October 6, 2020

We’ll keep the Trump-bashing to a single paragraph today… just to point out that Donald Trump, once again putting himself ahead of anything that might mean something important to anyone else — because callously and recklessly putting at risk and/or infecting everyone around him isn’t enough — called off the stimulus package talks… really, for no other reason than to stick it to the Democrats and make them, and Nancy Pelosi, look like the bad guys. It was a move that caught even his fellow Republicans by surprise. So who’s affected? Millions upon millions of Americans whose lives have been devastated by C19 and who are seeking some economic relief out of the mess… from the president that led them into it.

I’d like to briefly compare that to what’s going on around here.

Last week, the House of Commons voted on bill C-4, to replace CERB with something more robust… to add more flexible and generous aspects to employment insurance. To add a new benefit for those who don’t qualify for EI. To add a sick-leave benefit and caregiver benefit for those who need to take time off work, due to C19.

The Liberals proposed it, and the Conservatives and NDP and Bloc all had issues with it. They all argued and postured and threatened and made lots of noise. And ultimately, having discussed it and re-aligned and addressed their concerns, voted on it… where it passed, with a unanimous vote of 306 to 0. Welcome to Canada.

As much as you may disagree with the Liberals and a lot of what they do, let’s at least recognize that we’re fortunate to have a functional government. There’s a long list of countries around the world that are not so lucky. One of them is next door… hopefully a situation that doesn’t last much longer… 28 days, or 106 days… depending how you look at it.

Local government financial help aside, it’s still up to us to do our part to end this nightmare sooner than later… and Quebec’s health minister is pleading with people to stay home, if they can… because things are approaching a frightening tipping point. Since Oct. 1st, Quebec has averaged more than 1,000 new cases per day… and has recorded 49 deaths. In fact, their deaths per million of population is 691, which is higher than the U.S’s 651. For comparison, Ontario is 203, Alberta is 65 and B.C. is 48.

It might be time for some official harsher measures; a gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure.

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October 1, 2020

I just got back from the track a few minutes ago (it’s closing day of a very memorably-odd 25-day season… but it was great to see some familiar faces), where I watched my horse “Blueprint” run 2nd in one of the most prestigious races of the year… so that’s good. But that “2” is about the only good number around.

Canada, today, saw its 160,000th C19 case… and recorded 22 deaths, the largest 24-hour total since July. When you look at the chart below, at the Canadian growth numbers, you’ll see them all above 1% over the last 5 days. And if you look further back, you’ll see them all below 1%… going all the way back to May. We slowed it down from the end of May onward, and now it’s crawled back… and, if you look at the corresponding graph, it’s crawling rather steeply.

It’s interesting to look at the trends of the other charts, too. Notably, B.C., which briefly looked like it was going to spiral out of control… hasn’t. Things have tailed off recently. That meteoric rise has slowed and backed off. Maybe Dr. Henry managed to scare us back into order.

Alberta is fighting to keep its growth flat, and while things could be better, they could also be worse. They’re fighting to keep their spread in schools under control, and it’s not looking great; let’s hope for the best.

So what’s driving this national growth? The usual, of course… Ontario and Quebec… who both, at some point, were looking to have things well under control. Not anymore. The numbers, the graphs, the deaths; none of it is good. Everything sliding in the wrong direction.

My horse “Blueprint”, to be honest, is probably not destined for greatness. He really stepped it up today and I’m proud of him… especially because there’s only so much you can do. Our very excellent trainer Dino does what he can to prepare the horse, but once the starting gate springs open, anything can happen.

Similarly, the national blueprint for handling a pandemic requires the involvement of everyone. The trainer does what he can; the jockey does what he can. But it’s ultimately up to the horse… and horses, like people… they can be stubborn.

You can lead a horse to water… you can even jam his face into it and hold it down… but if he’s stubborn enough, he’ll drown before he’ll drink any. It doesn’t make any sense. But neither does not sticking with a blueprint that’s been shown to work.

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September 24, 2020

When I was around 13, my mom’s cousin came to visit – from way far away; he and his family live in an industrial town in Slovakia. It was just him that came to visit, and he spent a week with us. I recall he arrived on Saturday morning, and we spent the weekend taking him around town, hitting a bunch of tourist sites. The beauty of Vancouver made a big impact on him; it was all very different from his typical surroundings.

On Monday morning, we all had breakfast together, and then it was time to go… my sister and I to school, my parents to work. They offered to take him downtown or drop him somewhere to look around, but no… he just wanted to chill at home. No worries. When we all left, he was sitting outside, on the deck, overlooking the backyard… with a cup of coffee and a cigarette in his hand.

Fast forward about 10 hours… I got home before anyone, and there he was, still sitting on the deck… the cup of coffee had transformed into a beer, and the ashtray was now overflowing with cigarette butts.

“Have you been sitting here all day?”

“Absolutely.”

OK… whatever melts your butter, I guess… but at the time, I do remember thinking how insanely boring that must have been. I thought about everything I’d done that day (a lot) and compared it with what he’d done (nothing).

The next day, it was the same thing… a full-on 10-hour chill. A few cups of coffee, a few beers, a pack of smokes… and call it a day. And that was pretty much it for the rest of the week. Every single day, all he did was sit outside and stare into the garden.

The world’s most boring man, I thought, at the time.

I told him, at one point,

“I really can’t understand how you can just sit here all day.”

“One day, you will.”

Over the years, every time I think about it, I have a more profound appreciation for it. This guy flew 8,000km to disconnect from his day-to-day reality, and he did it right. Back home, he was a hard worker with tons of responsibility and stress. And here, well before the era of perpetual connectedness, he’d found his oasis and he milked it for all it was worth.

These days, it’s an inward-facing question I ask myself… when I find myself spending time on something I’d rather not: Would I rather be here, or sitting on a deck, staring off into a garden or ocean or space or whatever…

You don’t need me to tell you that we’re living in a crazy world… and that it’s probably going to get a fair bit crazier before it gets better… which means, more than ever, scheduling those “deck moments” ahead of time. Scheduling an entire week of them is a lofty goal we can only aspire towards, but every little bit helps. As the weather gets worse and the days get shorter and the stresses mount and the case-counts and hospitalizations and ICU admission numbers all rise… find your deck – and visit it as often as you can.

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September 18, 2020

Looking at today’s B.C. number is sort of stressful. Although 40 of today’s 179 are “retrofitted” cases… ie cases that should’ve been counted earlier but weren’t… it’s a lot, no matter what.

There’s a well-known test, the 43-question Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (you can find it online) which adds up different things going on in your life, and lets you know how at-risk you are to get sick, as a result. If you’re presently dealing with that particular issue, you simply add the associated points to your total.

It’s interesting to note that while the majority of points are assigned for negative things, such as:

Death of a spouse – 100
Divorce – 73
Jail term – 63

… many positive things (or, at least, that should be positive) also cause stress:

Marriage – 50
Outstanding personal achievement – 28
Vacation – 13

There’s no broad 5th category that you could label “Pandemic”, but I’ve taken the liberty of filling this out for all of us; we’re all going through some similar things, and here’s how they add up:

Revision of personal habits – 24
Change in work hours or conditions – 20
Change in recreation – 19
Change in social activities – 18
Change in number of family get-togethers – 15
Change in eating habits – 15

All of that adds up to 111, which is, on its own, ok. Anything below 150 puts you in the “only low to moderate chance of becoming ill in the near future”.

Unfortunately, that was painted with pretty broad brushstrokes, and many people are, as a result of the pandemic, also dealing with things like:

Change in health of family member – 44
Change in financial state – 38
Change in number of arguments with spouse – 35
Change in church activities – 19

And the list goes on.

Between what we all have in common, and 150, there isn’t much wiggle room; just 39 points to cram in all your other stresses, because north of 150 is categorized as “moderate to high chance of becoming ill in the near future”.

Something not on that list is “Heading a national strategy for combating a global pandemic”… but if I had to assign a score to it, I’d give it a 185… and I totally understand the resignation of the president of the Canadian Public Health Agency, whose outgoing letter could be distilled down to three words: “I’m burnt out.” We get it… and, as per above, so are most of us.

What can we do? Hang in there, and keep doing the right things… and do your part in avoiding adding this to your life… or to anyone else’s:

Personal injury or illness – 53

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By |2020-10-08T01:08:44-07:00September 18th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics|Tags: , , , , , |5 Comments

September 3, 2020

When I was a kid, I loved playing with radio-control planes. It took a while to build them, but it was always worth it to see them take off and fly around. Not a single plane survived, but that’s ok… the crashes were inevitable. Then, I’d salvage the electronics (batteries, servos) and just build them into the next model. For me, and the way I flew those things, that was just part of it.

What wasn’t inevitable was how I lost a couple of helicopters… those, I didn’t build. But I did try to figure out how far away I could fly them before the radio control lost contact.

When you think about it, there’s really no good way to figure that out… it works, it works, it works, it doesn’t work. Oh. Then you watch it drift off into the distance. Modern drones will fly back to their home point, but not these old cheap plastic things. They landed on some distant rooftop or tree, never to be seen again.

What was I thinking? I was a kid, so don’t judge too harshly… flirting with that edge of possibility was part of the fun.

Similarly, Dr. Henry and Minister Dix gave one of their comprehensive updates today; lots to digest, but the summary of it is that things are pretty good… and that, as usual, it’s entirely up to us with respect to how things go from here.

On the “it could go this way or it could go that way” projections, we’re right at the edge. It’s actually flirting with that “out of control” tipping point much the same as the anchor brakes I talked about yesterday… and much the same as the helicopters mentioned above. Perhaps the range is 500 feet… and at 490 feet away, it’s flying perfect under control. And then it ever-so-gently drifts out to 510 feet and I give it a little right-turn nudge on the stick but nothing happens… and now I give it full-right, full-left, oh shit, up, down, engine off… etc etc, no response… and I watch it drift away, till it’s nothing but a little dot in the sky, lost forever.

If you look at the epidemiological (thank you auto-correct/spell-check) modelling, there are always these various lines… in this case (slide 20 on today’s presentation, available on the BCCDC website), you can see the effects going forward with respect to infectious contact percentages. At 50%, things go down. At 70%, they rise sharply. At 80%, they blow out of control. Floating around 60%, which is roughly where they’re at, they’re growing, but not crazily. And if we can nudge it down to 50%, we’d be in great shape. And all it takes is for the vast majority of us to follow the guidelines which we’re all very familiar with by now. And if you’re not, especially since a few (work spaces and schools) have been updated, brush up on it… on what’s ok and what isn’t.

Model helicopters, boat anchors, pandemics… what on earth do those three things have in common? They all have a tipping point, and the tipping point is entirely under the control of the single human (model helicopter), small group of humans (controlling dropping the anchor) or general population (pandemic control) – upon whom the outcome relies. It’s up to me, it’s up to us… and it’s up to all of us.

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September 2, 2020

If you’ve been around long enough and/or know something about hockey and/or Olympic history, you’re probably familiar with “The Miracle on Ice”. It happened back in 1980, at the Lake Placid Olympic Winter Games, where the Americans won the gold medal.

It all took place in the midst of the Cold War. The Soviet Union showed up with a veteran team of experienced superstars, who’d been crushing their opposition for years. They’d won the last 4 Olympic gold medals, and hadn’t lost an Olympic match in that entire time.

The Americans, on the other hand, showed up with a group of very young (average age 21) college players with zero NHL experience. A bunch of excellent amateur players… but way out of their league.

To make a long story short, in one of the most epic David vs. Goliath moments ever, the Americans defeated the Soviets and won the gold medal… but if you’re not too familiar with it all, you may not realize that when the U.S. beat the U.S.S.R., that wasn’t the game that won them the medal. They still had one more game to go, against Finland… and the winner of that game would win it all.

U.S. coach Herb Brooks (played by Karl Malden in the made-for-TV movie) was well-known as an excellent motivator, but he had his work cut out for him. After the mental and physical exhaustion from beating the Soviets, they had to dig down and find it all again, one final time.

Needless to say, Finland was no pushover. They were playing for the gold too, and it was Finland that had the lead, 2-1, going into the final period. The entirety of what Herb Brooks told his players during that 2nd-intermission break isn’t known… but the last thing he said to them was this:

“If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your f#@%ing graves.”

Then, he stormed out of the locker room… but, not quite. He stopped at the door, paused, turned around… and solemnly said, “Your f#@%ing graves.” Then he walked out.

Perhaps that was the differentiator. Who knows. Great coaches, great techniques, great ideas, great execution. The Americans scored 3 goals in the 3rd period, and the rest is history.

On a more recent but less important similar event, the Canucks, last night – facing playoff elimination and playing with a playoff-rookie goaltender… managed to get it done. A gutsy and well-earned victory. Who knows what head coach Travis Green said to them… and/or how relevant it was… but it worked out well. A very good team with a very good leader.

On the flipside of all that… the L.A. Kings, two weeks before the end of a disappointing 2015 season (having won 2 of the last 3 Stanley Cups, but now about to miss the playoffs…) locked their coach out of the dressing room. They’d had enough of Darryl Sutter… and by the time Darryl had managed to find a rink attendant to open the door, he was greeted by three garbage cans and an empty room. It wasn’t too long before he was fired.

On a much, much larger scale… like, a national scale… what happens when the team loses confidence in their leader? Usually, they vote him out. Unlike hockey, there’s no General Manager or President of Operations or Ownership Group to pull the trigger. In a democracy, it’s assumed that when the majority tells you it’s time to go, you go.

If you’re actually doing a great job, a tremendous job, a beautiful job, people tell you it’s the greatest job being done that they’ve ever seen… well then, they’ll simply vote to keep you around. And if they tell you they’ve had enough… it’s time to go.

I’ve never heard of a hockey coach refusing to leave after being fired. On the flipside, history is unfortunately full of elected leaders who weren’t happy being defeated and decided it was time for a “different approach” to stay in power. There are different versions of what that can look like, and none of them are pretty. And I sure hope I’m speaking purely hypothetically with respect to the near future.

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August 30, 2020

No pandemic numbers to update, but let’s talk about something relevant in my last 24 hours… my involvement in the World Series of Poker, which was going really well, until… suddenly… it wasn’t.

Unfortunately, that is the nature of the game, and there’s actually something relatable to the world in general, especially these days.

In tournament poker, unlike cash games, you play until you have all the chips (and win) …or you bust out with nothing. Often, in tournament poker, you’re put in a position where it’s blatantly obvious what you should do, but plain old (good or bad, depending who you are in the story) luck will have something to say about it.

Even in the most extreme and obvious cases… and here’s the math on one of the most extreme examples… things can (and do) go wrong.

Let’s say it’s just you and me battling against each other in a hand. You have a pair of Aces, the best possible starting hand. I have a 2 and a 7 of different suits, which is generally the worst starting hand. For some misguided reason, I think you’re trying to bluff me with whatever you did to kick-off the hand, so I go All-In on you, meaning I bet everything I have… not because my cards are any good, but because I think you don’t have anything that good, and as per what I wrote yesterday, this is a game of money played with cards, not the other way around. As long as you think I have something better than you, you should throw away the hand.

But instead, this scenario is a dream for you. Someone pushing All-In, while you have pocket Aces. You call instantly, and are even further delighted to see my awful cards. Here’s the math: After running 5 board (common) cards, you should win 88% of the time. I, through sheer luck, will win 12% of the time… having hit 2 pairs or 3 of a kind or who knows.

And that’s the thing… one out of eight times in that dream scenario, you will lose. And it will feel like someone sledgehammered you in the gut… and if you visit the hotel bar at any poker tournament, you will see an ever-increasing group of gut-sledgehammered people wandering in to drown their sorrows and tell anyone who’ll listen how they just got completely screwed by some idiot who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

I will spare you all the details of exactly what busted me out of “The Big One” this year, but there’s no expert that’d tell you I did anything wrong. I got all my money in with a much better hand, and the other guy got lucky. In a real tournament, “IGHN” – I Go Home Now. Silver lining of course… I already am home. And instead of having a bunch of drunk, depressed poker players to make me feel better, I have my dog licking my face.

What’s relatable? That sometimes, doing the exact right thing… doesn’t yield the results you were hoping for or expecting. You’re wearing a mask, you’re social distancing… and somehow you caught the bug. It’s happened. Bad luck. But in no way does that negate what you (and everyone else) should be doing. Knowing that sometimes things aren’t going to work out is no reason to not do the right thing in the first place.

And, for what it’s worth, there are still some smaller WSOP events I might jump into. If things go well there, I assure you, you’ll hear about it. Kind of like the pandemic… when that starts going well, rest-assured… I’ll be here to tell you all about it.

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August 26, 2020

As a kid, I rode my bike all over the place… and when I was riding around the streets of Kerrisdale, I’d usually go by the Kentucky Fried Chicken on West Blvd. near 45th. I wouldn’t go in… I’d just coast by slowly and inhale the heavenly fumes emanating from within. Rumour has it that they used to (still do?) pipe out the smells to attract people. Whether it was on purpose or not, who knows… either way, it works very well.

The history of that entire chain is interesting. Everyone knows it was Colonel Harland Sanders who created the whole thing, but what most people don’t realize is that The Colonel was 62 years old when he launched that first franchise. He died at age 90, so that last 28 years of his life was quite the wild ride. Not that it wasn’t before that; on top of the usual assortment of early-century jobs (farmhand, dishwasher, painter, blacksmith-assistant, many trainyard jobs), Sanders became a lawyer… and the future of fried chicken as we know it might have been quite different, had his legal career not come to a crashing halt… and that’s a good way to put it. Sanders got into a serious disagreement with his own client… in a courtroom… which led to an actual courtroom brawl. That destroyed Sanders’ reputation, and he ended up moving back home with his mother. Back to work… labourer, life-insurance salesman, ferry-boat operator, lamp manufacturer, tire salesman, service-station manager, hotel operator.

It was in that hotel that he perfected his secret recipe, and from there, as they say, the rest is history.

Managing the entire massive enterprise was too much for Sanders, so he sold the whole thing a few years later, but held on to the Ambassador role we all know so well. He also hung on to all of the Canadian rights, moved to Mississauga, and collected franchise, royalty and appearance fees for the rest of his life.

In the early 90s, Kentucky Fried Chicken officially changed its name to KFC. If was of course known as that colloquially, long before that. But they made it official. And the reason they really did that was to remove the word “Fried” from the prominence in the name. That was when “Fried” went from being yummy… to being unhealthy. Nothing else changed; same chicken, same cole slaw, same biscuits and gravy… but hey, we won’t remind you that it’s fried, nor will we remind you that it’s perhaps not as healthy as you may have hoped.

In the last couple of days, KFC has dropped the “finger-lickin' good” slogan. Again, not because the food has changed. It is, still, undoubtedly, finger-lickin' good… but in these days of C19, they’ve decided that’s a poor message to promote. I’m not sure most people need to be told not to lick their fingers, but ok… I can see someone suing KFC for $50 million, claiming they contracted C19 because, you know, they said I could lick my fingers… or something like that.

Maybe they’ll never bring the slogan back. Maybe they’ll never put the word “Fried” back in the name. Sign of the times; but it doesn’t change anything. It’s still Fried and it’s still Finger Lickin' Good… just like it was before C19, and just like it’ll be after.

Optics – which applies to so much these days. The underlying issue hasn’t changed; just the messaging. Don’t fix things that aren’t broken… just fix things that might make it look like they are.

Is this a good time to talk about the messaging behind masks and social-distancing? Probably not. The people who’d tell you masks don’t work and social-distancing is nonsense and it’s all a hoax… well, I suppose they’re the ones who’ll continue to lick their fingers in defiance.

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By |2020-10-08T01:09:42-07:00August 26th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , |8 Comments

August 25, 2020

We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who calls in a computer expert to fix some problem. The expert comes in, hits a few keys, problem solved. He then hands the guy a bill for $1,000.

“Outrageous!!”, screams the guy, “How do you justify that?!”

“$1 to hit the keys, $999 to know which keys to hit.”

I was reminded of this joke, dealing with some emails today.

Actually, a somewhat-related story from ages ago… a prof telling me about how when he used to work for some big company back in the 1960s, and they had some fancy, big, expensive IBM adding machines… which were available in three different models… and to simplify things, it was something like the basic model cost $1,000 and ran 1,000 calculations per second. The next model up cost $2,000 and ran 2,000 c/s… and the fanciest model cost $3,000 and ran 3,000 c/s.

Those numbers are off, but you get the idea. And, IBM offered upgrades… if you wanted to go from 1k to 3k, no problem… just pay the difference.

These days, where everything is digital, this is easy to do. Most software can be upgraded online.

But how did that work in the real world? As he told me, when they upgraded from 1k to 3k, an IBM mechanic showed up, broke the official IBM seal, used an IBM-specific tool to open the machine… and then moved a belt… from one small pulley to a bigger pulley. It took two minutes.

Exact same machine… like, identical. Just running faster. Functional pricing at its finest.

If you watched that happened and didn’t quite understand the engineering and backstory, you might feel like it’s a complete rip-off… but the truth is the exact opposite. The guys paying the bills just want a faster machine, and they got it (instantly). How it got there doesn’t matter.

The expert that came in and restored that one corrupted operating system file… that suddenly fixed everything… how much was that guy worth?

Real expertise has a cost, whether mechanical or digital. Lifetime accumulation of knowledge and experience is worth what the guy (or company) providing it thinks… not what you think, just because it looks easy. When it comes to real expertise, typically… the easier it looks, the harder it actually is.

Yadda yadda… it often makes sense to listen to experts; it's often more than just a fancy opinion.

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By |2020-10-08T01:09:43-07:00August 25th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report|Tags: , , , |1 Comment

August 18, 2020

Here’s an interesting coincidence… the adult human body has 206 bones; the earth has 206 sovereign nations. If you were to map each bone to a country, what would that look like? For example, I imagine all those little wrist bones might relate to all those little South Pacific Island Nations. Few people really know what’s there or what they’re called or what function they serve… but they’re a very relevant part of the bigger picture.

But let’s worry about what’s more important; the entire human body doesn’t work well without a solid, healthy backbone. You could say the same about the geo-political stability and general health of the entire planet.

There are 33 vertebrae in the human body, so we hopefully have 33 solid countries inhabiting this planet which, to some extent, the rest need to be able to rely upon… because the whole thing falls apart, or, at least, is in great pain… when those 33 are out of alignment.

There is no dispute what 33 bones make up the human backbone, and while there would be discussion as to what countries round out the bottom of the list, the top of that 33 would be pretty straightforward; all of North America, most of Europe, some of South America… the big players in Asia, perhaps a few in Africa… etc.

Indisputably, the U.S. would be near the top. There was a time in the late 1940s where, without a doubt, they were number one. They’re still top 5, probably top 3… but here’s the thing; they’re presently in pain. Like with a fractured vertebra, and the discomfort that causes. A pain we’re all feeling.

Back problems have treatment, but it’s not always straightforward. You can go visit your local friendly physiatrist or chiropractor or rheumatologist or whatever it might take. There’s a specialist out there who’s very familiar with what’s causing your back pain, and she’ll do what she can to fix it.

But, here’s the thing… if you’ve been visiting the same medical specialist for almost 4 years, and your pain not only hasn’t gotten any better, but it’s gotten notably worse… well, perhaps it’s time to move on. Even though you were told by others that this specialist was terrific, tremendous, the best ever… it may be that you need to reach your own conclusions. Your health and well-being depend on it. And, as per above, the whole world’s as well.

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By |2020-10-08T01:09:45-07:00August 18th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , |9 Comments
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