Meeting Ryan Conklin (part 2)

Ryan ConklinFor part 1, click here.

Part 2: The Blogger gets the opportunity to meet his hero,  and discusses what the experience of being a super-fan is like.

So I entered the Barnes & Noble at 82nd & Broadway in New York City where Ryan Conklin’s book event for An Angel From Hell would be held that evening. The first thing I noticed was the highly attentive guard standing menacingly at the door.  It’s not something you see in Indianapolis. I don’t think we even have guards in our bank lobbies.  It’s not that we’re Mayberry, but whatever our meth heads or kleptos are stealing from stores, I’m sure it’s not the Oxford English Dictionary.

I didn’t immediately know where to go to where Ryan would be, so I just walked around the store nonchalantly, looking at the books and keeping my eye out for a microphone or sign or something. It’s not my style to act like I don’t where to go. It’s why I don’t carry a map or a guidebook in a strange city. I’d rather accidentally find myself in Jersey than look like a tourist.

Eventually I went upstairs and found where there was a bunch of chairs lined up with a dais in front of them. A big Ryan Conklin poster confirmed I was in the right place. It’s was an hour and half before the scheduled start time, but as I expected, there were some people sitting there already.  There were about ten rows of chairs and a dozen or so people were scattered across them. I was still undecided whether or not I wanted to be inconspicuous and hide in the back, or try to sit closer. So I sat in one chair towards the back and then kept moving up row by row, until I decided that after spending around $700 so far on the trip that, Hell yeah, I’m going to sit in the front row.

I was tired from getting up early that morning to go to the airport, and from walking around and walking to the store, so I sat back and tried to relax for the next ninety minutes. I could have picked a book to read off the shelf next to me, but I was sitting directly next to the bookcase of feminist political theory and lesbian fiction and I didn’t see anything that was necessarily more interesting than just thinking about Ryan’s book.

From time to time I looked around to see who else among the early-birds was sitting in the audience. Some of the people I recognized from their pictures on Facebook. I of course know who all the regulars are on the RyConk page. Those people were in the front. In the middle appeared to be people who were using the chairs as a place to sit while they read a book instead of paying for it. In the back were a few people that I think might have been using the B&N as an indoor place to get a little shuteye instead of using a park bench.  The guard at the door didn’t seem so proficient to me anymore.

As the time drew closer I couldn’t even try to relax. Not only was I in the same city as Ryan, I might at that moment even be in same building. The breaths got deeper and and the pulse quickened. My senses became keen for the first sign of Ryan being anywhere within the area. Suddenly, the first magic moment occurred.  From several aisles over, I could hear the unmistakable voice I’ve heard so often. I held my breath and let the rush pass through me.

There was some amount of nerve-wracking time between that and the moment that Ryan made his appearance. I just focused on keeping calm. I actually had to keep my eyes looking down at the floor, because I didn’t want to feel the jolt I knew I’d feel when he first came into sight.

Then quietly the B&N manager walked to the podium, with Ryan behind and me slowly looking up. So it began. The manager gave a laudatory introduction, while Ryan sat in a chair on the platform. He seemed kind of uncomfortable as the praises were spoken. I noticed his hair was longer than ever, but it didn’t matter to me. He could grow his hair down to his ankles and gain 300 pounds, but to me he”d still be Ryan.

After the introduction, Ryan took his place at the podium and gave a brief history of himself and of his book. After that, the audience was allowed to ask questions. You can read about Ryan Conklin at the book signing event at the link. I already knew all of the Ryan Army material backwards and forwards, but hearing it live was enthralling. I wished it could have lasted all night.

When there were no more questions, Ryan sat back down and people were allowed to walk up and present themselves and get a signature. Some people brought gifts, which I had wanted to do but didn’t. I really regretted it later, but I was able to rectify the situation by sending this shirt to Ryan Conklin after I returned home.

As people spoke with Ryan, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. On the one hand, of course I wanted to meet him, but on the other hand the thought of it was very intimidating. Celebrities are well-known for crushing the spirits of random fans through their callousness. What if I introduced myself and he said something negative? That would be horrible.  Did I want to take that chance? Sometimes before Ryan does something that’s not good, he says, “If they had played by the rules…” What rules? I never got a rulebook. Was I in violation?

In the end, after everyone else had gone up, I steeled myself for come what may and willed myself forward to the table. When I had imagined introducing myself, I usually pictured myself passing out or getting the shakes, so I kept my mind on keeping it together. I introduced myself and Ryan acknowledged me. I was so nervous that I unfortunately don’t have distinct memories of the experience. I’m pretty sure I got to shake his hand, but I can’t visualize it now.

Ryan asked if I traveled to NYC often. I replied that no, I had only been there once before. Then he started talking with the B&N person. I wish the opportunity could have lasted longer, but like Machine, he didn’t have time, really. I wasn’t able to get a picture with.  I was stupid for not buying a copy of the book while I was there. By having a  book to sign, I would have bought more time.

I left the store and hoofed it back the two miles to my hotel in the rain. I was sad that it was over, so the rain was appropriate, but I was glad that I was able to accomplish something important that I had set out to do.

Meeting Ryan Conklin

Ryan ConklinWhen I learned that author Ryan Conklin would be doing a book signing event in New York City for his An Angel From Hell, I knew I really wanted to do what I could to be there. As I reported earlier, Ryan had become the first hero I ever had, and the chance to meet and converse with one’s hero face-to-face isn’t a situation that necessarily happens everyday.

There had only been one other such event with Ryan that was open to the general public, and I couldn’t know if this one might be the only opportunity remaining. It’s not like a situation of missing a performance of a star who has multiple concerts and tour dates, where if you miss one event you can just go to the next one. The basis of having a new book for sale made the schedule of these events limited to a short period of time. Two of them might be all that there were. I wasn’t able to go to the first Ryan Conklin event (in Annapolis, MD) and so I was determined to go to the second.

Fortunately, I was able to get the two days off work that I would need to travel to New York. I used Expedia to find a deal on airfare + hotel, although the room rate was still more than I had ever paid for a hotel anywhere in the world. I booked for three nights on through the weekend to combine some sightseeing with the main purpose of the trip.

On the morning of the event, I flew a non-stop to LaGuardia. I had been excited about the trip in the days leading up to it, but as the plane made its descent into the NYC area, it started hitting me that in a few minutes I was actually going to be in the same city as Mr. Conklin. Granted, the city was the New York mega-metropolis, so it didn’t really mean anything. But still, the thrill was electric.

From the airport I took a shuttle van into the city. I had been to NYC once before, so I didn’t have the first-timer’s need to look for landmarks. Instead, once we were in Manhattan I scanned the faces of the people on the street, looking for celebrities. I didn’t know if one of them should happen to be Ryan if I would necessarily realize it was actually him. It’s a different experience to see someone in real life than it is to see them on television. I did see someone who could have been Woody Allen, but perhaps it was just an old man.

I arrived at my hotel, checked in, and then got some nearby fast food. Afterward I did a long hike through Times Square, Grand Central Station, and Rockefeller Plaza. The purpose of the walk was to see those sights, but I still scanned the crowds in case I might serendipitously spot Ryan or some other noteworthy personage. It happened to be Fleet Week, so I did some groups of Navy guys walking around. However, they all seemed to be out of shape officers, so they weren’t as interesting to view as much as they were just obstacles at street corners to walk around.

I went back to my hotel and did my final planning for Ryan’s event that night at the Barnes & Noble at 82nd & Broadway. Besides choosing what to wear, I also had to decide whether or not to buy another book for the purpose of having it signed. I hadn’t brought my copy from home because I didn’t want to tote it, and it would have felt strange taking a book I bought somewhere else into a bookstore. I tried to be logical about it, and in the end decided not to buy another book. 1) I already owned both a hardback and an audio. 2) I hate to pay full price for anything. 3) I already have handwritten letters from Ryan, so a signature wasn’t something I didn’t already have.

The other thing to make a final decision on was how to get there. The store was close to a subway stop, but I hadn’t learned how to use the subway yet and didn’t feel like learning how that night. Also, it would be nighttime on the way back and I didn’t know how safe it was. I could see that the bookstore was only two miles from my hotel, so I decided just to walk there and back. If nothing else, I could see some more New York streets as well as the outside of the Lincoln Center.

I started out and quickly realized that the rushing of New York pedestrians is greatly exaggerated. I found myself going at a much quicker clip than they were. The problem was that there were so many of these human speed bumps that they slowed me down so that the light at each street corner would turn red just as I got there. Very annoying.

Eventually I got to the store. I could see right away that there were big posters in the window and in the entranceway announcing that Ryan A. Conklin would be there that evening. It was almost too much to take in that I was really there and in just a short while I was actually going to be able to see him in person. I took a deep breath and pushed forward, telling myself, this is it. Trying to keep my nerves in check, I entered the building and hoped for the best.

Link to part 2

Writing A Book Review

Ryan ConklinBefore Ryan Conklin‘s book, An Angel From Hell, came out, I knew I wanted to review it for the Ryan Conklin site. I also thought that if I could do a reasonable job with it, I would like to post my thoughts on Amazon and other sites that accepted user reviews. Of course, it was very much dependent on whether I liked the book or not. As much as I like Ryan, I wasn’t going to write anything I didn’t believe. So, if I didn’t like the book I was prepared not to write anything at all. As it turned out, I loved it, and I was able to follow through on my plans.

First thing was the wait for it to be published. The announcement that the book was to be published had been made nearly a year before the actual sale date, so it was a long time coming. The Amazon pre-order option had been available for several months prior to the sale date, and I promoted it, but interestingly I didn’t avail myself of it. I did expect to order the book close to the sale date so that I would get it as early as possible, but then I saw where I could get it even quicker. On Twitter, someone had remarked that a bookstore in NYC had the book on the shelves two weeks early. I went to the store’s website and immediately ordered it with the extra charge for overnight delivery.

So I got the book in the next few days and I was one of only a handful of people in the country that had it their hands. I thought that was great because I would have the jump on anybody else reviewing it. Unfortunately, I quickly ran into a few roadblocks that prevented me from capitalizing on the early access.

For one thing, I didn’t know how to write a book review. I had to read a few articles on what should and shouldn’t be in one. The other thing was deciding on what my “take” on the book was and how would I organize it. I wrote quite a few pages of notes and had to read the book several times to figure out what I considered to be the most important points to comment on. It took a long time to gel, in fact over a month.

It is interesting that I would be slowed when I kept on dissecting random paragraphs. To satisfy my own curiosity, I wanted to determine the quality of the phrasing and sentence and paragraph structure. I wanted to see if was noticeably written by an amateur or was it on par with a professional. Envious, my conclusion was that it was very professional indeed.

For the record, here is what I made sure I included:

  • Comparison with another author and book.
  • Summary of the story and the purpose of the book.
  • Description of the tone, the feel, and the point of view of the narration.
  • Conclusion on how well the author succeeds at meeting his intentions.
  • Explanation of what makes the book special.
  • Listing of the story elements that are particularly interesting or noteworthy.
  • Suggestion of who would find the book enjoyable and/or informative.
  • Mention of problem areas.

Concerning the last bullet item, it took me a long time to decide how I felt about the number of characters. I found the volume of names to be difficult to follow, but eventually decided that the interaction with a large number of people was germane to a story about the Army.

One more thing would be important to include and that is a quote. I had decided very early on that I wanted to use the cousins/princesses quote.  I felt like it really tied together the notion of the civilian boy in the uniform along with the humor discovered even in serious situations.

The end result: something long, but something I felt pretty good about.

Ryan A. Conklin: A True Good Guy

Ryan ConklinDuring the initial promotion period for his book An Angel From Hell, author Ryan A. Conklin was a guest on several radio shows to speak about the book and also his experience as an Army infantryman in Iraq. One of the shows was “Radio Times” on WHYY in Philadelphia. The host of the show, Marty Moss-Coane, spoke with Ryan Conklin on air about some interesting topics, and opened the phone lines to allow listeners to ask their own questions.

One of the callers, an apparently bright fellow and awesome fan from Indianapolis, who I could tell could be serious but probably wishes Ryan would joke with him on Facebook like Ryan does with other people, asked a question concerning the moral attitude of American soldiers in Iraq. The question was, “In your book you mention an incident where soldiers had staged an escape of prisoners so they could shoot the unarmed men. You made your view clear, calling it ‘evil’. Do you see American soldiers as seeing themselves as ‘the good guys’, in the sense there are things they wouldn’t do that the bad guys would? Did you see yourself as ‘a good guy’, in that moral sense as a soldier?”

Ryan responded that he saw the best of the men he served with and he himself never saw anything like that incident. He explained that the incident involved three soldiers from his regiment during Operation Iron Triangle who were accused of murdering Iraqis. Ryan strongly condemned what occurred, labeling it as evil and going against how his unit was trained and against everything that he and the men he served with are about. Soldiers who had liberty to shoot didn’t use that liberty to do evil things. They focused on why they were there, which wasn’t being cowboys. Also, the Army had plenty of people around to keep soldiers in the proper mindset. Unfortunately, in most groups in life there are bad apples. The soldiers who did wrong were caught and punished with jail. Ryan stated that the military is hard on those situations and doesn’t let them slide. There have been other incidents and the military has punished those perpetrators as well.

Marty asked if there are some kind of people that take advantage of being in a situation where they had power over others. Ryan acknowledged that some people do. Operation Iraqi Freedom was a crazy situation with frequent changes in the rules of engagement. In hindsight, Ryan wonders at being a 20 year old given such great authority as part of his job to shoot at cars at his own discretion. Soldiers are put in a position of authority very quickly. Ryan felt it was good that he recognized that he had that power, along with a level of responsibility for it, and he never let it get the best of him.

Marty inquired though about Ryan’s mention in his book about screaming at Iraqis. Ryan answered that it was from frustration, and from being so young and inexperienced in situations that he never really trained for. He said that sometimes his nerves and emotions would come to the surface, but that they were things to be controlled. To him, there was not only the combat against the enemy, but also against one’s own emotions.

The question was asked if Ryan considers himself to be a different person now. The answer was definitely. The experience as a soldier led to rapid maturity. He feels he is more mature than if he hadn’t served. He sees himself as a better person for the experience and it has led him to grow to be the person that he is.

Marty asked about one of things that has changed with Ryan, which is the tendency to keep feelings to himself. Ryan conceded that he used to hide his feelings and that he has ex-girlfriends that will attest to it. So is he now more open and expressive? Ryan said that he used to put walls up to hide who he really was and how he really felt. He was told by people who knew him that he used humor to mask his problems. He explained that people would think he was a happy person, making jokes all the time, and having nothing that bothers him. The truth is that things do bother him.

He came to the realization that he was putting up walls around his emotions, and over time he worked to bring them down. Writing the book helped in that process. He wrote the book at first only for his own eyes, and he was able to let the walls down with himself. Then he got it published, and subsequently he has come to terms with having the walls down with everyone else who reads it. Ryan feels it is very liberating to have the walls down. He sees himself now as more open, with nothing to hide. With finally being true to himself, it has made him extremely happy.

Studying Ryan Conklin

Ryan ConklinConsider how many thousands of books there are about President Abraham Lincoln. Consider how the people who study him continue to write new books, and provide ever more analysis and findings about the man and his Presidency. Then consider how all these discussions and conclusions are based on a finite amount of source material that has largely been the same set of information that historians have been limited to in their research for over a hundred years. There’s really nothing ever new about Lincoln except for new interpretations from that old material. It’s a testament to the popularity of Lincoln that even with the static set of information about him, people continue to try to eke out every bit of understanding that they can from that pool of material.

Now imagine the euphoria that a person who studies Lincoln would feel if some new source material were discovered during their lifetime. It would be incredible.

For me, I have a better situation. The person I have been studying the last year, Ryan A. Conklin (of MTV’s The Real World: Brooklyn), is alive and still doing stuff. I wouldn’t call it euphoria, because it happens enough on regular basis, but as new material and information is presented it’s still a basis for some excitement. All new information provides the possibility for another piece of the puzzle to be put in place and to see what the big picture of the man looks like.

Unfortunately, there’s also some frustration from having a living subject of study. A Lincoln historian has to accept that he can never ask Abe about his relationship with William Herndon or about the composition of the Gettysburg Address or any other important unsettled questions. I, on the other hand, could theoretically get information from Mr. Conklin about events and thoughts from his life story that require clarification. The bad thing is that in reality I can get the same amount of information from Mr. Lincoln who is lying in his tomb as I can get from Mr. Conklin who is ambling around Gettysburg.

To be honest and fair, I don’t actually try to ask any substantive questions of Mr. Conklin, so it’s not a case of any request being declined. It’s really just a matter of observing his public responses to other fans and to my own questions and seeing that his selection of what to respond to is fairly random and the subjects addressed are fairly trifling. It seems unlikely that more serious questions would receive sufficiently detailed responses.

As an offset, the publication of his book. An Angel From Hell, is a real boon for study, because it increases the amount of source information by a huge percentage in one fell swoop. Sadly though, having read the book, my desire to better understand the events and thoughts included in the book have likewise increased the amount of unanswered questions in my mind.

In the epilogue of the book, Ryan Conklin states that after his return home from his first deployment in Iraq that people weren’t as interested in seeing his scrapbooks of the war as he was willing to show them. I wish I could have been there. I want to learn and understand about it all.

JR Celski Tattoo Heats Up The Internet

JR CelskiI’ve been watching and learning about U.S. short track speedskater JR Celski during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. I’m always on the lookout for people who are about to have a breakthrough on their advance to fame. I want to be there at the beginning. I knew as soon as I saw JR that he was someone who could gain celebrity status.

Of course he was already well known to people who follow speedskating, but not so much to the general public. That changed a little when he won the bronze medal in the 1500m and it was well publicized how miraculous it was to get a medal considering his leg had been severely injured only five months before. However, his stock really shot up, strangely really, after he was disqualified in the semifinals of the 1000m. He unzipped his suit and revealed a sexy chest and big tattoo and the internet went crazy as people wanted to know more about him. They thought he was hot, hot, hot.

The basic design of the tattoo is the sun and star combination from the flag of the Philippines. Within the sun pattern is the coat of arms of the Republic of Poland.  Celski combined the two elements to reflect his multi-ethnic ancestry. His mother is a Filipino-American and his father is  Polish-American. 

You can read more about the JR Celski tattoo <- here.

Considering he’s in the same sport and events as the number one American star of the Games, Apolo Anton Ohno, it would be expected that he would be overshadowed and overlooked during the Games. However, people who get paid to spot future stars had clearly marked him for a bright future. During the Olympics he was in national commercials for McDonald’s and Proctor & Gamble. The week before he was on The Biggest Loser. The week before that he was chosen to be one of the athletes  to appear on national television to model the ceremony uniforms for Team USA. We can expect to see more of him.

JR Celski Encourages Fat People

JROlympic short track speedskater JR Celski was on NBC’s The Biggest Loser as one of several Olympians who made special guest appearances to encourage the contestants in their efforts to exercise and lose weight. JR was able to not only show them how to use a specific piece of exercise equipment but also to inspire them by telling his own remarkable story.

It was in season 9, episode 6, of the hit show, when the cast went to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. There they met several athletes, like JR Celski, who helped to push them to do the best they could in succeeding on the show.

At the start JR Celski’s's segment, the contestants were taken into a gymnasium where a set of slide boards were arrayed. There the host Alison Sweeney told them the aphorism of the day to get them ready for the day’s pop challenge. She said, “Becoming an Olympic champion boils down to one thing: on the big day you have to push harder than everyone else.” The key word, as it would be learned, was “push”.

JRAlison introduced JR, and asked him to tell his story. He told about starting inline skating at age 3 and then getting into short track speedskating. He then related the tale of how he had injured himself severely a few months before, on the last day of the Olympic Trials. Having cut his leg to the bone, he ended up in a hospital, unable to move his leg. He showed the 6″ scar as the proof of the incident. “It was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, but I bounced back. I guess it’s just proven to me, that no matter what situation you’re in, you’ve got to get back up. And that’s all you guys have to do, is to be dedicated to what you do and then really, really go for it.”

The pop challenge would be using the slide board, and so JR Celski explained how to use one. He stepped on one and appeared to slide right off of it, but said he was just kidding. However, he did warn that it was as slippery as ice. One of the hefties said JR made it look so simple, as it should be for an Olympic athlete.

As the contest began, JR took in a deep breath and grasped his hands nervously. He was not used to this kind of workout group, as he saw many of them fall over. He gently gave them some general support: “Come on, push through the pain guys.” JR clapped politely as some were able to move back and forth and not topple to the ground. Eventually a gold, silver, and bronze winner were declared and the challenge was complete. Throughout, JR Celski was his usual sweetness.

Bob and Jillian encouraged the viewing audience to contribute to the United States Olympic Committee and most importantly, watch the Olympics on NBC.

2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony

Stephane LambielI love watching a fantastic spectacle, and since there is none bigger than an opening or closing Olympic ceremony, watching the 2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony was must-see TV. It was well understood by everyone after the Beijing games that no other ceremony in our lifetime is likely to even come close to the enormity of its grandeur. However, with the expectations set appropriately, the Vancouver opening should still have been, well, “Olympic”.

Or so I thought.

There were a few good moments, but a lot of it seemed to miss the mark. The overriding problem was that it was held indoors. A Winter Games ceremony should be held outdoors. End of story. Pumping snow in the air during the show and keeping the temperature cold enough inside so that the athletes wouldn’t get heat exhaustion while wearing their fancy uniforms didn’t make up for it.

The beginning of the program suggested that it was unlikely that there would be innovation in presentation. It was a welcome from the local so-called “First Nations” (Indian) tribes. Lord love them, but doing a specific Indian segment is now cliche for Olympics in North America. It’s been done enough. A better way to demonstrate inclusion and diversity would be to do something with all the different ethnic groups mixed together. However, I must admit they sure put their hearts into their dancing, doing it the entire duration of the entrance parade of the athletes.

The athletes’ entrance is always interesting, seeing people from the various countries that are represented. Some enter very conservatively and some enter with a lot of excitement. One example of an excited athlete was Stephane Lambiel (above), a Swiss figure skater and that country’s flag bearer. He whipped his flag around and you could tell he would be putting a lot of spin are flare in his performances on the ice as well.

The entrance of Team USA was marred by the appearance of their Ralph Lauren uniforms. The huge polo pony brand emblem was incredibly tacky. However, cute little J.R. Celski, one of the American short track speed skaters, looked okay in his.

After the athletes entered, the entertainment part of the show commenced and for the most part it dreadfully dull. People wandering around the floor or hanging from wires for interminable lengths of time. Even the musical numbers were dull, other than the fiddling and the dancing to it. By its nature it added a little more fervor, but it certainly was nothing more than what you could see in a run of the mill Broadway show. The most interesting effect was the use of the video projectors on the floor and other structural surfaces. The use of the video on the floor during the performance by the solo aerialist Thomas Saulgrain was kind of cool.

I didn’t think I would be blogging about it, but my full assessment at the first link above.

Ryan Conklin Lobbies Congress

Ryan ConklinDuring the week of February 8th thru 12th, 2010, I was following the exploits of Ryan A. Conklin as he worked with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) to speak to members of Congress about the organization’s legislative priorities. Ryan was part of “Team Bravo”, one of seven small teams that met with various Senators, Congressmen, and their staff. Ryan’s team met with several of them, including Senator Max Baucus (shown at right with Ryan), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The campaign was known as “Storm the Hill 2010“, referring to Capitol Hill, although since it occurred during the blizzard of 2010, it could also refer to a snow hill. The weather delayed Ryan a little on his journey to Washington but eventually he made it and was able to do his job convincing Congress of the importance of the IAVA’s legislation.

To help support the cause, I made a contribution to the campaign through the IAVA’s website. The contribution choices were labeled as certain types of goods and the one I chose was “a full day of meals” for a participant. So theoretically I fed Ryan for a day.

Besides the whole thing being a worthy endeavor, it also provided an opportunity for Ryan to show how dapper he looks in his dark suit.

Ryan Conklin Declared Sexiest

Ryan ConklinI decided that I would make my own choice for “2009 Sexiest Man Alive” and that that honor would have to go to Ryan A. Conklin. While my interest in the person is largely an intellectual one, I’m compelled to acknowledge that Ryan has some kind of animal magnetism that many of his fans find irresistible, and that it sometimes makes even me a little weak in the knees when I think about him.

The funny thing is that he doesn’t have the big physical build of fellow Real World Brooklyn cast members Scott Herman or JD Ordonez, or the male model face of Scott, but he must have something on the inside showing through that is very potent and very alluring. I previously wrote about this Ryan Conklin kavorka that draws people to him.

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