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August 4, 2011

Billy Dee Williams Debuts Artwork at D23 Expo

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UPDATE: We just received word that the artwork by Billy Dee Williams mentioned in this blog will not be finished in time for the Expo. However, Billy Dee will still be appearing at the event to sign autographs and meet guests -- and celebrate the relaunch of Star Tours!


If you read the recent article in our AllEars® newsletter in which I "outed" myself as a Star Wars fan, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that I was super thrilled when I found out that actor Billy Dee Williams, better known as the charming rogue Lando Calrissian from the Star Wars films, was going to be attending the upcoming D23 Expo in Anaheim.

You can just imagine my further excitement, then, when the chance arose for me to join in yesterday on a conference call with Williams, who was set to talk about, among other things, the new artwork he has created featuring Mickey Mouse and the rest of the "Fab Five", which will debut at the upcoming D23 Expo.

I remember reading some time ago that Williams was an accomplished artist - he has work hanging in an impressive number of nationally known galleries, including the Smithsonian! - but I didn't realize how seriously he had returned to what was his first love in recent years.

In yesterday's half-hour telephone interview, Williams talked about Star Wars, of course, but also about his relationship with Disney.

"I've always related to Mickey Mouse," he said, when asked how his affiliation with the D23 Expo came about. "Like everybody else, I've been a Disney fan all of my life. I'm pretty much amazed by all of it" like most people. It's magical."

But how did he come to create something featuring Disney characters? I asked him. I could have understood if he had painted his character, Lando, and other Star Wars images, in tribute to the newly renovated Star Tours attraction... but Mickey? How did that happen?

"I went to the Disney archives a while ago, to see the history of Disney," he explained. "I thought it would be a nice idea to do something with the characters that we could make into a litho. It's a cute little idea - it's a very simple piece."

Williams described the work, which he did in acrylics and colored pencil, as a jazz presentation of the five characters - Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto and Goofy - surrounding Williams himself.

"I was thinking of us as jazz musicians," Williams said. When asked if he had a particular jazz tune in mind when he developed the artwork, Williams laughed and thought a moment. "Well, Minnie is singing" but, yes. 'Take Five,'" he said, referring to the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet jazz instrumental.

The piece has been reproduced as a Limited Edition lithograph that will be available exclusively to D23 attendees for $99.95, which will include an autograph. Williams will be at the Expo for the unveiling of the work, and will also be available to pose with fans and sign autographs. (Note: Separate autograph tickets for Williams will be available for purchase for $40.)

"I'm looking forward to the Expo," Williams said. "I can't imagine anyone not having a good time at Disney."

The man whose 3-1/2-year-old grandson sometimes call him "Grandpa Lando," will be at the D23 Expo to pose for photographs with fans, and to sign autographs, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, August 19, at the Coolwaters Productions booth in the Collector's Forum.

(Note: an image of the lithograph should be online in the next day or so -- I'll update
this blog post when it's available.)

August 7, 2011

My New Happy Place…A Cabana on Castaway Cay

by Michelle Scribner-MacLean

We've all had those days"we're busy with the kids, we're stuck in endless meetings, trapped in rush hour traffic. It's times like this that we need to go to our happy place. For me it's often thoughts of upcoming trips to Walt Disney World. Sometimes I find myself thinking of a whirl on Expedition Everest with my kids or sitting at Boma enjoying a great meal with friends or perhaps just people watching on Main Street USA".each of those thoughts allow me to escape for just a moment.

But now I have a new happy place.

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A few months ago I had the privilege of escaping for a three-day cruise on the Disney Wonder. This, in itself, was a terrific break from a New England weather, but during the cruise I got to experience something so relaxing, so wonderful that it takes its place among my all time happiest Disney memories. I got to spend the day in a private cabana on Disney's Castaway Cay.

I was treated to this wonderful experience by Beci Mahnken, owner of MEI Travel, who was checking out this relatively new offering by Disney so that she could assess whether or not it was something that she should offer to her clients.

Before leaving the ship, I met Beci in her cabin, where she had received info about our day. It came in the form of an adorable pop-up, miniature cabana, which turned out to be a a very close copy of the one we'd be using for the day.


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After debarking, we took a tram to Serenity Bay, the adult only beach on Castaway Cay. This was my third Disney cruise and on a previous cruise I had snuck away to this quiet beach for a massage on a beach-side cabana, so I knew that I was in for a treat, but was unprepared for how wonderful and pampered we'd be. There was a check-in area for activities at Serenity Bay...so we checked in and waited to see what this experience brought us.


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We were greeted by Gladstone, a Disney Cruise cast member who debarked with us for the day make sure that we had all of our needs met and felt pampered.


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Though our cabana was relatively close to the tram area and the beginning of a beach, Gladstone insisted that he drive us to the cabana, where we found a warm welcome.


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He then spend a few minutes introducing us to the amenities that come along with the cabana including a fruit bowl, a refrigerator filled with soft drinks, and a basket of snacks, all of which are replenished during the day by the Disney cast member.


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Gladstone also pointed out that there were two pitchers of drinks in the refrigerator. He let us make our choices before heading off for the morning.


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The main part of the cabana is covered and there are chairs, a small table, a basket of magazines, and a curtained changing area. There was also a basket filled with sun lotion (which was very convenient for me, since I'd forgotten mine).


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The deck part of the cabana is also covered by an awning and is surrounded by beach plants and shrubbery, so that people in the cabanas have some privacy from the people who are on the beach. The views were spectacular. The ocean was clear blue and the beach was pristine.


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Next to the cabana was a hammock strung between two palm trees (yes, this is my idea of paradise), along with tubes and rafts for us to use in the water. There was a "cold snap" in the Caribbean and it was "only" 70F, which was a bit cold for swimming, and I turned out to be the lone person in our party up for taking a dip (heck, the ocean temps that I'm used to in New England make you feet feel numb after about a minute, so it was really nice swimming in December, even though it was a bit cold).


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There was a buzzer-type thing in the cabana for us to call Gladstone if we needed anything at all. We saw him a few times during the day when he showed up to take us to the lunch area, he brought a waiter from the bar in case we wanted to order drinks, and he assisted us in renting bikes for the morning (which was included with the cabana rental). Gladstone was an example of Disney Cruise service at its finest: he was friendly, helpful, and so willing to help that he teasingly chastised us for choosing to walk back to the cabana after lunch.

I can truly say that I spent one of the most relaxing days of my life"the sun, the ocean, time with friends, no electronics (which for me, Gadget Girl, was a HUGE thing"but I loved it). We just sat, napped, chatted and then more of the same.

Renters have the cabana from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. That's when Gladstone met us, brought us back to the beginning of Serenity Bay, where we took another tram back to the ship.

The experience is a bit pricey ($499 per day) but I can honestly say this was one of the most relaxing and pampered days.

So now you can see why I have a new happy place... the next time I'm stuck in a traffic jam or dealing with some particularly nasty New England weather, I'll be daydreaming about my cabana day on Castaway Cay.

And if you happen to indulge in this experience and get the little cabana that we used, you might see fingernail marks on the door where they had to drag me out of this little paradise!



August 14, 2011

Disney Apps: Hipstamatic

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I love technology and gadgets. Some of the coolest gadgets around are things that you can use at Walt Disney World"and right up at the top of my list is apps. Apps (short for applications) are little programs that can be uploaded to your phone or tablet. Many are free or cost very little money and there are dozens that can be used to enhance your experience at WDW. Deb Wills said, "Hey, Michelle, how would you like to review some of these apps?"

It was a no-brainer: a perfect job for me.

The first one that I'm going to review is not really WDW-specific, but it's one that I have a LOT of fun with when I'm at the parks. It's called Hipstamatic, a $1.99 iPhone photography app that allows you to change virtual lenses and film to give your photos a funky retro look. I don't want to appear that I'm stepping on the toes of my much more knowledgeable AllEars photography buddies, so before I go on with my review, I'm going to share a bit of back-story.

I adore Barrie Brewer. Anyone who knows Barrie's photography is blown away -- she has an fantastic eye and captures aspects of WDW that are amazing. I'm no Barrie Brewer, but I do love photography. When I started playing around with this app, I started sharing some of my photos with Barrie and she got excited about the app, too. She encouraged me to blog about it.

I think the best way to learn about the app is to show you.

This is an example of a photo that I took of Spaceship Earth with my iPhone with the regular camera app".

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And here's a similar photo with Hipstamatic.

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Right away I loved what I saw....the shadows, the enhanced color. Spaceship Earth looked so dramatic! I also like the old-fashioned looking border that the app puts around the photo.

Once I started seeing the results, I really started experimenting with different subjects. I went a little crazy. I took photos are resorts:

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I took photos at Downtown Disney:

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I used it when I was at Hollywood Studios:

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And I really enjoyed myself, finding some interesting things to photograph at World Showcase:

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There is rarely a poor picture to be had at the Magic Kingdom, but I also enjoyed using Hipstamatic there, too:

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As I said, I went a little crazy (but rest assured that wasn't all in one day).

Of course, it's not that the photos are better than they would be if I used my Nikon (that most likely is not the case), however, if you're like me, you have lots of photos of WDW. The way that the app allows you to change lenses and change the type of film allows me to see familiar things at WDW in a slightly different way.

The app "stores" the photos in your photo library and allows you to share your photos via Facebook, email, and text. You can also order photos of your favorites through the Hipstamatic store.

The only things that I don't like about this app are that it does not work very well in low light settings and sometimes the view frame skews what you see, but after you play around with it for a bit, you get the hang of it.

If you're an Android users, don't despair"there is a very similar app for the Android called Instagram (there's an iPhone version, too).

So the next time you're at WDW, you might want to try this app. You can get more info here: Hipstamatic
and you can download it via the iTunes store.

"and thanks, Barrie.

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Have a suggestion for a great WDW app that you think should be reviewed? Please email me at: michelle@allears.net


August 19, 2011

D23 Expo Media Preview

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As you probably know, if you're any sort of Disney fan, the D23 Expo is being held this weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center. Several of us from the AllEars.Net Team are here, and will be reporting on all the happenings as much as time (and our stamina) will allow! There's a LOT going on!

Last night, Deb Wills and I had the chance to attend a media preview of the Expo floor, and also got a sneak peek at the Treasures of the Disney Archives collection. Before I get into the thick of all the presentations today, I thought I'd share some of what we saw.

We walked over to the Anaheim Convention Center for the preview, which started around 7:30 p.m. We were greeted outside the Parks and Resorts pavilion, which features what they're calling the "Carousel of Projects", by none other than my favorite, Sorcerer Mickey!


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Once we were let into the pavilion, we were treated to a brief pre-show, a montage of images of Disney parks and resorts throughout the years. Black-and-white and full-color images whizzed by, enhanced by familiar voiceovers from Walt Disney -- early Disneyland memories, plans for Walt Disney World, and finally images from the expansion parks in Asia whirled by to get you in the mood for what you were about to discover inside.

As the curtain drew back, the first visual that struck us was that of a huge model of the Disney Fantasy cruise ship.

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And then we were free to roam around the pavilion and explore.

There is quite a large exhibit relating to the cruise line, including a replica of Mademoiselle Minnie, who will grace the lobby of the Disney Fantasy when it is launched next March.



Being more of a Walt Disney World person than anything, though, my eyes went straight to the huge model that dominated the one section of the room -- the new Fantasyland currently under construction in the Magic Kingdom.






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I spent some time talking about the project with Imagineer Lauren Baldesarra, who told me that this was the first time they'd revealed a full model of the project like this. I have to say, seeing it in 3D like that really brought everything to life much more than just seeing the 2D artists' renderings had.

I asked her specificially about the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, as they also had a short video showing the development of that new coaster. She pointed me to the mock-up they had on display of what a "mine car" will be like, illustrating how it will sway from side to side as it rolls along the track, simulating what a real mine car might be like.



As for the Snow White Scary Adventures attraction, she confirmed that it would eventually be closing to make way for a new princess meet-and-greet location.

She also talked enthusiastically about the new Casey Jr. waterplay area, which will feature a Casey Jr. train that's been hijacked by monkeys, who will be squirting water at guests, as well as the new Big Top merchandise area, the Silly Side Show, the rethemed Barnstormer (known as the Great Goofini) and the play area that will connect the double Dumbos.

According to her, they are still projecting phased openings of the new area, with an early 2012 opening for the first phase. Quite honestly, I can't wait!

Another attention grabber in the pavilion was the Amazing Destini, an exhibit that showcases future technology, presented by Walt Disney Imagineering.




Featuring a little Audio Animatronic type fortune teller who bore a strong resemblance to Tom Morrow, only sporting a moustache and a turban, the Amazing Destini will actually interact with you in a very individualized experience. (I could swear I took a photo of him, but I guess I didn't. You'll have to wait until I get back over there!) You talk to him, and he responds, telling your future in an amusing demonstration. At first I thought it was akin to Turtle Talk with Crush, where a live human is somehow watching and reacting to you, but in talking to the Imagineers on hand, I learned that no, Destini is completely acting on his own. Clearly, they are using some sort of facial recognition technology, but Destini can also tell if there are others around you, and can also tell the denomination of coin you insert in his slot to start the fortune-telling process. According to the Imagineers, they aren't quite ready to put Destini into the parks yet, but I really do think he'd be quite popular just about anywhere -- the repeatability factor is high, since he has so many different "fortunes" in his repertoire, you'll seldom get the same experience twice.

After we had had a chance to meander a bit, Steven Clark, head of D23 spoke about the Expo for a few minutes and introduced Tom Staggs, president of Disney Parks and Resorts:




Both men talked about how the Expo gave Disney a chance to share the "unbelievably exciting" things that are coming up in the future for Disney Parks and Resorts.

Other highlights in the pavilion are some glimpses at what'll be coming to Carsland at Disney California Adventure, as well as other changes around the Disneyland Resort, like revamped Cathay Circle theater and Buena Vista Street.




To cap off the evening, we were allowed to browse through the Treasures of the Disney Archives exhibit upstairs, even able to take photos of some of the amazing memorabilia that's on display. Deb Wills put up a short video showcasing these items here:


And here are some stills:








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All in all, it was a great way to rev up my excitement for the next few days -- I can't wait to get out there and see what else the Expo has in store!

If you're not already, be sure to follow the AllEars.Net Team on Twitter:

I'm @dcdeb_allears
Deb Wills is @AllEarsDeb
and the site is @AllEarsNet

Laura Gilbreath will be blogging each day, and other members of the team, including Jeanine Yamanaka and Lee Zimmerman, will be attending presentations and taking photos and videos to share with you in the coming days.

Oh, look at the time! I better get going or else I'll miss everything!


August 20, 2011

D23 Expo 2011: Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix

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As most of my friends know, Mary Poppins is my very favorite Disney movie, and the Practically Perfect in Every Way nanny is my heroine. One of my earliest memories is seeing the 1964 film at the drive-in when I was about 4 years old, and I've subsequently seen it more times than I can count (not to mention the Broadway show a few times, as well). When I saw that my very favorite chimney sweep, Dick Van Dyke, who played Bert in the film version, would be performing with his a cappella singing group the Vantastix at this year's D23 Expo, I knew I could not miss him.

Luckily for me, I was able to get in to see his overwhelmingly popular performance last night, which was no mean feat. Some people waited for more than three hours for the program, and many, many more were turned away, as the venue it was held in had a capacity of less than 1000.

After a lot of waiting, and a long delay in getting everyone seated, the show finally started a half-hour late at 9 p.m. (And to their credit, I have to say that Disney cast members made every effort to be sure that every seat was filled, to turn away as few fans as possible.) To say that Van Dyke and the other "Vantastix" (Bryan Chadima, Eric Bradley, and Mike Mendyke) received an enthusiastic greeting is an understatement.



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The program was filled with familiar tunes, many from the nearly 86-year-old Van Dyke's long career, interspersed with anecdotes and reminiscences. Some of the tunes the audience went wild for: The Ol' Bamboo and the title track from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and a medley of Sesame Street songs, including a touching rendition of It's Not Easy Being Green. The group also touched on old standards like Accentuate the Positive, Swing on a Star, and Put on a Happy Face, and, of course, a number of Disney classics, such as You've Got a Friend in Me and The Bare Necessities.

Van Dyke looked great, even though he occasionally seemed to flub the words -- he more than made up for it with his charm and famous smile, and quickly recovered. Though he swore that they had no set program, they moved from song to song effortlessly, and knew exactly what their Disney fan audience wanted to hear. They even managed to stump the audience with a Disney trivia question -- who was the "actor" credited with playing Mr. Dawes Senior in Mary Poppins. Correct answer? Navckid Keyd, an anagram for Dick Van Dyke, who actually played the part. (An audience member who came close to the right answer got an autographed Vantastix CD.)



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Taking a seat about midway through the show, the foursome talked about how they formed (seems it all started when Van Dyke met Mendyke in a Starbucks in 2000 by chance and the two discovered their common interest in a cappella music). The group has since performed at many charity events, at Ford's Theater before President Obama for the 4th of July, even at the installation of the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Van Dyke's costar in the sitcom "The Dick Van Dyke Show", Rose Marie, who was actually in the audience. (Also in the audience was composer and Disney Legend Richard Sherman, who co-wrote the music for Mary Poppins.)

After about an hour, the program drew to a close, but not before Van Dyke and the Vantastix were presented with D23 certificates, and made official D23 members. Van Dyke was also given a gift of a signed painting commemorating his performance in Disney's Mary Poppins.


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Of course, no one wanted the night to end, least of all me, so we were all thrilled when the group agreed to an encore -- a very fitting medley of tunes from Mary Poppins, ranging from an energetic version of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious that saw Van Dykes dancing very nearly like a spry 20-something again, to a rap version of A Spoonful of Sugar that had the audience rolling with laughter. (I apologize for the poor quality of the video below, but the place was so packed I couldn't get a good view of the stage, and the screen just did not record well, but I wanted to share at least a snippet of the evening with you.)



As I hope you can see, it was really a fabulous event -- and I am so happy I was able to attend. Now, if I can only manage to see Julie Andrews in person, my life will indeed be Practically Perfect in Every Way!



August 21, 2011

D23 Expo 2011: Voices of the Parks

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(Author's Note: I apologize for not getting this online sooner, but I came back from the D23 Expo with a cold, then experienced the big earthquake the next day -- I live in the DC area, now getting ready for Hurricane Irene. Yes, this week has been a doozy! Anyhow...)

Aside from the Friday night performance by Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix, my favorite program of the entire 2011 D23 Expo Weekend was the Voices of the Park session earlier that night. Featuring nearly a dozen actors whose distinctive voices are more familiar to us than their faces are, this session looked at what it is like to leave an unusual but oh-so-important mark on a Disney attraction.

Hosted by Brian Nefsky, senior casting administrator with Walt Disney Imagineering, the panel included a mix both of names that were familiar to me (Corey Burton, Dee Bradley Baker) and those I'd never heard of before (BJ Ward, Audrey Wasilewski, Chris Edgerly, Stephen Stanton, Bill Rogers, Jeff Fischer, Mark Silverman, Bob Joles, Fred Tatasciore).

After introducing each actor by way of airing a short clip of his or her more popular vocalizations, Nefsky went down the panel asking each member a question about how they got their Disney gig, or what inspired them to pursue a career in the voiceover field. Some of the answers were serious, such as Corey Burton's story of how he had emulated veteran voice actor Paul Frees (voice of the Haunted Mansion's "Ghost Host" and several buccaneers in "Pirates of the Caribbean").

Others were hilarious -- I absolutely loved Mark Silverman's demonstration of how he eases into Rod Serling's (from the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror) cadence.

Still others were the stuff of future trivia questions. Who knew, for example, that Baker, now known for his work on the animated Star Wars series "The Clone Wars," and "Family Guy," got his start at Disney working as an Anacomical Player in Epcot's old Wonders of Life pavilion? Or that he vocalizes the popular Perry the Platypus on the Disney Channel series "Phineas and Ferb?" Or that he can mimic a chirping cricket with an eerie believability?

Of course, he wasn't the only one with long and strong ties to Disney. Most of the actors' lengthy resumes include turns with Disney animated series, video games, videos and movies. Burton voiced the popular General Knowledge in the old "Cranium Command" attraction in 1989, and has been involved with many old Disney series dating as far back as Duck Tales and Chip 'n' Dale's Rescue Rangers (if not earlier). Bill Rogers, known as the voice of Disneyland, has been with the company for 20 years, warning park visitors of the impending fireworks programs, and more. Here he is talking about how he got the job with Disney:

No matter how these actors found their way to Disney, their stories were all alternately fascinating and funny, heartwarming and inspiring. And not surprisingly, they all revealed what big hams they were, each clearly trying to draw bigger laughs from the audience - and also not surprisingly, they succeeded.

Instead of trying to TELL you how immensely entertaining this program was, I thought I'd SHOW you with a series of clips. See how many of these voices you recognize! This is just a short snippet from each of these talented actors, whose behind-the-scenes contributions are integral in creating the Magic that we all enjoy every time we visit a Disney park:

The program ran late, as it was clear that no one wanted it end, not even the actors themselves. The only thing that convinced most to leave their seats was the promise of the upcoming Dick Van Dyke show... well, that and the cast member who said we really had to get out!

Oh, would that all D23 Expo sessions had been this entertaining and enlightening. I can only hope I have a chance to see (and hear) these actors in action many more times in the years to come!



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About August 2011

This page contains all entries posted to AllEars® Team Blog in August 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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