Why is this interesting? The Radio Host edition

On radio, personality, and sharing deep cuts

Colin here. Somewhere down the line, surrendering to someone else’s taste got less cool. We've disappeared so much into our hyper-personalized and curated worlds that the collective experience—and yielding to the taste of a DJ—has been somewhat lost. It wasn't long ago that disc-jockey legends like John Peel would break new artists in England and the world by virtue of their finely-tuned tastes and ravenous appetites for finding unpolished gems from stacks of promos.

In the past few weeks, instead of a perfectly polished playlist, I actually started craving someone—gasp—talking over a track: something that used to annoy me to no end. My blood pressure rose when a long time friend of WITI, Tim Sweeney, famously spoke over the first time he played a Carl Craig remix of Delia and Gavin. He got a lot of boo’s from the fans, but the talking was tactical, as the track hadn’t come out yet and it was a requirement for him to play it on the show to deter bootleggers. At this stage, I just wanted the rare goods that Tim was so great at trotting out. 

So, it might be a combination of working from home, craving community, and restlessness, that I wanted to actually tune into a communal listening experience with a DJ that wasn’t just quietly choosing tunes, but was adding some personality into the interaction. 

Obviously, this is nothing new, large swaths of America still tune into drive-time radio and there’s no shortage of chatty hosts. But among people playing discerning music, it was hard to find a good balance between the banter and the actual goods. 

Why is this interesting? 

Turns out the music nerd discernment plus charming host banter does exist and airs every weekday morning. The Face recently profiled a DJ on NTS, a streaming station in London, that is getting this very right:

I’ve spent most of my weekday mornings over the past few years in the company of Charlie Bones, NTS’ esteemed morning presenter, and possibly the only person on radio who can get away with playing Transition by Underground Resistance back to back with Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush without coming across like a cider-sodden second year student at a house party desperately pawing through Spotify in an attempt to get things going in a half-empty kitchen in deepest Sydenham. 

Despite the constant dread and panic that has enveloped us all, this is one habit that I and the majority of the show’s dedicated listeners across the world won’t be giving up any time soon.

Gloriously electric without ever being painfully esoteric, The Do!! You!! Breakfast Show relies on two simple things that, more often than not, coalesce into a daily three hour dose of pure radio pleasure. 

The first is Charlie himself, a veritable anti-Chris Evans. He might not be the most punctual of broadcasters – and indeed many episodes of Do!! You!!! Begin with a good 45 minutes of ambient drift that subtly inform the listeners that, yep, he’s late in again – but he’s a gloriously unguarded one. 

Whether he’s talking us through the latest conspiracy theory to grab his attention or bursting with glee as he chats to the legendary Dexter Wansel about Teddy Pendergrass’ passion for topless horse riding, it is Charlie’s indomitable combination of weatherworn grouchiness and evident and almost outsized adoration of music that ties the show together. He’s Larry David with a ponytail and a penchant for Prefab Sprout.

First off, the goods were there. On Wednesday, he opened with a gorgeous Bonnie Raitt track but is unconfined by genre. And it is this eclecticism plus personality is the draw. It’s one thing to play a bunch of stuff, it is quite another to play a lot of stuff cohesively, in the vein of the late John Peel, or as Optimo, two of my favorite DJs in the world, are among the best at. The Face hit the nail on their head on why his show works, saying, “As happy playing album tracks by The Cure as he is the latest Lobster Theremin 12”, a soft-rock rollocker by Laura Allen, or an extended edit of an electro-acoustic oddity that soundtracked a film about a Canadian canoeist, he leads us — the audience — on a merry dance through a world of cutting-edge dance music and the sort of mum-bangers you’d associate more with Heart FM than NTS.”

Also, long live the radio call-in. It adds some interactivity and spice to what could be a chin-stroking exercise in being cool and playing records. Charlie does this to excellent (and non-cringey effect), and Beat in Space’s Sweeney also did this well with a cast of characters, including someone named Victor who would always dial in with thinly veiled threats, hating every single record that Tim played. 

And pleasantly, it seems the charms of the show are spreading quickly around the world. According to the Face, “This week, the shout outs – which are usually doled out like confetti during the course of an average show – have been coming from around the entire globe. It would seem that each and every continent has a contingent of hardcore NTS-listeners who are easing into the uncertain waters of quarantine with the help of an old familiar friend.” (CJN

Space of the day: 

As we dream about convivial nights out, have a look at this cool, hidden restaurant called Inn Ann tucked discreetly behind the Japan House cultural center in LA. Their first year saw a very esteemed list of guest Japanese chefs coming over for residencies, and the experience was wonderful. They are on hiatus now but hopefully will return soon with a new concept. (CJN)

Quick Links: 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).

Why is this interesting? - The Contributor’s Edition

On WITI, birthdays, and guest editions

Noah here. With everything happening in the world right now we let WITI’s first birthday slip by last week. It’s been an amazing year of writing this newsletter every weekday and we’ve been incredibly grateful to all of the subscriptions, positive feedback, and contributions. 

Thank you.

Why is this interesting?

To the last point, the contributors have been one of the most amazing parts of this experience. Of the nearly 300 emails we’ve sent over the past year, 63 weren’t written by Colin or myself. While we’ve talked about the perks of being a contributor (full list below) we’ve never made it clear just how you go about contributing. Here’s the gist: people usually email us with an idea (or we email them asking them to write about something they mentioned). From there the biggest things to know are a) you will be edited, b) we aim for somewhere between 600 and 800 words, and c) sometimes it takes a while since this is something we do when we have spare moments in evenings and on weekends. The full contributor’s guide is available here

Why do it? Here’s how we explain it in the contributor’s guide:

The benefit of all this, you may ask? It’s fun, hopefully, it’s interesting for you, and the contributor Slack community (accessible after you publish with us) is warm, inviting, and replete with curious characters. Thanks and let us know if you have any questions. - Noah (NRB)

If you have an idea, feel free to reply to this email or reach out through our contact form.

Finally, a huge thank you to all the amazing contributions over the last year. Here’s the full list:

  1. Abe Burmeister - Extinction Edition (6/19/19)

  2. Amber Finlay - Good Place Edition (5/21/19)

  3. Ana Andjelic - Anthology Edition (12/5/19)

  4. Ana Andjelic - DTC Edition (11/27/19)

  5. Ana Andjelic - Eurovision Edition (4/29/19)

  6. Annie Smidt - Post Rock Edition (12/17/19)

  7. Anita Schillhorn van Veen - Climate Tourism Edition (8/16/19)

  8. Anita Schillhorn van Veen - Diamond Edition (12/11/19)

  9. Anita Schillhorn van Veen - Feminine Mystique Edition (1/13/20)

  10. Anita Schillhorn van Veen - Utopia Edition (9/20/19)

  11. Atossa Araxia Abrahamian - Arctic Edition (7/15/19)

  12. Ben Dietz - Skate Gaze Edition (11/7/19)

  13. Ben Young - Prime Video Edition (5/15/19)

  14. Brady Moore - Iran Edition (1/8/20)

  15. Brady Moore - Wayfinding Edition (8/26/19)

  16. Brady Moore & Chris Papasadero - Go Bag Edition (3/3/20)

  17. Buzz Anderson - Seeing Like a State Edition (4/26/19)

  18. Chris Papasadero - Green Beret Edition (6/7/19)

  19. Dan Frommer - Online Grocery Edition (3/24/20)

  20. David Kienzler - Divestment Edition (9/5/19)

  21. David Marx - Dog Edition (5/7/19)

  22. Edith Zimmerman - Sea Silk Edition (1/28/20)

  23. Eric Mathies - Competition Edition (2/12/20)

  24. Felix Salmon - Brezel Edition (10/29/19)

  25. Felix Salmon - Sackler Edition (5/17/19)

  26. Felix Salmon - Wine Cave Edition (12/23/19)

  27. Gabe Brosbe - Oakley Edition (7/11/19)

  28. Gianfranco Chicco - Shokunin Edition (1/15/20)

  29. Graydon Gordian - Mallmann Ediiton (1/10/20)

  30. Graydon Gordian - Westbrook Edition (5/24/19)

  31. James Cooper - Public Records Edition (5/29/19)

  32. James Gross - Car Safety Edition (8/21/19)

  33. Jeff Hughes - Decade in Film Edition (12/20/19)

  34. Jeff Hughes - Tiger Woods Edition (4/16/19)

  35. Jerry Neumann - Disruption Edition (7/22/19)

  36. Joanne McNeil - Lost Community Edition (2/25/20)

  37. Joanne McNeil - William Gibson Edition (6/10/19)

  38. John Peabody - Solo Edition (8/9/19)

  39. Keith O’Brien - Yuru-chara Edition (7/8/19)

  40. Lance Martin - Streelight Edition (1/30/20)

  41. Larissa Pham - Tell Me About Me Edition (6/14/19)

  42. Larissa Pham - Influencer Culture Edition (9/26/19)

  43. Lizzie Shupak - Oral Culture Edition (3/4/20)

  44. Marcus Moretti - Consciousness Edition (6/26/19)

  45. Marcus Moretti - E.M. Forster Edition (3/25/20)

  46. Meg Ely - Crime App Edition (7/19/19)

  47. Nick Parish - Paquete Edition (8/20/19)

  48. Noah Chestnut - Athletic Edition (8/14/19)

  49. Patrick Anderson - Vinyl Edition (7/26/19)

  50. Perry Hewitt - Casket Edition (1/2/20)

  51. Perry Hewitt - LinkedIn Edition (12/6/19)

  52. Praveen Fernandes - Stamps Edition (1/24/20)

  53. Reess Kennedy - Vaporfly 4% Edition (11/6/19)

  54. Reilly Brennan - Autopilot Edition (10/2/19)

  55. Rex Sorgatz - Eternal Celebrity Edition (11/1/19)

  56. Rick Webb - Digital Advertising Edition (11/13/19)

  57. Ryan Anderson - Video Assistant Referee Edition (1/7/20)

  58. Sam Valenti - Factory Records Edition (7/24/19)

  59. Sam Valenti - Legacy Edition (2/27/20)

  60. Steve Bryant - Maslow Edition (4/22/19)

  61. Tim Hwang - Trade Journal Edition (9/30/19)

  62. Todd Krieger - Dead & Company Edition (12/2/19)

  63. Todd Osborn - Hidden Noise Edition (2/21/20)

  64. Todd Osborn - Home Exercise Edition (3/19/20)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).

Why is this interesting? - The E.M. Forster Edition

On the imagined future, our on-demand present, and adaptation

Marcus writes the wonderful flow state newsletter, featuring amazing music to work to; very relevant to our daily WFH routines. He’s back for a follow-on WITI and we are happy to have him back at this table. - Colin (CJN) 

Marcus here. In 1909, E.M. Forster published a short story called “The Machine Stops.” He imagined a future in which the surface of the earth has become uninhabitable, and humans live underground, everyone in her own room.

Here’s the main character, Vashti, in her room after ending a Facetime-like call with her son:

Then she generated the light, and the sight of her room, flooded with radiance and studded with electric buttons, revived her. There were buttons and switches everywhere—buttons to call for food, for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature. And there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.

Why is this interesting?

Many of us are now working from home way more than usual. At the end of some of WFH days, I realized I’d spent the whole day in a Forster Room. In addition to the many buttons for work:

  • There were buttons to call for food: Seamless, Prime Now

  • There were buttons to call for music: Spotify, Soundcloud

  • There were buttons to call for clothing: Amazon, Depop

  • There were buttons that produced entertainment: YouTube, Criterion Channel, Audible, podcasts

  • There were buttons to communicate with friends: iMessage, Twitter, FaceTime

As of 2017, only 3% of American workers regularly worked from home, per Felix Salmon:

More and more companies will encourage or require employees to work from home, causing many knowledge workers to realize how little productivity they lose by doing so. The trendline above will get steeper. And it’s not only office life that will change: conferences, meetups, and other things that presume the habitability of the surface of the earth may go remote by default for good.

As an aside, workers in industries reliant on in-person interactions have been hit hard by this pandemic. Eater has a great roundup of ways you can support restaurant and food service workers, including local relief funds in many American cities.

Many of us may suddenly find ourselves in Forster rooms. In the story, Vashti doesn’t hear the loud hum of the Machine that powers her room, because the noise was present since she was born. Mulling an air-ship trip to see her son, Vashti peeks out of the exterior door of her room and is “seized with the terrors of direct experience.” In this society, “direct experience” becomes anathema, and humans worship the Machine. Vashti tunes into a beloved lecturer advocating a consensus view:

Beware of first-hand ideas!... First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by love and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element—direct observation. And in time’—his voice rose—’there will come a generation that has got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless, a generation seraphically free from taint of personality, which will see the French Revolution not as it happened, not as they would like it to have happened, but as it would have happened, had it taken place in the days of the Machine.

Stay safe out there. (MM)

Infographic of the Day: 

The highest grossing video game franchises. (CJN)

Quick Links: 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Marcus (MM)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).

Why is this interesting? - The Online Grocery Edition

On delivery, groceries, and the e-commerce surge

Dan Frommer (DF) is a longstanding friend of WITI and has graciously shared an astute post from his main gig, an essential business newsletter called The New Consumer. You should join! He also writes Points Party, a newsletter about credit cards and travel points and has wonderful taste in cities and restaurants. - Colin (CJN)

Dan here. While “social distancing” at home this past week to help slow the spread of Covid-19, one of the few feel-good—or at least feel-normal—experiences was being able to successfully order groceries online and receive them just a few hours later via (greatly appreciated) Amazon delivery workers.

But even beyond the obvious privilege, I feel like one of the lucky ones: a quick Twitter search reveals many frustrated shoppers, widespread problems with orders and deliveries, few available delivery windows, and overloaded customer service departments.

Why is this interesting?

Online grocery shopping was built for convenience, and in normal times, functions pretty well that way, still handling a small percentage of overall grocery spending. But as US cities shut down, and as tens of millions stay home to help “flatten the curve,” grocery delivery has become essential infrastructure. And as demand spikes, it’s showing its cracks.

Overall, through March 15, online grocery spending in the US had been growing around 60% year over year, according to Rakuten Intelligence, faster than the nearly 20% overall growth in e-commerce spending.

But over the past two weeks, as Americans stocked up to stay at home, those numbers spiked. Over the span of March 12 through March 15, online grocery orders grew more than 150% over the same period in 2019, while spending grew 210%, reflecting larger average orders, according to Rakuten.

(The broader US e-commerce numbers are up, too: overall e-commerce spending was up about 36% year over year from March 12 through March 15, according to Rakuten. That’s almost twice the growth rate it had been generating this year.)

And more new customers are taking their grocery orders online, using services like Prime Now and Instacart, which offers grocery delivery from more than 5,500 cities. (My mobile analogy: If Amazon is building the vertically integrated “iPhone” of online grocery, Instacart is the Android, powering e-commerce and delivery for more than half of US and Canadian grocery stores.) Instacart was roughly the 40th most popular free iPhone app in the US over the weekend, according to App Annie, up from its usual rank around no. 400.

This spike in demand—not to mention anxiety around worker health, which should be a primary concern—has seriously strained the system.

First and most obvious, it has quickly become a challenge to place orders—unpredictable and unreliable.

Availability for Instacart varies by ZIP code and store. In some queries, delivery is available within two hours. But in others, either not for several days, or none at all. At Good Eggs, a gourmet online grocer in the Bay Area, today’s customers are already ordering for next week—other delivery days are sold out.

The problem is that many of these services seem to be designed entirely around those timed delivery slots. In part, that’s an attempt to match supply—available “shoppers” and delivery drivers—with demand. But also because in normal circumstances, the user’s priority is receiving delivery during a specific, convenient time slot, such as when they’re home from work.

(Amazon’s Prime Now service, which powers delivery for Whole Foods, also has a unique design flaw: you can’t even see available delivery slots until you’re in the checkout flow. So there’s a risk of taking the time to fill your basket, only to find out that you can’t actually get the food you want because there are no open slots. I’ve seen several complaints about this. My tip here is that slots seem to open and close all the time—fill your cart and refresh often for slots that may have opened.)

Then, getting what you actually need or want is also proving tricky. At Whole Foods, there’s a limited selection that seems to change every time I try to place an order. Other grocers have clearly never taken online shopping seriously, and have improvised storefronts through point-of-sale software, half-baked e-commerce sites, or my favorite, the Union Market plain-text field.

This is not the time to nitpick about user interfaces. We are likely going to have to survive with the status quo for the next few months and should appreciate the risks that everyone is taking to keep the system moving. The good news is that the food supply chain seems to be fine, at least for now, with distribution as the bottleneck. And Instacart just announced that it plans to hire 300,000 more workers, which will help. Amazon wants to add 100,000.

But this seems the sort of singular event that will drive real change. While the recession we’re entering will have its own effects on the trajectory of e-commerce spending, I expect an upward inflection point in the adoption of online grocery shopping. Grocers large and small will have to figure out systems that work.

One feature I propose would be a sort of “surge mode” for high-demand periods where convenience is less of a priority and essential sustenance is the goal.

In this mode, grocers—or even an aggregated service operated by Instacart—could offer a master queue, so customers could order what they need and have it delivered whenever possible, not just during a narrow time slot. Many people are at home all the time right now, so this would go far toward alleviating stress and perhaps even helping more efficiently route deliveries over the course of a day.

Another “surge mode” feature that seems obvious right now is some way to prioritize orders for those in greatest need or danger. This would involve some compromise in privacy and might be tricky to police. But for example, several grocery chains, including Whole Foods, are now providing an hour for seniors to shop before opening to the general public. Offering a similar priority mode for online delivery would be ideal.

The best case is that by the time we’re experiencing a similar public health catastrophe, we’ve moved well into the next era of grocery, with automated warehouses and delivery models. But for now, empathy and persistence seem our best tools while relying on a system that simply wasn’t built for this. (DF)

Architects of the Day: 

It’s worth perusing the portfolio of Japanese interior design firm Wonderwall. Everything is super crisp, and they’ve designed so many iconic shop spaces in Tokyo and elsewhere that their aesthetic feels part of the urban fabric. According to Designboom, “with standout interiors for Thom Browne, A Bathing Ape, Uniqlo, and Diesel, collaborations with Jasper Morrison, Pierre Hermé and Pharrell Williams, Katayama has changed the way we think about the consumer experience.” His contribution to the field is summed up neatly by MoMA’s Paola Antonelli in the book Wonderwall Case Studies: works by a global interior design firm: “Like very few other designers in recent history…Katayama has defined the 1990s and 2000s and changed the world of interior and retail design.” (CJN)

Quick Links:

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Dan (DF)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).

Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Edith Zimmerman

On drawing, must-read newsletters, and qigong

Edith Zimmerman (EZ) has been a writer I’ve enjoyed for a long time. She draws/writes an excellent newsletter called Drawing Links and contributed an amazing Sea Silk Edition for WITI back in January (plus lots of her other comics featured in our emails). We are very happy to have a peek into her reading and consumption habits today. - Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a writer, and last December I quit my job to start a personal comics newsletter called Drawing Links. It’s mostly stories about my life, with links to other things. I also illustrate the recovery newsletter The Small Bow, which AJ Daulerio, formerly of Gawker, started in 2018.  

From 2010-2013 I ran The Hairpin (RIP), and from 2018-2019 I worked at The Cut. I’ve been running a small comics site on Medium called Spiralbound since 2017, although it may be on its last legs. (We were Medium-funded for a while.)  

The three biggest stories I’ve done online are probably the stock-photo compilation Women Laughing Alone With Salad (2011), a drunken Chris Evans profile for GQ (2011), and a goofy Imgur comic about menstrual cups (2015).  

Describe your media diet. 

I’m really into newsletters. I started mine in part because people seem to be having a lot of fun making newsletters. My favorites are The Browser ($5 a month, links to cool stories), Money Stuff by Matt Levine (finance news told in a funny way), Nonzero (on meditation and politics), Logan Sachon’s Got Distracted (short, funny essays about her life), Jillian Anthony’s Cruel Summer Book Club (not a book club, more about heartbreak, jokes, and personal growth), and Ian Leslie’s Ruffian (links to cool stories — his and others’ — told in his pleasant British voice). And many more.  

I skim stuff on Feedly: Arts & Letters Daily, MetaFilter, Marginal Revolution’s daily assorted links, The Outline, The Point, The Conversation, The Morning News, Cup of Jo, Kottke, Slate Star Codex, Vox, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic. I’m a knitter, and my favorite yarn blogs are Mason Dixon Knitting, Yards of Happiness, and Kate Davies Designs. I also love Andrea Mowry on Instagram. 

My favorite podcasts are Reply All and EconTalk

On Patreon, I pay for comics from Gabrielle Bell, Julia Wertz, Sarah Glidden, and Rita Sapunor. I love them. 

And I leave Twitter open throughout the day, but I don’t have a method there. 

A big part of my media diet has been following the links that people share in the Why Is This Interesting Slack room (an invitation to which comes with contributing). It’s been an invaluable source of information, community, and camaraderie for me, especially now.  

What’s the last great book you read?

Tyll, by Daniel Kehlmann. It’s a novel about a German jester living in the 17th century. I feel like I’m my own version of the main character, telling my tale wherever I go: Have you heard? Have you heard? Have you heard about Tyll

What are you reading now?

I checked out a digital copy of Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, from the Brooklyn Public Library last week, and it’s lovely. (Side note to say: The BPL has amazing digital content right now, including virtual storytime for kids, multiple times a day.) I also recently started the first book of the sci-fi series Hyperion Cantos, per fellow WITI contributor Chris P’s recommendation. I love it, too. I’m excited to meet the Shrike. 

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

I get print copies of The New Yorker and the Buddhist quarterly Tricycle. I like to read Tricycle while I eat (which is probably not very mindful), and I like to read The New Yorker on the subway, but maybe I will figure something else out now.   

What should everyone be reading that they’re not?

Monica McLaughlin’s antique jewelry newsletter, Dearest. It feels like a distillation of human existence: humor, pain, strangeness, attention to detail, cruelty, effort, and beauty, all told in a fun, light way, with striking images. 

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? 

Maybe Lectionary, which features different Bible passages daily. I want to read the Bible, and a friend recommended Lectionary as a way to start. I haven’t actually looked at it in weeks, though.  

Plane or train?


What is one place everyone should visit? 

Maine’s Acadia National Park. Or Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery (which is currently still open to visitors). 

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into. 

I tried qigong for the first time last week, via YouTube — qigong is a traditional Chinese practice of movement, posture, gentle stretching, and breathing — and I currently have … well, okay, only a few qigong-related tabs open, but they’re really neat.  

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Edith (EZ)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).

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