Sunday, February 28, 2010

ESPN Wide World of Spots Complex at Walt Disney World Resort

I shared previously that our first scheduled event at the Social Media Mom's Conference was attending a special presentation about what's next for Walt Disney World followed by a fun tail gate style dinner and dance party.

Held at the soon to be renamed ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, this 220-acres location is both large and expansive, one that before attending this conference, I had no idea even existed. I didn't realize that sports events of any kind took place at Disney World! It was kind of a shock to find out that over 250 events are staged each year, featuring around 60 different sports; involving athletes from over 70 countries. Over 2 million athletes, coaches, and families visit it each year.
It's where the Atlanta Braves have their spring training session, which interested me because baseball is one of the few sports I do follow. Several cheerleading events such as the World Cheerleading Championships, USSSA events, and the Walt Disney World Marathon, one of the top marathons in the nation all are held at Walt Disney World and ESPN televises more than 20 sporting events from the complex.

It really takes youth sports to the next level, and this entertaining venue filled with ESPN elements must make athletes feel like they've reached the big time. After a hard day of competition, players might be greeted with an ESPN style news flash on the big screens featuring themselves. Wouldn't that be a thrilling experience! It will also help connect them with favorite ESPN programs, personalities and elements as well as provide advertisers new sponsorship opportunities at the grass-roots level.
A wide variety of sports can be played at the sports complex from typical group sports many of us are aware of such as softball, soccer, football, and a variety of track & field to ones I am less familiar with like canine agility, cricket, and fencing and even some I've never heard of, dragon boat anyone?

I thought it was pretty neat touring an area of Walt Disney World I would have no reason to see otherwise. I think I need to start encouraging ER in athletics, I'd love to return as a proud mama cheering from the sidelines☺

{Disclaimer: All photos are courtest of Walt Disney World and press materials were utilized to help me write this post. I visited the ESPN Wide World of Sport Complex at Walt Disney World as part of the Social Media Moms Celebration. Observations and opinions expressed are my own.}

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Taking Time to Play

We had a lot of stuff we could've been doing. I was supposed to write about the important, inspriational, and interesting things the speakers on the last day of the conference said. Instead we decided to spend our afternoon doing this...
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I'd say the time was pretty well spent. ER is obessed with piling up snow, we don't know why. Brad decided since she spent so much time moving around the stuff, they might as well do something with the pile she worked so hard on and sled down it.

You've probably noticed this whole week was a Social Media Mom's Conference recap. Today was supposed to be the final one in the series, but I got side tracked. I'm sure I'll get around to doing it some time. I still have more of our adventures, but I don't want to overload you with too much Disney, as if there could be such a thing! So I will probably space those out a bit.

{for the folks getting this via email or reader, there's a super short video clip in the post, you probably can't see it, so c'mon over☺}

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Guy Kawasaki: Using Twitter as a Marketing Tool

The first speaker at the Social Media Mom's Celebration was Guy Kawasaki, a dynamic and controversial speaker, whom I enjoyed hearing immensely. While I did not necessarily agree with everything, it was fascinating hearing him share ways to use Twitter that I'd never thought about before.

I think of Twitter as mainly a way to make instant connections, mostly with other bloggers, and a way to have real time conversations with them online. Yes I know most people aren't interested in what I'm serving ER for lunch, but you'd be surprised how many responses that tweet got from my Twitter friends. You know quick little snippets of life is how you get to know someone. That's what I love about it, the personal connections; getting to know people. Plus I find out about great giveaways and interesting blog posts or online articles all the time.

Guy was speaking from a strictly marketing point of view, he's all about getting as many hits and links. Since I know several of my readers are entrepreneurs I thought they'd be interested in the points that struck me the most. First he stressed that the real key to Twitter is SEARCH, which to be honest I had never used before.

It's a great way for a company to monitor their reputation; to know what people are saying good or bad about their product. He points out that companies like Comcast are searching for tweets about them and they have a corporate tweeter, who responds with help. It can also be used to find out what's being said about competitors.

Another way companies can use Twitter is to sell their product, after all a company has an direct access to an audience, i.e. followers, who have self selected that particular company. No longer do businesses have to rely on PR firms to write and place ads that might reach their target customer. Now they can send out sale information at the click of a button, immediately.

He shared a great example of how a mobile food cart in the LA area will tweet out where they are going to stop next and when. They find their customers waiting for them when they arrive. What a great way for small businesses to use technology!

Advanced Search is a great way to for businesses to localize their searches because they can look for tweets near their physical location. The example he gave was for a Camero repair shop. If they search for tweets mentioning Cameros within 100 miles of their location they can then tweet people who mention needing parts. TwitHawk is a service he suggests for advanced searches. Okay so most of those suggestions, I know many of us probably have no need for. This next one I thought was great for bloggers. He talked about using Twitter Feed to drive your blog feed into an automatic tweet each time you post. You can also add other people's feed into your Twitter Feed and every time they post, you'll also automatically tweet out a link to their post. This is an important tool because in Guy's opinion the way to get and keep Twitter followers is by constantly being interesting. I have to admit I do follow him and do find a lot of the links he tweets out worth checking out.

He also discussed using Objective Marketer, as a way track your tweets. You can find out which ones people click through the links and even schedule tweets. Bet a lot of you had no idea you could do that, I certainly didn't!

He suggests scheduling a tweet to repost in 8-9 hour intervals for maximum results to reach the most people. I don't know about that, most of the people I communicate via Twitter would be shocked if the same tweet came out over and over from me. Plus I think that takes away the spontaneity of conversing through Twitter. But like I said, if nothing else his talk gave me a lot to think about. It's a whole other world he was talking about and it was pretty interesting to visit it, if only for a little bit. My lack of knowledge in his sphere is no doubt why my blog makes no money, which is fine by me as it's not the motivating reason for me publishing it, and his sites are successful.
About: Guy Kawasaki is a founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures. He is also the co-founder of Alltop.com, an “online magazine rack” of popular topics on the web. Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. Guy is the author of nine books including Reality Check, The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream, and The Macintosh Way. He has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

When Dreams Come True

I asked ER what she most wanted to do at Walt Disney World and she had the same answer every time, meet Cinderella. Oh dear I thought, at this last stage there is no way we can get into the Princess Breakfast, and I couldn't find any information on the website about where she'd for sure be. Yes there was the Toontown Hall of Fame, but the descriptions were vague. Any number and variation of royal highnesses might be there. No guarantees.
Luckily for us, making my daughter's trip magical ended up being easy. Not only did we get the met the much beloved Cinderella, we got to see her twice. Brad and my mom took ER there on Thursday and Friday, both days right away in the morning as soon as the attraction opened up at 10AM. At the Magic Kingdom, the princesses and fairies are both in Toontown, a part of the park that opens one hour later than the rest, and there are signs, like the one below indicating which ones you can meet.To our surprise, the wait to meet the Disney Princesses wasn't long at all. In fact, on the second day ER even got a special photo opportunity, getting all three princess together, because there wasn't a line. My mom was impressed by how sweet and gentle all the princesses were. They talked in soft voices, got right down to her level, and were very loving. It was all a parent could want and a little princess in training's dream come true.
The wait for the fairies was longer than to see the princesses, their popularity no doubt helped along by the recent release of a new DVD featuring the residents of Pixie Hallow. ER met Tinkerbell, Fawn, and Terrence but before her big moment with them, everyone had to shrink down to fairy size by walking through a magical hall. That was a neat touch and one she talked about all day, the murals on the walls indicating their shrinking size. The fairies were equally as kind and endearing to ER; deciding that ER must be a water fairy because of her strong preference for blue. Tinkerbell even came to say hi to her early while Fawn finished up with her visitor. Then greeted her with a big, "Hello Again," when it was her turn to see her. They also engaged her in conversation, with Terrence telling her that they'd have a leaf boat race the next time she came. She was a little hesitant around him so his gentle efforts to make her comfortable were sweet. It was cute.
Another good place to see Disney Princesses is at Epcot, a tip I got from Kathie, a member of the 2010 Walt Disney Moms Panel. I was fortunate enough to sit next to her at our first presentation and she was full of good insight. She told me that often the lines for meeting characters are shorter there. You don't have to meet a panel member in person to get personalized help, if you have a question about Walt Disney World don't hesitate to take advantage of this great resource. Ask away!
Several princesses can be found in the World Showcase, unfortunately the first three times we tried to meet one their lines had already closed. ER was a little upset about missing out on Mulan in China, but she did wave to ER and come to give her a hug on her way out. Characters come out about every half hour so if the same thing happens to you, if you just wait a little bit you'll soon get another chance. We did meet both Alice in Wonderland, another favorite movie character at our house, and Mary Poppins, both in The United Kingdom. At the Animal Kingdom we met Pocohantas at the Planet Watch area. We were told by others in line that it's the only place you can meet her.

That concluded our interaction with Disney characters, because ER is still quite terrified of any with a head like Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy and all the rest. Which is a shame because during the course of our trip she could've meet every one muliple times. They came to two of our night time family events. But sometimes you can't push things if your child is not ready and ours definitely wasn't.

Disclaimer: I visited Walt Disney World during the Social Media Moms Conference, tickets to the theme parks were included in my fee at a greatly reduced price. This post relates my families unbiased experiences and I was not required nor asked to post on my trip.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Meeting Bloggers Face to Face, Imagine That!

The best part of attending the Social Media Mom's Celebration was getting to meet bloggers I've been reading or gotten to know through Twitter face to face. Meeting bloggers and finding new blogs to add to my ever growing list was also really great. I just wish we'd had time to more time to mingle. For various reasons, I didn't get a chance to really connect with many of the attendees until the last day. I was most looking forward to meeting Amy from Teach Mama, who I've been corresponding with and whose blog I greatly admire. She's a frequent contributor to my other blog ABC & 123 and has fantastic lessons ideas on her blog. A reading teacher and literacy consultant she's a must read with high quality educational content. I met many bloggers briefly and a few in more depth, here are more stand-outs from the trip:I've already mentioned meeting Kathie from What Now?!?!?!, a member of the 2010 Walt Disney World Moms Panel. I sat by her for the What's New What's Next presentation. At the same time I also met Suzannah from Zannaland, also a panel member. Both ladies were super sweet, easy to chat with and have an instant rapport with and helpful.Felicia from Go Graham Go is really one of the nicest and easily approachable ladies you can imagine. A dedicated school counselor, I always enjoy people passionate about education. On her popular blog she writes about raising her toddler Graham and features product reviews and amazing giveaways and is one of Nielson's Top 50 Power Moms. Check her blog on Thursdays for a giveaway linky to find all sorts of contests to enter.I met the lovely Jennifer from The Dirty T Shirt, so named because with three kids she's got a ton of laundry, on one of our bus rides. A more experienced blogger than I and also one of Nielson's Top 50 Moms, she was quick to answer my questions and give me lots of tips. Well versed with technology she even gave me a poken, a social business card. Which I had never heard of, cause I am clueless about techie stuff. I kept running into her all weekend and it was great to keep seeing a familiar face. I really regret not getting a picture with her!Audrey from Mom Generations, I've been following on Twitter almost since I joined. She's a former fashion executive at Donna Karan International, one of my favorite designers, and gives great tips on making fashion accessible for moms and keeps me up to date on trends. I also met Danielle from Extraordinary Mommy at the same time and wish I could've talk with her more.
I met Christina from Cutest Kid Ever, The Angel Forever, and Techy Dad at our night time family event at Epcot. We all shared a table and good conversation. If you're looking for a fun meme to join, try Christina's Dear Kid Saturday and link up a letter to your child each week. It's a fun way to capture snippets of motherhood.

The Angel Forever and Techy Dad are a married blogging couple, who I exchanged parenting stories with. Unfortunately they had rather too much excitement during their trip with their active boys. Sick kids are never fun! She's yet another former teacher, I swear I think we all become bloggers when we stay home with our kids! He is very outgoing and blogs about an eclectic mix of fatherhood and techie tips. He's the only daddy blogger I read and it's interesting to get a father's perspective.
One really exciting moment was getting share a lunch table with the very well known blogger Janice, half of the twin sister team behind Five Minutes for Mom, a great online moms community, and one of the cohosts of the event. She was so friendly and put me right at ease, really an awesome gal and just a ball of energy. I'm surprise she managed to eat a single bite she was up and moving the whole time. I'd also like to thank her for the photo of me and Teach Mama's Amy near the top of this post. Lastly, I want to give a big shout out to Amy at Resourceful Mommy! She's responsible for my invitation to the conference and got the ball rolling to get me and my family to Walt Disney World. She's queen of the Twitter parties, great ways to learn about interesting companies and meet new bloggers. Join her NING group Global Influence, to stay up to date on campaigns you can be a part of. A lot of times you can also win fabulous prizes for participating in the Twitter parties she coordinates. I've yet to win anything but I can't complain too much. Look what I did win as a door prize at the conference!!! This super cute wristlet by Dooney & Burke featuring an exclusive Disney themed print only available at Disney Parks. For this purse obsessed girl it's the ultimate souvenir from an unforgettable trip.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dinner Impossible with Joe Jonas & Demi Lovato

After a long day at Epcot we were pretty exhausted, it was cold and we weren't' looking forward to a meal outdoors. We're so glad we resisted the urge to return to the Polynesian and collapse on the bed! The night's events ended up being a little surreal, I mean a dinner prepared by a Food Network personality and a Jonas brother? Did I fall down the rabbit hole? This is the kind of night I watch on television, NOT one I'm AT!
The first unexpected twist was finding out our dinner was prepared by celebrity Chef Robert Irvine of Dinner Impossible fame. How exciting!!! My mom was especially thrilled. I found out via Twitter and @zannaland that the episode our meal is featured on should be #9 and airing in June or July. I can't wait to find out more about all the back stage drama, because you know Chef Irvine blows his top at least once during a challenge!
Thank you to Kathie for directing me to The Disney Food Blog, where you can find out more about the low down on the challenge, which was too cook a meal for 400 people and to be inspired by the Disney Princesses. I think it was mainly for the Give a Day Get a Disney Day volunteer families, who definitely deserve a great meal! I'm just glad we got to be a part of it too.
Our favorite included the fire roasted heirloom tomato soup with basil foam and tiger shrimp, Cobb salad served in a little plastic cone and with foccacia stick, and mid-west beef and Pennsylvanian mushroom pie. There was also some kid friendly choices like chicken friend rice, vegetable chow mein with cilantro, and Mickey-roni and sharp cheddar. Plus a few more that I didn't get to taste because I was stuffed or knew I wouldn't enjoy like the Main lobster and Atlantic seafood fisherman's pie and corn crusted Florida root vegetable pie.
Plus I had to save room for dessert! The brownie torte, apple crumble, cheesecake push-up, and deconstructed cannoli being my favorites. That's the lovely Lauren from Half Deserted Streets, who was there representing a local magazine and her boyfriend Samir, with the push-ups above. They sat with us and were really fun to talk with.
It was an exciting night and a big thrill to be part of such fun challenge; Chef Robert Irvin wasn't the only celebrity there that night! Oh no, we had a little after dinner entertainment. There were lots of screams of delight as Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato took the stage to sing their new duet, "Make a Wave". A new anthem for Disney's Friends for Change: Project Green, it's about how a single act of kindness, i.e. a pebble in the water, can lead to more people working together, leading to a wave of change.


It was followed by This is Me from the Disney movie Camp Rock. Both videos are of the actual performance we were at, taken by another audience member.


It was really quite an experience to be there for one of the performance, recorded in Epcot, similar ones I've seen shown between shows on The Disney Channel. Also a fun look behind the scenes how these types of events are filmed.

{Disclaimer: I attended this event as a member of the Social Media Mom's Celebration. As part of this conference I received complimentary items, special discounts, and other exciting benefits, such as food and entertainment from Walt Disney World.}

Monday, February 22, 2010

Social Media Moms Event at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

Our first scheduled event at the Social Media Moms Celebration was an family event held at the soon to be rebranded as ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The attendees attended an exclusive media event, What's New What's Next, while our families enjoyed special outdoor activities.
While I was learning more about what's in store for Disney enthusiasts during the next year, ER got a chance to run off some steam on the outdoor fields. Brad and my mom enjoyed playing football and kicking around a soccer ball with her before snacking on popcorn. Basketball, volleyball, and badminton could also be played. However, it seemed ER enjoyed holding onto a short pole and spinning around it the most. Oh well, guess she's not ready for organized sports yet!
After the presentation concluded we met up with our families and everyone headed into Josten's Center for dinner. On that night is was a banquet hall but it can be configured many different ways to accommodate several games and sports such as fit six college sized basketball courts, or twelve regulation volleyball courts, or two regular sized hockey rinks.

Dinner was set up in several self serve stations with fun tail gate style foods like cheese steak sandwiches, hamburgers, a variety of sausages, nachos, and desserts. There were bags of Cracker Jacks and cotton candy and of course some special guests. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Chip & Dale all made an appearance. Not that you'd know it from our pictures! ER promptly hid as soon as they showed up.Beside a wonderful meal, our Disney World hosts had some other surprises planned for us. A DJ played upbeat tunes and got the kids involved in learning some new dance steps. ER wanted to go right up on the stage to dance along. It was fun to see everyone's kids having enjoying themselves! After awhile, even Grammy got up there to shake her grove thing!Our first night at Walt Disney World wouldn't be complete without enjoying some Mickey shaped treats! My mom and ER enjoyed their mouse eared chocolate covered ice creams, every last bite. It was a long day and we headed back to the Polynesian, wearing our new ESPN Wide World of Sports baseball hats, before the High School Musical performance hit the stage.

{I attended these special media events as a member of the Social Media Moms Conference, for which I paid a conference fee. The purposes of this post are to share my experiences and observations with family and friends.}

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review: Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers

This was our first time taking ER on a big trip since she's been out of the baby carrier. Having a busy and mobile preschooler along drastically affects the scope of a trip anywhere, let alone a place as big and varied at Walt Disney World. I was overwhelmed by all the information on their website almost the first moment I opened it. It was hard to organize it all and time consuming with so many different links.

Luckily, I got the email from the Lisa M. Battista suggesting I review her book Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers. I was relieved to have a great resource targeted right to us, helping us plan for our trip to Walt Disney World. It was so handy that we took along with us and referred to it each night when making our plans for how we'd tour the parks the next day.

My husband especially like the suggestions for attractions geared toward ER's age range. The short descriptions of preschooler friendly rides, helped him decide where to go while I was at the conference. In fact we mainly stuck to the Battista's recommendations at the Magic Kingdom with It's a Small World, Cinderella's Carousel, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant all being hits.

Equally valuable was her insight on which rides would potentially scare ER, specific warnings for various rides were given helping narrow down which ones might upset her. With so many new rides since we'd visited last, the heads up were helpful as some sound fairly harmless like Stich's Great Escape or It's Tough to be a Bug. No parents wants to be stuck half way through a ride with a terrified and crying child.

Other great tips for our family included the following suggestions:
  • Walking from the Polynesian to the Transportion & Ticket Center to catch the bus to Epcot
  • Bringing small toys to keep ER occupied during waits for rides
  • Ways to get the best use out of the Fast Passes
  • The character greeting list, it's how Brad knew how to find Cinderella for ER
  • Must Do List in Appendix F, broken down by age range
  • Kid friendly restaurants, especially clarifiying that Cinderella doesn't actually attend the meal at Cinderella's Royal Table.
  • Good places your kids can run off some steam at each park. i.e. identifying the playgrounds
Beyond the Attractions is filled with a lot of basic information from how to pick which level of resort to stay at to fun hidden activities like pin trading all discussed from a preschool parent's point of view. If you're considering making a visit to Walt Disney World, it's an invaluable read to get a hold of before you start booking your trip. It can be purchased for $15.99 on Amazon.com or BeyondTheAttractions.com

Disclaimer: Thank you to the author Lisa M. Battista for the reviewers copy of this title. This post relates my own unbiased experiences and opinions with this book; yours may differ.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Polynesian Resort

Yesterday I shared our room at the Polynesian and while they were nicely appointed, it's the grounds and that really shine. Brad took a boat from the resort to the Magic Kingdom and got these lovely waterside views of it. He said it was chilly and slower than the monorail but worth it and great to see the different resorts from another angle. If it had been a little warmer we'd have taken ER on it too.
He also checked out the awesome looking main pool! I can't begin to explain how sad I am we didn't get a chance to play in it. I didn't expect too, yes it's Florida but it's still February. ER loves swimming so we didn't show it to her. Ah well, at least the ducks were enjoying a pretty view of the Grand Floridian. That's where I've always dreamed of staying...one day! We did see some brave souls jumping in the water later on. Brad said the pool is heated and it did feel considerably warmer in that area...but still with temps in the 50s...I'll pass.Back inside and away from some of the coldest temperatures Florida's had all year, is this amazing volcanic rock, waterfall, and floral centerpiece that dominates your view as you enter the Great Ceremonial House.
It is incredible! Coconut palms tower over more than 75 tropical plants. I was a little obsessed with photographing it, there were just so many beautiful views and different plants to see.Capturing nature was what first got me hooked on photography, which sadly I haven't had as much opportunity to indulge in lately.
I think this view from the second floor, overlooking it gives you a better idea of how immense it is.
Obligatory tourist photo in the lobby right before check out☺The attention to detail and Disney's ability to thrill the senses begins before you step into the Grand Ceremonial House. The walk up to it is so green and lush. It's lined with water features including small ponds and waterfalls; I loved it! I got that pink fleece during the conference meetings on Friday, it was so thick and warm. It was fun seeing other attendees wearing them around the park.
It was fabulous having beautiful photo ops right at our hotel. Wouldn't expect anything less from Disney would you?
It was also beautiful at night when the torches were lit up.
We did not have an opportunity to eat at Kona Café or 'Ohana, our nights were filled with special events. We did grab quick breakfasts and snacks at Captain Cooks, it can be hard to find a table during busy times, but cast members will help you round up extra chairs.You can purchase made to order meals at kiosks, we tried the breakfast sandwiches, an order of two was six dollars and filling. Brad commented that while the prices were a little high, they weren't obnoxious nor was it worth leaving the park to eat elsewhere. That's saying a lot because he can be cheap...um...I mean frugal. Naturally ER had to have Mickey shaped waffles, really thick and filling. You can also get scrambled eggs and sides of bacon ordered a la carte, plus freshy baked goods and other sides and drinks from the refridgerated area. For me the biggest draw to Captain Cook was their self serve Dole Whip station. A mix of pineapple and vanilla flavored self serve ice cream, seriously delicious. I mean can it get any better? Had to indulge more than once.
These are the light fixtures along the hallway to Captain Cooks, I just thought they were neat looking.
There are three stores inside of The Great Ceremonial House, this is the Tiki Boutique located on the main level. It's primarily a clothing store.
Upstairs near the monorail entrance is another store, that interested me more. I love browsing this kind of of stuff. All sorts of neat knick knacks are available plus a surprisingly large number of kitchenware. The Mickey shaped ice cube trays were really fun.
It's also where most of the toys are found. ER found this particular wall to be of high interest...I think she'd have liked one of everything but especially that Tinkerbell doll. I kind of regret not getting it for her. Don't feel to badly for her, as she did leave with a Minnie and Marie from the Aristocats plush dolls. We had a no more than one doll per day rule☺There are also opportunities to shop for fine art. I planned on stopping in but didn't get a chance to visit it when I didn't have ER with me and it did not look like a kid friendly store.

The Polynesian has many amenities, the main one of importance being for us, their access to the monorail. It was by far the quickest method of getting to Magic Kingdom and great for families wishing to return to their room for a break and to get back quickly for late night parades.
Disclaimer: Our stay at the Polynesian was included in my conference ticket to the Social Media Mom's Celebration, at a greatly reduced price. I was not asked nor required to post about our stay, this is what I'd have posted anyway to share with my family and friends.
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