Why I’ll Never Go to Another Blogging Conference

As you all know, I spent last weekend in San Francisco at the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival. I got back home on Monday, but it’s taken me since then to process what happened last weekend enough to discuss it. If you read my Twitter postings, or if you’re really good at picking up cues, you may have surmised by now that I had a less than stellar time. Part of that has to do with my state of mind going in, the rest of it has to do with the actions of some of my fellow bloggers. The only ones who are totally blameless in this fiasco is Foodbuzz themselves, who planned out a stellar series of events and planned things (like assigned tables at the event on the first night) that would force people outside the insular groups they were hanging with.

First things first – let’s talk about my expectations for this weekend. In many ways, I see myself as an ambassador for our fine city – when I travel, I love to try to tell and show others that we’re not just some cowtown in a flyover state, that we have tons of creative types that make Columbus a wonderful place to live. I love bringing foodie gifts, especially, because if people can taste for themselves, one bite says more to them than an hour of my talking the city up.

In addition, I wanted to go because many of those going are people whose blogs I read regularly, whose recipes have won raves from my friends and family, and I actually wanted to meet them face to face so I could put a face to the name and vice versa.

Lastly, the events planned sounded amazing – a street food fair on Day 1? Breakout sessions (esp. one on food photography) on Day 2? A Tasting Plaza on Day 2? A lavish dinner in the Ferry Building on Day 2? A Farewell Brunch on Day 3? Sign me up! I couldn’t think of anything more awesome than sharing these things with fellow foodies, people who would understand my compulsive need to journal my experiences and my fascination with photographing every morsel of food that hits my table when dining out. My only experience with other food bloggers before this point had been with the local Columbus food bloggers, many of whom I consider friends because we’ve bonded over a meal (or two, or five), we’ve come out to support each other in events, and because each of us have done our small part to promote things that make Columbus so unique. I may not have been born here, but Columbus and it’s residents have embraced me with open arms and it’s where I consider home these days.

A little bit of back story leading up to getting to the hotel from the airport. Many of you may not know that I have some severe orthopedic issues (degenerative disk disease and spondylolisthesis, carpal tunnel syndrome, frayed meniscus and generally shot knees, lots of osteoarthritis, thoracic outlet syndrome, and some pretty severe peripheral neuropathy, which acts up more when I become inflamed in one of the previous areas) that limits my mobility. I can walk pretty well (although once I hit the steep hills of San Francisco, even that was called into question), but don’t do well at all on stairs of any sort.

So I get into SFO pretty early (10ish) – the plane ride in was fairly uneventful, thankfully – and manage to make it over to the BART station and on a train headed to Powell St, where I hoped to score a Muni pass ($20 for 3 days of unlimited use of the cable cars, buses and Muni trains) so I could hop on a cable car that would be able to let me off right in front of my hotel.

After talking to a surly BART employee who cut me off twice before I could even get my question out, I got on the right train (there were 2 different ones to choose from) Am I the only one who thinks the BART trains smell like pee? And they weren’t kidding about that rapid part. I had a hard time holding on to the pole so I didn’t go flying with my other hand grabbing my bags so they wouldn’t go flying. I had no idea what stop was what (you can’t hear the speaker over the din of the train), so I counted stops so I’d be sure to get off at the right one. The train let me out into this huge underground depot, with me not being able to find an elevator. There was one on the other end of the building,  so about 30 minutes later I manage to make it to the surface – I was unsure which direction to go in (because none of the street signs said Powell), so I picked a direction and walked until I found the cable cars. This is where everything started going horribly, horribly wrong. The step going up into the cable car is so high up, that it took every ounce of upper body strength I had to manage to pull myself up. It took a few tries, but finally I am able to get in, and let the conductor know where I am going to – he promised to let me know when my stop was coming up, and would alert the driver to stop so I could get off. Not having ever gone to San Francisco before this, I wasn’t sure how far the hotel was from where I started. The first clue I had that he had missed my stop completely was when we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf.

So I had rode the entire route, start to finish. The conductor seemed sincerely apologetic, and made sure I got on the cable car going in the other direction (again with the pulling myself up) and I finally did make it to my hotel, somewhere close to 1pm. I had already been up since 2am so I could catch my 5:30am (Eastern) flight, and by East coast standards, it was 4pm already. 14 hours into my day. I got settled into my hotel room, then wandered out to find something to eat. At first, I headed in the wrong direction, made it halfway up the huge steep hill, felt my legs shaking and threatening to buckle under me, and realized I needed to turn around because where I was going in the other direction. A rather flat 3 block walk lead me to Katana-ya, a ramen shop where I picked up lunch (more about that later).

I took my leftovers back with me to the hotel, where exhausted, I proceeded to take a 90 minute nap before I went downstairs to the lobby to catch the shuttle bus to the Street Food Fair at Fort Mason.

I woke up, freshened up a bit, feeling a little better, and headed downstairs to meet some other people. Except the scene down there was nothing like I pictured. Everybody was clumped together in small groups of 2-5 people, essentially ignoring everything else going on around them. I’m not the type who will insert myself into the middle of a group and conversation, so I panicked a bit. I scanned the room quickly and saw one other person who wasn’t grouped off, and sat down next to him and engaged him in conversation. He was polite and spoke to me for a couple of minutes, then left for greener pastures. So I sat there alone on the couch, hoping some other person who was there alone, knowing no one, would see me and do the same thing I just did – come over and engage me in conversation. Unfortunately, that never happened.

The buses finally arrive, and people start piling on them in preparation for heading up to Fort Mason. I finally get to the door of the bus, and this step is even higher up than the one on the cable car. I was absolutely humiliated, because it took me pulling up with all my might and two people pushing me up from behind to get me on that bus, finally. I skulked off to the back of the bus where I was ready to cry. Even though I’m smaller than I have been in ages (~250 lbs), I felt absolutely huge, the way I always do when I have physical limitations slap me in the face at the most inopportune times.

I’ll talk about street food fair in detail in another post, but other than spending a few minutes talking to some really nice people whose table I was assigned to, I really didn’t connect with anyone at this event. The only way you could identify who was who was by looking at tag that hung on a lanyard around their necks, which almost always ended up strategically located right at boob level. So if you wanted to look at someone’s tag, it was awkward, to say the least.

It was about this time that I realized how utterly cliquey this weekend was going to be. The people who were paired off into groups at the hotel were still paired off at this event too. And right about then it occurred to me that if I hadn’t found someone to hang with by now, it was too late. Peer groups and pecking order had already been established, and to all of these groups, even those that didn’t include the popular bloggers, I was an outsider looking in. It was so very high school, and very much like high school, I realized that I was a loner who didn’t fit well into any group, and that if I hung with any one group, I would still be an outsider who was tolerated but not truly included. So I made my way alone through the event, sitting alone at the table after the foodie gift exchange was over, taking some pictures, waiting in line alone for food, etc. Hoping to avoid the humiliation of the earlier bus ride, I called a cab and went back to the hotel early, about 8pm. I got into jammies and spent the rest of the night getting a couple hours of rest and Twittering about how friggin’ miserable I was.

The next day, I skipped out on the morning session I was signed up for so that I could go to the farmers market to recharge. Those of you who know me know that a good farmers market has healing properties for me – it gives me peace, perspective, and the ability to put trust in people again. The guy from Roli Roti remembered me from the night before, and smiled that I was back for more just as he was opening. I browsed the more than 120 vendors and sampled to my heart’s content. I bought some fruit and other things to eat in my hotel room and to send back home. I talked to some really cool people when I was sitting at the tables with a wonderful view of the Bay Bridge eating my lunch  – an older lady from Walnut Creek who had lived in Columbus in the 1960’s – a lady photographer from Texas who was there for a National Geographic conference and who took an awesome picture of me against the skyline of San Francisco. By the time I left a few hours later, I had a bag full of stuff, and all of the pain and awkwardness and embarrassment from the night before had been washed away, replaced by inner peace and love for the city and for probably the best farmers market I’ve been to in my life.

I was unsure about heading to the tasting plaza – I was a bit spooked from the night before so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to replace the peace with apprehension and nerves. P., on the phone with me, tried to ease my fears and told me I should go, that I shouldn’t miss any of the experience on account of other people.

My experience at the tasting plaza was horrible. I got pushed and jostled around so much that I had bruises all over my arms. While trying to walk backwards out of a tight space someone started saying “beep-beep-beep” and called me “double wide”. People cut in front of me in line like I wasn’t even there. If I walked up to one of the standing tables in the center of the room to eat my food the couple of people already there looked at me, said “let’s go” and moved away quickly. I tried to engage with a woman from Canada whose blog I read regularly and she totally blew me off. I accidentally got in the way of a woman’s shot, immediately noticed and apologized profusely and backed away, and she was  nasty to me in return. It was totally mean girls central. By this point, I said to myself, “I’ve had enough of this shit” and left and totally gave up on attending any more Foodbuzz functions. If you keep putting yourself out there and it becomes painfully obvious that every time you try to engage you get shit on, it’s just totally masochistic to keep putting yourself (and your pride, and your feelings) on the line.

I’m not saying that everyone that attended this shindig was a nasty person. I’m sure that probably 90% of the people who attended are perfectly nice people. Maybe most people, because they were part of a group, didn’t realize how insular and impermeable their groups were. Maybe I had a scowl on my face from being so unhappy (the one picture I saw of me this weekend, I’m the only person not smiling) and that kept people from wanting to know me. For a while, I thought “maybe this is all in my head and maybe I’m the problem”, but others who have been to this and other blogging conferences have had similar experiences.

I skipped out on the huge Gala dinner (was still upset from the Tasting Plaza) and the Farewell Brunch (didn’t have anyone to say goodbye to), and left early on Sunday for a quick stop at the Ferry Building to pick up something I had ordered the day before, and then to the airport for an 8 hour wait to get on my plane. Needless to say, I was happy to be home, although in general my trip to San Francisco wasn’t an entirely pleasant one, mainly because I was there alone and I hate traveling alone. I hope to someday go back with P. so I can wander outside of Union Square and replace some bad memories with good ones that I’ll make with him.

The point of this whole screed is to get it out there, so it isn’t the huge white elephant in the room when I’m talking about my trip, and to maybe bring to light some of the issues so the same thing doesn’t happen to someone else next year. Me? I probably won’t be back to a blogging conference ever again. It took me a lot to come out from behind the computer screen and get involved in my own town, let alone in something as huge as that Foodbuzz Blogger Festival. Once bitten, twice shy, right?

But if any of you are in Columbus and ever want to hang, drop me an email at columbusfoodieATgmailDOTcom. I’m still willing to be an ambassador for Columbus and can show you the time of your life and why living here is so awesome. I haven’t lost my passion for that, or for blogging about my individual experiences, but my group experiences, in the future, will be with people who already accept me for who I am and see that I am worth getting to know, even if the package comes in a brown paper wrapper rather than beautifully wrapped in gorgeous wrapping paper and ribbons. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If I missed meeting you last weekend, and if I was someone you wanted to talk to, but didn’t for whatever reason, give me a holler. I still want to get to know you, even if it’s not face to face.

33 thoughts on “Why I’ll Never Go to Another Blogging Conference

  1. Pingback: Columbus Foodie » Blog Archive » Why I'll Never Go to Another … | Blog about Blogs

  2. Andrea(Off Her Cork)

    Yup that's how it was last year (with the craziness of also being the first one). A whole bunch of groups who only hungout with themselves. I wanted to network and interact but that wasn't possible. Either people didn't want to talk with me or the populars just stood around waiting for everyone to notice their presence and bask in it. I also don't like that much food! Sure it's nice but I don't want to eat every minute of everyday of a trip.

    Don't pass on blog conferences as a whole though! Just like anything else, it's a live and learn experience. You'll find conferences that work for you and ones that don't. Foodbuzz didn't work for me but Food Blog Forum conference I attended in Atlanta did! It was amazing and everyone was so very nice.

  3. jackhonky

    I'm so sorry that was your experience at Foodbuzz. I was the guy who tweeted you about your knife from your swag bag and I looked for you at the Tasting Pavilion, but you must have left by then. It was mad chaos when I arrived there in the beginning and by the time it thinned out and I could look for you, it sounds like you must have left.

    I've been only been to one other conference, the BlogHer Food conference in October and I know that many people have had varying experiences there, though I had a great time (you can read my ridiculous post about it on my blog if you want). It can be super cliquey and if you don't know anyone it can be totally intimidating (this is how I felt the moment I walked into the breakfast for BlogHer Food).

    I was lucky to connect with a number of people via twitter before going to the BlogHer Food conference and that helped a lot. The fact that I had already established relationships with other bloggers, and then had a chance to meet them at the food conference only help to solidify those relationships. The way BlogHer Food was set up as well, there were a number of really good sessions and seminars that I found surprisingly helpful. For me, that conference was 50% workshops and sessions, and 50% meeting people.

    What's odd about Foodbuzz (and I didn't go to the first part of the event, only the second part) was the "sessions" seemed really secondary to the eating and the socializing (more like 20% sessions, 80% socializing). On top of that, the Foodbuzz community seems really insular. Since I'm not a part of Foodbuzz, the attendants seem to know everyone else in the community. There's also a huge healthy food blogger scene in Foodbuzz (something I'm not a part of) and that also struck me as cliquey. A friend said that she sat down at her table on the first day and she was the ONLY person who's blog didn't deal with an eating disorder. I don't know how I would have dealt with that situation (Hi. My blog is about baking, I use lots of sugar and butter and lard! Oh you're formerly bulimic? Sorry…).

    On the whole though, I had amazing time at BlogHer Food, meeting big time bloggers and smaller bloggers and though there were definitely people I didn't click with at that conference, I found that there were always more people I could meet that I could talk to, and most everyone there seemed friendly and approachable. I had an OK time at Foodbuzz, but if I hadn't lived in SF and hadn't borrowed someone's pass to get in who wasn't using it, I probably wouldn't have gone.

    All I can say is, like Andrea, don't write off all food blogging conferences. Not everyone is the same. I've been told that IFBC up in seattle is a great one, Food Blog Forum in Atlanta is more intimate and smaller and Camp Blogaway sounds much more homey and cozy. And, of course, BlogHer Food which is definitely geared more toward "professional bloggers"…

  4. columbusfoodie Post author

    Thanks 🙂 I think that's why I was so upset that it didn't turn out well – because a conference like this has the potential to be something amazing, but in this case, it definitely didn't deliver.

  5. columbusfoodie Post author

    I kept an eye out for you but didn't see you, unfortunately. I ended up mailing the knife to myself using FedEx when I didn't catch up with you at all. There were like 10 guys there fitting your description, and I didn't know your real name or anything.

    You may have a point there, with regards to the fit bloggers. I've always found, historicallly, that people with or recovering from eating disorders tend to judge me more harshly than most other people, probably because I'm the personification of what they fear most (getting fat). That may also explain the "double wide" and the beeping. It's not like I haven't heard either insult before, but I had my guard down, so it stung more than it usually would. What they don't realize is that I, too, have an eating disorder that I struggle with, and we probably have more in common that we have differences (considering that I've worked really hard to lose the 250 lbs. I have lost so far, but have to be on guard to keep myself from falling back into disordered eating).

    Really, though – I don't know if I'll ever go to another conference, no matter which one it is. The one thing this whole experience taught me is that I'm not social enough to be comfortable enough to have a good time. I'm much more myself dealing with people one on one.

  6. columbusfoodie Post author

    I kept an eye out for you but didn't see you, unfortunately. I ended up mailing the knife to myself using FedEx when I didn't catch up with you at all. There were like 10 guys there fitting your description, and I didn't know your real name or anything.

    You may have a point there, with regards to the fit bloggers. I've always found, historicallly, that people with or recovering from eating disorders tend to judge me more harshly than most other people, probably because I'm the personification of what they fear most (getting fat). That may also explain the "double wide" and the beeping. It's not like I haven't heard either insult before, but I had my guard down, so it stung more than it usually would. What they don't realize is that I, too, have an eating disorder that I struggle with, and we probably have more in common that we have differences (considering that I've worked really hard to lose the 250 lbs. I have lost so far, but have to be on guard to keep myself from falling back into disordered eating).

    Really, though – I don't know if I'll ever go to another conference, no matter which one it is. The one thing this whole experience taught me is that I'm not social enough to be comfortable enough to have a good time. I'm much more myself dealing with people one on one.

  7. Rachel

    I am so sorry that your experience didn't live up to expectations. I too have had the experience of going to a blog conference and feeling like I didn't make many connections. I would like to attend another conference but one that is smaller.

    I do look forward to hearing about your good eats!

  8. FJK

    I didn't go to Food Buzz, but echo Irvin's (Jack Honky's) comments about blog her food.
    I live in SF area and even I twitter and facebook and try to line up some peeps before blogherfood.
    Sorry the physical and emotional experience became so much you had to back out of the other events. Perhaps there would have been a kindred soul or two at them that would have turned the tide for you.

    Maybe try one of the other forums next time and look for a hotel associated with a conference site to ease the wear and tear on you and reduces some of the physical issues and makes it easier to "come and go" from and event.

  9. qualityonq

    I subscribe to your blog, and live in Columbus too. My heart goes out to you. But I'm glad you're home and able to vent!!

    Take care

  10. Mary

    I'm up in Norwalk (Middle of nothing going on north central Ohio), and I don't know Columbus at all, but the people I work with all talk about the amazing food down there. And I truly enjoy reading your blog. And I have to say I'm completely horrified that you were treated that way. You seem so positive and upbeat and likeable it's sad that those people judged you without ever meeting you.

    Sending you big hugs!

  11. Chet

    Wow. I've been to San Francisco, and It's hard to imagine anyone turning a visit to that beautiful city into a whinefest. It's too bad you met with a bad experience at the conference, but one walk through Chinatown, one trip across the Golden Gate bridge, one visit to Napa Valley, one walk through Muir Woods, one day in Golden Gate Park, or just about any other activity in the area is enough to wipe away the blues. Next time look for the silver lining, it's right under your nose.

  12. ali

    I am nearly in tears reading this. I am so, so, so sorry that grown adults treat people this way. I am so sorry that they treated YOU this way. Thanks for sharing your experience. Thanks for your honesty. And thanks for your AWESOME blog that has introduced me to some incredible food and recipes!!!

  13. Guest

    My heart goes out to you. Having been in this type of situation recently myself, kudos to you for having the courage to go back to the second event. When I was in this situation, I chose to stay in my room and often wish I had done things differently. Hats off to you!

  14. columbusfoodie Post author

    And I look forward to talking about them. San Francisco is definitely a foodie mecca. 🙂 Working on editing the photos and hoping to have Day 1 done by tonight.

  15. columbusfoodie Post author

    I stayed at the hotel where most of the activities occurred. And agree with you that I probably should have connected online before then. But I incorrectly assumed that there would be lots of people who were going alone knowing no one. After the first day, I got around the physical issues by taking a cab where I needed to go.

    A kindred soul would have gone a long way. To be honest, by day 2 I wasn't very open and outgoing, so that may have contributed.

  16. columbusfoodie Post author

    My twitter handle is columbusfoodie. The tweets would have been from November 5th to November 8th.

  17. columbusfoodie Post author

    I'm glad I'm home too, even though I've been sick as a dog all week and am missing out on Restaurant Week. 🙁

  18. columbusfoodie Post author

    If you ever head down to Columbus, please do let me know – I'd love to give you a tour of my favorite foodie places. And thank you so much for your kind words. The outpouring of caring and concern and kindness I've gotten from people here at home has done a lot to help heal the hurts of last weekend.

  19. columbusfoodie Post author

    I apologize if I'm coming across as whiney – it's not my intention, I assure you. I wrote this post because I didn't want the resentment from what happened seeping into my posts about what I did in San Francisco outside of these events. I'm kind of limited to where I can walk because I can't handle the hills – but will take your advice to heart on my next trip and will visit wherever the muni can take me. Part of the reason I didn't get a chance to visit many places is because I was only there for 48 hours – my next trip (with my husband) we'll be there for a week, and have much more time to explore.

  20. columbusfoodie Post author

    I do have to say, it all did take me by surprise. While I still occasionally get made fun of in my everyday life, it has been since high school that I was treated this badly by virtually anyone I encountered. I think jackhonky (commenter above) was onto something – there was a large percentage of healthy living bloggers, many with eating disorders, who may have seen me as a personification of their biggest fear. Who knows? I'm of the opinion that if you need to bully someone else, it's because you have a lot of self hate and insecurity.

  21. columbusfoodie Post author

    It was tough going back that second day. Especially since I was feeling so good after going to the farmers market. I wish I had just continued doing my own thing, which would have turned the tide for me.

  22. Trina

    I can only say " how ignorant" of those adults to have acted that way. I wanted to let you know that I have been bringing my mother to OSU Peripheral Neuropathy Center for several months and that the best meals we have had while in Columbus have been at places you've talked about in your blog. We come up at least once a month. Maybe sometime you can give us a tour.

  23. Susan

    Aahhh, I wish I knew you were there before the event! I would have tracked you down and made some awkward (and possibly drunken) conversation to keep us reasonably entertained 😛

    This was my second blogging conference and they KEY to these things is sharing hotel rooms. If you don’t know anyone, just start sending out e-mails and tweets until someone bites. Most of the cliques were made up of those who were rooming together. Most of them hadn’t met before the festival either. And you’re right, most people become so engrossed in their own little circles that they don’t even realize that there are people out there in need of a circle too!

    You didn’t miss much at the events you skipped. Especially the brunch. I’ll definitely drop you a line if I’m ever in Columbus 🙂

  24. Bob delGrosso

    I'm not sure who was at that conference but it's been my experience that many blog posts about foods, eating and cooking tend to be pretty shallow and do not convey much of an understanding of the larger context in which these things exist. It's also pretty clear to me that the main reason why many bloggers blog has less to do with an interest in food and food-craft than it does with the hope of gaining a measure of fame and income.
    So, it comes as no surprise to me that you found yourself mired in a sea of shallow, self-absorbed food grubbers. It's just too bad that you didn't realize what would happen beforehand so that you could have used your time in San Francisco more wisely.

  25. Anne

    I'm sorry to hear that Foodbuzz was such a bad experience for you. I read a couple of the "healthy living" bloggers, and from your description (and theirs) can totally see why/how it was so cliquey. I'm a Columbus expat and a huge fan of your blog, and hope that this one bad experience doesn't keep you from doing what you've been doing so well: describing and discussing the wonderful local treats and tastiness that Columbus has to offer.
    (Oh, and when you go back to SF, try to track down one of the Napa wine tours. There are buses/coaches that go through the Sonoma valley, hitting some of the local wineries…)

  26. megan

    Ohhh yes, I went to Blogher food and found it to be quite cliquey. Thankfully I had my roommate to hang with, or I would have been standing in your shoes too. I didn't really get to meet many people I had hoped to. I'm sorry you had a miserable experience. If I'm ever in Columbus, I'll be looking you up! 🙂

    What a Farmer's Market, huh???

  27. lindalou


    I just found your blog while looking for a good Croque Madame (with Bechamel) sauce receipe and felt compelled to stay awile. I like your blog sub-title. It made me smile. Also since, I'm a Michigander, who's daughter lived in "The Nati" for 3 years while going to law school, I feel like we are next door neighbors.

    I've never been to a blogger conference, probably for fear of just what you described. Not knowing anyone and also being a relatively new blogger (about a year and half), just don't know how I would fit in. So sorry you had such a lousy experience. If you ever get brave enough to go again, maybe line up an blogging buddy or two so you can meet and give each other support.

    I like JFK's suggestion of picking a conference located within one hotel. Might make your mobility concerns easier.

    Or…you can just continue to make blogging buddies and screw the conferences.

  28. Chef Dennis

    I am so sorry to hear you had such a bad experience at the festival, After working all day I managed to get into town after a 6 hour flight just in time for friday night, I was a bit hectic but found it incredible! The morning sessions were ok, I didn’t learn a lot and the tasting pavilion was alright, but I found meeting everyone and connecting with my readers and friends was the most amazing part of the event. I thought everyone had the same experience and I am sad to hear you did not.
    I hope your weekend is going well

  29. jennifer

    As a Columbus native now living in SF, I just want to let you know that it's great that you're acting as an ambassador for the Columbus food scene. It's too bad that your trip out here was marred by bad experiences at the conference, but I do hope you make it back out since there's lots more to see and eat. I've definitely accumulated a list of favorite places in the eight years I've been living here!

  30. Dine O Mite

    I'm sorry that your trip was so humiliating. Don't be afraid to cut people like that loose at the first sign of trouble. Life is too short (and San Francisco's too far away) to deal with stuff like that.

  31. norma

    I am so sorry you had such a horrid time. I met my friend from Florida and we hung out together and met a lot of people. There was really a very young croud and I felt that they were very clicky…

    I will start to follow your blog.

    Have a nice Weekend.

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