[12/52] April 20, 2012

sailboats

Dear Reader,

I spent the weekend in Madison, WI for “scouting” purposes. That’s just a fancy way of saying that I went there to help find housing for the newest graduate student at University of Madison at Wisconsin. :) It wasn’t just housing, though. It was also finding cheap eats and things to do and accessibility to public transit and bike paths.

So I thought I’d make this list of things I learned from that weekend.

1. Madison’s airport has a DYSON hand dryer. It is really cool and will probably be the hand dryer of the future. (And yes, it dries your hands using the same patented Dyson vacuum/suction. No, I do not know if it will work if you place your wet hands under a Dyson vacuum cleaner.)

2. We can make it to a 5:50 am flight. but not without some pain. Mostly pain of knowledge that the only thing getting us out of our beds is the fear of missing a relatively expensive flight at 5:50 am. (Does this mean that every time I wake up late, I need to put some money in a jar?)

3. All of the houses we looked at were at least 88 years old. The oldest was 111 years old and was supported by a rotting joist. Uhm, no thanks to houses. (Also, how do these people do their laundry or go to their attic using extremely wobbly stairs and not break something?)

4. I dislike driving around to look at houses. I do not mind stopping to see inside of houses- I just don’t like the pass-and-go around neighborhoods – it makes me dizzy and I can’t keep up with the houses that are being pointed out. However, I am forced to agree that sometimes there is no better way to find housing other than to be willingly jerked around and looking at houses pointed out every 5th block, even if you have done your research online.

5. I really dislike driving around Madison. To be honest, if I’m traveling somewhere, I’d rather not drive at all. And since Madison is an extremely bikeable city, driving around was a bit of nightmare (lots of one way streets and closed streets).

6. The Old Fashioned is still my favorite bar/restaurant/hangout. I hope it doesn’t change much. And one day I will actually have an old fashioned there, once I get over my memory of throwing it up (at a different place- in my defense it was like 3rd of my 6 cocktails. Bad memory.)

7. Beer menus are more common than beer lists in most Madison restaurants. (The city loves its beer.)

8. Memorial Hall Terrace (aka campus terrace) is one of my favorite places for a sunset.

9. Spring in Madison is enchanting. The tulips are vibrant at the Capitol grounds, and the arboretum is heavy with the scent of blooming lilacs and apple blossoms. Tenney Park looks like a magical fairyplace.

10. It is worth a trip to a cheese shop in Madison (Frogmagination). Especially if you find cheap cheese “orphans” and get to pick small samples of different cheeses (all were good). I asked if there was such a thing as a bad cheese in Wisconsin, and the answer was: “Velveeta.”

11. Going to university bookstore for souvenirs is always amusing. Bucky the Badger is cute, though.

12. Madison craigslist is a much better place for looking for rentals than calling up list of rental properties. Just don’t craigslist and drive at the same time.

13. I will always get picked on at Madison airport because I’m not white. I’m not really upset by this, but it’s a pattern. Last time, I had to have webbing between my fingers checked. This time, I appear to be carrying explosives in my teabags (actual teabags, not those things under my eyes).

14. It is useless making the TSA security guy in Madison smile. I asked him jokingly if cheese counted as a liquid (because I was carrying quite a bit of it). No smile.

15. The weather in Madison varied a lot. It was near 80 degrees on Saturday, 60ish on Sunday, and high 50s on Monday. The last two days were also extremely windy. When we arrived in Durham, it was 83 degrees and humid and… not at all windy. The contrast could not have been starker. And I started calling Madison “Winterfell” (in a good way).

Back to books and gardening next…
Eunice

P.S. In honor of National Poetry Month, check out Neil Gaiman’s lovely poem (that I think was tattooed on someone’s back) at this link (it’s at the bottom).

P.P.S. This very cute interview with George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Daniel Craig at Vanity Fair. Daniel Craig in particular is hilarious.

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[10/52] April 10, 2012

March 27, 2012

Dear Reader,

Apparently I have problems with consistency. I actually had a post for last time, but I didn’t publish it because I didn’t finish it. And the truth is, I didn’t feel like finishing it. Then I took a week off in which I allowed myself to stop thinking about blogging, or worrying about it, or feeling guilty about it, and the post never really got finished.

There are times when I wonder if I’ll ever get comfortable with blogging. There’s a difference between writing and blogging- I can always write, but I don’t always blog (i.e. show my writing to the wide world). Because blogging is so public, I feel like I should restrict myself to most mundane of subjects, you know, the non-religious, non-political, non-flamewar-starting kind. I also try to limit whining and complaining (though if I should complain, I try to rant in a reasonable manner).

Anyway. I think it’s the final “publish” button that makes it hard. I was talking to someone about programming and writing the other day– we were talking about how rare it is that anyone can write/program elegant, concise, simple things, and how it is often easier to just churn out things, elegance be damned (quality vs quantity). Maybe I should stop thinking about the quality of my posts and just go for quantity and see how that goes. There is no shortage of books, gardening, and crappy drivers in my life, after all… :)

Anyway, I’m going to finish that post, and write a new one about my week off.

***
If you do not like reading about allergies or listening to a rant, please skip this following post…

Yes, I am still suffering from allergies. Yes, I still have to resist strong urges to take the Great American Nap (TM). Sometimes I’m good and I get to go to bed early. Sometimes I’m not and stay up until 3 am. This usually results in depression and self-loathing (I hate waking up past 9, unless I have partied all night- not that I do that- but if I am going to stay up all night, I would like to get things done other than just trying to sleep fruitlessly).

It’s gotten so bad that I am contemplating going off allergy medications next week. After all, the oak season is more or less over…unless it is a fact that oak blooms twice (please let this not be true).

However, I have found some things that help with allergies. Going to the gym actually makes the allergies vanish- I don’t know if it’s the endorphin effect or the nice air filters that the gym has- but for about 30-45 minutes I get relief. I’d much rather have sweat and sore muscles than itchy, runny eyes and a drippy nose and really loud sneezes that scare even my dog. Oddly, going to the university library helps too (maybe it’s all the air filters they use for the books). So I’m trying to go to the gym everyday and “work” at the library…if only my mornings were a bit more peaceful..

So to get myself out of this allergy-related funk, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction. Some of it is self-help, some of it are memoirs. Here’s a short list:

1. David Allen’s Getting Things Done- always a good book to re-read/skim every year. Good for getting that long list of spring cleaning out of the way.

2. Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection – I think this one is going to be on my re-read list as well. The best introduction to her work is her TED talk.

3. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild – I got this as soon as it came out and I haven’t regretted it. There’s a reason for all the acclaim- it’s painfully honest, gritty, funny, and very, very human. I was at the gym when I read the part about her mother’s death, because I was going to cry- it was that painful. There’s also a certain amount of horrified fascination on my part (why would anyone ever do this? because they can?) and a small dose of envy (you can hear rattlesnakes! not that there’s much comfort in that…). It also made me realize that I need to take more personal retreats.

4. Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life – there are so many stories in this book- it’s a love story, it’s a marriage story (if you consider marriage as living with each other while trying not to kill each other), it’s a beginnings-of-a-farm story, it’s got so many good little bits, such as not feeding cow cabbage (or at least not drinking the milk afterwards), or how hornworms are simultaneously beautiful and evil at the same time. It’s a great book to read during spring.

***
April 10- An update about allergies- I did go off allergy medicine and my mornings have been easier. Then again, I was having a different schedule and the allergies weren’t very heavy outside (for example, there were a lot of summer thunderstorms). Yesterday, though, was quite bad- it seems that wind wrecks havoc on my immune system. So I tool a bendaryl, and yup, zombie mornings. Oh well. It’ll pass…

til next time,
E.

P.S. If you like animals and could use some cheering up, here’s two links from the different ends of the spectrum:
Animals Being Dicks: funny, silly site about animals being, well, dicks
Zooborns: cute baby animals.

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[9/52] March 16, 2012

March 16, 2012

Dear Reader,

Uhm, has it really been two weeks? Oops. Time to get the party started!

First, please join me in wishing Wade V. a happy birthday.

Second, two weekends ago, Logan and Kate visited. We drank many, many bottles of beers and hugged many, many puppies (though not both at the same time). We also went to see The Artist in a mostly empty local theatre, which made me very happy to live in a small town, and yes, you should go see it while you still can in theaters. If you think a silent movie is going to be too quiet, you’d be wrong. It’s not just music for fillers- there’s lots of sound effects. Also, there’s a very talented dog in there that completely stole the show and should be the real Oscar winner. It was nice for once to be able to have everyone on an equal footing, sound-wise, in a movie theatre.

Third, I hate daylight time savings. Things have went VERY wrong from the time an hour disappeared. I don’t see why it has to happen- it’s bright here in the dark already. Also, I started to take my allergy medicine the same night spring-forward happened. As a result, I am tired all the time, which annoys me because nothing I do seems to help (getting enough sleep, working out, etc.).

On top of that, I started planting spring crops that weekend and I don’t think they are going to work out. I should have planted tomatoes because the last few days have been in upper 80s. I kid you not. I don’t think we’ve had a winter at all – and if we did it vanished in a blink. It’s been more of a cold spring. Some of the flowers here are doing fine- they bloom according to day length, but some that depend on temperatures are very, very confused.

I know I’m supposed to like spring and all, but I don’t see what is there to celebrate when it’s already summer. Or maybe I need another nap.

Fourth, I read some books. Big surprise. The new thing is I finally read some engaging nonfiction. Jan-Philipp Sendker’s The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is essentially a very sweet love story, but I didn’t find it as fantastical as Snow Child. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is an engaging read, if a bit simplistic (for example, trying to explain everything in terms of habits). You can read a sample of his work here- the part where Target predicts which women are pregnant is incredibly cool and creepy at the same time.

Fifth, I hope next week is much better.

Later,
E.

P.S. Are you curious about how fast you read? Here’s a reading test (warning: it’s most likely for ereaders). Apparently I read 502 words a minute (nuts).

P.P.S. If you are missing snow, well, here you go. Good use of exercise!

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[8/52] February 29, 2012

fast

Dear Reader,

Happy Leap Day. Or something. If you really are into Leap Day, you should definitely watch 30 Rock’s version of it.

I must confess something. I’m a champion procrastinator, and I’ve been doing things to avoid writing. So i made myself write at least a draft before sleeping.

I think the problem is I don’t know what to write about. My topics are too general, and it’s like writing a weekly column, except I’m not in any particular section.

The other problem is that I have been reading quite a lot. All the time spent reading is time not spent on writing.

Solution?

I’m going to write about what I read. Ha. Actually, it’s been a good reading week. I finished Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner and was sad to have finished it. It was more Austenian than the novel that preceded it (Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook collector), complete with sparkling and witty dialogue. I kid you not on the last part.

Then I decided to read Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Oh my goodness. This is the book that should be read in winter, under a comforting blanket, with a roaring fireplace, a furry dog at your feet, and a mug of hot cocoa at your side. And of course, there’d be snow slowly falling outside your window. This stuff is made of winter fantasies, although it’s really just beautiful descriptions of Alaskan wilderness. The book is based on a Russian fairy tale but reminded me of the movie The Sweet Land. Just replace the midwest with Alaska and that’s how I would describe the novel– an Alaskan version of The Sweet Land and a fairytale. I kept thinking about the novel afterwards, thinking about symbolism, about women and children, about marriage, about families, about love, and how the novel isn’t really about one of these subjects but many things.

I was also sad to have finished that one. So I got another book and finally finished using up my book gift card (my favorite solstice gift). It is generally a sign that I should get the book when I read the sample, laugh so hard that I cannot eat (I was having lunch), and cannot help sharing that funny part because everyone should know it and laugh as hard as I have. So I moved on to Sheepish by Catherine Friend, and made sure I was not eating or drinking anything…and finished it in an evening. Oops. It’s a memoir about sheep farming but it also talks about wool, the history and the weirdness and the eventual world domination (did I just say that? I meant that the whole world would be eventually covered in wool). So if you are looking for a quick entertaining read, this is a good one.

So. Back to the problem board of, whatever shall I read next?

Right now, I’m sampling The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, and Cinder by Marissa Meyer. So far, they look promising. I just have to remember that I don’t have to finish them in one sitting, though I can’t tell if that’s really my fault or the book’s.

***
So my week was fairly exciting. A little too exciting, really. There was a Migraine (with capital M) and while I successfully kept my food in this time, it kept trying to rear its ugly head over and over. Part of this is because we have a completely wacky weather system. Monday, we had snow, though most of it melted by noon. Tuesday, it was a high of 70 F or some such. Wednesday, it was a high of almost 80 F. Friday, we had a tornado warning and a slightly violent thunderstorm. The weekend it was windy and cold (50s). Calling the weather mercurial might be calling the kettle black.

At least the weekend wasn’t too bad. On Saturday, we got to see Luchadoras in their third show. In case you don’t know what Luchadoras is, it’s ladies’ mexican wrestling. Or rather, a show of ladies’ mexican wrestling (not that it matters). It’s generally pretty fun and you get to contribute money to a good cause. There are colorful masks and gold lame hot pants a-plenty. There are also some very tall women (one combatant was 6′ 4″ – no joke. She towered over her opponent, quite literally). Also, reading their biographies (in the link above) makes me giggle quite a bit. They also had interesting breaks in which 6 grown adult women fight for a mask (no, really). They were going to do the same, giving 2 gift bags to 2 girls, except 6 girls stepped forward and were in the ring before anyone could do anything. I think it would have been fair to have the 6 little girls fight for the bags, too, but I guess no one really wanted to see a crying kid.

On Sunday, we went for a short bike ride before settling ourselves somewhere on Ninth Street to watch the Derby. Basically, it’s a bike race in which cyclists ride around the entire Ninth street block for some X number of laps (called a criterium). There were collegiate races, kids’ races, and finally, category/purse races (anyone can join, pay a fee, and whoever is the fastest gets the loot. The purses ranged from $100-500). It was a lot of fun, and it was nice to have Ninth St. closed off to traffic (something they should do more often), and the kids’ races were kind of hilarious (they didn’t even do laps).

I did felt like a diabetic border collie, though. Let me explain- it comes from a story that Mr. Yum told me a long time ago. He had a friend of a friend who had a diabetic border collie. This was unusual, because most border collies are neurotic and very high energy and require at least 3 hours of constant exercise. One of those exercises is flyball, in which the dog has to run and jump over hurdles, catch a ball from a ball spitter (like a tennis ball training machine), and race other dogs back to the start line, running and jumping the whole time. The diabetic border collie did not have that energy drive and wasn’t neurotic. If I remember correctly, he was just basically content with 2 walks and a lot of lounging around. So his human would take him to flyball races, whether to cheer other dogs on or out of curiousity, and the dog would sit and watch and wonder why anyone else would do that. Now I know how that dog felt! Most racing bikes are not under the aesthetically pleasing category, and let’s not even talk about lycra ( grown men wearing pastel polka dots! having the word “gyro” all over your thighs! the colorful and supposedly aerodynamic booties! Actually, the booties made me think of Hermes, the messenger of Greek gods. I would not be surprised if there were little wings on the ankles…). Then there is the racing factor, which is sort of cool and sort of…pointless (it’s really either for money or for the numbers on a scoreboard) and kinda dangerous (going at 30-40 mph at corners with about 200 other cyclists all around you? No thanks). Still, it was fun and I took way too many pictures. Oops.

So that was an exciting weekend. It looks like the next one might be busy- we are having guests…

Til next time!
-E.

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[7/52] February 20, 2012

February 15, 2012

Dear Reader,

Oh hello. I’m going to admit that I had no idea what I was going to write for this week. Usually, I have a subject I toss around in my head, but I can’t really think of one. So I’m going to tell you what I did this week.

Sunday, I went for a long bike ride (at least 26 miles) in freezing weather. Good times, really, because I’d rather bike in the cold than in the heat (the latter causes headaches. the former just involves long thaws. Guess which one I prefer). The interesting thing was that the sun really, really mattered because the part of my body that was exposed to the sun would be warm and even a tiny bit sweaty, whereas the part that was in shade was getting numb. There were times when I felt like I was pedaling on stumps because I could not feel my toes. I didn’t know why I was putting myself through this until I remembered that I avoid biking most of summer because I get nasty headaches and spend the evening vomiting my guts out (I am prone to heat stroke, after all).

Tuesday was Valentine’s, and I think I have a new tradition. Basically, you go have lunch somewhere where flowers and chocolates are sold (in Durham, that would be Whole Foods and Parker & Otis, respectively), and watch in amusement at many, many people frantically buying chocolate and flowers. I was looking for a Valentine’s gift, but not for my sweetie. It was for the gal who was always nice to us when we get our burritos every Tuesday, and she loved her gift (I got her 3 small chocolate pieces, not bars, lip balm, and dino tattoos, all wrapped up in a floral handkerchief. She later explained to me that she loved the dino tattoos because she has a 6-years old brother who would love them. Yay!). Okay, that’s two traditions- to watch the hustle and bustle and to make someone’s life a little easier. And to have mud pie from Elmo’s Diner.

The rest of week was mostly routine, but it might have been better than normal.

I also finished two books. Please do read Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman. It’s not as negative as the title sounds; I believe the title is there so you know exactly what to expect at the end (and there are reminders if you don’t get the title). It’s about a relationship between unlikely people, and told through the girl’s perspective, and I have to say, Daniel Handler really gets teenage girls. Or first-love angst. Or first relationships. It is true that the guy is totally forgivable until you break up with him, and then, only then, you do see the warning signs. It’s a rule of the universe. It made me smile and ache in a good way, and of course, Maira Kalman’s illustrations are lovely.

The other book, The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman, is a novel I would have some hesitations recommending. I didn’t realize that it was marketed as being similar to a Jane Austen novel, namely Sense and Sensiblity, but now that I do, it makes a lot of sense. It is about two sisters, one who is definitely sense and the other whom you really want to slap. It takes a while for the cookbooks to figure in, and there’s some discussion of dot-coms, the crash, and even some 9/11 stuff. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t fantastic, either.

Next up is Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner. I figure after reading some fairly recent novels and not really striking it with them, I should treat myself to some good fantasy fiction. The first chapter starts with a snowy image and it snowed last night, so I consider this a good omen.

Later,
E.

P.S. Links I liked:

-Ralph Lauren Fall/Winter 2012. I normally don’t follow fashion but I do love tweed/herringbone/fair isle knits. I think I need to plan a fair isle vest for the fall…

-Richard Feynman’s love letter to his dead wife. Sad, but very touching. I love the bit where he says “Please excuse not mailing this– but I don’t know your new address.”

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[6/52] February 13, 2012

February 9, 2012

Dear Reader,

I’m switching to Mondays for posting, mostly because Fridays have been insanely busy, and then there’s the weekend in which I tune out everything, including writing.

Anyway, here we go. So what did I do the past week?

I finished Swamplandia, by Karen Russell, and had mixed reactions. On one hand, it’s very well written, and she has a gift for capturing moments and metaphors. She also understands what it is like to be a kid, and to have that viewpoint, and then change that viewpoint, either by force or gradual change.

On the other hand, it involved family secrets, and this isn’t the author’s fault, but I hate secrets. There were times when I thought the book became slow at points because it was just all buildup to what was most definitely going to be a train wreck, and I just wanted to get that over with. So minus that, it was a fairly good read, what with interesting facts about alligators, swamps, and wow-it’s-a-bigger-world-out-there epiphanies.

***

I also went to a rare and vintage beer tasting event with a friend the past weekend. I think we sampled at least 30 beers, mostly stouts and sours (we took a break in between and loaded up with protein and fried salty goodness). My friend hadn’t been to a beer tasting before, so I told her what I generally do at beer festivals, and realized that I either have been to too many beer festivals or am a beer festival pro.

So to help me remember, I’m listing my beer festival tips:
1. Go with someone. Stay with that person. You will need that person to slow you down.
2. Taste, not drink. First sips are fine, but remember finishing is optional, especially with ABV over 10% (the highest was 15%…whoo). Do not feel bad throwing out beer, if you want to try as many as possible. Drink the ones you like the best. Remember, throwing up beer is MUCH worse than throwing out beer.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink between sips.
4. Get food- preferably something fried, carb-y, and salty. It is also fine to take a break.
5. Do take notes. In addition, know what beers you want to try (essential in a bigger beer festival where there are 200+ beers.)
6. Have a designated driver. Always.

***

It was also a week in which I’ve gotten more angry and defensive than I have been in a while. So I’m going to vent a little.

Originally, I was going to say I hate driving, but that’s not really true. I don’t enjoy driving, but I don’t hate it. What I really hate are the bad drivers. They’re the kind who insist that you drive at their high speed, run red lights, make quick, dangerous turns, and generally get away with it. All for the sake of a SECOND.

I really got fed up when I stopped at a pedestrian crosswalk in front of an elementary school. The crossing guard wasn’t there, but there was obviously a pedestrian waiting to cross the street. On the other side, about 7-10 cars passed before one stopped so he could cross. Before he could do that, a van on the right corner of intersection made a right turn into my lane. So, basically, my stopping was useless and I should not have interrupted the flow of traffic, but here’s the thing. This is not a highway. This is a street in front of an elementary school. Traffic is interrupted all the time on local roads and moves at a slower pace.

Anyway, the point is, I felt alone and frustrated. Sometimes doing the right thing IS alone and frustrating.

***

And also, because February is a challenging month, Happy Pan-Universal Be Who You Are Day!
Remember, it is perfectly fine to love yourself, even if you do have someone special.

Here’s hoping for a better week,
-E.

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[5/52] February 5, 2012

January 30, 2012

Dear Reader,

The spa was wonderful, as always. I have no idea how it manages to relax me, but it does. I got to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, both by Brian Selznick, and I highly recommend them. The books also smell faintly of lavender and rosemary from the dry sauna, where I curled up under a dim yellow light and read. Not your usual ink or musty book smell, but a nice olfactory memory nevertheless.

There was a mildly disorienting feeling, though, that something was a little off. We stayed in a wing that we don’t normally stay in, and it was definitely warmer. We went to the NC Arborteum and went for a little hike along bubbling Bent Creek. It was actually a relief to have a creek path, as it was shaded and about ten times cooler than the unshaded trail. Also, one of our favorite clothing stores had closed, so it was a little sad not to have it there (and also to pet its resident labrador retriever). I guess changes are never easy, even when you expect them.

There were some new favorites, though. One of them was The Thirsty Monk, which is a really stellar beer pub. They have two levels, one for NC/US brews, the lower for Belgian-style brews (Belgian and US). All of them are on tap, I think, though they do have some bottles. The whole place is decorated with beer tap handles and is actually well-lit for a pub. I discovered why very soon when I was handed my beer card- you fill it out with your 4 choices of beer, and they bring it to you in 4 oz glasses. The card was very informative, as it provided blanks for smell, sight, taste, and other observations. This is definitely a dream bar for beer snobs and appreciators.

So yeah, it was a relaxing, food-and-beer-appreciating kind of “weekend.”

***

Oh wow, February is already here. I don’t have plans for this month (though I should). Some challenges I’m eyeing:

Month of Letters. You mail 24 letters (can be a postcard, fabric swatch, newspaper clippings, whatever) for the whole month of February. It’s still not too late to start, though I’m not sure there are 24 people I know, so if you want a letter, let me know.

Utilitaire. This is cool except for two things: 1) many places I go to are well under two miles, and 2) I sort of have a zero social life (I don’t belong to any committees and I haven’t been to a movie theatre or book reading in ages.). Maybe I should aim for “bike at least 4 miles a week on two different days per week,” which is fairly doable if it’s a dine-out night… or maybe this is telling me I need to get out and interact more. :)

Anyway, the week beckons, so I’ll end for now.

Later,
E.

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