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Ferrets are real-life cartoon characters

November 28 2014 |

You know those old Bugs Bunny cartoons where he would burrow through the snow and leave that lumpy trail behind?

Ferrets do that in real life:

video




Not confronting discrimination is a heck of a lot easier when you’re not on the receiving end of it

November 28 2014 |

In a post called “The Racists We Love,” Jay Kirell documents the help he’s had in his life – a family member who got him a job, a manager who gave him a raise, fellow army members who saved his life – from people who hold and communicate racist views:

“At no point in time did I ever want to call out racist views.  I wanted to survive a war.  I wanted to keep my job.  I want to not make it awkward every time I see family.  The racists were more often than not in a position of power over me.  That doesn’t excuse my lack of courage as much as it explains it.

“So I smiled and nodded. Laughed weakly along with jokes I didn’t find funny.

“And the racists went along believing their views were fine and normal, because a ‘normal’ person like me was laughing and smiling and nodding along.”

That’s stuck with me because it rings true to my own experience. I’ve not encountered racism as explicit as some of what Kirell talks about, but I’ve certainly heard it filed off casually here and there, especially towards First Nations, but to other races, too. And casual sexism, as well. And rather than challenging it, I just sort of let it pass. Why?

“Because while standing up against bigotry and racism is all well and good when we’re communicating on social media or when we’re amongst like-minded individuals; when we’re among those we know, those we grew up with or those we’re forced to be around, activism takes a backseat to just wanting to make it through the encounter.”

Exactly. I’m full of all these equal ideals, but when it comes to actually encountering real-life bigotry, even the casual, borderline, “is that really racist?” sort,  I’ve been a whole lot more likely to just look the other way rather than try to engage.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, this notion of opting out of difficult conversations. I’ve been thinking about it when hashtags like #YesAllWomen and #AmINext and #BlackLivesMatter started on Twitter and the people using them were confronted by angry people trying to minimize their message. I thought about my ability to stay out of it.

What I’ve started to realize is “staying out of it” is a very specific option. Sure, women encounter sexual harassment, but I’m not a woman. And First Nations women (and men) go missing and are murdered at higher rates than the rest of the population, but that’s not me, either. I can visit the United States and not worry about whether black men are targeted by police, because guess what? I’m not black. I’m fine.

If someone holds a casual unchallenged viewpoint that First Nations don’t work hard or women are too emotional for positions of power, I’m fine. In fact, I benefit because I don’t fall into those categories. So I can be like “ah, well, I don’t really want to get into that discussion” and move on. Not everyone has that option. Not the First Nations person looking for a job or the woman looking to get elected. They can opt out of the conversation, but they continue to be harmed by the attitudes.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about when my gut reaction is to “not make waves” or “don’t feed the trolls.” How much of it is just offloading the responsibility for social justice onto someone else because it doesn’t affect me?

Not confronting discrimination is a heck of a lot easier when you’re not on the receiving end of it.

Filed under: misc | Discuss





The Story Behind “Feast” → 

November 26 2014 |

I saw Big Hero 6 with my niece this weekend, and while it was fine the short film in front of it was outstanding. Buzzfeed has a nice little write-up on the revival of short films at Disney, starting with the outstanding “Paperman” (if you haven’t seen it, go watch it now) and through to this one.

“From a financial perspective, it seems totally counterintuitive. Unlike animated feature films, which have a built in revenue stream at the box office and beyond, these animated shorts are, in Osborne’s words, ‘an art project. There’s no financial return.'”

The reason given is to develop talent in a lower-risk environment than a full-length. But as a viewer I appreciate seeing something that is done purely for the artistry of it. No marketing decisions, all magic.




“I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.” → 

November 25 2014 |

Iranian-American artist Shirin Barghi put together a collection of the last words of young black men killed by police shootings in America.

I have nothing to add.




What’s REALLY rong with the CBC → 

November 25 2014 |

After this, this, and this, Matthew Lazin-Ryder has his own take on what’s gone wrong:

“We all know when CBC whent off the rails. It was when it went off rails. It used to be only along the Candian National Railway – but the govermit turned it into its own corporation.”

Personally, I think he’s being a horseradish ash.




The problem with #slacktivism → 

November 25 2014 |

Scott Gilmore:

“What is worse, the same biochemistry that rewards us for apparent altruism tricks us into thinking, ‘We’ve done our bit.’ A recent study from the University of British Columbia demonstrated that people who ‘liked’ a cause on Facebook were less likely to donate to that cause. Why? Because, in their minds, they’d already contributed. Their brains had already given them a shot of endorphins and it was time to ‘help’ someone else.”

I do think there’s a space for raising awareness. But I also think it’s important not to mistake raising awareness for actually giving.




You Shouldn’t Need A Reason For Not Having Kids → 

November 24 2014 |

Jamie Berube:

“It is time for those who view it as socially appropriate to make comments or jokes about a woman’s plans for child-bearing to understand that it’s not okay. It is also not okay to ask when she’s going to have kids or her reasons why she’s choosing not to. I don’t care who you are — unless you are my husband, doctor, or my best friend of fourteen years, do not ask me or make jokes about my pregnancy status. Or lack thereof. It’s not funny, cute, or kind. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, and depending on whatever my circumstances might be that you likely don’t know about it could be absolutely devastating.”

Posted to me after I wrote this. Absolutely right. You should avoid getting judgmental about whether someone has a kid because a. you don’t know if they can or not and b. it’s none of your business.




Ms. Frances Kelsey → 

November 24 2014 |

From the obituary of Canadian doctor Frances Kelsey:

“Young ‘Frankie’ left B.C. to get her undergraduate and masters degrees in science at McGill University in Montreal. When an opening appeared as a research assistant at the University of Chicago, her McGill professor urged her to apply. She was accepted after the U.S. professor mistook Frances for a man and addressed her in a letter as ‘Mr.’

“‘To this day,” Dr. Kelsey later said, ‘I do not know if my name had been Elizabeth or Mary Jane, whether I would have gotten that first big step up.'”

Dr. Kelsey went on to be a medical officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is credited with preventing thousands of babies from being born with missing limbs and deformities thanks to her refusal to approve the drug thalidomide for use. If her name had been “Susan” or “Nancy” (or “Aanu” or “Patel”) that might not have happened.

No, I can’t see why we should care about the possibility of discrimination in different fields at all.

h/t Quirks & Quarks




Childless

November 24 2014 |

Having been in a long-term relationship for a number of years, I’ve been asked a few times about the possibility of kids. From close friends and family that’s one thing, but relative strangers have broached the subject as well.  So this post from Marco Arment resonated with me:

“I’m not sure which is worse: quietly coping with an early miscarriage alone, since nobody talks about them, or having to tell everyone about a later loss like this. I suppose we’ll find out — we had a 5-week miscarriage last winter, and it was comforting to read the few other stories that brave people had shared. If sharing this can comfort a random Google searcher someday in even the smallest way, it’s worth it. Maybe this is our brick.”

I’ve not had to deal with a loss like this, and I cannot imagine how painful it would be. I am aware that many people keep these sorts of losses private, including some people in my own life. So when I see a well-intentioned stranger or acquaintance makes a joke about having kids, I think about what it’d be like to try to smile knowing that it wasn’t a possibility, or had been a possibility but something went wrong.

For me, the comments are a very occasional thing. But for my wife and other women I know it’s a lot more frequent- and sometimes not so well-intentioned. There are still people who somehow see a woman without kids as selfish or somehow not fulfilling their mandate here on earth. A tough person to deal with under any circumstances, but only more so if being childless weren’t a matter of choice. I hope some of them see this and think twice next time they want to pass judgement. I also hope that more people who have suffered this sort of loss feel comfortable sharing that, whether in public or among a close inner circle. I may not understand the pain, but I have no doubt that it is real, and no one should feel like they are alone in dealing with it.

Update: You Shouldn’t Need A Reason For Not Having Kids” is a much better read on this subject.

Filed under: misc





Live & Local v. Real & Relevant → 

November 24 2014 |

I wrote a whole post about how local radio can survive a digital era, but John Collins (paraphrasing James Cridland) puts it much more succinctly:

“Your content may be on AM, FM, Digital or a file, but it will only succeed if it’s relevant to your community of interest.”

So simple. But so essential.




The Zen of Busyness → 

November 22 2014 |

Eric Karjaluto:

“Recently, I noticed something. In spite of common wisdom arguing the opposite, I’m happier when busy. I’m not talking about the distraction that comes from checking your smartphone every 30 seconds. I’m referring to the way complete absorption in a task leads to clarity.”

 




Radio Futures

November 22 2014 |

“It’s a podcast. It’s kind of like your radio show except people listen to it on purpose.”

– Jesse Brown, Canadaland, Episode 1

Yesterday, I argued that the success of Serial/StartUp/Radiotopia heralded the arrival of a new era of highly-produced, digital-only audio storytelling. Today I’d like to carry that line of thought to a new question:

What does this mean for radio?

For radio producers with a love of storytelling, I think this new era is largely good news. They have new ways of creating and distributing programs and reaching audiences who want to hear them. And the relationship between podcasters and audiences is, I’d argue, in some ways even MORE intimate than the one between radio presenters and audiences. Here’s Roman Mars, the producer of 99% Invisible, a show that started as a radio segment but today is a podcast-first production:

“If I were to just put a value proposition in terms of what I get back from a podcast in terms of financial or emotional rewards, I’d rather have 1 podcast listener than 10,000 radio listeners. They mean more. The show means more to them, and they mean more to the show, and it’s that connection that makes it all possible.”

How much does the show mean to listeners and listeners mean to the show? When Mars put out a Kickstarter to create 99% Invisible Season 3, he asked for $42,000 and was given more than four times that, getting $170,477. Through future campaigns he was able to get enough support to not only keep his own show going but to fund six other programs, as well. The latest campaign has raised over $620,000 and the network is adding three new shows, all highly produced with mixing, tape gathered in the field, music, and more.

And that’s not the only money out there. A lot of the “podcasts are back” story has focused on the profitability of  some of these new endeavours. The aforementioned Gimlet Media has raised over a million dollars from a combination of traditional investors, tech investors, and fans with a thousand dollars to spare.

That has got to look attractive to people with the skills to make high-quality productions (especially those who have been bothered by the time constraints imposed by radio broadcasts). Podcasts are no longer the world of motivated amateurs and talented talk producers. This is an alternative path for the best in the biz, and an ever-growing number of the best in the biz are taking it.

But what does that mean for traditional over-the-dial radio? Seth Godin has predicted that Bluetooth cars and data connections mean the end is nigh:

With so many podcasts, free downloads and Spotify stations to listen to, why? With traffic, weather and talking maps in your pocket, why wait for the announcer to get around to telling you what you need to know?

I think that is a serious question worth considering. More and more I find myself turning to my phone to find out what the forecast is, despite having the morning radio on. Apps like Waze and websites like DriveBC are slowly eliminating the need to find out about road closures elsewhere. I wouldn’t take it for granted that people will have any need for this sort of information from the radio in five or ten years.

So broadly speaking, here are the types of radio programs I think are the most at-risk:

1. Music programming (high risk)

2. National/international interest talk/current affairs (medium risk)

3. Local interest talk/current affairs (low risk)

1. Music radio is one that I think might still be working for now, but that I can easily imagine being replaced. Top 40, classic hits, any format easily replaced by an algorithm I just don’t see a long-term future for. When your major differentiator from Spotify is that you have local ads, I just don’t know.

2. The reason I think talk and current affairs programming aimed at national or international audiences is at medium risk is because they are still fairly robust, but I can imagine the rise of podcasts becoming an issue. Whereas before a strong arts program on CBC might be the only option for cultural talk, it is now up against work from BBC, NPR and any number of independent or semi-independent producers. A few years ago, fans of high-quality audio documentaries could only get them on the radio. Now I can go into iTunes and search for all sorts of material from around the world and on-demand. Just as more people are turning to Netflix instead of accepting whatever happens to be on TV, I think you’ll have more people choosing specific programming from their downloads queue rather than listening to whatever’s on Ideas. It may take a while, but it could happen.

3. Which isn’t to say there’s no future for traditional radio. There’s still lots of talent there and the traditional funding and distribution models are not dead, by any means. I also won’t take for granted that apps will replace radio as the medium of choice for getting information. Its tough to beat the simplicity of pressing a button and getting current news, information, roads, and weather while you about your morning routine, which is why I think local talk/current affairs is currently the most robust. The more local it is, the better, I think, because in a lot of cases the types of stories local programs cover are only going to be heard on local programming. Throw in the serendipity aspect of curated stories and the personal relationship you feel with a favorite host, and there’s a lot to be said for radio, particularly the local current affairs program.

Radio still has a lot to offer, particularly on a local level. But I do think a new era of disruption is coming, and that a successful podcast model will be a bigger challenge than TV or the earlier internet ever was. Radio is no longer the only game in town for the people who like to listen to audio or the people who like to create audio. More real-time information coming in the form of apps and notifications is another risk. What this all means for those of us still making radio, I think, is it’s time to figure out what can be offered by the radio-delivery model that can’t be duplicated elsewhere, while at the same time attempting to do what we can to be a part of the growing options for online audiences.

Filed under: radio





The Secret Life Of Passwords → 

November 21 2014 |

Ian Urbina:

“Passwords do more than protect data. They protect dreams, secrets, fears and even clues to troubled pasts, and for some, they serve as an everyday reminder of what matters most.”

What a brilliant idea for a story, and what great stories he found.

via




Small Achievements → 

November 21 2014 |

Longtime journalist Linden MacIntyre has some parting words for the CBC:

“As is often the case in times of existential crisis, it becomes a challenge for people running countries or institutions to project the kind of leadership that fosters confidence and morale – no troubled institution can survive without those two qualities. And so we have the understandable impulse to make small achievements seem large, and to go overboard in praising anything that seems to be successful.”

“When news comes up with a story that’s original, we tend to hype the originality regardless of the substance or significance of the story…

“The popularity of programs and personalities will be always be loudly hailed as evidence of institutional vitality, and never more than when that vitality is in question or illusory.”

I’d argue this is corporate culture generally- I’ve never worked anywhere that doesn’t want to hype its own success- but that doesn’t make it any less true.




Podcasts aren’t “back”, a new type of podcast has arrived

November 21 2014 |

Marco Arment challenges the “podcasts are back” narrative:

“What’s apparent from most of the recent podcast stories is that most of their reporters have talked to very few sources and either don’t listen to podcasts themselves or have just started. Most podcast listeners and producers know that the truth is much less interesting: podcasts started out as a niche interest almost a decade ago and have been growing slowly and steadily since. Over many years, growing slowly and steadily adds up.”

He goes on to theorize three reasons why the “podcasts are back” narrative is catching on:

“The most likely explanation of these “Podcasts are back!” stories is threefold:

  1. Serial, an offshoot of This American Life, got a ton of listeners quickly. But This American Life has been the biggest podcast in the world for most of the last decade, so a heavily promoted offshoot becoming very popular doesn’t indicate much about the market as a whole.
  2. “Gimlet Media, a podcast production startup, just raised a bunch of money from investors, publicized by their very popular StartUp podcast. StartUp became popular quickly not only because it’s very good, but also because it was started by a very well-known producer of very popular podcasts, including This American Life and Planet Money. Again, not a strong indicator of the overall market.
  3. Midroll, a big podcast ad broker, talks to the press a lot and has grown well recently. Selling podcast ads is a pain in the ass, producers love the idea of someone else taking care of it, there are very few ad brokers, and Midroll is probably the biggest. But that doesn’t mean there are suddenly far more listeners — it’s just easier to put ads in shows.”

I can’t speak to point three, but I think points one and two are true, and actually part of a larger point.

Podcasts aren’t back.

A new type of podcast has emerged.

The Netflix Production Era For Radio

As Arment says, both Serial and StartUp come from veteran producers of This American Life and Planet Money, two established and highly popular podcasts.

But in actuality, neither one of these shows is a podcast, any more than Breaking Bad was a hit series for Netflix. Sure, the show had a huge second life on Netflix, and even attracted fans who only watched it via streaming, but it was an AMC broadcast TV series first, created with commercial breaks and the one-hour format in mind. It was a hit TV show that people liked to watch on Netflix.

Similarly, This American Life is a radio show, stretched to and constrained by the time lengths dictated by the broadcast schedule. It is hugely popular as a podcast, but it found its primary success on radio. Planet Money is a little different, as a sort of radio/podcast hybrid, but its producers, as I understand it, still have to think about how stories they produce are going to fit in as segments on other NPR programs.

Neither Serial nor StartUp have any such constraints. You won’t hear either of them being beamed over the airwaves. Where This American Life and Planet Money are broadcast-plus-podcast shows, Serial and StartUp are podcast-only. To continue the analogy, they are House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. These are shows that require you to adopt new delivery services (podcasts and streaming video, respectively) in order to get in on the cultural conversation around them. That’s new.

It is true that neither Serial nor StartUp are the first podcast-only productions. They’ve been around (and successful) for years. Arment characterizes the field this way:

“There’s a lot of tech shows (and a lot of tech listeners), but most of the biggest are professionally produced public-radio shows released as podcasts, with other strong contingents in comedy, business, and religion, followed by a huge long tail of special interests with small but passionate audiences.”

I could be wrong, but from what I can tell the vast majority of podcast-only podcasts, the ones focused on tech, comedy, business, and religion, were and are talk heavy productions. One or two people with a microphone talking to each other or to guests or to just the audience. Some had studios or studio-quality mics, and more and more started getting proper editing done, but they are, at their core, talk shows.

This American Life is not a talk show. Planet Money is not a talk show. They have talk segments, but as a whole these are highly-produced story-based programs, with sound effects, musical scores, and documentary-style storytelling. To go back to the TV analogy, the professionally produced public-radio shows like these ones are network TV dramas and the tech, comedy, and business podcasts are YouTube channels. I’m not saying one is better than the other or that the people involved are more talented or legitimate in the traditional broadcast world, jus that the traditional broadcast world, of both TV and radio, had access to a certain level of quality that the internet-first content creators didn’t have.

That changed for television creators with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, and I’d argue that’s changing for radio creators with the success of Serial and StartUp (and the entire 99% Invisible/Radiotopia network). Suddenly the broadcast world is no longer the only game in town. In the past, people who wanted to make high-quality productions had to get funding from and fit into the traditional system. Now, a new model is being carved that allows certain people to circumvent that by going the digital-only route. At the moment it helps if you are Kevin Spacey or one of the producers of This American Life but the point is this: people like Kevin Spacey and producers of This American Life are actively choosing the digital-only release as the best venue for their creative efforts. These are the best in the business and they are choosing to leave the old business model behind. Instead, Radiotopia is crowdfunding hundreds of thousands on Kickstarter and Gimlet is raising over a million in funding from investors and listeners.

Podcasts have been around for years, yes. But not these sorts of podcasts. Not with this sort of money. That’s what’s new here. And I find it very interesting.

So what does this mean for radio? I published my thoughts on this over here.

Filed under: radio





Northern Swagger → 

November 20 2014 |

John Backhouse, mayor of Prince George from 1986 to 1996 has weighed in on the “Is Prince George north?” debate:

Put this into the context of when the slogan was first introduced. In 1967 the city was slowly recovering from a very tough recession. The self respect of the city was low, what we needed was a slogan that said not just what we were at the time but reflected where we were going.

“Was it a little arrogant? Probably yes – we needed some “swagger.” When I introduced myself as the Mayor of PG, BC’s Northern Capital at the Premier’s Conference in February 1987, Premier Van der Zalm said, ” I wondered when that might come up” – he liked it!

“Many of my colleagues gave me a bad time about it, however they knew that Prince George was, and is, the service centre for many northern industries, it’s a transportation, health, educational, financial and government centre. That is the role of a “Capital”.

“Edmonton does use the term north, as in the “Gateway to the North” that doesn’t appear to have held back the development of that city. Senior representatives of companies such as FMC and Costco among many other investors never mentioned our slogan as a detriment to them locating here and the University of Northern British Columbia was widely accepted as an appropriate name.

“I have seen a number of organizations proudly indicate that PG has four seasons – one of them is winter – cold and snow! It’s a reality, it’s often a wonderland and provides great recreational opportunities. Market the city and the region for the huge advantages it has and promote pride in the role PG plays in northern development.

On the other side, I received this email from CBC listener Roman Muntener today, as well:

“As an old marketing guy I was annoyed by the use of the word “North” all over the place when I arrived in Prince George from Switzerland. I found that every second business used the term in one way or another for their business name – where is the imagination?

“As for Prince George (and branding in general) just leave it alone – taglines are at best short lived anyway at best and nondescript and downright wrong in many cases. Branding a product or municipality doesn’t need a tag – better leave it away all together!”




You can get Prince George bus routes on Google Maps now

November 20 2014 |

YOUGUYSYOUGUYS this is seriously so exciting.

This morning I took the bus so I could get my winter tires down to the bike shop and I discovered this little message on the Prince George Transit website.

transit preview

So I did and holeeeee cow what an improvement.

transit new

For someone who’s long lamented the complicated nature of the previous system (if you haven’t experienced the process of trying to map a trip, here’s what the schedule looks like), this is a breath of fresh air. Strip it down: I’m here, I want to there, and this is when I want to leave. Thank you!

But wait, there’s more! As I was experimenting with this I noticed that it was automatically detecting potential addresses. I don’t need to know where Canadian Tire is, I just need to say I want to go to Canadian Tire in Prince George.

transit 1

 

And then I noticed where they were getting those address from… “powered by Google.” Could it be?

transit maps

 

YES. You can now get bus routes for Prince George (and, presumably, everywhere else serviced by BC Transit) in Google Maps now. I kid you not, I have been requesting this feature since 2009.

BC Transit is asking for feedback on their beta system and I don’t even know what to say, I’m just so excited that we’ve got a system that actually works. My biggest complaint about the bus system has long been that the process of mapping out a route is just so complicated that anyone with a choice would never use it.

This plus the fairly active Twitter account issuing alerts and answering questions should make things a lot more usable, at least for people who are technically savvy.

Since they want feedback, here are my two asks:

Those are little things, though, in what is a hugely positive step forward for BC Transit and, I hope, the number of people who feel comfortable using the bus system in Prince George. Kudos.

 

Filed under: transit





Why BuzzFeed Doesn’t Do Clickbait → 

November 20 2014 |

Ben Smith:

“If your goal — as is ours at BuzzFeed — is to deliver the reader something so new, funny, revelatory, or delightful that they feel compelled to share it, you have to do work that delivers on the headline’s promise, and more. This is a very high bar. It’s one thing to enjoy reading something, and quite another to make the active choice to share it with your friends. This is a core fact of sharing and the social web of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other platforms.

“The best way to ensure your readers won’t choose to share a story or a post is to trick them. “

We can debate all day on whether or not BuzzFeed actually delivers on the promises it puts in its headlines, but the goal stated here is laudable: headlines that reflect what’s actually in the article, instead of an eye-catching question1“Is your toast trying to kill you?” that deliberately mislead. Especially important when you consider how much headlines shape our understanding of a topic.

   [ + ]

1.“Is your toast trying to kill you?”




“This weekend is gonna be the physical shits” → 

November 20 2014 |

Wow. So a CBC Saskatchewan host mentioned it was going to be going up to -1, which she suggested was “nice”, prompting this two-minute tirade from a caller against the weather, the province, and, of course, CBC itself.

The only thing really surprising about this is that it’s making the rounds publicly. As anyone who’s ever checked the answering machine in a CBC office can likely tell you, this sort of vitriol over something so small is not all that uncommon.




“A bit like porridge” → 

November 20 2014 |

As a follow-up to realtor Dean Birks suggesting the word “north” should be abandoned by the people and promoters of Prince George, we had a discussion about it with him on CBC. We also had Ken Coates, founding vice-president of UNBC and author of The Forgotten North: A History of Canada’s Provincial Norths on to defend the designation.

“‘Central,’ to my eye is kind of a name that’s kind of a bit like porridge. Maybe it’s kind of good for you but it’s not very exciting. And I actually think, quite frankly, if we tried to promote the University of Central-something British Columbia we wouldn’t have attracted anywhere near as many people. The north has a distinct character, it covers the entire northern part of the province, it actually is the definition of the region itself, it’s how the north sees itself.”

I tend to agree. Even if people are avoiding Prince George because it’s in the north, well, fine. I mean, if they don’t want to move north because it’s cold and it snows, it’s probably best they don’t show up because, well, it’s cold and it snows. And “north” does sound a whole lot better to me than “central interior.”

Full discussion worth listening to.




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