Is integrity a victim of the times?

Today, the American spirit of “can-do”, ingenuity, teamwork and integrity is stressed to near-breaking. With the pandemic with us likely for another year or two, the old way of doing everything is changing.

Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.

Oprah Winfrey

Social, political, and economic change we are living through (suffering) in the 21st Century affects everyone. It began long before we were mandated to remain at least six feet apart, and limit large gatherings. Technology has made it no longer necessary to have in- person, work or customer relationships. When both the service- provider and the served remain insulated from one-another by web ordering,  email,  text messaging, or video- conferencing, the human connection, which may be between a doctor and a patient, teacher and student, account administrator and vendor, or state official and a constituent, is absent.  

This is easily illustrated with a few scenarios. A fairly new patient of a doctor makes an appointment with the physician. In the interim, the doctor moves his private practice to a larger corporate entity. And then the COVID quarantine terminates all in-person office access for the foreseeable future. Efforts to obtain service are prevented by an inaccessible web portal, and using a telephone system to request assistance with the portal, demands up to thirty minutes or more to remain on-hold. The clinic’s email server notifies the client of important information, but cannot be read using the portal, similarly frustrated by a lack of a user passcode.

A government agency responsible for the healthcare of millions of military veterans and their families comes under scrutiny for very public and shocking displays of veterans committing suicide in hospital lobbies, delays in receiving evaluation for what veterans believe service-connected disabilities, and media reports of ill veterans dying while on waiting lists for treatment – while the facilities receive bonuses and accolades for service efficiency. Media and Congressional investigations reveal that managers were complicit in altering records and rescheduling patients. Leadership changed. Procedural changes were promised. Some workers were censured. Legislation was voted upon. Time will tell if the agency culture has focused on integrity.

A state agency that oversees licensing of healthcare workers contracts with vendors to manage the process of coordinating examinees seeking licensing exams. The same agency approves the schools offering the training, the sites where these exams may be performed, and verify each candidate has met the requirements to be licensed. The vendor is responsible for collecting the test fees, order and disseminate the exam materials, and send the test results to the state agency. while the contracted evaluators establish relationships with the training schools, coordinate test schedules with the vendor and the client schools, and perform the certification exams. The evaluators submit invoices for payment to the vendor. Since the licensing examinations are only a minor contribution to each vendors’ core business, but require substantial manual work, the vendor’s commitment to an efficient operation is of key importance. With antiquated systems, a remote workforce, an already burdened office staff and aloof management, the unresponsiveness of the organization is now a factor to consider for any future business.

The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.

Zig Ziglar

Operations that, under normal conditions may be hindered by bureaucracy, are only worsened by a remote workforce, COVID safety precautions, antiquated processes, and office politics. This is exactly where professional integrity should be the most important feature of any servicer -customer relationship. When the customer (other departments, clients, or outside agents) seeks status on an invoice, or a functional responsibility of that servicer, the expectation is to have an answer as to when payment should be expected. In some organizations, answers and follow-up can be difficult to obtain. People may respond emotionally, who have neglected or erred in their duties. They may respond by shifting blame instead of seeking remedies. It is a successful work environment where obtaining results or remedies and not fixing blame, exist.

When this tendency to assign blame is a characteristic of the organization, it is a leadership issue If the leader does not set the tone, as Zig Ziglar states. ” (t)he foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.” the organization suffers. In the present economy, there are always alternatives to an inefficient or poor business model. In the private sector, new enterprises or new joint-ventures can offer more efficient processing. In the public sector, political appointments do change oversight, and vendor funding, and state charters can be revoked.

Integrity matters.

Lessons young adults should know about bureaucracy

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For those who have reached an age where your actions are held to “adult” expectations by a civil authority, financial decisions (credit) become your legal responsibility, and your employment is governed by state- or federal statutes, the “real world” has a sharp learning curve for new adults. Speaking as someone with more than forty years experience dealing with bureaucracies, credit, employers, government agencies, and the like, I recognize that many of the methods the Baby Boom generation, and even the Gen-X were accustomed to using, seem as ancient as the 1960s to a Gen -Z person.

technology that pre-dates most alive today

Most state agencies still use fax machines (facsimile images or print converted to analog signals) which transport information at 1/1000th the speed of the average smartphone, and use the US Postal Service to “mail” official correspondence. These bureaucracies often operate in timeframes that are measured in weeks or months and not milliseconds. After witnessing the vacant look that most sub-25 year olds give me when I ask for a self-addressed, stamped envelope, it resembles the same misunderstanding that the mail may take a couple business days to deliver their reports. The number of youngsters who do not how to address an envelope or affix a stamp may inspire someone to create instructions via Tik-Tok video.

As for the test takers, finding a No. 2 lead pencil – the ones that require sharpening – to fill out a “scantron” answer sheet that faxes – is as unfamiliar as reading the pre-arrival instructions on the postcards and email that the Test Coordinator sends a candidate. These list items a test taker must bring to a test site. One is the date and arrival time (late arrivals often are not seated), the required identification documents, and the previously-described self-addressed stamped envelope. Other than some technical problem when faxing the test sheets, the only response from the testing service (in our particular case, that is Pearson Vue) prior to the state issuing a successful candidate a license (in 2 to 3 months), is the individual results returned on test day. These get mailed if properly addressed to the candidate normally on the same day. Government agencies are slowing adopting social media for public relations and instructions, but never to conduct official business.

Gen-Z is only just becoming aware of identity theft and “real ID”

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Why do state certification tests, other agencies, and private employers want you to display a legitimate, unexpired, unlaminated, and legible Social Security card, government-issued identification (passport, military ID, drivers license, etc)? While politicians and lobbyists debate who is a “legal” resident, Government-regulated healthcare, education, finance or other state processes have to meet long-established standards. More than ten (twenty?) years ago, laws requiring presentation of legitimate identification, to gain employment, obtain financial aid, or to take a state certification test – including a valid Social Security card – were made law of the land. Unfortunately for several young candidates in just the last several months, presenting a photocopied piece of paper with a Social Security card, foreign government identification card, or an expired US drivers license prohibited for enrollment in training programs at the time. This is, in part, to prevent fraud and identity theft.

finger business

“After each customer interaction, notice if you gave them a “happy to see you” kind of experience.”

Marilyn Suttle, author, via Goodreads

Personal values, such as integrity, honesty, and likeability, I learned from my upbringing. Motivation, commitment, and organization, came from a career in the Navy. Problem-solving and customer relations are the result of a lifetime in various occupations including the aforementioned Navy, sales, and some self-employment ventures, two that were particularly unsuccessful and my present venture in partnership with my wife. After nearly forty years at work, each of us has found the perfect venture – and, a perk, we love working together. When my spouse was ready to leave the day-to-day management of a Nursing Education program, she found the certification side calling. In this niche market, students have graduated a post-secondary healthcare school and now require them to meet State public health criteria through examination and skills evaluation to receive licensing.

And that is happening in spite of, and to some extent, because of, the 2020 Pandemic. Despite candidate health surveys, frequent sanitization, applying social distancing spacing, and following revised assessment criteria, the key to a successful enterprise continues to be good customer relations.

And as the coronavirus still drives strong demand for healthcare workers, servicing federal or State-mandated fingerprinting for school enrollees is strong. Though we are primarily focused with healthcare, other occupations are regulated by State or Federal mandate to submit fingerprints. Clearance by the DOJ and /or the FBI is necessary in finance, social work, daycare providers and for teachers. With the closure of many competitors for months due to California pandemic prevention measures, our ability as a mobile service during the year – to go to the client’s site – has been one of the only servicers in my region. And our business is assisted by social media, word -of-mouth referrals, and when the cell phone rings, answering it as often as possible, is key to setting appointments.

Maintaining a good product, providing excellent service, and rolling (pardon the pun) out to a client, often female, as a mom n’ pop service team, have only served to increase customer referrals. I can attest to the success of Marilyn Suttle‘s advice, to give the customer a “happy to see you” experience.

this business school is self-study

Getting started

Going into business for yourself is not difficult even in California. It is more challenging in California to be sure. Many industries are regulated, from massage therapists to for-profit education, automotive repair shops to metal fabrication. But in a tourist haven like San Diego there are no shortage of small retailers and cafes as well. Just like the rest of the United States, small businesses are the major employer in San Diego County.

From a 2019 article, a survey of five hundred small businesses in San Diego with fewer than 100 employees, found that more than a third were women-owned and ten percent of the total were veteran-owned. In another local online journal, in 2017 there were 60,000 businesses employing fewer than ten people. By the numbers, it sounds like starting my business as a both veteran- and woman-owned should have room to grow.

Our business is among the fortunate start-ups that earned a profit in the first year (2019), but we had a market that needed our particular service and skills. But this market has limited growth potential, so we may find we want to develop other services. One such service – that fit naturally in the market we are already serving, is fingerprinting. In California, as in other states, to work in education, in healthcare, in finance, and other specific industries require employees to undergo a background check including taking fingerprints. The process to start a business required six months including applying, obtaining a background check, approval and obtaining specialized equipment. At this point, we needed to get more business savvy.

In 2020, my business partner and spouse went back to school. It was a suggestion of a friend to seek advice from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) office in the East County. From that first meeting, we realized that we needed to become educated in how to efficiently run and grow our businesses. Training is offered for free. That office, like hundreds across the country are funded by grants from the US Small Business Administration. Mentoring though, puts the responsibility on the business owner to do research, form theories, and then test them. Our first tool he provided – that I had never seen before – is the Business Model Canvas (BMI).

homework

A first lesson is learning potential customer segments for my services. And the value proposition for each potential segment.

remain calm

I get a choice every time I have to open my mouth: that it can be with civility and dignity and grace – or not.

Dan Perino, https://www.brainyquote.com

Civility. Remaining calm, cool and collected, my father said, when you are feeling frustrated, can help you work with difficult people, a difficult situation, or when timeliness is a factor. It is a casualty of the modern world. Often, we can be frustrated by bureaucracy made doubly difficult with technology. And often, particularly among those my age and older, talking to a “live person” trumps all the automated menu selections, voice mail, email, and FAQ website responses.

For multiple reasons in the past couple months, I have had opportunities to “lose it”. As a self-employed business person, I have performed work over multiple days per month, and multiple months without receiving contractually-promised payment for service. We have had to make inquiries via email and telephone, and have gotten ambiguous, “things are somewhat behind” responses from administrative personnel. This is becoming an issue I may need to be civil, as in litigation, to resolve.

Personally, I am also somewhat frustrated by a pension that is months behind schedule. I retired from the military as a Reservist, and waited nearly ten years to receive the promised pension when I turned sixty years old. First, was the requirement, to request payment, along with various documents I needed to submit to the Government nearly eight months in advance. And then months past the promised start of the pension, to wait till my online account indicated it recognized me as a “retiree” — but without indicating whether payment would be forthcoming. I am remaining calm but it is work.

18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,

    but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.

Proverbs 15: 18 (NIV)

And then there was the change in health insurance, from an employer plan to a federally-subsidized and managed Tri-care plan. The former was really quite exceptional, but the new plan has had some ‘bumps’, one involving an authorization for a prescription I have been using for 20 years. (As I determined by a telephone conversation with a live representative today, the responsibility was on the physician’s office to correctly authorize it.)

Basically, with each interaction I have had with an individual, when the ‘aggrieved party’ (me) recognizes the humanity of all parties concerned, things go better. (A computer database is only as good as the person entering the data.) As long as I treat people (operators, assistants, customer service representatives, and doctors) politely, but resolutely, everything works out – eventually.

And when possible, get people you interact with laughing or at least smiling. I had to include this ancient clip from one of my all-time favorite movies, Animal House. When everything is going nuts, here’s the one guy trying to help other remain calm.

the fax about business

Entering the military communications security world in the late 1970s, I was told that the “paperless” revolution was upon us. Forty years later, paper is still central to many bureaucracies and the legal system. Though communication systems have been modernized, technology that is older than most working adults is still being used in education and by Government agencies.

Fax machines were developed to convert documents and images for transmission over telephone lines around the globe. While Internet data rates now approach the hundreds of Gigabits (billions of bits) per second, a fax generally transmits a document at 33 thousand bits per second. A single sheet may take thirty seconds to reach its destination once a link is established. When a hundred or more documents must be transmitted back and forth over the course of several hours, poor connections or errors requiring re-transmission, cause a significant impact on an otherwise efficient work day.

One of the reasons fax machines have endured as long as they have, is that digital “signatures” validating the sender of legal documents via the Internet, have not been reliably secure until very recently. Other than representation of a personal signature on legal documents, it is also excellent for imaging pencil marks. To expedite processing volumes of similar information, a 19th Century technology, Optical Mark Recognition (OMR), was adapted and patented by Scantron. Typical uses for such forms are in Federal student aid, voting booths, at the DMV and so forth. Most schools, universities, government entities and testing centers continue to use “scantrons” as a fairly cheap method to administer multiple-choice tests thousands of times per day. A common No. 2 soft-lead wooden pencil, an answer sheet with ovals or squares and a fax machine line to the test clearinghouse, is technology not soon going away.

Owning a niche business which serves test-takers, the expectation is for the fax transmission of tests and reception of pass/fail reports goes smoothly. Sometimes, any number of issues can stall progress. Telephone line quality, an issue with the equipment or line at either end, or an overwhelming volume of calls being processed by the host computer (the test processing center) create a negative perception among test takers. When customers are accustomed to receiving information at the speed of present-day Internet and wireless communications, managing expectations among clients is the key to a successful day. It also is important to earning additional business from the schools whose graduates are the clients being served. When students are satisfied with the test processing, they may recommend more peers to their school. And in turn, the school may feel their students are being properly and efficiently taken care of. Which in turn creates more entrepreneurial opportunity.

As for the testing centers that process all these results? Adoption and fielding of new technology, like the example of the “paperless” world, is a long, long, long process.

Exit, stage left

In the 1960s, Saturday morning cartoons were a favored diversion as I had my bowl of Fruit Loops (or oatmeal, when my mother intervened in my breakfast). The cartoon lion, Snagglepuss, had a trademark saying whenever he faced a challenging situation. ” Exit, stage right” or “Exit stage left, even!” However, I was never one to flee from demanding tasks. I think of Snagglepuss now as a classy way to exit this career and explore some new roads.

I am old enough to remember a simpler time, for kids anyway, when the American work ethic was the envy of the world. Parents, neighbors, and teachers taught me values and work ethic. I already had figured out about hard work, respecting others, and making your own way in the world, since I earned money from before and after-school jobs since I was 14. After a few years in the service, and then four years in college, I went back into the service in 1987 and remained in uniform until 2010. The unit held a great ceremony, gave me a nice party, and a wonderful shadow box of my military memories. I was already working at Viasat, so I had my second career already figured out.

I retired from my second longest career today. Well, technically, my last day is tomorrow, but our division threw me, and a co-worker also retiring in August, a retirement party. This latest career was the closest I have come to the camaraderie I felt in the Navy. And now, what does a two-career veteran do at age sixty?

Start my own business, or more accurately, support my spouse who started a business. I am sure the Senior Chief or the Engineering technician can tackle just about any business issue.

the fog of war, and other business problems

One of the most basic issues in business that causes inefficiency or worse, confusion, is miscommunication. And as things get more technology-dependent, communication stubbornly remains an obstacle to be overcome. Communication difficulties between people or now, also between machines, can be more than an irritant. With various militaries, it contributes to lacking situational awareness and can wreak havoc in wartime.

How does this relate to your or my business venture? Everyone has, at least once, experienced a presentation to prospective clients, current clients and co-workers “hang” for a sound issue, a wireless network password mismatch, or in certain situations, restricted or “secure” computer channels failing to connect due to out-dated “digital certificates”. Being able to handle the various unexpected situations that involve either the work site, the clients, problems with technology, or bureaucracy, is part of a successful entrepreneur’s skills.

Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without the talking about the other. Bill Gates

https://www.brainyquote.com

Anyone over age forty has at least heard of, if not actually used a fax machine. We use ‘analog” transmission (if you have ever misdialed a telephone number and heard a long series of tones or chirps- that’s fax) to transmit and receive client tests/reports. So it was that my business submits examinations via a fax to an nationally-recognized agency that scores and reports back in short order whether a prospective healthcare worker has passed or failed the exam.

What can possibly go wrong with that? Well, either with the human, the machine, or the medium being used! With experience, our management team recognizes when the scoring or report cover sheet is missing data “bubbles”. Or someone misses the instructions about using a pencil – and a specific one. at that. (We carry dozens to meet a need.) Anyone who has taken a multiple choice exam filled in with a No. 2 lead pencil might remember that “stray marks”, multiple “bubbles”, or incompletely-darkened ovals can be misinterpreted. Or in certain specific situations, a device with an internal battery was not charged prior to being needed. Or the communication system may be plagued with “poor line conditions” generally at the distant end we all agree , or equipment power issues. Sometimes, in an age of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), that is, phone running within the Internet, we have experienced a lack of connectivity before the “fax” transmits or receives.

fax machines
not a musical instrument nor a museum piece

In these situations, a successful business person should try to mitigate the embarrassment and irritation we all might feel. Take a moment to relax. Breathe deeply. Remain calm. And then, to quote a recent client, and entrepreneur who is a retired military man, in this situation, one only needs to “adapt and overcome”.

your Mission Statement

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What is a “mission statement”? I recall the first time I understood what it was, without hearing the actual term used, was in the Navy. “America’s Navy: a Global Force for Good”. A decade later, I was committee member in our local church determining a “mission statement” to capture what our specific purpose. Christian churches, as a matter of Whom we serve, are about the purpose of introducing people to the spiritual essence of the life of Christ, and creating followers of Christ. I think we started with, “To glorify God, Love and teach people, and build His church”. But the “mission statement” we were crafting that month was a little more “how” to implement that in post-millennium America.

While you may operate a long time without a common focus or purpose simply by hiring skilled people, it is the most successful enterprises that have a common vision. Everyone from CEO to the custodian knows, and embraces, their company mission statement. When my wife and I began a new venture this year, together, to administer state certification exams for Nursing Assistants in California, we brought individual skill, personal values, and organizational ideas. We were fairly fortunate in that we meshed fairly quickly. But how to capture our particular enterprise in a short “elevator” speech to potential employees, vendors and clients? It was actually almost a month in business, as we were wrapping up a test day with a new client, that the idea gelled. The client and I were chatting as I waited for the last candidates’ results to be transmitted back to me, that I mentioned what we do.

“We bring Integrity, 
are focused on Quality, 
and deliver Results”

“That sounds like a ‘mission statement’ to me”, the school director remarked. “It does, doesn’t it, ” I smiled.

Wild Bill, ain’t no fighting City Hall

If I’ve got any authority in Hays, Mrs. Lake isn’t going to pay this town a cent of license for showing, and if any man attempts to stop this show, then just put it down that he’s got me to fight.

Wild Bill Hickok, http://www.brainyquote.com

Some may wonder which came first, shaping stones and bone into spearpoints and arrowheads, or the village council that decided Mog and Og needed approval, licenses and regular inspections of their enterprise.

Eight thousand years later, an enterprising small business person who ventures into performing a service or providing a product, is supporting a community. She has not just her own family’s living to support, but an entire “industry” of bureaucrats, at the local, state and federal levels of Government. And in California particularly, as a businessperson, earning a living that minimizes the costly regulations that have environment, employment practices, taxes, fees and so forth, driving small businesses under.

Deciding to start one’s own enterprise, in California, and certainly elsewhere, requires a great deal of capital up front, a niche market, and establishing quickly an efficient organization. Mentors, business seminars and other resources can provide training and encouragement, but skilled and dedicated owners and employees find, serve and retain clients. Many, like myself, who have decades of employee experience, soon realize the challenge of one’s own business to balance investment, expenses, and fees against recurring income to make a decent return in the first and succeeding years. It takes planning, and frequent tweaking of the business model. The bureaucracy is another thing entirely.

After filing the regulatory paperwork with the State, including forming a Limited Liability Company, we loaned the business personal funds for the contractual and mandated types of insurances, paying filing fees, and notarizing documents, setting up business banking, bookkeeping, and a Google GSuite of Cloud-based calendar, business email and document storage. Since we were still working for our respective employers, tax considerations of incorporation or forming and LLC were and remain an important issue. Prior to earning a cent, our Liabilities were looking to be a very big motivator to getting our business moving forward.

As a residence-based service business, our enterprise does not operate in an office building, nor manufacture products, nor maintain an inventory. Operating out of a residence located in an unincorporated area, I learned that reporting the actual physical location – separate from the mailing address – in business organization documents would mitigate municipal taxes, inspections and other recurring fees. (The mailing address bears the nearby municipality name.)

But there are other concerns as well. Operating a business, even one that travels to a customer site as our business does, is required to file for a business license. The “gray area” that no municipal clerk whose job it is issuing business licenses and collecting fees, would likely err on the side of the entrepreneur – is whether a license to do business in every municipality that one performs a service – is required. Of course, every municipality’s City Hall will state categorically that a license is required by a business according to a list of industry types. Some types require fees and inspections from safety professionals, zoning and building code enforcement officials. Business coaches I have spoken with, concur that paying fees willy-nilly can quickly eat away an enterprise’s bottom line. While membership in associations that help small entrepreneurs may be a necessary expense, I am considering that expertise gained in those associations may help steer a small business toward profitability.

At least, one of my prospective clients is a State agency, so there is an opportunity, however slight, that money coming out of my pocket, might eventually trickle somewhat back to me. And while I might appreciate a Wild Bill Hickok helping me fight City Hall, I think even he might be outgunned, particularly if he has not paid the required 2019 firearm licensing and entertainment business fees.

pure faxing magic

I got a chain letter by fax. It’s very simple. You just fax a dollar bill to everybody on the list.

Steven Wright, comedian http://www.brainyquote.com/

My at-odds relationship with technology, like copiers and fax machines is very likely material for a Steven Wright comedy bit.

Pure Faxing Magic

I have spent nearly forty years employed in the technology sector. Beginning with vacuum tube systems and basic electronics, by the later years of my career, I would assemble, program and debug very complicated encryption devices.

Nevertheless, copiers, the collating, multiple paper-size, scanners-with-email, touch-selection types have me looking like a kindergarten kid with paper,crayons and glue. I make a call to my ‘work wife’, our senior department Admin for assistance – or I avoid everything but printing.

In the Navy, I was first introduced to facsimile machines in the late 1980s. Who knew that these would be part of my job description with my new business. Between the drum life “nearing the end” messages (what is a drum?), a Mode button (one must select to actually RECEIVE the fax transmission!), and what to do when either the power or the telephone line drops out, I have learned how to respond appropriately. I do not get exasperated.

fax machines
not a musical instrument nor a museum piece

I learned steps from my IT point of contact at our customer sites (somehow nursing instructors always seem to fill in for technical experts on staff):

  1. Wait.
  2. Hit the “Mode” button.
  3. Cycle the “power” button.
  4. Call the “Help Desk” or the site administrator’s assistant.

the value of you

Too many people spend money they earned..to buy things they don’t want..to impress people that they don’t like. —Will Rogers

https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertberger/2014/04/30/top-100-money-quotes-of-all-time/#7be817564998

Talking with another entrepreneurial co-worker my age, most working people are in one of two situations. Either there is not sufficient income to meet needs like housing, transportation, medical coverage, and school-age children’s support, or the opposite extreme, too little income to pay for the ego-boosting debts of expensive homes, cars, boats, entertainment and $1000 IPhones.

But there is a third option. Establishing a plan (earlier in adult life, the better) that develops skills and experience with a disciplined savings and investment strategy. Some reputable standout entrepreneurs I know began that way; building a great reputation among friends, employers, customers and peers, they had entrepreneurial ambitions, and were willing to risk failure.

Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value. Albert Einstein

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/albert_einstein_131187

In our industrial society, age instead of financial stability, is a commonly-held benchmark for “retirement”. Instead, I support the notion that a disciplined approach to provide that stability at a self-determined age is the foundation. And an entrepreneurial venture providing a valued service, personal challenge and some material reward, is a valued “retirement”.

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. —Epictetus

https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertberger/2014/04/30/top-100-money-quotes-of-all-time/#7be817564998