Twists of fate

Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the fates.
– J.K. Rowling

As I posted a couple of weeks back, for no conceivable rhyme or reason, I managed to get away with wins and/or draws in the first four rounds of the club championships of the Wellington Chess Club. I added two more inexplicable results to that, scoring a win in round five when the game could have been drawn; and a draw in the sixth round when I was very clearly lost in the middle game, and again in the end game, but both I and my opponent missed the mating net that would have granted him the full point.

I have, however, been playing tournament chess long enough to understand that such lucky streaks will, sooner or later, come to an end. Not only that, looking at my sad tournament history, I knew in my mind that the lucky streak was going to be ended by heartbreaking losses.

The end came last week when I ironically lost the first out of the seven games in this tournament where I thought I came out ahead of the opening. And the nail on my chess coffin was hammered brutally this week when I just squandered a very good position by dropping a piece to a very basic pawn fork.

Tionko - Pandey, Wellington 2013

The above position was reached out of a Closed Sicilian opening, with me playing white. This is a dream position for white: the black king is stuck in the middle, white is ready to control the half-open e-file and torture the weak e6 pawn, and there’s just a ready-made attack to follow. Black has two mildly annoying bishops controlling the diagonals towards white’s king, but white can just plonk one of his knights on e4 and the threat dissipates.

The issue I’ve always had in these types of middle game positions is I struggle to find the best continuations. It’s incredible, but white managed to lose this game just 11 moves later.

1. Qh5+ 1. Nce4 was begging, but (1) I thought this was too slow, and (2) I underestimated black’s counter-threats. Kd7 2. Qf7?? Rg6. Black’s only move really, but I played 2. Qf7 so fast that I totally missed this! It was also only at this point that I paid attention to the potential of black’s counter-attack on my king, and as I am usually wont to do, I quickly collapsed.

3. Nce4 Two moves too late. Qg8 4. c3 Be5 (diagram)

Tionko - Pandey, Wellington 2013

5. Qxg8? Retreating with 5. Qf2, handing the initiative to black, was probably the most pragmatic. Raxg8 6. Nf3 Rxg2 Black is clearly better now. 7. Nxe5? (7. Nxc5+ Kc7 8. Nc4 -/+) dxe5 8. Nxc5+ Kc7 9. Ne4 Nf5 10. b3 Nd6 11. Ng3 R2xg3 0-1.

Last Thursday’s game was even more heartbreaking. Playing black with my beloved King’s Indian Defense against the most likely winner of the tournament, we reached a position every white player sweats about when they are facing the KID: a neutralised queenside, open diagonals for black’s bishops, and an inutile white king helplessly waiting for its doom.

Timergazi - Tionko, Wellington 2013

As per the previous game, my problem in the above position is not finding the right continuation. 1. … Bxh3 2. gxh3 Qxh3 is already posing serious threats, but after 3. Rfe1 Bh2+ 4. Kh1, I could not see a clear path in the complicated position, so I just decided to play it slowly, (over) confident with what I thought was a tangible positional advantage.

1. … Bd7 2. Rae1 Rae8 Maybe 2. … Qf4, forcing the weakening of the kingside, was better. 3. Re4 Qg5?? 4. f4 Oh dear, game over. 1-0

So from a dream start, the tournament has quickly turned into a nightmare. With two more rounds to play, it’s equally possible for my tournament to spiral further down into mediocrity as it is to regain some semblance of respectability. It’s got a lot less to do with talent than with whatever the Fates decide.

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Super bad coaching

It’s just a fantasy, it’s not the real thing
But sometimes a fantasy, is all you need.
– Billy Joel

Another Supercoach season finished last week and I must unfortunately confess that, for the first time since I started playing, I missed the finals. The season had been extremely tight and, in the end, I was just a game out of the eight.

It did not help that I moved to Wellington four weeks before the finals were to start. In past years, I would have romped home with victories in the final weeks, cementing my place in the top eight. This year, I had a sputtering 1-3 finish, in no small part due to my not having real time internet access here.

My final team that vied for the minor premiership

My final team that vied for the minor premiership

A saving grace would have been for me to win the minor premiership. I made it all the way to the minor finals before brain-fading with my pick for captain. I picked Dane Swan (playing against North Melbourne) over Gary Ablett (playing against GWS), and that pretty much gifted my opponent an extra 128 points. I lost by three. Never mind, I’ll just bounce back next year.

More importantly, Hawthorn are this year’s minor premiers and have already secured a home preliminary final after thrashing Sydney last Friday. A minor irritant is that Geelong was upset by Fremantle yesterday and will most likely be the Hawks’ opponents in a fortnight. Hawthorn have not won a game against the Cats since the 2008 Grand Final, and I guess that accounts for something. Thing is, Hawthorn always wins the important games against Geelong, so I’m quietly confident.

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50 geek jokes

It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.
– Thomas Aquinas

To celebrate finally getting my own internet access, and to balance the equation so to speak and prove that there’s more to nerdom than maths, I did some mindless trawling of the net and picked fifty of the best (or most woeful, depending on your perspective), non-math geek jokes that I could find. I found some biology, chemistry, physics, computer, programming, and even some chess gems.

As per last time, many of the jokes below can be found in multiple websites in some form or another, so I’m claiming them to be public domain material.

Geek Jokes

Artificial intelligence usually beats real stupidity.

If at first you don’t succeed, call it version 1.0. 

Old chemistry teachers never die, they just fail to react.

Question: What’s the object oriented way to become wealthy?
Answer: Inheritance.

Failure is not an option. It comes bundled with your Microsoft product.

Question: Why do zebras have stripes?
Answer: So they don’t get spotted.

Two tectonic plates bump into each other. One says, “Oh, my fault.”

Mac users swear by their Macs. PC users swear at their PCs.

Question: What does a female hobbit use to pleasure herself?
Answer: A Bilbo

Question: What do physicists enjoy doing most at sporting events?
Answer: The wave.

Question: What does the chemist say when he finds two helium molecules?
Answer: HeHe

Question: What did the receiver say to the radio wave?
Answer: Ouch! That megahertz!

Question: What do you call a boring wife or husband?
Answer: A stale mate.

Question: What did the fish say when he hit a concrete wall?
Answer: Dam!

Question: What did the sea say to the shore?
Answer: Nothing. It just waved.

To err is human; and to blame it on a computer is even more so.

Question: Why did the king make bad decisions?
Answer: He was always surrounded by chessmen.

Question: How many squares are there on a chess board?
Answer: Two, plus the spectators.

Chess is not something that drives people mad; chess is something that keeps mad people sane.

Question: What did the Java code say to the C code?
Answer: You’ve got no class.

Geek Jokes

Question: Why did the programmer have such a good day at work?
Answer: He finally got arrays.

Question: How do you know the moon is going broke?
Answer: It’s down to its last quarter.

Question: How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: None. That’s a hardware problem.

Question: What is the fastest way to determine the sex of a chromosome?
Answer: Pull down its genes.

An SQL statement walks into a bar and sees two tables. It approaches, and asks “May I join you?”

Four fonts walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Hey, get out! We don’t want your type in here.”

A neutron walks into a bar and asks how much for a drink. The bartender replies, “For you, no charge.”

Question: What is the difference between a computer and a woman?
Answer: A computer will accept a 3.5 inch floppy.

Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.

The beginning of a programmer’s wisdom is in understanding the difference between getting a program to run and having a runnable program.

An infectious disease enters a bar. The bartender says, “We don’t server your kind here.” It replies, “Well, you’re not a very good host.”

A photon checks into a hotel. The bellhop asks, “Can I help you with your luggage?” It replies, “I don’t have any. I’m travelling light.”

Concept: On the keyboard of life, always keep one finger on the escape button.
Corollary: On the keyboard of office life, keep two fingers on <Alt> and <Tab>.

Question: What is the difference between a man short on cash and a chess player?
Answer: One pawns his watch, the other watches his pawns.

Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar. One says, “I think I’ve lost an electron.” The other says, “Are you sure?” The first replies, “Yes, I’m positive…”

If you give someone a program, you will frustrate them for a day; if you teach them how to program, you will frustrate them for a lifetime.

Question: How many theoretical physicists specialising in general relativity does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Two. One to hold the bulb and one to rotate the universe.

Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.

Two women met for coffee. “Chess has saved my marriage,” confides one. “Really? I didn’t know you played chess!” asked the other, surprised. The first replied, “I don’t. But my husband does.”

Dear girls: If a guy wants you to learn how to play an online multiplayer game, he not only thinks of you as the most important person in his life, he also needs a healer.

Geek Jokes

Two bytes walk into a bar. The first byte turns to the second and says, “I think I may have a parity error.” The second byte turns to the first and says, “Yeah, you look a bit off.”

In a park people came across a man playing chess against a dog. They are astonished and say, “What a clever dog!” But the man protests, “No, no, he is not that clever! I’m leading by three games to one.”

A passed pawn comes home from work one day driving a fancy new car. His shocked wife complains, “Honey, I don’t think we can afford this new car on your salary!” The passed pawn responds, “Relax, I’m about to get promoted.”

Two friends meet on the street one day and one of them says, “My wife warns that if I play in the chess tournament tomorrow she’ll take the kids and leave me.” The other friend asks, “So what will you do tomorrow?” The other replies, “Same as always. 1. e4.”

A group of chess enthusiasts had checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. “But why?” they asked, as they moved off. “Because,” the manager said, “I can’t stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.”

Five reasons why computers are females:
Miss a period and they go wild.
They make you take the garbage out.
They are always turning simple statements into big productions.
Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for later retrieval.
As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your pay maintaining and accesorising it.

A female secretary was helping her new boss set up his computer and asked him what word he would like to use as a password to log in with. Wanting to embarrass his secretary a bit and let her know where they stood, he smugly told her to enter ‘penis.’ Without blinking or saying a word, she entered the password. The computer responded: “Password rejected. Not long enough.”

A computer science student is studying under a tree and another pulls up on a flashy new bike. The first student asks, “Where’d you get that?” The student on the bike replies, “While I was studying outside, a beautiful girl pulled up on her bike. She took off all her clothes and said, ‘You can have anything you want’.” The first student responds, “Good choice! Her clothes probably wouldn’t have fit you.”

Five reasons why computers are males:
In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on.
Big power surges knock them out for the rest of the night.
They’ll do whatever you want if you push the right buttons.
They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they are the problem.
As soon as you commit to one you realise that, had you waited a little longer, you could have obtained a better model.

An English major at a university was taking an astronomy course to satisfy the science requirement. During the last lecture of the semester, the professor spoke about some of the more exotic objects in the universe including black holes. Despite his teacher’s enthusiasm, the student showed no interest, as was the case for all his astronomy classes during the semester. When the bell rang, the student turned to his friend and said, “The lecturer says that black holes are interesting, but I think they suck.”

*Calvin and Hobbes comic strips from GOCOMICS.
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Tremors at the Wellington Chess Club

It’s like an earthquake, this feeling inside
There’s nowhere to run, there’s nowhere to hide
– The Flirtations

Rumour has it that a low magnitude but clearly noticeable seismic vibration is shaking the Wellington Chess Club. A pesky little runt from Melbourne has apparently caused a bit of a stir in the currently running club championships in that he was time and again cornered into bad positions yet managed to wiggle out with either a lucky draw or, dear Lord, a swindle of a win!

This runt, which we shall just call Junior for anonymity, is currently sitting on three points out of a possible four with two wins, two draws, and no loss. All four of his games were losing, or clearly inferior, as we illustrate in the below diagrams.

Tionko - Kay, Wellington 2013

The above position was reached after Junior (playing white) over-pressed an equal position (he had an artificial space advantage, and this usually causes him to imagine phantom wins) and eventually ended up in a losing endgame.

All black had to do here was deploy his king to where white’s passed pawn is, and once that’s done, march his pawns forward. White may be lucky enough to draw against imprecise play, but a win was certainly too farfetched. Or so, everybody thought, until black played the horrible 1. … Rb4??.

It turned out that in the race to promote their passed pawns, white was just faster due to his more active king and black’s back rank weakness. The rest of the game continued, 2. g6 Kd7 3. g7 Rb8 3. Rh8, and black was forced to resign.

Miriyala - Tionko, Wellington 2013

The above position was reached after Junior’s opponent (playing white) deployed an anti-King’s Indian line that Junior had no idea about. Junior was out of book very early in the opening, but to his credit, was able to find some complicating (albeit dubious) continuations that sort of confused his opponent.

The position is actually assessed by the computer as more or less equal, even though white is a pawn up. Materialistic patzers like Junior will of course never evaluate this as equal and will therefore have no hope of even salvaging a draw with black. This game is only really recorded as a win for Junior because his opponent ran his clock down.

Tionko - Rossiter, Wellington 2013

The above position with black to move was reached from a Closed Sicilian. Junior (with white) regularly plays some obscure Closed Sicilian line not because it gives him great success, but more due to him knowing nothing better. Since he virtually uses this exclusively, it’s very easy for wily opponents to prepare against him, which seemed like the case in this game.

As usual, Junior ran out of ideas after he rattled off the first few standard moves in the line and soon handed the initiative to black. Whilst the position is still fairly even, black seemed to have the better chances as his queenside counterattack looked difficult to stop. The game eventually petered to a draw, probably the only pseudo just result out of Junior’s four games.

Roberts - Tionko, Wellington 2013

And the draw Junior swindled from the above game is the most unjust, probably one of the biggest swindles of his mediocre chess career. Playing his usual 2. … a6 Sicilian with black, it appeared as though Junior ran into another home preparation, was soon out of book, and was already in a worse position by just the ninth move!

White had a lot of ways to skin the cat so to speak, and he chose the simplest and most practical, just snatching an extra piece for nothing. Incredibly, Junior managed to muddle the position just enough for his opponent to absurdly choose one inaccurate continuation after another.

Still, Junior’s opponent was a healthy piece up and pragmatically decided to sack his b-pawn to force an exchange of queens. Unfortunately, he probably then thought that the win was going to be straightforward from there and sat on his position waiting for black to collapse rather than finding the winning continuation.

Black sneakily arranged his pawns so he could swap everything but white’s h-pawn, desperately hoping to trick his opponent into a wrong rook pawn endgame. However, for this to work, white had to first move his king just far enough away so the exchange of pawns could be forced, and also willingly swap rooks. Astoundingly, as if in a trance, Junior’s opponent did just that, falling for the cunning ruse!

So there you have it. Not one, not two, not three, but four lucky escapes! One can just wonder how the Wellington Chess Club is coping with this unexpected shock.

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Wired, finally!

The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow. – Bill Gates

Source: flickr |steverhode

Source: flickr |steverhode

One thing I was not really in a particular hurry to get organised over the last month is an internet connection. I in fact took it as some kind of a personal challenge to see if I could live with just a 500MB per month data allowance on my phone and, should I really need to spend an extended time online, properly plan it and spend a few hours of a Saturday in one of the city libraries.

I must say that the challenge was both a failure and a success. It was a failure because I drained my phone data allowance with still a week to go last month, and since I had to urgently go online one evening to read through some important tax documents (I didn’t really want to be in the tax department’s bad books within my first month on New Zealand soil), I had to very reluctantly part ways with $10 in an internet café infested by gamers many of whom were probably half my age.

I’d like to also claim some success in the challenge though, as aside from that one hiccup, I managed to prove (to myself, at least) that I didn’t really need to be connected to the virtual world in as real-time a fashion as I probably subconsciously thought I needed to be, considering how wired I’ve become in the last five years or so.

I thought I was doing quite well controlling the compulsion to just quickly click on a hyperlink and check something out online, and even in ignoring my mum’s incessant nagging about when I could be on Skype again.

That was okay until I remembered that the Chess World Cup was starting this week. The thought that I could not watch the games online and have to wait an unbearable few hours for the game results to be posted on the chess news pages prompted me to scramble for an internet connection.

Unfortunately, whilst it was relatively quick to find a rental place, buy a new car, and even setup a new company in Wellington, getting myself hooked up on the internet was a lot trickier.

First of all, whilst it was normal for me to get an email or phone response in less than a day relating to my rental, car purchase, and even company setup queries, Vodafone took more than a week to contact me – by post, to tell me that they required a few more identification details from me before they could process my application further! I would have thought that an email or a phone call would have settled that matter a lot more efficiently, and probably cheaper than the postage cost.

So that was already a week lost. When Vodafone finally deemed me worthy of their service, it took me another week to receive my modem, largely because they required me to physically receive the unit (my mailbox was too small to accommodate the parcel) and arranging a place and time, considering I work outside the city and they don’t deliver on the weekend, proved challenging.

Finally, I found out when I received the modem that my apartment was not at all hooked up to a telephone line, something I just assumed when I signed the lease! Once again, arranging a time with tradesmen to come into the apartment to do the phone connection was difficult, so that was another week lost.

I reached desperation point this week when I pretty much drained my phone’s data allowance just two weeks into the month, as I stubbornly followed the goings-on at the Chess World Cup online. And when you’re desperate, you become a bit more trusting. So I gave the Chorus tradie both the building access code and a spare key to my apartment to get my phone line connected, and prayed that I get both a phone line and an intact flat when I get back home from work.

Thankfully, my prayers were answered.

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First impressions

“My theory about meeting people,” he said, “is that it’s better not to make a really good first impression. Because it’s all downhill from there. You’re always having to live up to that first impression, which is just an illusion.”
– Lisa Kleypas

Source: flickr | 93243105@N03

Source: flickr | 93243105@N03

So I survived my first month in New Zealand. This, despite Wellington’s best attempts to blow me back to Melbourne and literally rock my world. My apartment’s in a good nick with just a small crack on the dishwasher panels to show as a result of the earthquakes (I swear it’s not because I stumbled and smashed my head on it blind drunk one night), I got my new car back with nary a scratch, and I’m once again playing weeknight tournament chess after a couple of years’ absence (and I’m on a wicked 2/2 start). So overall, I can say that my first month’s impression of Wellington is a bit of all right.

I wish I can say the same thing about my new job. Or more to the point, about my new employer’s first impressions about me.

I am working for a government department in New Zealand so I was required to complete a security check as part of the on-boarding process. The security check was fairly comprehensive. It required me to provide all of my historical address details, travel details in the last five years, any name changes, among others.

I took the security check very seriously and went through great lengths to provide all required information as accurately as I could (I took nearly two days to complete just the details of my recent travels!). One detail that I provided was the fact that I took my name from my father, so my birth certificate showed me as a “Jr.” Since my dad had already passed away before I became an Australian citizen, I dropped the “Jr.” from all of my Australian legal documents, so I technically had a name change. Naturally, I included this mundane (I thought) detail in my security documentation.

Unfortunately for me, of all the name details provided in the many documents that I sent across, it was this specific item that the IT guys (I haven’t yet asked if it was really SOP or they just decided to take the piss on me) decided to pick up after I finally got my security clearance. So not only did they cleverly slot in “JR” in my name in the system, they even had it embedded in my office email address!

Now I would have paid absolutely no attention to this, but then my boss loudly asked, “How come you never told us that you’re a Junior?” as soon as he found me in the system (he found me before I could even log in!). Suffice to say that I earned a not-so-flattering nickname just a week into my new job.

Getting the nickname was not really the ideal start that I was hoping for on the job, so I thought it was perhaps best that I kept a low profile for a while, make sure there are no accidents that can further exacerbate matters (no, it wasn’t because I was busy thinking about flying back to Melbourne because of the quakes). Unfortunately, some of my natural idiosyncrasies just can’t be suppressed for an extended period, and they quickly revealed themselves in rapid succession.

First, I gave our PMO administrator an early morning shock when she overheard me blurting some not-so-nice words and thought I was being rude to her. I had to reassure her that I was talking to myself, cursing about something I’m seeing on my computer screen! She just said, “Oh.”

Then we had a work function the following day. One unsolicited advice I received back in Australia is that all the world’s a stage for Kiwis when drinking is concerned, so I could have really impressed them with my drinking prowess, or even the lack of it, as long as I gamely tried. Instead, my choice of beverage for the function was coke. I was naturally quizzed about this, so I had to confess that I was playing in a chess tournament later that evening and had to stay sober.

To complete the geeky trifecta, I was running late for work the following day, no thanks to the 4-hour chess marathon (where I swindled a clock win from a clearly lost position) the night before, and forgot to put my phone on silent. It was just when I was about to sit on my desk that I received an impeccably timed phone call and my Superman ring tone woke the office up like no cup of coffee could. I quickly ran for the first vacant room that I could find to take the call, but in the less than five minutes that I was away, the office conversation had turned to whether the ringtone was Star Wars or Superman.

So there you have it. In less than a month, it has been clearly established in the office that the cutover manager they hired to lead them to a successful go-live is a chess-playing self-talker named “Junior” who somehow stole a fifth-grader’s phone.

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In the neighbourhood

I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I finally got my stranded car back last Thursday, thanks to a brave soul from the car parking company who volunteered to walk into the building, hard hat on, and take some of the trapped cars out. So we can now move on to happier thoughts, and perhaps temporarily ignore the naturally and frequently occurring ground shakes in this part of the world.

I was pleasantly surprised that I actually picked a pretty strategic area of Wellington to settle in. The only requirement I had for my rental place was that it should be in the city and be fully furnished. I did not know much about Wellington and was scared of settling in the wrong suburb, so I thought it was safe to confine myself to the city.  I also did not want to be buying so many household items when I do not yet know how long I am going to be here for, so it made sense to look for a fully furnished place.

I of course did not bother to find out that most of Wellington’s central business district is reclaimed land and not only that, it is sitting on top of very active fault lines. But I am once again digressing into earth-shaking thoughts.

I picked a fully furnished and renovated flat closer to the southern end of the CBD, sitting behind some old yellow (or is that cream?) building. Unbeknownst to me, this old building is the Embassy Theatre, Wellington’s iconic cinema. Built in 1924, it is a popular venue, especially for movie premieres. The world probably knows it for famously hosting the premieres of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and, more recently, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Embassy Theatre

Embassy Theatre

The Embassy Theatre is right at the end of Courteney Place, which is apparently some kind of happening mecca; if I just base that assessment on the number of surrounding restaurants and bars, then I can assume that it is. Also just a leisurely ten minutes’ walk from Embassy Theatre is the famous Cuba Street where, one of my former colleagues swore, she had some of the world’s best coffee. That was a pretty big statement considering we live – okay, in my case, lived – in the city that prides itself of having the best coffee outside of Italy.

Te Papa

Te Papa

Also less than ten minutes’ walk from Embassy Theatre is Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. I have only had a passing sniff of the place (to confirm that entrance is indeed free), but will definitely have an extended tour sometime soon for my free injection of culture. The museum sits by the bay, so my place is also pretty much just a short ten-minute stroll from Wellington’s famous waterfront.

Finally, a very short ten-minute drive (or maybe a 30-40 minute hike, for the masochistic sporty types) from my place is the Mount Victoria lookout which, on a good day, should provide a wonderful panoramic view of Wellington.

Mount Victoria Lookout, Wellington, New ZealandMount Victoria Lookout, Wellington, New ZealandMount Victoria Lookout, Wellington, New Zealand

The above photos were actually taken on the day I picked my new car up from the dealership, just a few hours before the July 21 earthquake. Right, I’m having earth-shaking thoughts again. 😦

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