A PhD project exploring intersectionality through fan podcasts

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Tag: Podcast Recording Fieldnotes

Lessons for Planning, Publishing and Editing Podcast Episodes

It’s nearly mid-September so I have around a month and a half (more or less) to go for the podcasting part of my project. The technical aspects and format of the episodes have largely been running on autopilot for the last few months – mostly due to the lack of time to design new formats for each episode but also because most participants seemed to be happy to go along with the format suggested at the beginning of the project. I had a podcast planning meeting with my co-hosts yesterday and based on something one of them said, I thought it’d be a good time to take stock of what I’d do differently in terms of scheduling episodes for the next season (of course, I’m not sure there will be a second season, but I’ve enjoyed making the podcast and talking to people so much that I’m going to do my best to have one).

With my co-hosts, my planning process differs slightly from the ones my guests and I use – largely because they make repeat appearances on the podcast and they’re largely putting together their thoughts through a combination of going through the texts + our conversations together. Usually, I start us off by adding texts to our shared Google document, after which they add their suggestions. Following this, we have a couple of weeks (depending on our schedules) by which each of us goes through all the texts and makes notes. Then we meet on Skype to discuss what themes and fandoms we’d like to talk about. Then, we usually record our episode in the same week. At our meeting yesterday, one of the co-hosts mentioned that she discovered that she prefers having more time after we outline the details of the episode and divide segments amongst ourselves so she can better prepare for each segment. The other co-host usually needs more time to go through the texts since she juggles professional and parenting responsibilities in between which she ekes out time for the episode. As for me, by the time we meet to plan for the episode, I’ve already made copious notes for each include in a blog post later. Once our planning meeting is done, I create an episode outline by dividing my notes to the relevant segments we decided upon.

With other guests, they tell me the themes they’re interested in via email, we pick a month to record, I suggest texts and they respond with their own texts on a Google doc (again, shared via email), and finally we meet a few days before we record the episode to go over the themes and segments. In both cases – with guests and co-hosts – I usually hurriedly go through my notes just before the planning meeting in order to suggest some themes which struck out to me in our texts. I then share these themes on the shared Google doc so the guests/co-hosts can edit/delete/add specific points they’re interested in exploring.

However, with a few guests, I’ve found that I have slightly misjudged what aspect of their suggested theme they wanted to focus on. Since I pick texts to suggest based on this misapprehension, I might spend a lot of time going through texts and making notes which may not end up being used in the episode. While I nevertheless find even this wasted exercise valuable, it is quite time-consuming and I often have to put other things on the back-burner since I don’t have the time/brainspace to do all the things I’d like to.

If I were to replicate this project in future, I think I’d do things slightly differently.

1) With my co-hosts, as suggested, I’d schedule more time in between the meeting and the recording sessions. While we have tried to record episodes every six weeks or two months, sometimes our plans have been upset by a variety of things. I’m unsure how much I could control our schedules/other events in future. With this season, I was only worried in the beginning; after the initial month or so, I had enough guests scheduled that I didn’t need to worry about not having episodes to publish. For a new season, I’d perhaps only focus on one theme for each episode rather than the two themes we focus on now. We decided to focus on two themes per episode to make my production and analysis more manageable since more participants volunteered than I had anticipated. This would decrease the number of texts we share and will hopefully leave more wiggle room in terms of time needed for other aspects of the episode (including transcription and editing)

2) With guests, it might be useful to have a brief introduction meeting on Skype before we suggest texts. I find video/audio communication much easier for the purposes of this project than back-and-forth emails. I’d use this meeting to talk about the themes they’re interested in exploring and, more importantly, get a better idea of the context and specific aspects of the themes they’d like to talk about. Following this, we can choose the texts based on our meeting, have another brief meeting before the recording to plan the segments and segment orders based on our texts/interests, and finally record the episode. So the time commitment required for potential participants would increase a little bit but we would save time on misunderstandings and explanatory emails.

3) In terms of publishing episodes, I’m happy with the fortnightly schedule I planned. However, this relies on me only having the podcast and related research/reading as my job. In case I wanted to continue doing the podcast as a part of a post-doctoral/funded research project, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, currently, this schedule also relies on episodes being edited by my partner who has a full-time job. Earlier this year, he was in a job where he worked from home and was able to control his hours. However, a couple of months into it, he had to find a new job which involved him working outside of the home where his hours were controlled by the company. This is true even now when we’ve moved up to Scotland and he’s found a new job. While he offered to begin doing the editing to me as a favour, I felt guilty enough but accepted because it meant I saved a lot of time. However, next time, I’d like to either pay him for his editing so he can take on fewer hours at work. Or I’d have to figure out how to edit the episodes myself which I’m sure I can do easily enough but it would mean much more of a time investment. In that case, I may have to be okay with either monthly episodes or not edit out awkward bits, fumbles and pauses from the episode (the most time-consuming aspect of the editing).

Taking all those factors into consideration, having a bank of guests scheduled definitely works and approaching them as early as possible even if we schedule a recording months later is a good idea. For next season, I’d begin the guest recruitment, conversation and scheduling process early as I did this time. Maybe having a ten month schedule again would work well, perhaps even longer. Alternatively, it could be an ongoing process where I could recruit new guests mid-way for the rest of the year. Again, this is assuming there even will be a second season and guests will be happy to go along with my somewhat convoluted process in the name of research. Of course, if I’m just doing a second season for fun and not for research purposes, it’ll be a similar but potentially less time-consuming process.

Why I Love Chatting With My Co-Participants And How It Impacts My Research

I’m a couple of days away from the official (planned) half-way point of my project. By the end of May, I’ll have been working on/recording the podcast for five months, and I have another five months to go to plan, record, and publish episodes. So far, I’ve recorded twelve episodes, nine of which are available online. I’m going to write more in detail about the whole episode-process and how it contributes to my ongoing engagement with analysis and theory. However, first I wanted to outline the ways in which both I and the project have benefited from a specific aspect of the process i.e. the conversations I’ve had with my co-participants before and sometimes after the episode.

Sanjana and Aparna, my friends and co-hosts of multiple episodes, have a more regular presence on the podcast than other participants. In our case, our friendship has consisted of being excitably fannish about a lot of the things we love. In the context of the podcast, it’s forced us to examine our favourite worlds, stories and characters through a more critical lens. Before planning the episode, all three of us suggest fan texts for us to look at. After reading/listening to these, we meet to plan the episode segments based on the themes we’re each interested in exploring. Finally, while recording the episode itself, we have an informal chat guided by the structure this planning-session provides. During all these stages, we’re exposed to new ideas and interpretations – either through the texts we read, through our planning conversation, or during the episode itself. Our conversations help us think of things we wouldn’t otherwise have considered and provide multiple perspectives on the topic. We start thinking about the topics we’re exploring in new ways and they impact what ideas are at the forefront of our minds when we’re watching/reading new media. And I know this because we’re actively talking about these things in the midst of our other conversations after we record individual episodes.

With Episode 3, “Just Let Me Hug a Tree in the Woods: Wicca, Paganism, and Religion in Fantasy Media”, I learned a ton about Wicca and Neo-pagan religions thanks to Anna’s own practices and experiences. Again, this is something that I wouldn’t have considered exploring myself – as someone who isn’t religious, I have very little knowledge about even the mainstream faith traditions, let alone the lesser-known ones. I approached the episode very much as someone learning something new. Some of the texts Anna suggested also allowed me to see how a lot of Western fantasy, including the stories I’m familiar with, are underpinned by Judeo-Christian values. Our episode introduced Anna to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a podcast she ended up falling in love with and continued to listen to after the episode. Additionally, her participation on my podcast inspired Anna to begin her own podcast about LARPing (Live Action Role-Playing) which blends her academic interests in fandom, fantasy and religion with her personal interests of LARPing.

With Episode 4, “A Lot of Gold in Gringotts: Representations of Class and Considerations of Gender,” talking to someone about a British context of class using the Weasley family as a touchstone was very helpful to my own understanding of these issues both in the UK as well as back home in India. As someone who has very little experience with offline fandom (I’ve only been to one fan convention that Ali was at too), our conversation – both before and during the episode – also made me aware of the misogyny in such spaces which I’ve been fortunate enough not to have experienced myself – either online or offline. That episode as well as subsequent ones which Ali has listened to have introduced her to podcasts like The Gayly Prophet as well as shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ali freely and generously shares her thoughts and recommendations of podcast episodes on Twitter and Facebook, inviting more people into the conversation.

With Episode 5, “It’s Like She’s Not Even There: Misogyny, Masculinity, and Different Cultures”, Anna’s suggested texts helped me identify, articulate, and analyse misogyny in Supernatural and Harry Potter – two fandoms we both share – in ways which I previously hadn’t. Anna is a much more active part of both fandoms than I am or indeed, was even when I was in my early 20s. The perspectives she was interested in and the ones she shared with me were ones which are part of the mainstream discourse in the fandom spaces she inhabits. While planning the episode, Anna began thinking about different cultural representations of Greece (which is where she’s from) and other countries in media after I shared my own perspectives as an Indian fan of largely Western media. Even though we didn’t end up talking about this on the episode, our prior conversations influenced our thinking and opened us up to new ideas.

With Episode 6, “Different Bodies and Different Brains: Depictions of Disability and Ageism in Media”, our conversation and position was strikingly different from our previous episode on representations of race. In this case, all three of us were part of the dominant culture that’s represented in media – both in terms of ability and age. Our conversations negotiating this raised a lot of awareness about how much we don’t know and highlighted our blind-spots. While putting the recommended texts together, and even after the episode, we kept an eye out for articles and books which explored these themes. In my own case, our research and conversations helped put both issues at the forefront of my  thoughts especially since it was such a glaring blind-spot that I hadn’t previously addressed.

With Episode 7, “There’s Never Chicken Tikka Masala At Hogwarts: Different Cultures in Fantasy Media”, we did briefly speak about the things we were interested in exploring while planning the episode (including our own individual engagements with online fandom – Aditi is more active in fanfiction spaces and Tumblr whereas I tend to stick to podcasts and memes on Facebook fan pages). However, what I loved was how much we used our episode as a diving board to talk about other things our conversation had inspired us to think about. We have sporadically been continuing our conversation about different aspects of cultural representations on WhatsApp where we’re both happy about being able to talk to someone about things which we haven’t found space for in our other personal network.

With Episode 8, “Whose Stories Are Being Told: Centering Racial Diversity in Mainstream Hollywood Movies”, I honestly probably wouldn’t have watched the movies had Hibiki not recommended them to me. Of the three, I was only familiar with Crazy Rich Asians but not in a way which made me want to watch the movie. I’m so glad I got the chance to watch all three movies because I loved them in different ways and I loved the different kinds of diverse representations they featured. With this episode, language was a barrier since Hibiki isn’t comfortable with English. I wish I had taken more steps with this because I’m afraid the episode had me monopolising the conversation – where it ended up more as a lecture than a dialogue. However, I did learn a lot about Hibiki’s perspectives both through our planning and episode as well as the essay he wrote for the children’s literature module and our chats during the module. Meeting him personally and having conversations over a period of months helped fill in the gaps the language barrier posed for me personally; however, I don’t think this is reflected in the episode itself. In this case, I think all the other conversations were just as important as the one we had on the podcast. It’s also helped me be more mindful of different language needs and accessibility both while preparing a lecture (that Hibiki was a part of) as well as digital projects in general. Our conversation also presented a different engagement with race and racism than I was personally acquainted with.

With Episode 9, “Destabilise Heterosexuality As A Default: Queer Representation in Media and Fandom”, we didn’t spend too much time planning the episode or chatting because of both our separate academic commitments. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was talking to Diana for our episode. They are much more politically aware and engaged than I am and their points really made me expand my own thinking and challenge preconceived notions I didn’t even know I had. I had a lot of fun chatting with Diana – where we were full of both rage and laughter – and it was a great way to be able to identify the gaps in my own thinking through dialogue with someone who is much more steeped in the theme than I am – both through personal experience as a queer person as well as a researcher studying queerness in fandom.

With Episode 10, (an upcoming episode about dyspraxia, autism, Doctor Who, and fandom), I’ve known Robert for a few years but we’ve never really spoken about disability and trauma before. I did learn about dyspraxia through the Medium essay he wrote about Ryan’s character in Doctor Who. I also knew Robert is steeped in online fandom and was thrilled when he offered to participate on the podcast. I loved our conversation on the podcast because it taught me a lot, including some ways in which I should be more critical of mainstream discourse I’ve encountered. Robert problematised some of the things which appear a lot within fan studies research + shone some new light on certain aspects – merely by sharing his own experiences. I loved our pre- and post-recording discussions even more both because he’s a friend that I don’t get to chat with very often but also because it taught me so many new things in such a compassionate, understanding way – including my own experiences with trauma and anxiety. It was only when Robert shared his experiences with family trauma while planning the episode, that I realised I have my own experience about that – one I hadn’t shared on the podcast or with many of my friends here. Robert also mentioned that he felt uncomfortable about being on a podcast which tries to explore marginalised identities, until our conversation made him realise that he had some experiences and perspectives that were quite marginalised too. With one of the podcast episodes we listened to while prepping for our own episode – the Witch, Please episode about disability and queerness – Robert highlighted the fact that some parts of that were quite triggering since they so closely matched his own experiences and suggested we include a trigger warning in our episode. This is something I hadn’t considered before he pointed it out, and I’m so glad to be able to include that consideration into my work now, even though I hadn’t otherwise. I’m now thinking about triggers even in terms of potential workshops, sessions and lectures I do in future too.

With Episode 11, (an upcoming episode about women warriors in science fiction and fantasy), Lisa and I had a long conversation when we met on Skype to plan our episode – the planning meeting lasted for as long as my podcast episodes usually do. We enjoyed talking to each other about our favourite media and representations of women fighters as well as our own experiences and perspectives. As someone who hasn’t really thought about this issue at all, Lisa’s own background with martial arts as well as her deep-seated love for Mockingbird shone a light on another aspect of fan engagement. It also helped me identify the representations of female fighters I had encountered in some of my favourite media – and how gender and physical ability intersected with other identities – both marginalised and privileged. As with Episode 3, I was happy to get the opportunity to explore a topic which I wouldn’t have suggested myself.

With Episode 12, (an upcoming episode about Fantastic Beasts and Nagini), my preconceived notions which had been shaped by mainstream fandom discourse were well and truly smashed and taught me to be more critical of critique. The whole Nagini controversy had put me off watching Crimes of Grindelwald and I only did because it was one of Lorrie’s recommended texts. I had only ever encountered critiques of Nagini’s arc and the stereotypical representation of East Asian women in Western media. Since I wasn’t a part of that marginalised identity, and as someone who’s grown up in India and had Bollywood movies to represent people who (more or less) looked like me, I didn’t think I had enough knowledge to comment on this issue and took the mainstream critique for granted. However, Lorrie herself is an East Asian woman in the West and she problematises the critiques by providing detailed analysis as well as an unbridled joy for the character of Nagini and Korean representation in her favourite fictional world. (I ended up loving Crimes of Grindelwald – and I don’t know if I would have allowed myself to love it so guiltlessly had Lorrie not been so unabashed in proclaiming her love for the movie while we were exchanging emails). She also pointed out that since she had read the Harry Potter books as an adult, she had always been aware of the more problematic aspects in the series – but this hadn’t diminished her enjoyment of the world and just helped her acknowledge Rowling’s own blind-spots. She proposed this was perhaps different from people who had grown up with the series and now found themselves betrayed by it on finding all these problematic representations. I don’t know about others but this theory definitely resonated with me.

Pre-Recording Checklist For Podcast Guests – Part 1

After recording two episodes with guests, I’ve learned that it’s probably helpful to have a checklist handy to make sure both the guests and I have all the information we need for the episode. This list is still evolving and I am and will continue adding things to it as and when I learn from my mistakes through the podcast experiment.

1) Ask guests to send a brief bio before we record. For the first guest episode, I thought of the bio after our episode and had to ask for it, then record it separately from the episode itself. For the next episode, I had the bio ready before we began talking and read it out as part of our recording. It works much better that way.

2) Ask guests to send a photo either of them or anything they think represents their work and/or the topic of our episode conversation. I use this photo for the episode cover art.

3) Ask guests to introduce their own experiences with the intersectional themes we’re discussing during that episode coupled with any other aspects of their identity, work or fandom.

4) Inform them that our conversation will be largely informal and they don’t need to worry about stumbling over thoughts or fumbling over words since I can edit out any bits which aren’t a part of the discussion (mostly um’s and long pauses). I can also edit out anything they said but would rather not appear on the episode.

5) I create an episode outline with themes I’m interested in, a suggested order of these segments, and who takes the lead on each segment (the guest or me) to help me organise my thoughts. Guests are free to use or ignore these based on what they find most helpful.

6) Ask guests what themes they’re interested in talking about based on the texts we went through. Add these themes to the episode outline and rearrange the segments into a sensible order.

7) Tell guests that our conversation will last for a maximum of an hour (though we have gone a little over this in both episodes; I need to keep a better eye on the clock!)

8) Technical reminders for guests:

i) They should preferably be in a quiet room with little to no background noise

ii) They can use either a laptop or a phone microphone

iii) Ideally, they should use earphones/headphones (I learned this the hard way because at some points, I can hear my own voice echo through my second guest’s speakers). If they don’t own a pair, they should use the push to talk feature so that their microphone only picks up sound when they push the button.

iv) We should both record our conversations separately on Skype so that during editing, the audio quality of both our voices is more or less the same. If I only use my audio (which I’ve had to for one reason or another for three out of four episodes), my audio turns out to be clearer than my co-hosts or guests.

v) Guests should preferably record on Skype rather than another software. One of the guests recorded it on a Mac and the audio speed in their file was out of sync with the audio speed in my file. This became so impossible to edit that we ended up only using my audio for the episode.

My Episode Recording to Publishing Process – February 2020

Since I’ve recorded three episodes – two with my co-hosts (one of which was a test anyway) and one (upcoming one) with a guest – I wanted to document my current recording-to-publishing process. At the end of the data generation stage, I’ll be  interested in comparing this process from an early, experimental stage of the project to how/if it develops later, when I’ve grown more used to this whole podcasting thing. Currently, the entire process outlined below takes me a week (which includes a day or two off and/or a day or two working on other things). All my participants have a week to get in touch with me in case they want to exclude any part of our conversation, or if they have changed their mind about the podcast and want to withdraw.

1) Pre-recording meeting

I meet the guests on Skype to plan our episode. First, we go over the relevant tech details for the episode. Next, we discuss the themes we’d like to cover in our conversation (we each take turns outlining what we found most interesting inspired by the texts we read). This is also a good opportunity to meet/chat with people for the first time and establish a rapport since I don’t know a lot of my co-participants.

2) Record

We meet on the scheduled day and have an informal conversation which we both record. Having audio files from both helps in editing so that the voice and volume are roughly similar. I need to do a better job with preparing an informal intro and outro for my guests. This matters less with my c0-hosts since we had an entire episode segment dedicated to introducing ourselves.

3) Type transcript for editing

I listen to the recorded conversation and type a transcript, complete with the stutters, fumbles, awkward bits, and technological glitches. I also mark the spots where I need to insert links to episode text resources.

4) Mark edits

After typing the transcript, I listen to the conversation again while going through the transcript. This time, I highlight those bits which I’d like to edit out of the final episode file. My system is currently:

i) Yellow highlight to definitely delete

ii) Green highlight to delete if possible

iii) Blue highlight to point out technological glitches and see if they can be fixed

I do this with the understanding that it may not be possible to delete or fix all the things; given the option between leaving awkward bits in or risking the conversation sound stilted, I’ll always choose the former.

5) Edit

I send my transcript with suggested edits and the audio files to Jack, my boyfriend and editor. I made the decision to recruit help with the technical aspect of editing to save time. I have more participants than I anticipated, and editing the file myself would add a stressful amount of time to the project. I also like the idea of including more collaboration as a part of the process. I still retain the hope of doing some editing myself at some point, if only to learn a new skill.

6) Transcript for blog

I create a second, clean transcript for the blog. This transcript doesn’t have the time codes (which are necessary for editing) nor does it have the filler words and stutters which may remain in the episode. This is to ensure a smooth reading experience. If, for whatever reason, people would prefer the unedited transcript, I’ve asked readers to let me know, and I’d be happy to send it to them. While creating this transcript, I also mark the spots in which any additional links or images need to be added.

7) Download images

I search for and download all the images and gifs I’m going to use in the episode transcript on the blog. I save all of these in separate, named episode folders.

8) Read transcript to make notes 

I read the transcript and make notes for potential title ideas as well as points for the episode intro and bio.

9) Write episode intro, outro

Based on the notes created above, I write an episode intro and outro.

10) Record episode intro and outro

I record the episode intro and outro on my laptop. This simply involves reading the text I’ve prepared earlier. I send these audio files to Jack to add to the beginning and end of the episode.

11) Write episode bio

Based on the notes I’ve made, I write the episode bio. This bio covers the key themes of our conversation. It goes on Anchor and SoundCloud to provide potential listeners with an idea about the episode. I also adapt the text of this bio to use on social media when I share the link to the episode.

12) Listen to the edited episode

Once Jack sends the edited episode back to me, I listen to the file and cross-check it with the clean transcript which will go on my blog. If there are any further changes I need to make to the audio file, I note down the time stamps and send it to Jack. He makes the changes, sends the file back to me, and I only cross-check the time-stamped bit.

13) Add transcript to blog

I create a new blog post and paste the transcript. This is when I insert the links and add the images.

14) Upload episode 

I upload the episode to SoundCloud (the link of which I use on my website) and Anchor (which shares the episode to Spotify, Google, and Apple among other platforms). I add the bio and a cover image for the episode alongwith some key word tags. I link to the episode on the blog transcript and hit publish.

15) Share on social media 

I share the episode post on social media. First, I share it on the Marginally Fannish Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. Then, I share it on my personal Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. I tag the co-hosts and guests on this post (after checking with them first).

16) Send episode to co-hosts/guests

I also send the episode post to my co-hosts and guests either via email or WhatsApp.

Some Notes on Recording Episode 1 – Lessons Learned

After we finished recording our pilot episode, A, S and I debriefed both on the day on Skype, and the next day on WhatsApp. We came up with some suggestions to keep in mind for next time.

1) We need to write and/or be aware of transitions when moving from one segment to the next.

2) We need to decide who is going to end the episode and how. Our ending was extremely awkward.

3) We don’t need detailed segment outlines since we always have a lot more to add than we planned for (Despite this, I’m a 100% confident that I’m still going to over-prepare for future epsiodes)

4) It worked brilliantly to meet before recording the episode in order to talk about the themes and ideas we’re interested in, what segments we’d like to have, and then assigning segment leads so that everyone knew which segment they would be in charge of. I’m definitely going to suggest replicating this with guest episodes too.

5) We need to be better about noting down the names of the people we’re citing from the texts we’re discussing. S also suggested weaving quotes throughout the next episodes.

We didn’t end up using the second text A suggested or talking about all the themes we had discussed. This makes my completist heart super uncomfortable. However, we did talk about things we hadn’t planned on, so I can’t complain and/or plan too much. We may end up including the unused text in a future episode. We’re still trying to figure out what works best in terms of the format and the number of texts we discuss and how we discuss them. I’m going to add all the text resources we discuss in the transcript to encourage feedback and multiple interpretations from listeners.

I’m uncomfortable with being in sole control of the editing process since it will be up to me to decide what’s necessary and what’s not. Especially since this designated importance may change when I’m analysing the episodes where something I’d edited out may end up being important after all. I’m deliberately choosing to keep the content of our conversations as unedited as possible. I don’t want to edit the awkwardness out since as a researcher, I’m also interested in the learning process – how we begin and how we evolve as podcasters. At the same time, I’m aware that I want to make the podcast engaging and inclusive so as to invite diverse voices and perspectives to respond to our conversations. Making it an unpleasant listening experience may be counterproductive and even border on a vanity project. Which is why I’m comfortable editing out the fillers, hesitations, and mistakes. I’m not going to conduct a linguistic analyses of the episodes, which is why the content matters more. However, I’m also going to retain the unedited versions of both the audio file and the text transcript just in case.

As a picture book editor, A believes there’s merit in good editing, and suggests I edit out conversations which are superfluous and not entertaining. I agree about the importance of editing when the podcast (or book or video) is a proper media production where good editing creates a better impact. However, since the podcast is my PhD project, I’m less interested in it as a media product since it simply acts as a vehicle for our conversations and ideas. If I continue doing this podcast outside the PhD (which I would very much like to), I’ll make editing a bigger priority.

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