Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Speed At Which We Are Changing
The Laconic Flapper

Have you ever stopped and thought about the speed at which we are changing?  I recently did because of  Hurricane Earl popping on through my area and leaving me without electricity  for one day!

Just two hundred years ago, people lived without electricity all the time and thought nothing of it...

They had woodstoves for heat and cooking, oil lamps and candles for lighting, plays, books and conversation for entertainment and all sorts of hobbies such as embroidery, horse riding, hiking, bird collecting, stamp collecting and so on. 

You get the picture, the hobbies still exist, of course, but there has been an explosion in the last hundred years of change upon change, accelerating at an ever more rapid pace...

Now, we haven't reached the levels of Star Trek or the Jetsons, but we have come a very long way!

Think about it, in my lifetime alone, (and I'm turning fifty in February of next year), I have seen a lot in a very, very short time...

I've seen television go from black and white to colour, when I was a kid, we had those little TV's that you had to squint at and the programming often only ran for a part of the day.  When my family moved to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories we only had programming for two hours a day. 

And the programming was pretty humble, Mr. Dressup and Canada Film Board mostly, but after a few years there we were quite used to it...
It's All Science Fiction in the End

So when we moved back down south, I almost went into culture shock because the advancements kept on coming while we were gone! Colour TV had come into common usage while we were away, and it seemed everyone had to get one...  This was around the mid-seventies.  That was only thirty five years ago, not a long period of time when you start to consider it.

And the changes that came in during the 1970's seemed to me really are the catalysts that started the acceleration at which the ball rolling...

The introduction of the pocket calculator (My first calculator was a hand me down from my brother, it was huge, heavy and went through batteries at an alarming speed... It cost over three hundred dollars and boy, was I ever proud of that thing!)

They were working on the first publicly available desktop computers, which started leaching out into general usage near the end of the decade or in the beginning of the eighties.  Remember the Commodore 64 and the Vic 20?

Think about those two things, a pocket calculator?  Wouldn't that start designers thinking along the lines about what else could be handheld?  Like phones and computers?

And computers, well, we all know that this was very huge and defined a lot of what came after...
Dragons Do Dream
In a previous post, I talked about how I played Dungeons and Dragons during the seventies, we used many different types of dice, our character sheets were paper which we filled in by hand, the dungeon master used hexagonal graph paper to create dungeons in advance which we used graph paper to move along on our journeys, and we did this all manually, with no computers!  There were also books used for reference during the gameplay that we all ordered by mail and someone produced these on an old printing press out of their basement in the states somewhere... 

It took a lot of time and we played as much as we could, in basements, unused classrooms at the school, in our living rooms on a rotating basis so our parents wouldn't get fed up and kick us out...  There was a lot of furor and press about the geeks who played this game obsessively, and someone even wrote a book about some kid disappearing because of  "D & D", so our parents were very concerned about us!
Blue Bobbles
The total irony of that paranoid fear is that drugs were much more dangerous than a bunch of geeky kids playing "Dungeons & Dragons", there were people shooting up in our school bathrooms during the day sometimes for heavens sake! 

The eighties saw the advent of personal computers that did more, way more, and cellular phones... I can't remember if digital cameras first made their appearance then or not, if they did, no-one could afford them anyway!  Other things that really took off during that decade were really good sound systems, the use of audiotapes that weren't in an eight track format, and the first gaming systems came into general use.  (Sony, Nintendo, and whoever else was trying to capture the market...)  Which is where the computer started anyway, but now personal computers were being used for 'useful' things as well, such as taxes, word documents and spreadsheets... Ugh!
Soft and Goldern
Oh yes, and let's not forget the video tapes, the big war between VHS and Betamax was not won by Sony Betamax although that format provided better quality!  I think Sony learned a big marketing lesson on that one and spiked the next battle they were in for ascendance (DVD - Blue Ray and the high quality DVD) by creating a gaming unit that was both a blue ray player and a game unit... 

In 1990, I was 29 years old and decided to go back to university after five years in the military as a radio technician.  I went into computer science because everyone was saying that that was where all the good jobs in the near future were going to be created... And it looked interesting!

Prior to 1990, in the eighties, the faculties in universities that taught computer science taught 'data entry' and programming using punch cards and then moved on up to eight inch floppy disks...  (By the way, did you know the very first programmer was a woman (Ada Lovelace)?)

The 'science' of programming was done using Basic and Cobol, which took a lot of time.  In the nineties, Fortran (the first object oriented programming), early C, and APL were added, giving more languages, versatility and complexity to the core courses.  Of course, very quickly, as the years progressed, we saw newer version of C and Fortran, and the languages became more elegant and ornate allowing recursive programming, logic became more developed allowing us to cut down on the lines of code used to accomplish minor tasks and give more room for expanded modules that did much, much more...

What a lot of people don't understand is that the software developments (programming itself) also fueled the computer revolution, speeding up the rate of change as well!  The hardware people were hard pressed to develop better chips and technology to keep up with the demands of the software industry and were under a lot of pressure to provide what was needed.
Like My Ride?
In 1993, I switched from Computer Science to Electrical Engineering with my specialty in Computer Engineering...  I experienced firsthand some of the changes that were going on in hardware.  It was exhilarating!  And fast, very, very fast!  My first 'real' computer was a 486, and that was very expensive, and now it would be a doorstop!  Only a decade later...

My bachelor's thesis project was a software/hardware project in control systems.  We did a board with gyros on it that took measurements of the X, Y, and Z planes (backwards, forwards, and height)  and had a preprogrammed flight path.  If the minature helicopter we built the board for and tested it on deviated over a certain percentage due to wind turbulence or other things occuring, the onboard control system would try to adjust automatically and right the helicopter.  This was only 1994!  We did very well on this project, we won the IEEE prize the controls the year we graduated (1995) in engineering.  It was pretty ambitious for a couple of undergraduate students, and then I crashed the helicopter, but it was really cool!
Fear Of The Future
The hardware advances that were really necessary are ones we all know about...  The need for faster CPU's (Central Processes Units - the main brain of the computer.), and quicker Buses (not the rapid transit kind, but the internal highways that the CPUs used to pass and access information), more memory, smaller and better components. 

The first computer used tubes and discrete transistors, it fit into a huge room and could do math, that's about it...  When I was in the military, we had the old computers with tubes and transistors, and I used to help fix them and radios with tubes.  Talk about clunky!

One of the big advances for hardware for computers was the advent of integrated circuits.  They actually 'grow' these thing on a microscopic scale in order to get all the components necessary into the chips for your CPU's.  Semiconductors make the buses possible in order to provide the speeds and chip sizes to allow electronic to become very, very small and much faster!

In the nineties, databases came into play in software, and while you may not realize it, they were very, very important.  Relational databases that increased in scope (they were able to make them larger and more complex on the indexing and interconnections as time passed) allowed software programs to store data and make choices based the data they had access to in real time or on central servers they could access...  Scripting, UNIX, LINUX, Oracle, MS SQL Server, these all combined to allow usage over the internet to grow and become more 'user friendly'...

For the last thirteen years, I had worked for a company where I implemented configuration initially on a text file that was accessed by the software on a 'client layer' stored locally on their pc and then eventually through something called a 'middle tier' that was stored on a central server accessed via the internet. I saw this change and grow through the years, I was originally trained in ORACLE SQL and moved on to MS SQL server when our company was sold and the new owners wanted to used that.

The software started out as a client copy, which meant it resided on the local pc and only accessed the internet once in a while as a special feature (late eighties) and eventually because wholly browser based.  Which meant it resided on the internet in the central servers which the local pc accessed to get at their client specific databases in order to do business or get updates and newer versions of the software.
Databases allowed software to track client preferences, save their choices, search for data (such as real estate listings, appointments, businesses, items, clubs), and in some cases, allowed the program to 'suggest' based on past choices.  A weird type of rudimentary learning system, that advanced software quite a bit!  We used databases for most software these days, when we know it or not, and database scripting and advances in that area are responsible for part of the changes we see day to day.  The 'smart' software I proposed as a natural next step in this evolution would rely heavily on databases to build a profile of the enduser and help that user learn new things. Which were identified in his profile (data in the db) as areas that needed attention for whatever he was trying to accomplish.

A new theory has recently been proposed by a man named Nicholas Carr, that our brains are essentially being 'rewired' by our exposure to Google and the Internet.
I'm not actually surprised because human beings are very adaptable and we learn quickly to adjust to new toys, I mean tools!  I've ordered his book to check it out, (I know once a geek, always a geek!) and I'm looking forward to reading up on this topic.  It'll help me make up my mind on this issue...

And finally, I recently found a site that discussed how some Calgary, Canada scientists are on the verge of creating a 'human neurochip' that will allow an even newer era of advancements!

Maybe Data from Star Trek is on the edge of being possible after all!

Images by Teresa Young:

1. The Laconic Flapper - Jul.2010, 2. SciFi House - Jun.2007, 3. Dragons Do Dream - Mar.2010, 4. Blue Bobbles - May 2001, 5. Soft and Golden - Aug.2010, 6. Like My Ride? - Jun.2007, 7. Fear Of The Future - Aug.2000, 8. The Masked Marvel - Jan.2000.
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Monday, September 6, 2010

More Shots Of Hurricane Earl

Up and over the shore!
A friend of mine sent me a ton of shots of the hurricane that were taken by her and other people around the area, and I thought I'd just post them here for others to see!

The waves hit the shore with quite a force.

There was property damage from trees.
Hope the anchor held.

It was as beautiful as it was scary.

Fox Point, NS by Corinne Oullette.

Fox Point, NS by Corinne Oullette.

The docks were hit constantly by surf and wind.

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More high surf.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hurricane Earl Hits My Doorstep

Hurricane Earl Hits Fox Point, Nova Scotia.
Hurricane Earl just passed us by here in Nova Scotia, and it was pretty intense. I think it's the first hurricane I've ever been in, the closest I had ever come before were some tropical storms I experienced when we lived outside of Fredericton, New Brunswick in the nineties.

Since the storm struck during the day, it was more interesting, as you could see it progress as the day went on.

When I woke up at seven thirty, there was hardly any wind and it was just sprinkling lightly. But within fifteen minutes, you could see the wind picking up (now I really know what is meant by the term 'gathering steam'!) and the rain started to intensify as well.

Sunrise before Hurricane Earl by Corinne Oullette.
About two and half hours later, the power went out... (not so bad in the middle of the day and in the summer, it's been hot and muggy, so the storm is cooling it down a bit.)

One interesting thing about this is that I really noticed the 'calm before the storm' effect that I'd always heard about! There was no birdsong other than the seagulls, and I think they were really enjoy soaring in the winds above the surf... Maybe seagulls are the 'surfer dudes' of the bird kingdom!
Searching For An Exit - Sept.2010.

A friend of mine took a beautiful shot of the sunrise on Friday morning, prior to Earl moving into the neighbourhood, and the weather looked great.  If we didn't have meteorologists and old farmer's almanac guys, you'd never even know a storm was coming in!

Well, after I wrote this, the hurricane got progressively worse, apparently, it tracked further east than was expected and hit Lunenburg county, which is where I am, bang on! We got hit with a category one, and there were idiots out there surfing! Unfortunately, I didn't get any shots of them, I thought two fools out there in a hurricane were enough without me joining in!
Online Entity - Sept.2010.
Our power ended up being out for 26 and half hours, which is not convenient at all... You don't realize exactly how much you need electricity to live in this day and age until you have to do without it for an extended period of time.

Mind you, I do one thing that really works very well for me in a non-electric situation, as long as it's daylight... I got a lot of painting done for one day, that was for sure!  Have a look, I've also added in one that I started but haven't finished yet.

Photo Images 1 and 2 - by Teresa Young.
Totem Tumble - In Progress.
Flowing Free - Sept.2010.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Photographing Art
Washed out colour,
curving depth of field,
poor image quality.
 Photo from 2004 with
Vivitar 3MB digital.
It's been my recurring nightmare (or mission?) to figure out a way to photograph my artwork so that I get relatively true colours, good flat depth of field so that the sharpness goes all the way out to the edges, and no glare on the piece itself...

You'd think this wouldn't be too hard!  But it's taken me years of fiddling around with this that and the other to get closer and closer to what I wanted to achieve here...

I figured I was the perfect person to do this...  I'd started in photography in my teens and I'd worked in a photography store when I was seventeen, and I had gotten my first SLR camera for my sixteenth birthday!  I wasn't an expert, but I had a lot of background, I was a good problem solver and smart enough to have completed a degree in Electrical Engineering, so why not? (Famous last words!)
Image shot in 1996 and printed,
then scanned.

I started out on this particular project in 1996 with a regular SLR (single lens reflex) because that gave the best quality.  Unfortunately, you didn't get to see the final result until you got your film developed, so there was a time lag and the mistakes could get expensive.  In those days, you couldn't get a digital copy of your photos when you went in to get them developed. so you ended up scanning the finished prints, which introduced a bit of degradation in itself!

The image on the right is something I don't have anymore, so basically, that poor image is all I have left.  Sad, sad, sad!

I was one of the people that waited impatiently for digital cameras to come down in price so I could afford one.  The time lag was something I really hated!  I'd forget the settings for each shot and end up wasting a lot of time and effort on images that I would have deleted if I'd seen right away how they had turned out.

My first digital camera in 2004 was a Vivitar 3Megapixel, which I paid over three hundred bucks for!  You can get something much better now for under a hundred...  Sigh.
Same pieces shot in 2010
with DSLR.
Artwork shot in 2004 with Vivitar
3MB Digital.
Mind you, at that point in time, Digital SLR's were way out of my price range...  So it was better than where I was in some ways, (but it wasn't an SLR so the image quality definitely suffered.) but I still wasn't getting anywhere near what I wanted.
As you can see by the shot on the left, the colour was hard to get close to the real colour quality, it was affected by ambient light in a major way, and whatever compensation it was doing on it's own wasn't helping.
I mean, am I alone in this, but are camera manuals actually written to be confusing?  Often, I would find it would take a long time to get an answer to a simple question out a manual, and the internet was even worse!

I mean, eventually, I had gotten the hang of the basics, for anyone that is interested, here are the basic steps to taking digital images of art with a digital SLR (recommended, but you can do this with regular digital cameras as well.

a) Choose the highest Megapixel setting,
b) turn off the flash,
c) set the ISO to 100 and
d) the aperture to at least F8, setting the camera on aperture priority,
e) choose a fast shutter speed,
f) white balance the camera,
g) and shoot outside with a tripod.
Shot outside, with DSLR.
White balance is off.
Little fiddly details:
The artwork has to be straight, with the camera planes and the artwork planes equal to each other, or you will get fuzziness at the edges of your image. You also need to make sure you give border around the piece so that your focal plane can be cropped out. What I mean by that, is that unless you use a macro lens, which gives a flat focal plane, your image will slightly curve at the outer edges, which will blur the artwork image if you extend the piece right the edge of the picture frame.

But for me, that wasn't enough, I wanted to take my pictures inside, which meant lights!
Now lights,  that's a whole other problem...  My artwork is varnished, so you always get glare when you use a flash. 
And it really doesn't matter if you photograph the paintings unvarnished, you still get glare!  This was an issue I had been dealing with right back to my days with my old SLR, and it wasn't getting resolved to my satisfaction.
DSLR with window backlight
from morning sun
and Macro lens.
After I got the DSLR, I could get good enough shots, but not really as I wanted to get closer, and control the lighting more closely.  I tried a number of solutions: flash diffusers, those little puffers, and hot, stand alone lights... I even made a makeshift diffuser for in front of the studio lights I used to have out west, and it sort of did the job.  But it wasn't perfect.

Then I added in the issue of photographing glass paintings, just to make it more interesting, and that just got me back into the old problem of finding the perfect photography solution to the regular artwork...  Which I had started to ignore, actually...

Once I bought a secondhand macro lens for my DSLR, the glass painting issue was solved (finally!) as the flat plane of focus and extra sharp detail certainly satisfied me.

Since I didn't want to take photos of the glass paintings at night (I needed the backlighting from the sun to catch them properly), I was back to my initial quest of photographing my regular paintings indoors with artificial light.  I'm not an outdoors person or a morning person, so this was important to me!

It's the little things that count though, and I finally got some help on this, a photo store clerk named Scotty (I kid you not Star Trek fans!), helped me for two hours today figuring out a solution for my problem.  What I am trying to do is called 'copy image' photography, and it's usually done by professional photographers.  But not all of them know how to do it.

You need to put two light sources pointed at your piece at 45 degree angles and the two light sources and your camera need to be in the same plane.  IE: on the same level, same height. Or else your light with be concentrated higher or lower depending on where you are taking the picture from.

You can get this effect with regular lights with umbrellas, strobe lights with umbrellas, or slaved flashes.  You can umbrella the flashes as well if you just really like umbrellas!

If you use flashes, you don't have to worry about the ambient light from other sources, just adjusting for the light introduced by the flashes.  Synchronization is important as well... It's not an easy problem, but we resolved it by going with the wireless functionality on my Pentax KX which allows me to use two specific flashes on the same channel so that they go at once and all the focussing and the rest of the digital handshaking works properly.  I'm putting the flashes on tripods so that I can get them at the same height as my camera and fixes to the best height for the piece I'm photographing.

If I was using fixed floods with diffusers or umbrellas, I'd have to adjust to ambient light and it would also get hot.  The flashes give off enough light when they go that the ambient light is flooded out by the sheer intensity of the light from the flashes.  Not the case with the fixed lights.  Otherwise, they'd really be hot!  Ambient light could introduce blues (daylight), ambers (tungsten lights), other blues (fluorescents), and if it hits at the wrong angle, you can cause uneven lighting on the artwork or even glare.
Anyway, I think I've finally gotten close enough to satisfy myself on image colour reproduction, sharpness, (right to the edges!), depth of colour and no glare.  I guess I can go back to painting!

Images by Teresa Young:
1. Dragon Feed - Jun.2010,  2. Untitled Surreal - 1996,  3.and 4. Alien Rotations - Apr.2010,  5. Jubilee - Jan.2002,  6. Frozen Frame - Aug.2010,  7. Exposing Your Inner Child - Aug.2010.
Exposing Your Inner Child

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Colour and How It Can Be Used

I'm constantly amazed at the beauty of nature and how transitory it can be.  Take a sunrise or a sunset, often these transition phases in the day are the most beautiful, and the most fleeting in time duration.
Artists and photographers are attracted to these times of day due to the vivid colours and deepness of the hues.

It seems that every sunset (I tend to see more of these, morning is not my best time!) is unique...  And depending upon atmospheric conditions, can have more colours sprayed across the horizon than one would ever believe possible. beauty is something that appeals strongly to the human psyche...  It's more precious because it passes so quickly.  It all about appreciating something that can't be held or pinned down... With artists though, it's more about color scheme and dramatic contrast.  Artwork is much more visually exciting if colours play off against each other and don't fade into the background.  Complementary colours are great but rarely occur in nature.  An artist will change colours to create colour harmonies that are more pleasing to the eye and jump out at the viewer. In fact, when complementary colours are placed side by side in a piece, they will both seem brighter and more vivid.
You also extensively use complementary colours to tone down an overly bright colour in a painting.  I tend to tone down most of my colours because I like my colours to give a realistic tone to forms within a painting, this makes the piece seem more real, even if it is an abstract landscape.

Think about those paintings all did in elementary school.  We used tempera watercolour paints and we pretty well all painted in unmixed colours.  The colours jumped out at us and they were vivid and atttractive.  But they never looked like a real place no matter how beautifully painted they were... The thing is, because there was no shadows to make the forms in the paintings look like they were floating in space, 3D, they didn't look like they had substance.  And shadows are great, as long as they are present and a thing appears to be 3D it's much, much easier to suspend our disbelief and allow ourselves to pretend this fantasy place exists!

And isn't that part of the point to art sometimes?  To allow us to journey somewhere else?  Someplace exotic that we couldn't see any other way?

Images By Teresa Young:
1. Sunset at Peggy's Cove, NS,  2. Sunrise out  my window,  3. The Ripple Effect - May 2004,  4. Velvet Dreams - Apr.2002,  5. Constrained - Mar.2004,  6. The Tree Grows - Mar.2009.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Tour Around Peggy's Cove

Closeup of the lighthouse.
Undersea Eyes by Teresa Young.
On Saturday, after working on a number of glass paintings and reaching the point where I was watching paint dry, I decided I'd procrastinate in a new and unique way,  so I went and took a boat tour around Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia.

Peggy's Cove is gorgeous location and seeing it from the deck of a boat is a great way of getting a different perspective on a premier tourist spot...

Peggy's Cove Tour Boat.
Cove Jewels - glass painting inspired by the cove.
If you want go ahead and take a look at the website run by the boat tour company, it contains quite a lot of information, some beautiful photographs and loads of facts about Peggy's Cove and the wildlife of the surrounding area.
View from the boat.
We were made to feel very welcome at the outset by the crew of the boat and were given the initial safety information prior to leaving the dock... 

At least it wasn't as bad as the airplane lectures on safety I've sat through as it was delivered with a sense of humour by our tour guide Emily. tour includes an hour long ride around the area with great water views of the lighthouse.  The underwater camera portion of the tour is where the boat is stopped to drop a camera so the passengers can get a good look at the ocean floor

Nice day for a cruise...
And there's also a chance to get a photo of yourself with the olympic torch that was used to start the run across Canada for the leadup to the Olympics. 
I found this quite ironic as I'd moved away from British Columbia prior to the Olympics, and here I had a chance to hold one of the torches, which I never would have if I hadn't left...

I think Emily is admiring Bill's legs!
Surreal colours!
While anchored in a little cove not far from the lighthouse, we were watching video of a local lobster and the camera decided it really wanted to be free and somehow slipped the line holding it to the boat...
Peter helps Bill into his new clothes...
Apparently, this isn't a common occurence so we just happened to luck out on this tour.  I wasn't about to complain about the extra time on the water as it was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky overhead... 
As we watched the captain of the boat (Bill Johnston) get helped into a dive suit by Peter Richardson, (his first mate) we were able to get a great look at the surrounding landscape. 
One small island we passed had been bought by a local woman for 240 thousand dollars and she built a house on it. 
Fishing village near Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia.
The power would have to be brought out to the island via underwater cable and the fresh water would have to be brought in or captured via a cistern. 
But I bet the lady has great privacy! 
There was a nice little boat dock there and it looked like a beautiful place to swim...  Just imagine owning your own island though!  That amount of money would buy half a house in Vancouver, BC area at best...
Emily (our guide) pointed out the comorants sunning themselves on the nearby rocks.  She explained that these fishing birds are wonderful weather predictors. 
If the birds are there, you can count on decent weather, but if foul weather is coming in, then the birds will be mysteriously absent...
Emilio Giancola and
Joe Persicone hold the torch.
It's never been explained how wildlife knows in advance about things like earthquakes and tornadoes, but I guess you can extend that little mystery to thunderstorms and hurricaines as well!
After Bill retrieved the camera, we pulled anchor and started back towards the cove. 
As we neared the lighthouse, Emily pulled out the Olympic torch and also brought out some Olympic clothing that we could put on if we were interested... 
A couple of young lads down from Halifax and Ontario decided to go the whole route and suited up...

Of course no photo op is complete without the captain's willing participation...
Sunset at Peggy's Cove.
Once everyone got a turn to try out the torch (although for a while there I thought I'd dropped in on a Star Wars convention, they were using the torch as a light saber for a bit...) we started the boat back up and headed back to the dock...
As far as I was concerned, it certainly was a wonderful trip that I'd recommend to anyone visiting the area.  And it was a great way to take a break and see more of the province!
Next month I think I'll check out the Cabot Trail!

Images by Teresa Young:
1. Undersea Eyes - Aug.2010,  2. Peggy's Cove lighthouse,  3. Tour Boat,  4. Cove Jewels - Aug.2010,  5. The lighthouse as seen from the water,  6. Unnamed glass abstract - Aug.2010,  7. Wake of the boat,  8. Photo of Bill in scuba gear,  9. My surreal lighthouse shot,  10. Bill and Peter preparing to retrieve the camera,  11. Fishing village near the cove,  12. Emilio, Joe and Bill with the Olympic torch,  13. View from the boat,  14. Sunset at Peggy's Cove.

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