* Posts by Werner McGoole

199 posts • joined 11 Mar 2008

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Osborne ponders giving fleeing bank customers an API getaway car

Werner McGoole

All well and good

I'm sure it'll all be very nice and shiny when it's all agreed and implemented. But the trouble is, having gone to all that effort, in 50 years time they'll still be using the effin thing. Much like how it still takes 7 working days for a cheque to clear.

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Hawking: RISE of the MACHINES could DESTROY HUMANITY

Werner McGoole

Oh really? You don't say?

You'd think that with a brain the size of a planet and a subject of such fundamental importance, he'd at least come up with an original thought - even a small one. Wouldn't you?

But instead he says something that's been said about a million times ever since the idea of a computer first arose. Maybe he's just discovered SF and it's got him all fired up to the extent he didn't bother checking if anyone else had ever pontificated on the subject.

Tell you what Stephen. Submit a paper with your thoughts on AI to your favourite scientific journal and let's see how impressed the referee is to hear that old saw again.

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Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg

Werner McGoole

What do they call them in Scotland?

Over the years, a number of Scotchmen have informed me that the only thing the adjective "scotch" can be applied to is whisky. Obviously, as an Englishman, I consider that to be nonsense and object with eggs, mist, corner, butter, hop and many other examples of ancient English usage. But they are insistent.

So what's Carmen's take on this as a Scotchwoman? Do they call them Scotseggs in Scotland, or just eggs?

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Danish lit star Helle Helle, Marianne Faithfull and Jim Al-Khalili on Quantum Biology

Werner McGoole

Meh

I'm not sure it's accurate to say this is the first layman's book on quantum biology. McFadden's earlier book "Quantum Evolution" surely counts (there may be others). That book was a rather fanciful and unscientific exposition, although interesting.

But what's all the fuss about quantum mechanics and biology? Self evidently QM influences biology. Without it atoms and molecules wouldn't be stable (the entire world wouldn't exist). The quantum de-localisation of electrons makes much of chemistry (hence biology) possible. Of course reaction pathways follow the routes that QM allows even when they're classically forbidden: QM was invented to explain the behaviour of atoms after all.

What's more contentious is whether the more "spooky" quantum effects can survive and be observed at a macroscopic scale. McFadden's first book was full of such claims, but little of it convinced me. As this subject advances, it seems to be leaving these wilder claims behind and focusing on more mundane aspects of QM that amount to - well, little more than normal chemistry to be honest. If the macroscopic consequences of QM in biology are so remarkable, then so, also are other simple facts, like the existence of solids and liquids, electrical conductivity and countless other phenomena we take for granted.

Penrose's conjecture certainly retains the essence of "spooky quantum action" and deserves more study than it's been getting, but apart from that, I say "meh" to quantum biology.

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Lords take revenge on REVENGE PORN publishers

Werner McGoole

Swings & roundabouts

I guess this will just lead to the alternative of allowing your nudie pics to be posted on the internet by your lover. Then, when you get jilted, you claim you never gave permission.

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Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM

Werner McGoole

Re: I seem to recall reading this experimental procedure before

Indeed. One of the most important experiments in physics, although it routinely gets overlooked when documentaries are looking for the big moments in science.

It also sounds suspiciously like the gear used to look for gravitational waves. In fact, from the description I can't see how you'd tell the difference if you did detect something. Presumably there'll be a subtle signature in the signal that's below the noise level of journalists.

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Climate: 'An excuse for tax hikes', scientists 'don't know what they're talking about'

Werner McGoole

Re: I think...

There are lots of people who are scientists (but not climate scientists) who have plenty of relevant knowledge for assessing the work that climate scientists are doing. Many of them have extensive knowledge of data analysis, computer modelling, physics, chemistry, statistics and all manner of other subjects that are very relevant to climate study. Many also work in far stricter disciplines, where the scientific method and the burden of proof are adhered to far more closely than in climate science and where being a sceptic is seen as fulfilling a valuable scientific role.

Many people with these sorts of backgrounds look at what climate scientists are doing and feel they are letting science down, badly. They can see very little scientific rigour being applied and no scientific basis to the theories that predict future climate - principally because none has ever passed even the simplest of experimental tests. These details are important, because they are what distinguishes science from opinion.

So, to put it bluntly, there is every reason to think that the man-in-the-street's opinion will be just as accurate as that of the climate scientist, because neither is doing science.

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Amazon France routes around free shipping ban with €0.01 charge

Werner McGoole

Re: Booksellers do deserve protection

No matter how "good" they are, why would I go there to buy something they don't stock? Small places inevitably don't have as much stock. When buying books, the range available is quite important. That's why Amazon is a better solution, quite apart from the price.

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Catch cack-handed baggage handlers in the act with Ericsson's SPY SUITCASE

Werner McGoole

Meh, it's all standard these days

Standard suitcases already contain most of the required sensors for this sort of work. They contain plastic parts that fracture at a pre-determined impact to detect rough handling. They have bendable metal handles that detect excessive loads (just check to see whether the handle will still pull out when it arrives). They also have absorbent coverings to detect moisture and many will reveal contact with abrasive or sharp objects by ripping.

Of course, you can also install your own sensors internally; a cheap bottle of wine will reveal if the bag has been thrown around by imparting a red stain to your undergarments.

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Black hole three-way: Supermassive trio are 'rippling' space

Werner McGoole
Headmaster

Re: different terminology please

Technically, I think he has stopped. Unless he uses it again, of course. But you won't know that until he does, so it's too early to complain yet.

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Werner McGoole

Re: To put 300 times the speed of sound

Actually, that they're orbiting at 300 times the speed of sound is about the least extraordinary thing about them. In astronomical terms, that's a boring, pedestrian speed.

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You are ALL Americans now: Europeans offered same rights as US folks in data slurp leaks

Werner McGoole

"This is an important first step towards rebuilding trust in our transatlantic relations."

This is an insulting first step towards failing to rebuild trust in our transatlantic relations.

There, FTFY.

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Boris: Look on 'London's digital tentacles', ye mighty, and despair!

Werner McGoole

Re: Like it's a good thing?

Yes, definitely a bit vampire squidish, that.

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Debunking Jimbo: Slippery Google tries to evade European privacy

Werner McGoole

Re: So in summary...

"If they accede to demands without sending them to court, Google are pro censorship, and their previous freedom posturing is exposed as lies!

And if Google send things to the courts, then Google are arrogantly attempting to defy their obligations under EU law!"

But that's pretty much the dilemma we all face, including the law itself. Either we're in favour of censorship or we're in favour of violating privacy. Unless we all agree on exactly where the dividing line falls (and there's not much chance of that as it's a political judgement as much as anything) then there's no squaring this particular circle.

The usual solution in such cases is to enact some fairly vague and ambiguous laws so that only those people who care enough to spend a fortune going to court ever need a firm decision. The rest of us just have to lump it because we can't afford the money or effort to fight. In the case of data protection, you also set up a watchdog with no teeth to take the wind out of people's sails if they have the cheek to complain

Looks like we're fairly well down that path already.

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Egghead dragged over coals for mining Bitcoin on uni supercomputer

Werner McGoole

This is academia

I guess they were just miffed he didn't get any publications out of it.

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UK govt 'tearing up road laws' for Google's self-driving cars: THE TRUTH

Werner McGoole

Re: I'm against it at this time. here's why...

One big difference between the US and UK is that we drive on the left in the UK. But I guess we should be OK there, so long as NASA don't get involved.

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Tech talk bloke compares girlfriend to irritating Java tool – did he deserve flames?

Werner McGoole

Investigative journalism at its best

Small group of people on Twitter get annoyed about something trivial. What a great story that'll make.

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You've got two weeks to beat off Cryptolocker, GameoverZeus nasties

Werner McGoole

Ooh a nasty virus is coming to get us all....

Sounds like business as usual to me. Actually, maybe just a brief holiday before returning to normal.

Why all the fuss?

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It's Google's NO-WHEEL car. OMG... there aren't any BRAKES

Werner McGoole

So what happens...

...when an automatic software update bricks them all at once?

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EBay, you keep using the word 'SECURITY'. I do not think it means what you think it means

Werner McGoole

Or you could just try writing eBay a stern letter

Cut out the middle man...

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Mozilla agrees to add DRM support to Firefox – under protest

Werner McGoole

Re: The underlying problem is...

You're right. Browsers are already too complex - a bit like operating systems became, in fact. I think it's time we stopped using "a browser" and had browser distributions like we have Linux distros. That way, projects could more easily set up new forks of (say) Firefox and just use the bits they like.

More importantly, they could also add in any extras they want and could enhance neglected areas (like security and privacy) without taking on the massive challenge of supporting an entire browser. At one time, Firefox's extension mechanism was a great strength, but many extensions now look like little more than sticking plaster and just provide an excuse for not tackling fundamental browser problems.

We need to develop an ecosystem where competition can help drive forward the individual component parts of a modern browser and take control out of the hands of the big players.

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Amazon granted patent for taking photos against a white background – seriously

Werner McGoole

Or that you can use a ruler to measure any length so long as it's not 10cm.

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Werner McGoole

Re: Insane

I doubt they can do that. Amazon has probably already patented the idea: "Method and Apparatus for issuing daft patents...".

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Symantec: Antivirus is 'DEAD' – no longer 'a moneymaker'

Werner McGoole

Re: One good thing Microsoft has embraced and extended

"Dont need link scanning, email scanning, network lock downs, child monitoring, arbitrary trusted app levels, convoluted firewall blah blah blah..."

You need to tell that to pretty well everyone who's writing stuff these days. No-one seems happy any more with software that does what it needs and nothing more. If another feature is possible, then it needs to be added... and on and on... until it collapses under its own bloat. AV, unfortunately, is not alone in this by a long way.

That's not to say it doesn't deserve to die, though.

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DreamWorks CEO: Movie downloaders should pay by screen size

Werner McGoole

And books...

...should cost more if you're wearing big glasses.

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Top tip, power users – upgrading Ubuntu may knacker your Linux PC

Werner McGoole

Grub's a really touchy beast these days

Especially if you've more than one OS installed. Breaks as soon as you look at it. Fortunately fixing it is usually pretty simple. Overall, not necessarily a good situation, though.

I guess it's just become over-bloated as these things always seem to do.

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Not just websites hit by OpenSSL's Heartbleed – PCs, phones and more under threat

Werner McGoole

Re: The real bug

No, the real bug is having a software development system that allows someone with insufficient experience to add code to a system that needs to be secure - and then not having a sufficiently robust review process in place - and then installing that software in a critical situation on huge numbers of servers around the world.

This bug is the sort of mistake beginners make (I believe the culprit was still at uni). I'd be embarrassed if I put a bug like that into a one-off throw-away lash-up. But somehow it got into openSSL which everyone regarded as secure.

It's a bit like the debt-laundering that took place before the financial crash. Everyone thought the debt was solid, but simply because no-one bothered to look at the fundamentals. I think this incident has shown FOSS security to be based on similar principles.

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Werner McGoole

In my view seeing a naked memcpy call at all in supposedly secure code is like walking into a restaurant kitchen and seeing a big pile of rotting carrion on the floor. The staff may know not to handle it before dipping their fingers in the gravy, but it's a clear danger that you don't want to have around. It may cost to clear it up, but that's what you have to do.

memcpy is a big red flashing warning light that says "make damn sure you've checked and sanitised every bit of data that goes in and out of here" (not only memcpy, of course, but quite a few other C functions). In fact. I'd suspect simply looking for all the memcpy et al. calls is a pretty good way of finding vulnerabilities. The best approach is to wrap them up pretty tightly. Even that's not 100% secure, but it does make a difference and in security code it's 100% worth doing.

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Boffins make noise about D-Wave chip: it seems quantum

Werner McGoole

Re: I don't get it.

That makes me scratch my head a bit too. Either it's a lot faster than a classical computer or it doesn't really matter whether it's a quantum computer or not.

I could say I'd sold my soul to the devil in return for the skills to make blisteringly fast computers, but if the computers I sold weren't actually fast, what would be the point?

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New IPCC report: 8 ways climate change will throw world INTO PERIL

Werner McGoole
Pint

Re: ..everyone can identify with slower maturation of wine grapes as an issue worth tackling! ..

I'm more interested in what it'll do to barley and hops, actually.

For once, the perfect icon!

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US to strengthen privacy rights for Euro bods' personal data transfers

Werner McGoole
Facepalm

Ha ha ha ha ha

What bit of "trust" don't they understand?

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GNOME 3.12: Pixel perfect ... but homeless

Werner McGoole

Re: Nope

OK, so you have to edit a config file. Not ideal, obviously.

But OTOH, do you want a dancing paperclip popping up saying "I see you're looking at a web page, would you like me to help you create a short cut to that?" and then proceeding to create a widget that plays a tune every time you mouse over it, tells you the time of day in the web site's locale, adds it to a semantic map of your browsing habits, emails all your friends to tell them what a great site you think it is and posts to Facebook, Twitter et al. just for good measure, before suggesting where you can get discount vouchers, signing you up to the web site's spamletter and prompting you to create an account?

There's a balance to be struck here. In my view it's about at the level of right-click and select "create a desktop link to a web page". Unfortunately, 99% of GUI designers seem to have convinced themselves we prefer the "paperclip" approach. So kudos to Gnome for going the other way, but it's still not right guys!!

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Middle England's allotments become metric battlefield

Werner McGoole
Holmes

Now that's proper mental mental arithmetic... a counting system with multiple fields and different bases in each field. Who on earth would invent a system like that? Oh, hang on... I seem to recall spending several years of my life practicing that stuff.

FWIW I also recall we had a computer* made out of relays when I was at school that could do arithmetic in yards, feet and inches and suchlike. I think it could calculate pi as well, but rather slowly.

* IT angle.

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Monkey steals iPod touch, loses interest in minutes

Werner McGoole

I feel a patent coming on...

Rounded corners aren't cool in monkey society. Simians prefer curved, elongated shapes with pointy ends. So that idea's now in the public domain, before Apple patent it and come up with the iBanana.

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Blighty goes retro with 12-sided pound coin

Werner McGoole

Re: You can get the fakes at clubs

I think it doesn't really help that they change the design on coins and banknotes so often. There are so many designs in circulation now that I don't necessarily recognise them all and I'm not that surprised when I see a new one. If I got given a pound coin with a picture of Mickey Mouse on one side, I'd probably assume it's some stupid attempt to commemorate Walt Disney or something.

So now I suspect the fraudsters could start minting 13-sided pound coins and still get away with it. People would just assume it's a new official design.

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WTF is … the multiverse?

Werner McGoole

Inflation conflation?

You seem to be talking about theories that propose that outside our universe there are other things (that might be other universes), hence a multiverse. But in "quantum physics" (as mentioned in the title), the multiverse normally refers to the idea that all possible quantum statistical outcomes of an event actually exist together (rather than one of them being special and representing a unique reality).

So have you just conflated two rather unrelated ideas, or is there some more subtle connection between the two that I've missed? For example, is it being suggested that the existence of inflation is somehow the cause of quantum uncertainty?

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Grav waves: Moment when 'father of Big Bang inflation' learns he was RIGHT ALL ALONG

Werner McGoole
Joke

You call this a triumph for Einstein?

The cosmic gravitational background radiation is enough to make Einstein turn in his grave - although only very slightly.

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Actually, there is an Arapaho word for 'pliers'

Werner McGoole
Devil

Re: Is there an Arapaho word for this?

While attempting to put up a fence the other day I was mystified by where my hammer had gone. It was there the previous day. All the other tools were still there, but the hammer (a vital tool, obviously) was nowhere to be seen. Now I'm well aware of the behaviour of tools, so I naturally assumed it would turn up when I picked up the spirit level, or turned over the concrete-mixing tub, or whatever. But no, there was no hammer to be found anywhere. So the day passed with little fence-putting-up being done in between searches for the hammer and much cursing.

Come 5pm, and the wife returns home and sneaks into the garage clutching a hammer. "I hope you didn't need this today, I just borrowed it to put up a picture at work... ". There is no Arapaho for my thoughts at that point.

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WhatsApp chats not as secret as you think

Werner McGoole
Facepalm

Re: Strange

It's an interesting sleight of hand. On a desktop with no Android-like permissions, any program that started reading data it hadn't written and calling home with it would be called spyware and the antibodies in your AV/security suite would be out to kill it.

OTOH, by including permission settings on mobile devices, it comes to be assumed that if an app has a permission then it's justified in using it, even if it didn't actually need it. So adding something that apparently enhances privacy and security actually ends up reducing it. You'd almost think that was a deliberate move unless you knew better ;-)

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WHOA: Get a load of Asteroid DX110 JUST MISSING planet EARTH

Werner McGoole

Re: Fuck a duck...

Dark matter, apparently.

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GNU security library GnuTLS fails on cert checks: Patch now

Werner McGoole
Joke

Re: Goto considered harmful

"if you're forbidding it's use because people can make mistakes..."

You're dead right there. Otherwise we'd have to ban the apostrophe.

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NHS England DIDN'T tell households about GP medical data grab plan

Werner McGoole
Facepalm

Re: This was probably the whole intent

In my case opting out of junk mail has had ZERO effect on the junk mail, but has nevertheless successfully opted me out of NHS circulars, or so it would appear.

So much for that excuse, then.

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'Polar vortex' or not, last month among the WARMEST Januaries EVER RECORDED

Werner McGoole

Re: The BBC tells us what's really happening

The point I was making is that a scientist shouldn't tell you what the evidence is going to show when they've just said they don't have that evidence. They should wait until they have the evidence, then see what it indicates. At least, that's the way I was taught to do science.

But I think it nicely illustrates the do-you-or-don't-you dilemma between attributing unusual weather events to climate change. Beneath every supposedly objective scientist there's a political animal that wants a certain outcome and wants to make that link, as sneaked out here. I'm not saying it doesn't happen on both sides, as it clearly does.

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Werner McGoole

The BBC tells us what's really happening

Here's what the BBC had to report recently from a "climate expert" (Prof Jennifer Francis) on the subject of whether the jet stream is changing:

"Our data to look at this effect is very short and so it is hard to get a very clear signal.

"But as we have more data I do think we will start to see the influence of climate change."

Spot any science here? Yes, it's in the first statement and it says "there is no scientific basis on which to make a claim about climate change". Then she makes that claim about climate change that she has just told us has no scientific basis.

So even the experts don't know what to make of it, but they sure know what they'd LIKE to make of it!

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Mathematicians spark debate with 13 GB proof for Erdős problem

Werner McGoole

Re: Yes indeedy

My understanding is that you can't pick any old pattern. It has to be every number, or every second number, or every third, etc. But that's just from Wikipedia.

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My smelly Valentine: Europe's perfumers wake to V-Day nightmare

Werner McGoole
Joke

Re: Alternatives are available

Tough. I'm allergic to the stuff, so it'll have to be banned I'm afraid!

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Yes, HP will still sue you if you make cartridges for its inkjet printers

Werner McGoole
Happy

Continuous ink supply systems...

...are good things to have if you've a little technical skill to set them up, so it's worth seeking out a printer that'll take one. I'm currently using a Canon MG5250 with a CISS and ink is now effectively so cheap I don't have to worry how much I print.

The downside is the cost of the CISS (about £50 when I bought it) and the fact you'll need a new one if you change printers. So I'm planning on getting an identical printer as a spare.

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Stephen Fry rewrites computer history again: This time it's serious

Werner McGoole

Re: Somebody put it far better than I could...

You just need to remember that he's more interested in facts being interesting than in being correct.

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Amateurs find the 'HOLY GRAIL' supernova – right on our doorstep

Werner McGoole

Re: Who cares who is first to photograph?

I always thought the IAU (www.iau.org) was the arbiter of astronomical discoveries. As the article mentions a "telegram" (remember those?) I assumed this was the official announcement because telegrams used to be the way it was done. Maybe it still is.

However, I couldn't see anything obvious about it on the IAU website.

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Brit boffin tests LETTUCE as wire for future computers

Werner McGoole

Re: Sorry, computers are all down

Lettuce spray we can contain the threat then!

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