entire lane, clearly you cannot trust most drivers here to be smart enough to leave you room when you try to make it easier for them to pass, so tough luck, guess you have to follow a bike instead of staring at another cars brake lights at the light.

      • yeah…. I cannot believe how little space even the good ones give as they pass you. I find myself fighting the vortex of trailing air to avoid smacking the curb and pinging out into the path of the next one. Haven’t been able to catch one yet; this was on open roads in Burnaby and Surrey WITH NO TRAFFIC JAM. Asshats. From now on I will also be taking the whole lane. Tough luck, even if its up a hill.

    • The electric car won’t bring the salvation, neither will the hydrogen one.

      Why? Because we don’t have the infrastructure in place to charge up all these vehicles, either on the generating or delivering side of things.

      As for hydrogen? We havre no way to produce it carbon neutral right now, the same goes for all these “green fuels” which mostly start their life via carbon source input. There is also that little problem that in order to carry enough hydrogene to get around you need to seriously compress it. I just can’t wait until the first car has a ruptured tank and the high pressure escaping gas turns the car into an instant furnace.

      On the plus side: Cremation may be more in style.

    • The electric grid may not be able to handle the load even if only a fraction of the cars run on electricity, especially during cold weather.
      There is no money to upgrade the grid, either.

      • The delivery infrastructure is not as thorny a prob as might seem.

        Step 1: Build oil-burning power plants wherever the gasoline comes in right now – the docks most likely – equivalent in size to kw needed for car charging.

        Step 2: Ship in diesel, or whatever is simplest burnable fuel for power stations, instead of gasoline. Has to go less far since you don’t need to truck it to individual gas stations. Just burn it right there at the docks.

        Step 3: Burn said fuel in power station at 70% efficiency versus 30% in cars. Pump the other 20% of heat losses into a centralised hot water piping system straight to peoples’ apartments, like the one found in Helsinki and many other cities.

        Step 4: charge cars AT HOME and AT THE OFFICE. Don’t tell me they don’t have outlets at both those places. I am not an electrician, but I would bet the carrying capacity of the copper wiring in power lines does not need upgrading to accommodate all those extra electrons running through at night.

        Step 5: Enjoy all the benefits of 90% efficiency at the motor, and 90% at the power plant. Burn 40% less oil than under current system, while driving same number of cars same number of kilometres annually. Burn another 10% less through not needing to forge engine casings, pistons, piston rings, valves, cams, rocker arms….. Everybody wins.

        Step 6: enjoy benefits of only one moving part in your engine, which has a 50 year replacement schedule under normal operation. Forget spark plugs, oil, coolant, ATF, ignition wires, seals etc etc etc. Collect benefits of freed labour capacity to create better healthcare, education, housing, infrastructure, agriculture, and so forth. Recycle lithium in batteries when they need replacing, or simply recycle lead acid batteries which are over 90% recyclable even today.

        You think the Realturds are good at misinformation? Haha, you ain’t seen nothing compared with the automoilbile complex.

      • The delivery infrastructure is not as thorny a prob as might seem.

        Step 1: Build oil-burning power plants wherever the gasoline comes in right now – the docks most likely – equivalent in size to kw needed for car charging.

        Good luck with that. The NIBMY’s will eat you for lunch.

        Step 2: Ship in diesel, or whatever is simplest burnable fuel for power stations, instead of gasoline. Has to go less far since you don’t need to truck it to individual gas stations. Just burn it right there at the docks.

        You’re losing value in that though. Besides, the idea behind the electric car is to get away from fossil fuels, not shift the burning of them.

        In the case of the lower mainland burning it in a powerplant won’t do the ones up in the valley any good either. If it comes out of a car exhaust or out of a furnace, it’l still smog in the valley.

        Step 3: Burn said fuel in power station at 70% efficiency versus 30% in cars. Pump the other 20% of heat losses into a centralised hot water piping system straight to peoples’ apartments, like the one found in Helsinki and many other cities.

        Possible, but unlikely. Firstly the NIMBYs, secondly where would you like to build it? We would need to bury thousands of kilometres of pipes to make use of the waste heat and I cannot see them doing it. There is no incentive for this here.

        Step 4: charge cars AT HOME and AT THE OFFICE. Don’t tell me they don’t have outlets at both those places. I am not an electrician, but I would bet the carrying capacity of the copper wiring in power lines does not need upgrading to accommodate all those extra electrons running through at night.

        The transmission lines are one thing, but you would need to upgrade the wiring in the buildings as well, first the feeder lines (especially in Office buildings) and secondly within the building / parking garage. Who is going to pay for that? The businesses? Unlikely.

        Step 5: Enjoy all the benefits of 90% efficiency at the motor, and 90% at the power plant. Burn 40% less oil than under current system, while driving same number of cars same number of kilometres annually. Burn another 10% less through not needing to forge engine casings, pistons, piston rings, valves, cams, rocker arms….. Everybody wins.

        Yes and no. A study recently completed pointed out that if we convert everything to electric motors we’re running into other problems. Mainly rare earth metals and copper.

        We have been so wasteful in the past 100 years with no regard to the future that we have painted ourselves into a really fine corner.

        I spent probably the last decade or so looking at all the stuff that was out there. My conclusion? The only way forward is if we go back. We would need to get back to a lifestyle as it was roughly in 1950. That includes our mobility, food etc. This will not happen voluntarily. Humans are ingenious when it comes to find means of survival, but it doesn’t mean we all have to survive and as most of us don’t act until it is literally in our face and as these projects aren’t very sexy until we need them we’re SOL.

        Step 6: enjoy benefits of only one moving part in your engine, which has a 50 year replacement schedule under normal operation. Forget spark plugs, oil, coolant, ATF, ignition wires, seals etc etc etc. Collect benefits of freed labour capacity to create better healthcare, education, housing, infrastructure, agriculture, and so forth. Recycle lithium in batteries when they need replacing, or simply recycle lead acid batteries which are over 90% recyclable even today.

        If you find a place who does all that, let me know. I’ll move there. But I have the feeling you’ll be hard pressed finding this.

        Europe is probably the furthest along and they still have a long way to go, so does Japan.

        China seems to have noticed the signs on the wall and as they are de-facto still a dictatorship I expect them to be very quick in trying to make the switch, if they succeed or not, we’ll have to see.

        You think the Realturds are good at misinformation? Haha, you ain’t seen nothing compared with the automoilbile complex.

        Both RE and pretty much any other big industry lives off of one very simple fact: People are lazy, don’t want to do things unless they are utterly forced to. We have at least three generations out there that have zero idea on how fragile and harsh life is, we’ve been coddled with our iPods, central heating and strawberries in the middle of January. Trying to take this away is akin of trying to take a pacifier out of a babies mouth. You can try, but you won’t like the consequences.

      • oh yes, and don’t forget the industrial scrubbers that make the emissions from oil burning power plant clean enough to pipe into your garage. Compare that to point-source pollution from hundreds of thousands of cars, with the beaters among them, burning almost double the quantity of oil… but of course some whiny NIMBYs will never be able to accept that clean burning power stations are far, far cleaner and more efficient than their rainforest green Lexuses.

  13. Michael,
    Respectfully, I have to disagree with you on several points. First the shifitng of the burning and still smogging up the valley. Yes, still smogging, but at least 50% less. All my figures are conservative, and it is no secret that large power stations convert fossil fuels into energy many many times more cleanly and efficiently than a fleet of little internal combustion engines scurrying through the city. We can reduce consumption of those fossil fuels drastically, and clean up the air, all in one stroke.

    People have no idea how many barrels of oil it takes to manufacture and all the components needed to manufacture and keep running an internal combustion engine. AC motors manufactured in 1950s are still being used today in workshop band saws and compressors all over the city. An AC motor egnerating the equivalent of 130 hp weighs just 100lbs, and uses many times less energy to manufacture and maintain.

    All the lead in lead acid batteries is reused for more batteries. The rest is just minerals; primarily the same ones found in household salt; water, and plastic casing. They are all recycled this very day. None are thrown away. There is NO rare earth metal problem with lead acid batteries. Are they sufficient? check this out:

    http://www.metricmind.com/ac_honda/main.htm

    check these conversions out:

    http://www.evalbum.com/

    and finally, I could go to Home Depot today and have an extension cord run out to my car at the office. It ain’t rocket science; cars do not necessarily need 220 volts to charge; even if they did; so do washing machines and driers. It ain’t a big problem.

    • Michael,
      Respectfully, I have to disagree with you on several points.

      That’s fine :)

      First the shifitng of the burning and still smogging up the valley. Yes, still smogging, but at least 50% less. All my figures are conservative, and it is no secret that large power stations convert fossil fuels into energy many many times more cleanly and efficiently than a fleet of little internal combustion engines scurrying through the city. We can reduce consumption of those fossil fuels drastically, and clean up the air, all in one stroke.

      Yes and no. The problem is that a power plant cannot simply be turned on or off like a small little car engine.

      Essentially, the larger the powerplant (read engine), the more “ramp up” time it needs. There are some sophisticated models out there that allow for example BC Hydro et. al. to “model” energy need and plan on when to bring on additional plants or import (or export) energy to other areas as needed.

      Now, if we go with your plan we need to build either many small plants or a few very large ones. Both have downsides:

      - Small plants: You will be less efficient but more flexible to react to power demands.
      - Large plants: More efficient but you will create waste because you will need to run the plant also during off peak times.

      Additionally: If we have people plug their cars in at home and at work then we will most likely not be seeing any peaks and valleys in power consumption which would require the plants to run continuously even if we don’t need all of the output at a certain time.

      People have no idea how many barrels of oil it takes to manufacture and all the components needed to manufacture and keep running an internal combustion engine. AC motors manufactured in 1950s are still being used today in workshop band saws and compressors all over the city. An AC motor egnerating the equivalent of 130 hp weighs just 100lbs, and uses many times less energy to manufacture and maintain.

      I am not dissing the electric motor, I am just saying that there are much bigger problems than just finding a place to plug in the car to charge it.

      All the lead in lead acid batteries is reused for more batteries. The rest is just minerals; primarily the same ones found in household salt; water, and plastic casing. They are all recycled this very day. None are thrown away. There is NO rare earth metal problem with lead acid batteries. Are they sufficient? check this out:

      Lead Acid is “dead” as far as cars go. The energy density isn’t there plus they weight a ton. There are other battery technologies either available or in development that should overcome some of the current limitations though.

      and finally, I could go to Home Depot today and have an extension cord run out to my car at the office. It ain’t rocket science; cars do not necessarily need 220 volts to charge; even if they did; so do washing machines and driers. It ain’t a big problem.

      Again, the problem is not charging the car itself, it’s how we:

      a.) Generate the electricity to charge the car.
      b.) How we distribute that electricity

      It is one thing to have a bunch of people doing EV conversions and charging them at work and something completely different to convert the millions of cars on BCs roads into EVs and do the same. :)

      • Agreed on several of your points this time! Now we are getting into the more nuanced nitty gritty…
        I was aware of the ramping up and down issue. I have a relative who was VP of the world’s second largest diesel power station manufacturer; he once gave me the lowdown.

        Have you heard of the systems and models being developed in Europe (sorry – no link – was in a science magazine not published in English) that enable the power supplying utility to control the charging rate of EVs to put their charge back into,as well as out of the grid while they are parked and not being used, effectively creating a reservoir to help soften temporary surges and depressions in demand? I don’t recall much more of the detail, though I still have the publication somewhere here.

        And if the demand is fairly continuous, night and day, then the ramping up issue is easily avoided. Continuous operation would then be an asset, not a disadvantage as you indicated.

        It was glib to indicate that all this electricity should come from fossil fuels, but I did it to emphasize the point that we could burn coal and still be cleaner than cars. Of course, trying for a combination of geothermal, wave, wind, solar, etc. wherever they are an efficient application would reduce the demand further.

        I would also add that there are several sophisticated solutions to the rise and fall of demand that have been applied to grids the world over, and could be used to level the demand from power stations to avoid switching off and on: examples:
        1)massive flywheels. No. I am not kidding; they can store huge amounts of energy.
        2) water towers. When demand is low, excess energy pumps water level up. When demand peaks, water flows through turbines driving generators putting the energy back in.

        Lead acid skirts the rare earth metal issue; I know the hopeless energy density pales next to lithium polymers. But if you don’t have a choice… back in the 1890s trains in coal mines ran on lead acid batteries. Golf carts do just fine on them. Tried and proven technology; I think this fits nicely with your ethos of going backwards. Hell, the cars will never accelerate as fast as gas engines and still get you 100kms but f*ck, the peope of the future will be GLAD they are getting somewhere at all in a car!!!

        of course, the political and popular will to implement all these solutions are lacking, which is why they may never be implemented here first.

        Scandinavia on the other hand… I place the probability as greater than even that we will see energy break out from fossil fuel dependence and sensible levels of consumption by the populace.

        If it’ just the fossil fuels we care about, then simply insulating and airtightening our houses in North America to higher R values, same as, say, Sweden, will reduce overall consumption by a staggering 30%, IIRC.

  14. and for anyone else following our cliquey little rants: I highly recommend the links above, and especially note what a crock of shit hydrogen is as an “alternative.” Ever wondered why George w Bush was pushing for the hydrogen economy?

    If people don’t understand the science behind efficiencies of conversion, there is not much that can be said to convince them of the benefits of batteries compared with hydrogen or gasoline… but we can try.

    oooh, how about all the corner lot real estate that gets freed up because we don’t need gas stations anymore? that ought to get our visiting realtor friends’ juices flowing!!! that’s a shitload of prime acreage…

  15. Michael said:
    “Both RE and pretty much any other big industry lives off of one very simple fact: People are lazy, don’t want to do things unless they are utterly forced to. We have at least three generations out there that have zero idea on how fragile and harsh life is, we’ve been coddled with our iPods, central heating and strawberries in the middle of January. Trying to take this away is akin of trying to take a pacifier out of a babies mouth. You can try, but you won’t like the consequences.”

    Bingo. which is why we can’t all downsize to 1950s style. But we can all buy Nissan LEAFS or better still… get our existing fleet of cars converted to simple lead-acid battery based drive systems with almost no change in lifestyle. Oh, except you would still have to rent a gasoline powered car for that annual trip to visit aunties in Calgary. Trucks can keep burning the compressed natural gas till they put all the trains back.

    • Bingo. which is why we can’t all downsize to 1950s style. But we can all buy Nissan LEAFS or better still… get our existing fleet of cars converted to simple lead-acid battery based drive systems with almost no change in lifestyle. Oh, except you would still have to rent a gasoline powered car for that annual trip to visit aunties in Calgary. Trucks can keep burning the compressed natural gas till they put all the trains back.

      Sorry, but this won’t be enough. There is not enough material out there to allow us to continue to live the way we do. We HAVE to re-think on what is important and how we want to live our lives. There is no magic technology that will allow us to continue the way we have, regardless of how much greenwashing is going on.

      We can either acknowledge the fact and adapt OR we will be forced to adapt on someone (or something) else’s schedule. Really, it’s our choice but I think the masses have already spoken on this one.

      • yes, I agree with you on that one. I am still in the “let’s try to trick people by telling them they won’t have to change, then slowly force the change down the generations” stage of depleting optimism… you are further down the curve I see. shhh, don’t let the cat out of the bag or the babies will whine about the fact you are going to take some candy away.

  16. and regarding the “thousands of kilometres of piping” for the hot water – no, you just use it for the nearest condo complexes. And you can put the power generators anywhere, I was simply being facetious about doing it at the docks.

    I did not quite understand your comment about “losing value”?

    here’s another linky.

    • and regarding the “thousands of kilometres of piping” for the hot water – no, you just use it for the nearest condo complexes. And you can put the power generators anywhere, I was simply being facetious about doing it at the docks.

      You’d be surprised how many kilometres of pipe you would need to lay to get it to the buildings even if you’re close by. There is a huge cost involved, you need to dig up roads etc.

      It would easily be thousands of kilometres if you do it for every fossil fuel burning power plant we have out there, each of which would require massive amounts of digging and burying.

      As for building a power plant in the city? I’d like to see BC Hydro try, they’d be buried under so many lawsuits and “studies” they won’t be able to dig themselves out for the next 50 years.

      I did not quite understand your comment about “losing value”?

      Every raw material has a value attached to it. If you take gasoline and put it in your gastank the value proposition is that it allows you to move freely to wherever you want to.

      If you take the same fuel and put it in a power plant the value (for the individual) will be decreased as they are limited by the range of their vehicle.

      Additionally, gasoline is a “finished product” that can be used “as is” in an efficient way. Using it as an input method to create electricity or hydrogene will bring it an additional loss. And yes, I am aware of the efficiency of a modern combustion engine vs. what you can get out of a well designed power plant, but the value proposition goes beyond the mere efficiency of the process for the individual.

  17. hmmm. well, I don’t know how Helsinki managed it… regarding hot water piping…

    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article6094009.ece

    I thought we were world class here??

    and, once again excuse my glibness about burning gasoline – burning crude is obviously better as we don’t need to refine it senselessly. Burning coal is better still, and yes, it can be cleaner than cars with modern coal burners.

  18. hmmm. well, I don’t know how Helsinki managed it… regarding hot water piping…

    there is a link here, but my comment will not post with it. i will try again in a sec.

    hmmm. well, I don’t know how Helsinki managed it… regarding hot water piping…

    I have a link but the comment will not post with it… will try later.

    And, once again excuse my glibness about burning gasoline – burning crude is obviously better as we don’t need to refine it senselessly. Burning coal is better still, and yes, it can be cleaner than cars with modern coal burners.
    and, once again excuse my glibness about burning gasoline – burning crude is obviously better as we don’t need to refine it senselessly. Burning coal is better still, and yes, it can be cleaner than cars with modern coal burners.

    • hmmm. well, I don’t know how Helsinki managed it… regarding hot water piping…

      With a lot of time and money. “Fernwaerme” as it is known in Germany was introduced during the 70s as an after effect of the oil crisis (like a lot of other things that put Europe ahead of North America). In general NIMBYs are much less prone to succeed (or even try) in Europe than they are in North America, or at least were when I was young.

      And, once again excuse my glibness about burning gasoline – burning crude is obviously better as we don’t need to refine it senselessly.

      We use oil for so much more than just burning it :) Only about half of a barrel of oil is used for fuel, the other parts go in all kinds of petro-chemical processes, so burning the crude outright would be a real waste of resources.

      http://www.txoga.org/articles/308/1/WHAT-A-BARREL-OF-CRUDE-OIL-MAKES

      From Medicine to your Computer, without crude oil a lot of the things we take for granted wouldn’t exist.

      So peak oil will not only hit the pocketbook at the Gasstation but everywhere. As I said: We have to learn to do with less.

      Burning coal is better still, and yes, it can be cleaner than cars with modern coal burners.

      Yes, we have cleaner (not clean) coal but it would require the willingness to invest into it. North America is about results (in this case electricity) not about doing it right.

  19. http://business.timesonline.
    co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources
    /article6094009.ece

    paste all of the strings together to make one link.
    They make it sound easy!!

  20. lol… they’ve been laying pipe since the 1950s. I begin to see the magnitude of the problem.

    • lol… they’ve been laying pipe since the 1950s. I begin to see the magnitude of the problem.

      Bingo, if we would start on your ideas tomorrow, not be held by back any NIMBYs or pesky finances it would still be a 20 – 30 year project before we’d have it all in place.

      This is what people fail to understand. We are very quickly running out of wiggle room.

      • Ah yes, sorry, you are right about burning the crude – i forgot about all the other fractions that serve as starting materials – kind of ironic given my degree was in XXXX. DOH! slaphead! think before speak!

        Mendeleev, when he discovered what crude was, stated “this is far, far too precious to burn.”

        annnyway… what it boils down to is

        1) I agree that consumption has to diminish. We are soooo fucked when oil reserves start to dip, because agriculture is the wholesale conversion of the energy in oil into calories.

        Bye bye to plastics too.

        2) I try to focus on the good in electric vehicles, because it’s something tangible people can agree to. while not perfect, it is a first step in reducing the levels of ridiculousness in city planning and lifestyle design.

        3) we are fucked no matter what, because nothing but half assed measures will actually get done.

        So 4) I focus on what I can do to keep myself sane in an insane world. I plant trees, metaphorically speaking. When I can, when I am not as selfish and greedy as everyone else, when I am not tired out by cynicism. I try.

        5) we are big-time bogarting this blog. Can I ask VREAA to pass on my contact info to you and we can continue the discussion in a less convoluted format?

  21. Shortage of money and credit comes before physical shortage of resources, thereby compounding the problem.

  22. http://www.peakoil.com

    I’ve been posting on this site for a couple of years now.
    They cover in great detail everything you guys have been discussing.

  23. For anyone who is interested check out

    http://www.chrismartenson.com/

    His “Crash course” is very enlightening and the website discusses what individuals can do in regards to Peak Everything.

  24. Thanks, guys. I have visited the Peak oil site briefly in times past. But these are issues I had stopped thinking about these past two years, being distracted by the daily grind and disheartened by my impotence to effect change. I wanted to convert a car into an EV and begin a not-for-profit conversion company, but lack of money put those plans on hold.

    In many ways, the discussion is fruitless, as nothing will actually solve the heart of the issue. And this issue is one that very, very few people understand; hence the complete lack of the popular will to change anything.

    The bottom line is that energy inflow is ultimately limited by the amount of photons landing per unit area of land. All of human “development” up until the discovery of fossil fuels had been the process of maximizing the human share of this inflow: first more efficient hunting enabled them to consume more kilojoules (which of course derived from plants which derived from the photons), then clothing made it possible to retain more energy in colder areas, farming increased yields from a given patch of land, fire enabled access to photons without metabolising them (but access was still limited by landfall of photons and by how many would be converted into stored potential energy by plants.

    When the windfall of billions of years’ worth of trapped photons, like compressed springs, was discovered, the only limit on energy became the speed at which one could pump or dig it out of the ground. That is why we are fundamentally unbalanced and will continue to be until the level of consumption equals levels of sustainably harvestable inflow. Fossil fuels offer up a brief window, that could in principle be used to set up an infrastructure of renewable energy harvesters, but even these will barely pay back the energy costs of their construction, installation, and maintenance: precious little will remain for people in the long run. There is nothing that can match the energy density and transportability and usability of bottled photons (oil). The next few centuries will see this windfall tapped out, and all the solar panels and wind turbines and wave generators rust and decay since there will not be enough energy to forge new ones. Peoples’ consumption levels will decay REGARDLESS of anything we do. As Michael indicated, the question is, how do we want this to happen, and on what schedule.

    Some observers have talked of “controlled downsizing” (i can’t remember the exact term), but the main idea is that we can reduce consumption and allow population to diminish to sustainable levels gracefully, instead of with wars, famine, anarchy, genocide, etc. which lie at the end of our current path.

    I don’t want to hole up with a shotgun and some tinned food; I would rather take baby steps to begin moving in the right direction. What else is there to do?

  25. In fact, what the heck. why not try to use this forum to spread the message. Here is a excerpt from an essay written by my student, which I helped to edit for grammar. I thought that this explained it in a nice and easy to understand way. Sorry to readers if it’s something they already knew; it has been my experience that many do not know, or even if they do, they do not think about this issue in the context of their daily lives.

    “When the British Columbia provincial government introduced the carbon tax on gasoline, there were widespread complaints and expressions of disgust from many residents of British Columbia. People viewed cheap gasoline as their right, and viewed the tax as unfair or even a criminal act depriving people of something that is essential to their survival. This attitude is a symptom of today’s culture’s lack of knowledge and understanding about the real source of energy. The lifestyles of North Americans today are constructed on the usage of vast amounts of energy per person. These amounts are many times larger than ever before in history. However, the role and importance of energy supplies that make possible almost every aspect of the North American lifestyle is greatly de-emphasized by the North American society of today. Peoples’ interaction with physical space and material goods makes it easy to never notice the role of energy, and to take it completely for granted. For many, an abundant supply of energy exists in the same way that an abundant supply of gravity exists. A dissociation of people from the sources of energy, in all its forms, is the mark of the modern society. A form of blindness to the cost of energy, resulting from the present abundance, is the result of the construction of society around an abundant supply. In the same way that a laboratory rabbit has no reason to believe the supply of carrots is not a never ending part of the physical nature of the world, people in modern society have no incentive to investigate energy. This essay outlines the creation of the energy age and investigates the reasons for the energy blindness that paradoxically marks this society.
    In the coldness of deep space there is little energy. Occasional photons, which are essentially small packets of energy, pass through, but nothing can capture their energy and hold it in place. In the solar system, a huge atomic reaction is taking place, pumping out photons at a steady rate. Planets surrounding the reactor, the sun, receive a fixed amount of these photons every second as they collide with their surfaces. The distance of the planet and its surface area determine how many photons strike the planet per any given time interval. The Earth receives the same, steady quantity every second, and has been receiving it for billions of years. Of course, much of the photons are reflected back into space or else the earth would get hotter and hotter. Some, though, deposit their energy in two ways. First, they can collide with matter and cause it to vibrate, essentially the same way a billiard ball hitting others can cause them to move: a phenomenon we perceive with the sensation of heat. Second, they can cause their energy to become stored in chemical bonds; essentially the same way that movement is stored in a compressed spring.
    The most immediate way in which people use this steady stream of photons is with their eyes, that have evolved to receive the energy of photons and can differentiate between different frequencies or energy levels they contain. The sea of photons in which we bathe during the day thus provides us with information about objects and our location relative to them. The photons themselves remain invisible, and so we do not think of them when we think about eyesight. We simply take it for granted as our ability to see.
    The second way in which people use photons is very direct and intimate. Photons can transfer their energy to vibration of our skin molecules: warming us up directly when enough sunlight shines on us. Few people fail to appreciate the warmth of the sun. Yet, it is the third way in which humans depend on the energy of the sun that remains most invisible to people in modern society. Plants have evolved around the ability to store the energy from the photons as high-energy molecular bonds, building themselves up as clusters of such molecules. Plants are the sole means by which the sun’s energy remains stored on Earth. Animals like humans have evolved to take advantage of the energy stored by plants and use it for their own growth and movement, basically in the same way that a billion compressed springs could in principle be used to create a moving machine, propelled by releasing the springs in a timed and coordinated manner. People therefore get their energy for movement and physical materials for building their bodies from the sun, via plants. The generations that have grown up collecting food from supermarkets and drivethroughs all know that plants grow in sunlight. However, many may be surprised by the unusual conditions existing in their world today.
    Since the amount of photons falling on a fixed area of land is limited to a maximum, the amount of energy that can be captured and stored by plants is also limited to a maximum. The number of animals that can live on that area of land is also therefore limited to a maximum. This maximum is of course variable dependent on seasonal conditions and the ability to process the plants and the nutrient range available, but the point is that there is always an upper limit, set by the fixed flow of photons from the sun. Humans existed in line with this fixed limit for centuries, utilizing every invention they came up with to increase the amount of this energy that they could capture for themselves. All of human history can in fact be interpreted in terms of attempts to increase the amount of this flow of energy available for utilization by individuals or groups of them. First, more effective hunting techniques increased the quantity of energy harvested from other animals; then, control over what plants would grow where, made available increased yields of energy captured by plants. The use of materials wrapped around bodies (clothing) reduced the amount of energy required to keep up body temperatures. At some point, the revolutionary discovery was made, that the energy locked in indigestible plants could be utilized by people externally from their bodies, through burning, a process where the photons stored in plant matter are re-released, heating the surroundings. People thus began to use more and more of the photons landing on ground, which enabled them to increase in population and even created enough energy to use in activities not directly related to gathering more energy. The efficiency of usage would grow greater and greater, allowing more and more energy for humans to use. Still, this growth is finite. In time, in terms of the flow of energy alone, a maximum population would have been reached for lands all over the world, limited by the flow rate of the sun’s photons.
    However, over billions of years, before human beings existed, the energy being stored by plants and animals had not all been utilized for movement and reproduction. The energy stored in the bonds of plants and animals that died accumulated in many places and remained trapped in reservoirs like a billion of billions of compressed springs. These reservoirs of energy were in some places visible, like at Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek, and were used by people for a few non-energy related activities. It was not until the last three hundred years or so that the means were developed to utilize the energy trapped in these reservoirs. Then people discovered that the energy available to them for movement was no longer limited by the flow rate of photons on land area, but only by how fast they could dig out the accumulated reservoirs of sunlight underground.
    Humans quickly discovered that these reservoirs of energy would not only substitute for human energy used for labour (movements of various kinds), but could also be converted into energy that plants could utilize, in effect increasing the flow of sunlight onto areas of land where plants grew. Through machines, humans utilized the energy as a substitute for human labour – for example in powering a combine harvester that would do a hundred peoples’ work – freeing up human time for other activities. Much of the freed up labour went into creating ideal living conditions for more and more humans; some went into attempts to dominate other groups of humans (warfare) and much, ironically went into discovering means for increasing the rate of removal of the energy from the ground. Large amounts of the energy that were over and above what was necessary for mere survival or even comfort were utilized for transportation of materials and people at higher velocities than were ever before possible. A convenient medium for energy transport, via the flow of electrons through metals, was discovered and used to distribute the energy to wherever it was needed. The effects on the entire Earth were as dramatic as they were on human culture, and both are difficult to appreciate for people born into the heart of modern society without a knowledge of the history of energy.
    The discovery of the reservoirs of stored sunlight brought about so much freedom from daily energy gathering that it opened up massive amounts of thinking hours for humans to apply their inventiveness to concerns not directly related to increasing the chances of survival. Consequently, even though the energy stored in fossil fuels was easy to access, other ways of tapping into energy were also discovered and developed. Nuclear energy, which comes from the far more powerful compressed springs found inside all atoms, was one. Solar power cells directly captured photons and made their energy available to distribute electrically. Wind and wave power tapped into the movements of molecules caused by heat and by gravity. However, the ease of usage of fossil fuels made other ways of harvesting energy a sideshow.
    It is not easy to see that the amount of energy available for people to use today is vastly greater than before the discovery of fossil fuels. Many peoples’ idea of energy is limited to the understanding that money can be traded for gasoline that makes a car go, and that appliances can be plugged in to the wall and will work as long as the electricity bill is paid. Food is harvested from the supermarket with little effort. Very few people think about the true origin of such convenience on a daily basis. What happens to human cultures built around inexhaustible energy once all of the underground and undersea reservoirs of photons are pumped empty, and the energy available is once again limited by how much we can capture of the fixed flow of photons per unit land area is a serious question. “

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