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Tue 30th Oct 2007 @ 02:05 2007: Internally Consistent

Back in Sep 2004 I wrote about ICT in Schools. I still agree with every word there, and am still as mad keen on the game Elite. I'm getting used to it without Joysticks, pure keyboard play; I've got a full 44.8 Credit profit! Still just Harmless, of course, but I've got to Leesti, killed some baddies, docked in the space station and sold some food!

What doesn't seem to be so easy to find, is the keyboard controls. Under BeebEM:


a: Fire
s: Down
x: Up
<: Left
>: Right
/: Slow
Space: Speed Up

;: Save Game
F10: F0 (Launch / Front View)

H: Hyperspace

T: Target Missile
U: Untarget Missile
M: Launch Missile

C: Docking Computer (IIRC, this was the key on the Beeb, though I've not earned enough to get one yet!)

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Fri 26th Oct 2007 @ 00:21 2007: GIMP error message

Fantastic error from The Gimp: "Ran off the end of my bits."

I suspect that it had a read problem with the file; gthumb fails; eog complains of an "internal error in the GIF loader".

"Ran off the end of my bits" is just great, though.

The page in question is Page 194 of Proudly Serving, a most interesting read for anybody at all interested in Microsoft's 1990s history, browseable from here, or buyable from http://www.proudlyserving.com/

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Wed 24th Oct 2007 @ 21:16 2007: Smug Head

Sun and F1It's been a busy day today, what with getting my Solaris 10 certification (just Part I today... Part II is the hard one) and winning (or is that losing)? the F1 Losers championship.

So I'm feeling all smug and pleased with myself.

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Tue 23rd Oct 2007 @ 22:24 2007: GMail

This is dated 2005, so probably everyone has already seen it, but I hadn't seen it before, and it seems worth sharing:
GMail

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Tue 23rd Oct 2007 @ 00:21 2007: Ian Murdock on OSes

At the cutting edge, as I always am, I bring you the latest news from August: Sun's Top Operating System Brass Talk OS Strategy

Ian Murdock:Linux distributions have really changed what an operating system is. It used to be that operating systems were big, monolithic products, and now they are really more a collection of software.


In one sentence, that's a really good one-liner on the difference between traditional UNIX and GNU/Linux, or of how *nix has changed over the past decade or so.

As I install CentOS (from RedHat) under Debian alongside Solaris and Vista in order to play with a simple Linux install, a precursor to LFS, that strikes me as a particularly apt definition. What GNU/Linux has given us, the wider *nix community (apart from some fantastic software), is an understanding that *nix is a combination of distinct and often interchangeable parts, built by diverse parties across the globe.

There is a simple answer to some questions:
Q: What is MS Windows?
A: Please see www.windows.com
Q: What is MacOSx?
A: Please see apple.com/macosx

Other questions are less well-defined:
Q: What is Solaris?
A: A flavour of UNIX
Q: What is UNIX?
A: Well....
Q: What is Linux?
A: A Kernel
Q: Okay then, what is GNU/Linux?
A: Well....
Q: What is *nix?
A: Well....

There is no simple answer. This is a pick-and-choose generation. We don't need a single API. We never did, in fact - the past 10-15 years have been a blip, in which the Windows ABI has been strangely predominant.

*nix is a slippery beast because it does change with the times.

On the one extreme, we have MS Windows, with an API going back to Win3.1 days, and all the stability/bloat associated with that. On the other extreme, we have the Linux kernel, with no stable API, and all the flexibility/brittleness associated with that. In the middle, Solaris has ABI compatibility back to 2.6 (or is it 7?)

I've only read a few paragraphs of the source article, and I've run out of time already. Silly me, I focussed on the technology side. The rest of it gets into "cloud" and "network.com", "mashup", "nascent technology" and other silly abstractions. I've seen what happens when suits believe that "N1" type technology is practical, and it does not seem to provide a pleasant outcome

There was little else, but it just pointed out that we don't need to focus on power issues for eco reasons, but because we can't run all the latest hardware in our datacentres because however large they are, we're simply pushing too much heat into them than can be dissipated. Is the future of IT that we will go back to the 1950s model, of large empty rooms dedicated to IT hardware; a huge warehouse with a single, powerful-but-hot chip sitting in the middle of it?

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Mon 22nd Oct 2007 @ 00:43 2007: Sanity at the FIA?

BMW Sauber and Williams teams have escaped penalty. Their crime? The fuel was more than 10 degrees below the ambient temperature (presumably before it was put into the car), which may offer a tiny advantage.

If they had been stripped of their points, Hamilton would have been placed 4th in the race, and would have won the championship (even though any theoretical speed advantages would have made no difference to how far behind Hamilton finished on the track).

Kimi, and Ferrari, earned the win fair and square. A bad start to the season, as Kimi took a while to get used to the Red Car, didn't help matters at all. To be honest, Alonso, Hamilton and Raikkonen were all contenders for the championship, and all three of them have earned the victory, but only one driver can win.

In many ways, Kimi and Hamilton look clean, whilst Alonso is somewhat tarred by the spying episode. I must admit that I expected a better drive from Alonso today; he could have made it count, but a lacklustre drive lost him a third running championship title.

Hamilton lost the championship in the last two races; the tyre problem in China was a team error - they should have instructed him to come in before the tyre gave out; they have the telemetry, not the driver. In today's race, Hamilton should have kept his nerve in the second corner, stayed behind Alonso, and taken the championship. Ego, or something, took over, and he couldn't face losing a further place to Alonso, and he took a stupid line through the corner which I'm sure he'd be the first to admit was a childish error, losing another 4 places. Some apparent gearbox problem put him down in 18th, so finishing in 7th was credible, but not good enough to make up for the problems at the start of the race.

There's an interesting interview with Max Moseley (MM) at www.formula1.com ("The Official Formula 1 Website"); particularly for this question:

Q: Is Ferrari more important for Formula One than other teams?
MM: Yes, firstly, because it holds a historically important position, as the team has been involved in Formula One since 1950. The second point has something to do with existential orientation: imagine that there were only one British team and all other teams were Italian, that the commercial rights holder was Italian, as was the FIA President, the race director and his assistant and the sport’s commissioner. Wouldn’t it be understandable that this team would be very careful? I therefore use my neutrality with a huge amount of responsibility and stay in close contact with Ferrari to assure them that no British ‘mafia’ or cartel tries to take advantage of them. But should we find it necessary to impose our technical or sporting regulations, than Ferrari is treated like any other team. Should we find irregularities on a Ferrari - like the moveable floor after the Australian Grand Prix - it is removed and banned.
This is the first time I have heard the FIA admit that they see Ferrari to be more important than the other teams. We've seen it in practice over the past decade, and the spying shenanigans also appeared to be an anti-Dennis project, but this is an out-and-out statement: "Q: Is Ferrari more important for Formula 1 than other teams?", "A: Yes." - From Max Moseley.

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Sun 21st Oct 2007 @ 00:28 2007: Linux crypto filesystem

LUKS is a Linux filesystem encryption technique. It's incredibly simple, once you get past the difficult bits! The main weakness seems to be in the documentation, so I've written a simple one-pager which goes through setting up a filesystem which will (if the correct passphrase is entered) mount on boot, which can also be mounted once booted, and also made unmountable (unless the passphrase is reentered) after boot.

The two articles referred to provide much more detail about LUKS, and are strongly recommended reading if you intend to follow these instructions. Once you've read them, then use my article to set up the system so that it will actually work, without having to reboot multiple times to test it!

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Sat 20th Oct 2007 @ 00:31 2007: Freedom of Expression

The worst part of censorship is xxxx xxxxUnCyclopedia has a great article on censorship

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Wed 17th Oct 2007 @ 22:46 2007: Updated RSS Feed

I've updated the RSS feed; it was a whopping 602Kb, which may be what caused it to stop working on FireFox.

It's now limited to the 30 most recent posts, which should keep things a bit more manageable.

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Wed 17th Oct 2007 @ 01:05 2007: Fuel Costs, Efficiency, and all that.

I've put up a simple little page here, to calculate what MPG I'm getting from my car: Fuel Costs and Efficiency

Being the old fart that I am, I find it difficult to work out what MPG I'm getting, because - although I find litres more intuitive (it's a smaller physical amount to grasp), MPG is a useful metric. MPL is pretty much meaningless; a litre is too small to make a useful judgment. 30 -35mpg is one thing; the difference between 6.0 - 6.1 mpl is a less useful metric, somehow.

I hope you find it useful; If you want features, just ask :-)

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Sun 14th Oct 2007 @ 01:05 2007: Feeling lucky, punk?

barclaysSelect the green "Next" button if you want to try to log in

Nice.

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Sun 14th Oct 2007 @ 00:53 2007: Wikipedia

On Friday's episode of Have I Got News For You, Ian Hislop mentioned that the late Ronnie Hazlehurst's Wikipedia entry had been edited to add that the had written S-Club 7's "Reach" single, and that this had been quoted as fact by many broadsheet as well as tabloid UK newspapers.

Talk page on the subject is most interesting. Presumably the chat itself is up for review, but here is the current ramblings: (Firefox shrinks large images down; you may need to click to see the full text):
Wikipedia SClub 7 / Hazlehurst

In summary, it seems that Wikipedia has fed this lie to the mainstream media, who have regurgitated it wholesale, thus creating allegedly-credible citations (if you've got a citation for Wikipedia, it's eternally credible, it seems).

Can someone hack the root DNS servers, redirect www.*.wikipedia.org/wiki/foo to www.google.com/search?q=foo, and hack Google's view of Wikipedia to suggest that www.*.wikipedia.org/robots.txt says:

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /

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Sat 13th Oct 2007 @ 01:22 2007: Farewell, EDS

I don't see this as a place for work-related posts, but today was my last day at EDS before I start on Monday at Inteq.

I'm very much looking forward to my new role, as I believe it best suits my skills and interests, which must be the best way to decide how to spend one's time and effort.

I won't write here about work, but I will write about people.

I was most touched and flattered by how many EDSers, after only two years there, got in touch to wish me well. I've had the honour of meeting many fine people in the past two years, quite a few of whom, due to the distributed nature of the work (particularly the MRHS team in the North-East), I have never had the chance meet in person, and others whom I have had the chance to work alongside more closely.

The best times have been with the chaps and chapettes in the Attic in Cheadle; thanks guys for all the good times, the great advice, the quotes on the board :-) Many thanks also for the comments in the card, and the wholly unexpected (and undeserved) gift.

In summary: EDS - I'll miss the people, if not the procedures.

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Thu 11th Oct 2007 @ 00:05 2007: Ballmer Spouts off (again)

Ballmer: All open source dev should happen on Windows (and Google reads your email)

I have to agree with some of monkey-boy's points here; I'm not convinced that FaceBook is anything better than GeoCities was in the late 90s; if anything, GeoCities was more radical and innovative for its time.

I have no idea why he should go after RedHat users; he can't believe that the Novell deal actually meant anything, could he? Nah, surely not.

I wonder how far up the "Sue 'Linux' and die" paradigm scales? It worked for SCO, but they were only small to begin with. How big do you have to be, to make random accusations against 'Linux' (assuming you can find 'Linux' first, in order to sue 'it') without losing?

El Reg also quote Ballmer as saying "I would love to see all open source innovation happen on top of Windows". Yeah. Good luck with that, Steve.

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Wed 10th Oct 2007 @ 23:47 2007: There's nothing like selling something on its merits....

make a choice...And this is nothing like selling something on its merits!

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Wed 10th Oct 2007 @ 23:39 2007: Solaris GNOME Hint

If you get these error messages when trying to log in to GNOME:

"There was an error starting the GNOME Settings Daemon"
"Nautilus can't be used now, due to an unexpected error"
"There was a problem registering the panel with the bonobo activation server"

Just remove any /var/tmp/*-(username) files/directories, and to stop it from happening again, make them go into /tmp (temporary (at least on Solaris), not persistent, which /var/tmp is) by appending these lines to ~/.dtprofile:
TMPDIR=/tmp
export TMPDIR


Thanks to beezmo.com for this hint.

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Thu 4th Oct 2007 @ 23:50 2007: 24h Clock?

IkeaHow on earth did this get through to the printing stage?

Does nobody understand the 24h clock?

This picture seems to have been taken in the Philipines; http://www.wowthatsme.net/pics/displayimage.php?album=1&pos=0 links to http://www.ngkhai.net/portal/bingo2007, "a leading Philippine computer solutions company" - I don't know if that has any cultural significance which would explain it, but they seem to have a 84-hour week over there.

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Thu 4th Oct 2007 @ 16:29 2007: Currupted?

currupted filesI was in PC World yesterday, to pick up a laptop - until I realised that the one I'd seen on the web was the wrong spec, and had to abort the mission - and saw this poster.

I do hope that the spelling is intentional.

I've ended up getting a Leonovo N200; hope I've made the right choice, too late now!

T7300 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, 120Gb, 2Gb RAM, Bluetooth, Intel wireless which sounds like it works with Solaris as well as Linux; 800MHz bus, 667MHz RAM, 1680x1050 15.4" widescreen display, I can't wait til it comes (I'm getting it delivered to me at work tomorrow!)

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Thu 4th Oct 2007 @ 01:01 2007: Laptop

Finally, I think I've decided: HP 6820s

It should work okay with Linux/Solaris, runs at 1440x900, which should be okay; Misco have them available, so, subject to clarifications about support, and as to whether it can run a 1680x1050 external monitor as an extension to the desktop (I would assume it could, but I've never paid too much attention to those sorts of things, so I don't know exactly where to look), I reckon that's going to be my new 127.0.0.1. It should be a nice ${HOME} too (until I get sick of it in 18 months time, in accordance with Moore's Law!)

6820 review

Intel Centrino™ Duo processor technology


  • Intel® Core™2 Duo Processor T7250
  • 2.00 GHz, 2 MB L2 cache, 800 MHz FSB
  • Intel Wireless LAN 802.11a/b/g mini-pci card, Bluetooth
  • 2Gb RAM, Upgradeable to 4Gb
  • 160Gb HDD (5400 RPM; what are these laptop people thinking?!)
  • Mobile Intel™ PM965 Express
  • ATI Mobility Radeon X1350
  • Vista Business (which seems to be less than Vista Home!)


It's only got 2 RAM slots, and they're filled with 1GB DIMMs, but 2GB DIMMS are $sillymoney at the moment; 1Gb for £35, 2Gb for £205, so I'll live with that.

I'll need a USB->Serial adapter (thanks for pointing that out, Andrew!), and as the battery life isn't so good, a spare battery could be handy, and I reckon I should finally be good to go!

2 days delivery means I should get it on Monday, if I order it on Thursday; that gives me 1 week to get Solaris and Linux installed onto it, and configured the way I want it.

Very few laptops seem to bother with PCMCIA these days; Am I missing something? I do wish I knew about PCs. The HP NX7300 I linked to recently looked really nice, but they went and killed it off :-(

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Wed 3rd Oct 2007 @ 00:47 2007: Weird RSS

The RSS seems to have gone a bit strange; sorry if you just got the last few posts repeated.

The database had a problem with the Vettel post a day or two ago; I just deleted them, and seem to have had a few posts come back via RSS.

I hope this is a one-off; I will look into it, and see what's gone wrong...

Steve

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Wed 3rd Oct 2007 @ 00:04 2007: Einstein

I just came across an Einstein quote I hadn't heard before:
Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

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Tue 2nd Oct 2007 @ 23:41 2007: Privacy

The Economist have an article about privacy: Learning to live with Big Brother

Privacy is a modern “right”. It is not even mentioned in the 18th-century revolutionaries' list of demands. Indeed, it was not explicitly enshrined in international human-rights laws and treaties until after the second world war. Few people outside the civil-liberties community seem to be really worried about its loss now.


Today we were given a pamphlet by our child's school, entitled "Fair Processing Notice - How schools manage and share pupils' personal information." By the end of their school career, the intention is that a central database will be available to any government agency, "and their [unspecified] partners", containing unspecified information, but including "the name and address of the pupil and parent, and any further information relevant to the services that Connexions provide" (though it is possible to opt-out of that one, to the extent that they will only provide names and addresses).

That's connexions dealt with; the same caveats do not apply to "the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), and to agencies that are prescribed by law, such as the QCA, Ofsted, LSC, DH, PCTs, and partners.

Then we get to ContactPoint. "ContactPoint will hold for each child or young person in England: name, address, gender, date of birth, a unique identifying number and parent/carer; contact details for services involved with the child; ContactPoint will NOT record statements of a child's needs, academic performance, attendance or clinical observations about a child." - but as it will include a full list of services involved with the child, it doesn't really need to restate it.

pretty scary stuff (PDF)

There are various caveats that only those who need to access the data will be allowed (but no mention of any kind of hierarchy of trust which would be necessary to provide such restrictions - even NPfIT claims to have that much), but then the PDF above includes the paragraph:

"The DSCF may also disclose individual pupil information to independent researchers into the educational achievements of pupils who have a legitimate need for it for their research, but each case will be determined on its merits and subject to to the approval of the Department's Chief Statistician." - but with no mention of asking, or even informing, the parent.

All of the text about what is stored, and what is made available, is in terms of what the data is used for ("supports its pupils' teaching and learning", etc), and not what the actual data are, nor how it will be used to achieve the many lofty goals it is apparently to achieve.

Another interesting statement is that "The presumption is that by the age of 12 a child has sufficient maturity to understand their rights and to make an access request themselves if they wish. A parent would normally be expected to make a request on a child's behalf if the child is younger." - what is so magical about the age of 12? 16, 18 and 21 are common age-boundaries in the UK; there is clearly a feeling that an exception must be made, here, to allow much younger children to have access to their files. Why 12? Why not 8? Why not 4, when the records are created?

Probably most disturbingly, there is no mention of any data ever being deleted. Most DPA-related documentation talks about retention periods - 7 years is common, or 10 years in extreme circumstances. If this database is to track a child through their primary/high-school career from ages 4-16, it will live for 12 years. On leaving one school, is that data destroyed? On reaching the age of 16, is all data destroyed? There would appear to be no reason to keep it, but no statements seem to be available as to what happens to the data.

Although the data can be passed between many government departments "and partners", there is no mention of how this will be tracked, or how a child (or their parent/guardian) can find out what data has gone where, or how to find it, check it, possibly get it corrected or deleted.

The full list of benefits of this scheme appear to be:
  • support pupils' teaching and learning
  • monitor and report on their progress
  • provide appropriate pastoral care
  • assess how well the school as a whole is doing


The one clear statement on what data is stored (though many others add even more vague possibilities, are:
"This data includes contact details, key stage and optional test results, attendance information, characteristics such as ethnic group, special educational needs and any relevant medical information." That's some of the things it includes... are we not allowed to have the full list? The database schema would be a good start.

Further investigation is definitely needed.

Leave Them Kids Alone

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Tue 2nd Oct 2007 @ 00:39 2007: UK CCTV: Only 5-10% likely to be legal

Almost all CCTV systems are illegal, says expert out-law.com

However, this was kosher

Short version here; I can't seem to find the full version now, though it captures some of the essence; running around when the Arndale was closed, using CCTV images to make a film.

It seems that there is a lot of room for an arts student to make something more of this; if the CCTV footage can be picked up via wireless connections, unauthorised footage, suitable recompiled, could be an interesting medium...

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Tue 2nd Oct 2007 @ 00:03 2007: Dawkins

I have mentioned Dr. Dawkins before on this blog; it is not my desire to give the man any more publicity than he deserves, but I have just come across two pieces by Peter S. Williams regarding the Doctor's "The God Delusion": A review of Dawkins' book, and a response to it:

1. The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design

2. Darwin’s Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Scientism

The latter, being an actual response, is the more weighty, and solid account; the former, as a book review, is - by nature - more on Dawkins' terms, and possibly less compelling, but who am I to say?

I am in the presence of giants, so I shall shut up now...

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Mon 1st Oct 2007 @ 00:01 2007: Poor Vettel

Poor old Sebastian Vettel, in the Toro Rosso (sister team to Mark Weber's "grown-up" Red Bull team), was looking good for the team's first podium, as well as Webber's first podium finish of the year, behind Hamilton, with Massa just behind them.

They were behind the safety car, looking good for a Red Bull P2, and a Torro Rosso P3. Until Vettel went into the back of Webber.

The first few moments of this clip show what Massa saw from behind. The conditions were treacherous; the video is of poor quality because the conditions really were that bad.

But this is what happened.

Vettel is found crying (understandably keeping his helmet on).

Webber's reaction? (live on ITV1 in the early hours of Sunday morning): It's full of kids, isn't it? Kids with not enough experience to do a good job and then the f*ck it all up.

I really do feel for Vettel. He was on for something that would probably have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, he was on for a podium, and his team (and its meta-team) were on for the 2nd and 3rd slots, with only one McLaren ahead of them (McLaren probably spend Toro Rosso's annual budget on one night out.) They were ahead of the Ferraris, the BMWs, the Renaults... this was an awesome moment, and one which he could look forward to sharing with Webber, who - whilst technically in a different team, was under the same Red Bull umbrella. This would be a fantastic evening for the pair of them!... “I was exiting turn 13 and looking at [leader] Lewis [Hamilton], because all of a sudden he seemed to slow down really much and I thought he had a problem at that stage. And by the time I was looking back to the front I was already crashing into Mark’s rear end.”

Sickening. One momentary glance to the car ahead of the car in front, under what were already difficult conditions, and it's probably going to be the highlight of his career.

In the meantime, I'm no member of the Tifosi - I'm a McLaren fan (though primarily a F1 fan; this year yields very little pride for Alonso, though Ron Dennis and the team seem to have come out of it with a clean reputation, the professional damage was done to Alonso and de la Rosa, who opened up their email inboxes in return for immunity), but the man of the day was definitely Kimi Raikkonen. Under conditions which were difficult for most under any circumstances (for Vittel, even keeping in a straight line was difficult), Kimi raced his way through the pack, from being at the back of the pack (thanks to Ferrari "not getting" the message which everybody else heard and obeyed, that all teams must start on full-Wet tyres, and therefore pitting soon after the start of the race to get shod with the right tyres for the job), he passed car after car after car (very little of which got onto the TV coverage) to finish 3rd, 9.4 seconds behind Hamilton (1.1 seconds behind Kovalainen)

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