Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the category “computing”

Inklings on the Internet

One of my interests is the English literary group of the 1920s to 1940s that called themselves “The Inklings”, and as a number of other people share this interest I’ve tried at various times to find ways of using the Internet to make and maintain contact with such people and share thoughts and opinions and so on.

One way of doing this is through blog posts, many bloggers announce new posts on Twitter. I also discovered a web site called paper.li that produced a digest of tweets on various topics. Some of them seem to be devoted to hash tags, and I succeeded in creating one for missiology (another interest of mine), There were several created by other people on various topics that interested me — on literature, genealogy, family history and more. There’s one for children’s literature, which some of the Inklings wrote,

But there was no such digest devoted to the #inklings hashtag.

So I thought that if I could create one for #missiology, I could create one for #inklings.

Too late. The people at paper.li had stopped doing that very useful thing. Whenever i tried to do it, they created something called “The Steve Hayes Daily”, and I already had one of those. But eventually they fiddled with it to turn it into The Inklings Daily.

The only trouble is that it doesn’t seem to work. Either people are not using the #inklings hashtag, or else when they do use it, The Inklings Daily simply isn’t picking it up. All I see on it most days is either a message that there is no content, or a couple of irrelevant photos. So as a way of following blog posts about the Inklings it has turned out to be pretty useless.

The last straw was when the owners of YahooGroups announced that they were closing that service, and there were a couple of Inklings forums there that would be affected by the closure, and so it was important to let people know, and I blogged about that. But in spite of using the #inklings #hashtag paper.li failed to pick it up in The Inklings Daily.

So I’ll give it a couple more weeks, and see if The Inklings Daily picks up this article, and any others on the Inklings, and if there’s no improvement, I’ll delete The Inklings Daily, as it will obviously be serving no purpose. I’ll rely on my blogroll for picking up who is blogging about the Inklings. And if you’d like to know more about the new Inklings forum, see Inklings Forum Revived, or go directly to Inklings on groups.io.

For what it’s worth, the main members of the Inklings were:

Mailing lists (& newsgroups) versus Facebook Groups

The news that Yahoo! were to close their YahooGroups service (Yahoo! to close mailing lists? | Notes from underground) has provoked a frantic search for alternatives, one of the most popular being Groups.io, which I believe was set up a few years ago when Yahoo! imported a new whizz-kid manager who totally misunderstood the medium, and messed the site up so as to make it unusable.Yahoo made a half-hearted attempt to repair the damage, but now seems to have given up entirely.

YahooGroups and GoogleGroups were the largest public mailing list servers on the Internet, and with YahooGroups closing some have suggested migrating to GoogleGroups, but many more have suggested using Facebook Groups instead. I think that is a very bad idea, and will try to explain that here, rather than having to retype the explanation every time anyone makes such a suggestion. Marshall McLuhan once wrote a book called Understanding Media, and though he never envisaged these media, it is still important to understand these media and what they are good for and, even more important, what they are not good for.

Facebook Groups versus Mailing lists

People who are relatively new to the Internet may not realise what mailing lists are, so I’ll try to explain that first.

A mailing list is run by a list server (sometimes called “listserv” for short). It works by e-mail. You send an e-mail to the list server, and the list server sends it on to all the people who have subscribed to that list. You can reply either to the list, or to the original sender. Off-topic replies are best sent privately, on-topic replies are best sent to the list, then all members of the list will see the replies, as they will show up in their e-mail inbox, to be read or deleted or saved as desired,

The main purpose of a mailing list is discussion. You can see what someone says, and respond to particular points, and others can respond to what you say.

Facebook Groups are not really suited for discussion. I know that people have tried to use them that way, but they are a very poor substitute for mailing lists. Facebook Groups are best suited for announcements and ephemera. Announce a book release, an article, or a blog post in a Facebook group for people who might be interested in knowing about it. Announce an event and publicise things — a church service, a lecture, an art exhibition, a play.  They are OK for news items.

What Facebook Groups  are not good for is discussion.

Why not?

First of all, Facebook has an algorithm that limits what you see. It will show you only certain posts from certain groups and people. If people respond to it, it shows you only certain comments. It may notify you that “So and so commented on a post that you are following in X group”, but it doesn’t tell you the topic of the post. And if you do click on that, half the time you don’t see any comments from so and so, and you have to hunt up and down the page until you see a tiny faint line saying something like “5 more comments”. You click on that, but it has no comments from so and so. You go back and hunt up and down and eventually you find another faint little line somewhere on the page saying “See more comments”. In the midst of all that activity, Facebook of course is busy showing you ads and other stuff to distract you and in the end you forget whose comment you were looking for and what topic it was on.

And then, assuming that Facebook does show you the post, you don’t have time to read it now, and you think you’ll come back to it later. O fatal, fatal error! Because when you try to come back to it later, you’ll never find it again, and spend an hour searching for it, and in the mean time see lots of ads earning lots of lovely lolly for Facebook, and see other interesting things to click on. It’s like looking up words in a dictionary — you spot another interesting word, and look at that, and see an interesting word in its definition and look that up and then forget what word you were looking for when you started. Or, perhaps a more apt analogy, Facebook is like a taxi driver at an airport, who takes the newly arrived tourist on the longest possible route to his destination, pointing out all the scenic attractions, which happen to be not hills and lakes and forests, but billboards, hoardings and tourist trap shops.

So what happens with a mailing list? A message appears in my inbox. If I don’t have time to read it now, as soon as I close my inbox, my mail reader program (which computer nerds like to call a “client”, would that I could bill it!) sorts it into a folder with all other saved messages from that mailing list. I can go back to it in an hour’s time and read and reply to it. Of I can go tomorrow, or next week or next month or next year. If someone asks a question on a mailing list, and I find the answer in three months time, I can go back and give them the answer. Try doing that on Facebook and you’ll spend the next three months looking for it, wasting bandwidth and of course increasing their ad revenue. It usually takes about 30 seconds to find the message on my computer and it uses no Internet bandwidth.

So no, Facebook Groups are no substitute for mailing lists. They were designed to serve a different purpose, and they are good for that. Use the right tool for the job. You can open  tin of peaches with a scewdriver and a rock if you don’t have a tin opener, but if a tin opener is available, why not use it?

A few years ago there was a newsgroup called rec.arts.books (a newsgroup is a little like a mailing list, but not quite — it works on linked news servers rather than a single mailing list server). It had interesting book discussions and reviews. Then someone had a bright idea — let’s move it to a Facebook Group where we can post pretty pictures. So they did, and about half of them moved to the Facebook Group, which they called, appropriately enough, The Prancing Half-Wits. It died, mainly for the reasons described above. Only about 20% of the people would see each post, specially chosen by Facebook’s algorithms, and even fewer saw the comments. And rec.arts.books limps along, because most of the creative and interesting people left for Facebook.

 

Yahoo! to close mailing lists?

I just saw this announcement today which, if true, will mean that thousands of mailing lists will be cut off with very little notice.There are lists that deal with various academic subjects and have been used for research. Some universities run listservers of their own and may be able to take some over, but that is almost impossible at such short notice.

There are others, like genealogy groups, which have a lot of family history information that was searchable on the Web, but that too will be gone.

Yahoo is shutting down its Groups website and deleting all content:

Yahoo (owned by Engadget’s parent company Verizon) is phasing out one its longest-standing features. The internet pioneer is closing the Yahoo Groups website in a two-phase process that will effectively see it disappear. You’ll lose the ability to post new content on October 21st, and Yahoo will delete all “previously posted” material on December 14th. Users can still connect to their groups through email, but the site will effectively be vacant. All groups will be made private and require an administrator’s approval.

If you’re at all interested in preserving your history on the site, you’ll want to download your data either directly from posts or through Yahoo’s Privacy Dashboard.

It should be borne in mind that Yahoo! got into the mailing list business when it took over something called E-Groups, which ran public mail servers.

If they were concerned about their customers they would give them enough notice and time to possibly arrange for alternative mail servers. As Yahoo! took over E-groups, so other servers could possibly take over some of the lists hosted by Yahoo!. But if they leave an impossibly short time, that will not work.

If they close it down with such short notice I will certainly be removing my Yahoo! Id, and will have nothing more to do with any of their services in future.Actually Yahoo! has hardly any services left. The mailing lists were one of the last.

Yahoo! developed a reputation for taking over flourishing web services, and wrecking and killing them off. The list is a long one — Geocities, Webring, MyBlogLog, and E-groups.. And now it seems that Yahoo! itself has been taken over by another company, which is shutting them down.

A few years ago there was a group that tried to  set up an alternative when some bright spark arrived and tried to change the way YahooGroups worked and almost wrecked it. I think it was called groups.io — you can find more about it here. If you know of any others, please tell about them in the comments.

I suggest that while you still have the opportunity you will not the e-mail addresses and other contact information of people on mailing lists that you would like to stay in touch with while you still have the chance.

I’ve been involved with about 50 mailing lists that deal with a great variety of topics, including:

  • Missiology
  • New Religious Movements
  • Books and Literature
  • Genealogy and family history groups (including several dealing with Single family name)

I suppose we can put it down to entropy on the Internet — if there is anything useful there, it will die.

 

Your 25 friends on Facebook

Many Facebook users are concerned that Facebook only shows them posts from about 25 of their friends. And Facebook will probably only show their posts to about 25 (or fewer) of their freinds unless a lot of those friends “like” them, or react to them in some other way.

One thing that is a bit concerning about this is that Facebook is always nagging me to add new friends by showing “People you may know” prominently — but if I add them, which of my friends will drop off the radar?

Some people have thought the solution is to post things like this:

Fixed my blocked posts …….. I wondered where everybody had been!

This is good to know: It’s ridiculous to have so many friends and only 25 are allowed to see my post.
I ignored this post earlier, because I didn’t think it worked. But…. it WORKS!! I have a whole new news feed. I’m seeing posts from people I haven’t seen in years.

Here’s how to bypass the system FB now has in place that limits posts on your news feed:

Their new algorithm chooses the same few people – about 25 – who will read your posts. Therefore, Hold your finger down anywhere in this post and “copy” will pop up. Click “copy”. Then go your page, start a new post and put your finger anywhere in the blank field. “Paste” will pop up and click paste.

This will bypass the system… I thought I’ll try it and hey presto!

The problem it describes is real, but the proposed solution is not. Copying and pasting text like that will do nothing to change Facebook’s algorithms.

Some have claimed that the “25 Facebook friends” meme is a hoax, but it isn’t. The exact number of 25 may not be accurate, but there is certainly some such limit, and it doesn’t even seem to be affected by “likes” or other reactions.

How do I know this?

Well a couple of years ago Facebook forced me to have two accounts[1]. When I opened the second account I linked to some of my friends so I could still keep in touch with them while my main account was blocked. One of those friends is Koos van der Riet, who is a friend on both accounts. But Facebook never ever shows me his posts on my main account, no matter how many times I “like” them. It always shows me his posts on my secondary account, even though I deliberately refrain from “liking” them or reacting to them in any way. But to see his posts on my main account I have to type his name in the search bar and search for his account, otherwise Facebook never shows me his posts.

This problem will not be solved by copying and pasting a bit of text. It can only be solved by Facebook improving their algorithm. One way of doing that would be to rate every person you link to as a friend, say on a scale of 1 to 10, to show how much you wanted to see their posts.  The algorithm could then add their value for you to your value to them to show how much value to give to posts. It could also introduce a classification of kids of posts, family news, general news, news commentary, to let one indicate which kinds of posts one was most interested in from which people. Such a scheme would take a bit of work and research to develop, but would make it more useful to its users.


Notes

[1] Why I was forced to have two accounts. Facebook blocked my main account on my main computer, and semanded that I download and run some software before it would allow me to see it. I could still, however, see it on my laptop. So I opened a new account. Later I discovered I could still access my main account on my main computer using a different browser. So I use two browsers, one for each account.

Sorry, Twitter. You did something wrong

Update 25 August 2019

This now seems to be fixed, and Twitter is accessible again.

Thanks to the people at Twitter who made it accessible again.


For the last couple of days, almost every time I’ve tried to read Twitter, I get the message:

Sorry! We did something wrong.

It seems that the “new” Twitter has been introduced, and it no longer works on my old computer.

For the moment I can still post links to things on other web sites on Twitter, though perhaps that will soon stop working too. But I can no longer read my Twitter feed on my computer, so I won’t be “liking” or retweeting stuff posted by other people, or seeing the links they post. I won’t be able to search for hashtags dealing with news items that interest me, and get different points of view on the same event.

At least I’ll still be able to look at my daily digest on paper.li, but that is selected for me, and isn’t quite the same thing. And for my literary friends, like the Inklings fans out there, I’ll still ber able to follow in the #Inklings daily digest, provided they use the #Inklings hashtag, which they don’t always remember to do.

It seems that we pensioners who can’t afford to buy the latest and greatest hardware every year are now excluded.

It reminds me of my youth, and the planned obsolescence in the motor industry. Back then South Africa;s roads were filled with small British cars and big American ones, and most of my posh school friends boasted that their parents traded their cars in for a new model every year. Then along came the Japanese, who didn’t believe that it was obligatory for cars to break down, and people started keeping their cars for longer.

My wife’s Toyota Yaris, which is 13 years old and has done nearly 300 000 km, still has its original front brake pads. My mother’s Wolseley 4/44 needed decoking and its valves ground when it was only 2 years old.

Those American cars that were traded in every year, the Dodges and Desotos with their huge tail fins, were snapped up second-hand to become second-class taxis. But the Japanese put a stop to that in 1969 with the Toyota Hi-Ace, which lasted longer, used less fuel, carried more people, and came with two nuns as standard equipment (those who are old enough to remember will understand).

But it seems that social media, like TV sport, are being placed beyond the reach of pensioners like us, and being reserved for the rich who can afford to upgrade their computers every year.

CounterPunch goes over to the Dark Side

For several years now I’ve followed the web site CounterPunch on Twitter.

CounterPunch claims that it is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas, and I’ve sometimes found it a useful antidote to the blandness and cover-ups of the “mainstream” media.

But today it announced that it had gone over to the Dark Side when it published an article In Defense of the Satanic.

The word “satan” means “accuser”.

The primary meaning of “satanic” is the making of false accusations.

In Christian mythology, the satan is a jumped up public prosecutor who wants to take over the judge’s job because he thinks the judge is too soft on criminals (see Zechariah 3). He is typologically mirrored in the earthly prosecutors who judge their success not by justice, but by their conviction rate, whose motto is that “it is better that the innocent should suffer than that the guilty should escape”.

If you want a picture of an ideal satanic world, read The Trial by Franz Kafka. Is that is the kind of world that CounterPunch is choosing to advocate and defend? Thanks, but no thanks. I’m unfollowing. What were they thinking?

The satanic world is the world of the Gestapo, of the KGB, of the Special Branch, Some of us remember the darkness from which we have come, and some of my own memories are here and here: Tales from Dystopia XVI: The SB | Khanya. That is the Kafkaesque world of the secret police who send secret accusations to those in power against which there is no defence. That is the essence of satanic — and CounterPunch is defending it, thereby taking the side of injustice and oppression.

Telkom Internet scam warning

To those who use Telkom Internet, a got a somewhat different phishing scam e-mail today, which could easily lead people to be unaware that they had been scammed. This was the e-mail:

telkomsa.net Notification

Hello User,

We have stopped processing incoming emails

Due to your refusal to update your account and as a result, we are forced to lock your account and all your services will be suspended.

Use the link below to update your account.

 

Image result for orders buy

 

 

NOTE: This email will be closed if ignored.

 

Kind regards,

 

Supported by telkomsa.net

 

If you clicked on the link, this is what you would see:

With a space to enter your log in details.

You might think that this was a Telkom Internet login, but the actual address was:

http://informatique-securite.website/screenconnect/Bin/telkomsa/telkomsa/Login.htm

I you filled it in, you would be taken to the actual Telkom site, and perhaps, if you entered yourt actual log-in details, it would actually log in to Telkom, and you wouldn’t be any the wiser, except that the phishermen would now have your name and password.

As I usually do in such cases, I filled it in with a bogus name and password (and I advise you to do the same if you ever find yourself on such a site.

My e-mail reader and anti-virus program usually warn me about bogus bank statement phishing attempts, but it didn’t warn me about this one, so be careful.

 

The Moaning Meme and the Freelance Cynic

About 12 years ago I posted about The moaning meme | Notes from underground:

The Freelance Cynic complains that most memes that circulate in the blogosphere are about things that people like — your favourite book, movie, or whatever. But if you overheard conversations on the bus or in public places, they are usually complaining — about the weather, politics, other people’s habits and so on. One of the major aids to social bonding is moaning, grumbling and so on.

Someone seems to have looked at it recently, so I went to have a look at what I had written, and in the original blog post there was a link to the Freelance Cynic’s blog at FreelanceCynic.com, but when I tried to go there the blog had gone, and I was informed that the domain was for sale at $695. I assume that is US dollars, and that is R9728.47 at the current rate of exchange.Now there’s something to moan about.

Did the FreelanceCynic die and bequeath their domain name to whoever is selling it now? Or did they simply abandon their blog and drop the domain name? How much of that $695 will the actual Freelance Cynic get?

Another thing to moan about, if you feel like moaning: Communications:

Meraki Research would like to find out more about the way you communicate in this digital age. The survey will take less than 8 minutes to complete and we have kept it interesting. All answers will be kept anonymous.

If you are in South Africa and see this in February/March 2019, please follow the link and fill in the survey. After that it probably won’t work. Basically what it is about is how you prefer your spam. If you are like me, you will answer “Never” to how you prefer your SMS spam, and so participating in the survey may help to get the message through to SMS spammers.

So here’s my moaning meme for this Week. I’m not tagging anybody in it, anyone can take part.

And, for what it’s worth, I find SMS (“Text”) spam the most annoying.

E-mail spam can usually be removed by filters, though that is becoming more difficult now as more and more people seem to be trying to make their legitimate mail look as much like spam as possible by using HTML and especially “lazy HTML” that tries to incorporate something from a remote site into the body of a message. My e-mail reader automatically tosses those into the “Junk or Suspicious Mail” queue, and is set not to display anything on remote sites.

Newsgroup spamming can also be annoying, most of it these days seems to come via GoogleGroups, and no matter how much you report it to Google, they do little to stop it.

But SMS spam is the most annoying of the lot, because it is immediate. If you are travelling, and expecting an important message about an event you are going to, and you have to pull of the road to read it (like taking the next freeway exit), and then discover it is just some stupid ad, it really is annoying.

Speaking in bones

Speaking in BonesSpeaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a rather disappointing book. It features Dr Temperance Brennan, who, like the author, is a forensic anthropologist, trying to assist in the solving of crimes through the examination of human remains, especially bones.

It started off quite well, and introduced me to several things that I didn’t know — that there were such things as websleuths, amateur detectives who use information from the Internet to try to match unidentified dead bodies with reports of missing persons. It sounds like quite a good idea, until you discover that there is also a great deal of rivalry and sometimes hostility among them. But that kind of thing appeals to the family historian in me, because a lot of family history is in effect looking for missing persons.

Colin Darlington Rogers once wrote a book on Tracing missing persons and found that most of the readers were actually genealogists and family historians, so he wrote another book called The Family Tree Detective which was a pretty good how-to book for its time (pre-Internet), in England and Wales, and has followed it up with several more.

So I was thinking that this might be an interesting missing person’s mystery, but then it seemed to fall apart as I read further. The first thing that struck me as strange was that the author seemed to be enjoying commercial sponsorship. I kept wondering about that, when the protagonist didn’t just make calls on her cell/mobile phone, but we were told specifically that it was an iPhone. And when she was searching the Internet for websleuths, she opened her Macbook to do so. And her mother didn’t just go on a computer course, it was an Apple computer course. So I was wondering if she was getting paid for each mention of the brand name.

That was slightly irritating. But it was also annoying when the author tried to end every chapter with a cliff-hanger, and when you read the next chapter the “cliff” turned out to be nother more than a nine-inch wall. One was led to expect dire and perilous happenings that turned out to be quite banal.

And then quite a lot of the plot turned on the beliefs of a weird religious sect that majored on exorcism. Now there are lots of weird religious sects out there that do very strange stuff, like spraying people with insecticide and getting them to drink rat poison. But the one in the book seemed inauthentically weird. It struck me that that is one of the problems of using the web for research. It is great for verifying information when you have a framework of knowledge to put it into, but if you try to research from scratch without knowing what you are looking for, but can get seriously led up the garden path. And while there is a considerable difference between social anthropology and physical anthropology, reading a book by a social anthropologist, like Demons and the devil by Charles Stewart might have been a better preparation.

So yes, it was disappointing in the end.

View all my reviews

Stuff you don’t see any more: 3×5 index cards and the metrication blues

The other day I wandered into the CNA (a local newsagent/bookseller/stationery chain) in search of 3×5 index cards, and a couple of other things. There were no index cards there. A sign of changing times, perhaps — people use computers for that sort of stuff nowadays.  But I’ve been using computers to store data for more than 30 years, and I’ve still been able to buy index cards.

Talking of computers reminds me of something else you don’t see any more — computer magazines. I started buying those 35 years ago, before I even had computer. At one time there used to be a large selection, and I would browse through them to see which had the most interesting articles that month, and buy that. Then they started to come with disks (and later discs) with free or shareware software and other good stuff. I then started buying the ones for the most interesting software selection, rather than the most interesting articles. But there was only one in the CNA this month — Linux Format.

This morning I went to a different branch of the CNA hoping to find index cards. I couldn’t see any. They did have the same computer magazine, so, rather rashly, I bought it. I do have Linux on my computer, but I don’t use it much, mainly because it doesn’t run the software I use most of the time (and please don’t tell me, as some people are wont to do, that I could find another program that does something similar and use that and “move on”. Thinking that having your programs in one operating system and your data in another is a good idea is really not a sign of intelligence).

But this other CNA branch did have index cards — in A6 and A7 sizes.

Just think of it — 47 years after South Africa switched to the metric system, and it was illegal to sell rulers marked in inches or milk measured in pints, they suddenly decide it’s time to switch index cards to metric sizes. For 47 years we’ve being buying cards (and boxes to store them in) that are 3×5 inches (76.2 by 127.0 mm), and now we need to replace them by “metric” cards that are 74 by 105 mm. They can’t easily be stored together, so it would mean you can’t easily add new cards to an existing file — you’d have to copy all the existing cards to the new size.

But why use index cards when you can use a computer?

Computers are much more efficient at searching and sorting information than a card system. You can search and sort in different ways and on different fields, while cards can only be sorted one way, and searched on one field. It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?

Well, not quite.

Computers are very good at storing, searching and sorting information, What they are not so good at is displaying it in a way that makes it easy for human beings to interpret it.

When you have index cards, you can lay them out on a table cloth (or even a carpet or bedspread), move them around, lay them out in patterns and change the patterns to look at the information in different ways. Two or three people can look at the information and discuss it while they are doing so. One of my mentors, Professor David Bosch, used to recommend this as a research method for masters and doctoral students.

There was a time when computer programmers used to think that everyone knew about index cards, and used icons of card indexes on their screens, and some programmers even used to make their input screens look like index cards. But they had grasped the wrong end of the stick. Index cards were useless at the input end, but very few programmers grasped that that they might be very useful at the output end. Very few wrote their programs with the option of producing index cards as printed output, yet that would have been a far better use of computing power.

There were a few exceptions.

There used to be a genealogy program called Personal Ancestral File (PAF). It stored genealogical information, and produced reports. In the 1990s various people produced supplementary programs that accessed the PAF database and did more things with it. I have two of those supplementary programs on my computer. One prints reports on 3×5 index cards, and the other produces them on 6×4 index cards. The down side is that the PAF program they work with was not Y2K compatible, and so does not accept dates after 31 December 1999. And no one else has seen fit to include such reporting facilities in more up-to-date programs (or apps, as people like to call them nowadays).

My main use for index cards now is as bookmarks. While I’m reading a book, I record significant passages, and then later use them to find the places in the book and make notes on the computer. I don’t usually read books while sitting at the computer so I can make notes as I go along. When used as bookmarks, I use one card per book, but if the computer could spit out one card per note it might improve considerably on David Bosch’s research method.

But at least part of this story ends well — after failing to find 3×5 index cards at the CNA I went round the corner to Archneer Stationers, and they had 3×5 and 6×4 index cards in stock. And no A6 and A7 ones at all.

There are lots of other things you don’t see any more, like gooseberry jam, quince jelly, tinned mutton breyani, real peanut butter, 8mm film projectors, Beta video tape players, and many more.

But 3×5 index cards are the ones I’d really miss.

 

 

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