Mor Beal

from the Irish for “big mouth”

Powering Back Up With A Purpose

This ‘blog has been quiet of late because I really struggled with something to say. ‘Blogs are accused of being filled with minutiae of peoples’ days or vapid meanderings or angry screeds (more on that later). But any writing presented for public consumption must have a point, a focus, a PURPOSE if you will, and that purpose has to be better than simply shooting off one’s big mouth.

So, here is my purpose for the new year: gratitude.

A while back my wife and I watched a TED Talk by Shawn Achor, a researcher in the new school of positive psychology. His thesis is that we are backwards in this culture, believing we have to be successful in order to be happy when the truth is that in order to be successful we have to be happy. Watch the video in the link, above; Achor does a terrific job explaining it.

So my wife and I began engaging in one of Achor’s suggested practices: before bed we would each share three unique gratitudes for that day. They couldn’t be generalities like “I’m grateful to be alive” but had to be specific to our day. And some days it was hard-hard-hard to come up with one, let alone three, gratitudes. I found myself reframing my experiences in the day, trying to find something to be grateful for, turning frustrations into…well, if not joys at least something reasonably good. As a result, I’m a much less grumpy person than I was a few years ago.

So, that’s my new focus and purpose for this ‘blog. Along with the usual ramblings and things I like to talk about or observe I will have posts where I share what it is in my life I am grateful for. A gratitude each week. A public declaration, sure, but more importantly a (relatively) permanent reminder to me of the good things in my life, a small slice of the big, giant loaf of blessing I am baked into the middle of.

(Can you tell I’m grateful for bread…or at least jonesing for the bread that’s baking in the breadmaker as I write?)

Easier. Better. Choose One

Submitted for your consideration: the attitude necessary to find employment in ministry is the exact opposite of the attitude one needs IN ministry. I have spent the past several months trying to convince organizations and people that I am a great person for their ministry, be it churches and their search committees or colleges and their HR departments.

“Look how good I am at what I do!” is what resumes and PIFs and cover letters and interviews are all about.

“Look at how good God is!” is the essence of ministry, at least Christian ministry. I am not great or even really good at what I do; GOD is good (all the time!) and I am blessed to be a part of what God is doing in the world. The challenge now is to find a way to convey the understanding that whatever good I do is grounded in the grace of God while not invalidating what it is I bring to any ministry position I am hoping to interview for, or get.

Some days it seems it would be easier to be in a different career. Easier, yes, but not better…

In Memorium

Social media has been a gift in some ways to our modern society, with its ability to keep people nearly immediately in-touch over great distances. A decade ago we would have used email; a century ago we would have written letters. In this century the interconnectedness of the worldwide web allows us to find and contact people we never thought we could. I have Facebook “friends” from elementary school, senior high school, college, seminary, adulthood, neighbors, colleagues…I place the word friends in quotes because I have to ask myself are these people really friends? What is it to be a friend?

The sudden, tragic death recently of one of those friends at her their own hand (which is why this person shall remain unidentified) brought it home to me. This person and I had good conversations about life and philosophy and landscaping and home repair and this person’s Significant Other, we shared recipes for various treats we liked to make for family and friends, and yet I had no inkling they felt their life was so terrible that they had to kill themself*. They were so gentle and kind and compassionate to me and to their friends. I asked myself how well did I really know this person?

I can’t beat myself up too much: this person’s SO didn’t even see it coming, but still, maybe if I had known them better I would have known something was up when they asked to stop playing an on-line game together. And here is the limitation, the weakness, the problem of social media. My friend asked me if we could take a break for a while because they needed to spend less time on-line in Facebook and playing games, but there was no real way to tell on social media that tragedy was on the horizon, that a heart that seemed so filled with gentleness had such deep grief at its core.

This is not my first personal experience with suicide. Three years ago a colleague here in my town felt so absolutely hopeless that he took his own life. Other colleagues, friends, and I stood in the center aisle of the church where he’d been pastor, after the memorial service, and said, “Never again.” Never again will we let someone get this desperate that they feel their only way out is to kill themselves. Never again would I let someone I know commit suicide. Yet here I am…

We toss around this word “friend” with little-to-no real appreciation for its meaning. Maybe a better term is one we can borrow from the last century—many of our friends on Facebook are digital pen-pals. But let’s not fool ourselves that people we are connected with on Facebook, or Instagram or Pinterest or whatever social media we use, are friends unless we have a personal relationship with them where we talk regularly, know each other’s joys and pains, and see each other regularly.

There’s a joke along the lines of “Friends will bail you out of jail. Real friends will be in the cell with you saying, ‘It was totally worth it’.” While I am in no way advocating that we should build friendships by committing crimes, there is a truth to this joke that friends are those with whom we have connections in the good times and in the triumphs, but more importantly in the bad times of failure and grief. A real friend is the one you call when life goes pear-shaped. A real friend is the person you haven’t seen in years and yet when you get together it’s like no time has passed. A real friend is one with whom you can just sit and not say anything and feel a deep and abiding sense of comfort and peace.

Here is a true saying worthy of acceptance: the digital world will never replace face-to-face friendship where people share in experiences and who they are and come to know each other truly, deeply, powerfully. If you are reading this on your smartyfone, turn it off, set it down, and go do something to make a friend.


* — I know, I know, horrible grammar, not even a real word, but I had to do it to obscure even this person’s gender.

What Do We Really Need?

As a part of going through Financial Peace University first as participants and then leading a class, my wife and I have been doing a much closer examination of our finances and questioning our spending. This stemmed in part from when she quit her job in order to take on a start-up ministry leading the coalition of city churches in a focused ministry, and our income dropped by 40-ish percent. This wasn’t the first time—back in the mid-2000s she quit an incredibly well-paying job in the newspaper business to pursue her calling to help inner city communities grow and thrive.

This time the spending cuts hewed closer to the bone. Where could we reduce? What we realized was we were spending a lot of money on non-essentials that we classified as utilities: cable tee-vee and cell phones and landline phone.

I read the Lifehacker website, where they wrote more than a few posts on “how to cut the cable”. We realized we could save ourselves $20 a month by cutting TV and streaming our entertainment from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and the like. It’s not like we had a huge cable package—no premium channels, no sports channels, just the Basic-Plus package. And we didn’t even watch those channels that much! We kept the broadcast channels simply because the difference between keeping them and getting the Internet discount and cutting TV entirely and paying more for Internet was $7/month. But when the cable company upped our TV rate by $10, we said goodbye to TV entirely.

Between cell phones and home phone we’d been spending well over $100/month…for what? We barely used the landline, making all our long-distance calls on our cell phones where we didn’t have to pay long-distance charges, and usually making those calls after 7PM or on weekends when we had unlimited calling. But since it’s nice to have one phone where people can reach either of us, we kept the landline but reduced it to measured service—10¢ per outgoing call, free incoming—and trimmed $15 a month there.

We’ve resisted getting smartphones for this same reason. Do we really need to spend $100-150 a month to be able to surf the Intartubes or send and receive emails or chat via iMessage or Skype on a small screen? Why? We spend most of our time at our offices, which have WiFi, and home, which has WiFi, so we both have iPod Touches, which are essentially iPhones without the cellular bits…or, to put it another way (and I love this term), the iPod Touch is pretty much an iPad Micro. So I can send and receive quick work or personal emails, make Facetime or Skype calls, sync my calendar and contacts seamlessly, almost all that an iPhone can do, and I don’t have to pay $100/month. In fact, last year I was at the Big Box Hardware store and needed to call my wife about the project I was working on but forgot my cell phone. As it turns out, I had Magic Jack for iOS installed on my iPod, and using the store’s free WiFi for customers, called her and got the answer I needed.

Our next step was to reduce the cell phone even more by switching to a company called Ting. We get the same service we now have with the Big Cell Company for about half of what we were paying.

But do we really need cell phones or high-speed Internet or cable tee-vee at all? What is it to really need? And what do we have in our lives that we think I haven’t an answer yet, but when I do I will share it with you. For now, I offer you the same challenge I have put before myself: what can you get rid of in your life that would simplify it and probably make you happier in the process?

Like A Boss!

I don’t like to brag, but…no, wait. I do like to brag. Why else would I have created a ‘blog? Anyway, I did something last night that was the 21st century version of rebuilding the engine on your ’66 Mustang, and I want to share. I’m doing this in part to brag, yeah, and in part hopefully someone Google searching for what I did will come across this and maybe find it helpful or an encouragement.

the broken iPod screen

Backstory: last month I shattered the lower half of the screen on my iPad Micro, er, iPod Touch. (I used to explain to people an iPod Touch is like the iPhone but you can’t make calls—but, actually, you can make calls using Magic Jack or Skype and WiFi, so that’s not entirely accurate—but everyone knows the iPad and iPad Mini so I’ve taken to calling my device an iPad Micro.) As it turns out, Apple doesn’t even repair people’s broken iPod Touches but simply replaces them. Mine is out-of-warranty and replacing it is too expensive, and besides I’m holding out that sometime in the next year we’ll switch our cell provider from Sprint to Ting and then we can afford a data plan and I can get an iPhone and stop carrying a cell phone and separate iOS device. But I digress.

Turns out, the screen is replaceable, but still pricey to have done. Oh, hey, they sell the screen assembly units on-line for as little as $30, as long as you’re willing to do some detail work! I asked my brother-in-law, the Master Po to my Grasshopper, if he would consider tackling such a project and he said “no way.” Maybe I’m stupidly dangerous, or maybe I trust a great deal in my mad-skills as an assembler and inspector of Mil-spec multi-layer circuit boards 27 years ago, but I decided to give it a shot.

First, there are a boatload of assemblies out there you can buy, from $20-80. Some come with tools, some don’t; some come with only the glass digitizer and not the LCD (bad idea, since on later iPods the two are fused together in one piece); some come in colors other than black or white; most of the black or white ones do not come with a replacement Home button, assuming you’ll just use yours. More on that later.

I decided to change the color on mine to be able to easily differentiate between my iPod and my wife’s, and disliking the color options (they’re fine if you’re a teenager, but a 49 year-old guy should not have a device in that shade of green or purple) I decided on the Apple white, and made sure the unit came with a replacement Home button. Sure glad I did, and not just for having the button match the face!

If you ever decide to attempt something like this, you abso-fracking-lutely must follow the video instructions from Printed instructions are OK, but they guys from iCracked blew me away with the detailed instructions with comments, suggestions, cautions and such at each step of the way.

screen removed, mid-plate ready to be removed (note row of tiny, tiny screws at left)

Still, disassembly to the point where I could remove the old screen took nearly 90 minutes, but that perhaps was because I was being excruciatingly exacting in using a magnifier to ensure I got all the bits of glass and adhesive debris removed from the bezel and chassis…OK, and my eyes aren’t the best and my bifocal glasses only helped so much.

This is delicate and dicey work at every step of the way. Unless you have a complete set of geek microtools, you are going to want to take extra care in removing the old screen, cleaning the bezel and mid-body plate, removing the plate, loosening the logic board, disconnecting the old screen, connecting the new screen, and reassembling and gluing everything back together. That’s right: glue. The screen assembly of iOS devices is not physically held in place by the bezel, but by adhesive that bonds the digitizer layer to the bezel and mid-plate. If that doesn’t make you a little paranoid about the screen of your iPhone or iPad falling out on you, I don’t know what will.

I wished at least a dozen times I had a free-standing magnifier with a light. If you don’t have one, find someone to borrow one from, rent one, something. Believe me, it is miserable trying to work on very small components that need two hands when one of those hands is holding a magnifier. And make sure you have loads of good lighting, and it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra light like a headlamp. I had to work nearly blind in a very confined space under the logic board—maybe 3/8″ (8mm?)—which I had pulled up on one side and flexed and in danger of cracking or snapping, in order to connect the digitizer, all the while worrying I might bend one of the connector pins and render the entire device useless. Thank God the connection apparently is holding, and thanks to my wife and her small hands and good eyes for making it work.

Attaching the new screen took less than half the time it did to remove the broken screen. The only difficulty other than the one I just mentioned was installing the new Home button. The old one was unusable no matter what, thanks to all the shattered glass that surrounded it and its rubber adhesive gasket. (You can see the Home button and glass remnants, top right, in the photo above.) Now, I have some pretty mean Google-fu when it comes to constructing Boolean statements for getting a pretty specific search, and I came up with not a single website or page that describes how the Home button should be assembled. If you stumbled across this ‘blog looking for the how, I’ve put it in a separate (non-public) post.

the new screen, with the old debris

Though it wasn’t difficult, it was still careful, meticulous work. There are few things that felt like that moment when I turned the iPod on to test the screen before reassembling and sealing and found it worked just as I’d hoped. If it hadn’t been midnight, I might have grunted. The adhesive application, the dabbing of some glass superglue, the careful alignment of screen to bezel, the squeezing, the clamping all took five minutes.

Was it easy? No way. Would I do it again? Maybe, but only for myself; I wouldn’t offer to do this for a friend’s unit because (1) I don’t give a warranty and (2) they can’t afford me. It would be cheaper to send it to a place like iCracked or Mission:Repair in Kansas, who offers a replacement-for-life plan which is handy if you have a habit of breaking the screen.

But I had to do this if for no other reason than to say I did. When my dad was in his 20s guys tore down and rebuilt cars, or restored classic cars. Some even still did it when I was in my 20s but by then cars were coming with more and more electronics so that eventually you needed a degree in electrical engineering to replace the alternator. Today’s manly thing to do is in the geek domain—we’ve gone from being gear-heads to chip-heads, and I’m proud to say I’m a chip-head. It’s nice to know I still have some skills that I learned a quarter century ago. It’s nice to know that, despite being an easily distracted puppy dog, I can focus and take my time doing meticulous work and find that it actually calms me.

It feels good to take on a challenge, rise to the occasion, and, oh yeah, impress my wife!

They see me rollin', they be beggin' me to fix their electronics!

Damn, it feels good to be a geekster…

Mind. Blown.

My church has been one of a few dozen participating in Micah’s Backpack in our county, in part because my amazing wife is on the steering team as a result of her work with the coalition of city churches. So I was privy to some mind-blowing information from the past school year.

If you don’t know about Micah’s Backpack, it’s a faith-based program that provides a backpack of food to a student for them to be able to eat over the weekend. It doesn’t feed the entire family, just that one child. In our county, 50% of students in the public school system qualify for FARM (Free And Reduced Meals)…that’s more than 11,000 students who receive a free meal at school because their families struggle with food scarcity. More than 11,000 students who may go hungry over a weekend when there’s no school lunch.

When the new superintendent of the school system came on-board in Fall of 2012 and heard that some churches were doing Micah’s Backpacks at a few elementary schools, he was so impressed by the program that he asked the churches if they would set a goal of being in every elementary school in two years’ time, with the goal of eventually being in every middle school and high school as well.

Churches responded; oh my, they responded. By the beginning of 2013 Micah’s Backpack was serving nearly 600 children in all 26 elementary schools in the county. While that’s only a little over 5% of the kids who may go hungry on any given weekend, it’s still impressive.

But here’s what’s even more impressive, and just blew my mind: in the end-of-year survey the program did, parents and teachers reported roughly 3/4th of those students showed a marked improvement—better grades, more attentive, fewer in-class disturbances, fewer days out sick…

Imagine the impact of this long-term: fewer kids dropping out of school before graduation, more kids getting a better education, more kids able to go on to college or a vocation, more kids getting better jobs and thereby being able to break the cycles of poverty and hunger and underachievement. We’ve been searching for a single solution to our education ills—here it is. No fancy curriculum or program, no giving every student an iPad, no building new elaborate school facilities. None of that matters if kids are hungry. What it takes to give a kid a chance at a better life, what it takes to improve our society…is a backpack.

Remembering (After) THAT Day

On this 12th anniversary of a day of shock and horror, many people have expressed their sense of the day by sharing where they were when they heard the news, or watching the events unfold in front of the TV. While the details of that day—on the phone for a couple hours with my best friend from seminary because she was worried about her husband, father, brother, and brother-in-law who all worked on Wall Street and whose offices were in proximity to the Towers—are indelibly burned into my memory, I find myself reflecting on something else.

First, consider that 9/11 was shocking in its scope and audacity, but three times more children under the age of five around the world died that day due to hunger than were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Food, pardon the expression, for thought.

Today I remember something else: what followed. How the world rallied around us—tens of thousands in China bringing flowers and candles to the US Embassy, the French newspaper Le Monde declaring “We Are All Americans”, and Iranians at a soccer match in Tehran observing a minute of silence.

What happened closer to home is what moves me even here a dozen years later. New Yorkers disproved every stereotype ever made about them as they rallied like only New Yorkers can. Steve Buscemi, who has never been full of himself, went to the old fire company in Manhattan he had worked at as a young man and worked side-by-side with other fire fighters in the recovery efforts at what came to be called Ground Zero.

I was scheduled to preach at a church on the 23rd, so on the day after the attacks I was driving across Baltimore to a meeting at the church. At every traffic light as I pulled up next to a car or they pulled up next to me we would look at each other and nod and a look would pass between us. What kind of car we drove, what color our skin was, what political party we might belong to, none of that mattered. In those days after 9/11/2001 we were united—the wealthy man and the poor single mother, the conservative and the liberal, those who are White or African-American or Asian or Native American or Latino. We were kin, we were one.

If only we could be that way again.

Where Are We Going, and Why Are We In a Handbasket?

Since my wife and I gave up cable tee-vee (story for another post), we’ve been getting our entertainment by watching TV shows on Netflix’s streaming service. One show we added to our queue is the well-written and well-acted How I Met Your Mother.

It can be quite a funny show at moments. Don’t believe me? If you’re a married couple check out the season 1 episode where Marshall and Lily trap themselves in the bathroom for the sake of Ted’s Big Night with his girlfriend Victoria. Which brings me to the part of this show that, when you stop and think about it, should creep you out as much as it does me.

The premise of the show is the Ted of 2030 is telling his son and daughter the story of how he came to meet their mother, not just the first meeting but everything that made him the man worthy of their mom. Sounds good, right? Until you watch the show and realize it should be called How I Had Sex With a Lot of Women Before I Met Your Mother. In the season one episode “Game Night”, older Ted actually confesses to his kids he’s told them a lot of inappropriate stories. I’m not going to get into the whole “is this or is this not abusive to the kids” question. The question I want to ask is…

Why do we as a society seem to think that the premise of this show is anything other than wildly inappropriate, twisted, and wrong?

No one responsible for this show—not the producers, the showrunners, the writers, the actors, the executives as CBS—has said, “You know, I think it’s a little sick that Dad is actually telling stories to his kids about having sex with their ‘Aunt Robin’.” Are we as a society that jaded, that uncaring, that not only did it not occur to us to be bothered by this but we actually derive some joy from the whole thing?

Am I making something out of nothing, or is this one of those times when I have to make the tough choice of ethics and integrity?

Something Better

Well, as of yesterday I am no longer a Democrat. Nor a Republican. Nor a Libertarian, or Green Party, or any party affiliation. I am now officially “Non-Affiliated”. It’s a lot better than it sounds.

I need to share why I did this at this time. In part, I’m hopeful this will shield me from political robo-calls, at least at the primary level. Dealing with them at the general election level is just hopeless. But more importantly, I cannot in good conscience give my hand, affiliate myself, with either of the two major parties in this country because I find them shameful and embarrassing. I dislike what the Republican Party has come to stand for, and I mourn for the Democratic Party that seems to stand for nothing. The Libertarians believe in the inherent goodness of people, that, left to their own devices, people and the human system will take care of things properly. Greens (and the other really minor parties) are almost entirely fixated on a single issue to the exclusion of all else.

It was true 20+ years ago when Linda Ellerbee said it and wrote it, and it’s even more true today: the GOP and the Democratic parties are Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber.

Am I being unfair? I don’t think so.

There’s not enough space here to adequately explain how shameful I think our political system, and our culture as a whole, has become. And no political party has the priorities and principles I seek to demonstrate and to encourage in our leaders: Integrity. Honesty. Humility. Service. Making justice and the promotion of the general welfare the first priority. Truly caring for “the least and the lost” not just giving lip service.

This is what my faith says is most important; this is what it takes for us to really and truly be “the greatest nation on Earth.” To act with justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with my God who has called me to love others as he loves me and them. To fight the good fight, because the system, as large as it is, can be changed; I will not be moved, nor will I fail, for “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I will continue to strive for a better nation, to seek and to call people to higher principles and ideals…and until there is a political party that seeks that as well, I will have nothing to do with them, or politics-as-usual.

Geek Help, part 1

Recently I picked up a new “client” (so to speak) in my unofficial capacity as resident tech support for family and friends. The home computer of folks my wife knows was infested with one of those malware applications pretending to be anti-virus software and rather then them take the computer to somewhere disreputable like Geek Squad, I fixed it for them pretty quickly and easily, and took the time while the cleaner program I use was running to educate the guy on what to watch out for.

It made me think of all the people—family, friends, members of my church, so-called IT people I worked with at Hopkins—who I’ve taught about computer infections over the years, and maybe rather than repeat myself I should, I dunno, put up a tutorial somewhere like a ‘blog, y’know?

I won’t try to cover everything in one post. Let’s start with what, exactly, infects your computer, what they do and what they look like, and in the next Geek Help post we’ll talk about how to clean ’em out, and in part 3 we’ll talk about how to reduce your risk of getting them in the first place.

If you’re attacked, it’s most likely because you’re a Windows user. I don’t say that with a holier-than-thou attitude because I’m now primarily a Mac user (and yes, we are seeing exploits on Macs), I say it because Windows is the most widely-used personal computer system. If you’re writing a program to exploit computer users, are you going to write one for 5% of personal computer users (Linux), 7% of computer users (Mac) or 86% of computer users out there—where are you going to get the best bang for your buck, so to speak? In fact, it’s the popularity of Android coupled with its openness that has made it the easier target for exploits in the mobile world, while iOS remains safer, relatively-speaking.

There are ways to protect yourself, but you first have to know what you’re protecting yourself from. Here’s what you will face, if you are on-line and use a computer long enough:

Malware is a portmanteau of “malicious software”. The key is that it is something that either gets installed without your knowledge or permission, or lies or otherwise misleads you as to its purpose or intention. There are legitimate applications out there that could fall into this definition partially or entirely, but for now let’s think in terms of “evil”.

Spyware is a specific category of malware that’s designed to collect data from your computer or spy on your activities. Spyware might watch what websites you go to and report that information back to a data aggregator/miner, or collect personal data such as accounts and passwords (email, shopping, banking…), or filter your Internet activity through itself and serve you different ads than the ones websites want you to see.

Spyware is not generally self-propagating, so it’s not as though you would get infected by someone else’s spyware or that spyware on your machine would infect others. But that’s only a rule-of-thumb. Always treat malware as highly contagious.

Adware is a specific type of spyware designed to serve advertisements to your computer. It routes all Internet activity through itself and may either serve pop-up ads at you from time-to-time, or replace legitimate ads on web pages with ones from its organization (e.g., replacing all car ads on web pages with an ad for Hummer).

Trojans are the malware I most see these days because they are the sneakiest, most deceptive sons-of-seacooks out there. The name, obviously, comes from the Trojan horse, and tells you what this malware is: something bad designed to look like something nice. It could be a program that piggy-backs on a legitimate program—a less-evil example of this are the so-called “toolbars”, “browser enhancements”, and “download assistants” you get with many printers, cameras, and other digital media devices today. Or it could be a program that pretends to be something else. The biggest example are the pop-up ads you get on the Internet that look like a warning message from your computer that you’ve been infected and that you need to download such-and-such anti-virus or whatever “right now” to be protected. Thinking this is a legitimate alert, you click “download” and now you’ve just infected yourself with the very thing that you thought you were protecting yourself from.

Think of worms as the truck drivers who deliver the malware. Worms merely propagate without altering the system they’re on, though in corporate environments they can slow networks to a crawl because they “clog the pipes” in their effort to propagate to as many machines as possible. The real danger is that worms can carry “payloads”: other programs that commit the evil acts. They may open a “backdoor” into a computer, allowing other programs to be installed or the computer to be hijacked, or they may be the first-wave of infiltration of other, larger, more malevolent programs.

Viruses and worms bear some similarities; in some ways viruses are the common ancestor of all the above evil. The first virus I was ever infected with was the Ethan Fromme virus. It did one thing: it changed all Word documents on the computer so that the author of the document was “Ethan Fromme”. Big whup, right? But if someone could use the code that did that and changed it to make Outlook replace the names of all your contacts with the name Pete Zaah, it could cripple businesses that rely on Outlook.

So now you know what can infect you. Next time we’ll go to the computer doctor’s office and get ourselves a does of antibiotics for our computers!

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