Archive for February, 2013

The E-Book Revolution

I’ve recently started using Amazon’s Kindle.  I didn’t buy one, I couldn’t justify buying an environmentally costly piece of tech designed merely for e-reading, though admittedly, the Kindle Fire does look very lovely and is a far more environmentally and economically sound investment versus the old one-trick-pony Kindle.  Unfortunately, being that I’m a poor college student, I don’t have $150 lying around.  I’m kind of saving up my money in hopes of visiting the optometrist soon and getting a pair of glasses so that I don’t get crow’s feet style wrinkles from squinting at the board during school lectures.

Anyhow, so I sprung for the only Kindle in my budget, the free Google Chrome app.

I’ve bought a few e-books: an ethnography on the Hadza Hunter-Gatherers that I needed to read for one of my Anthropology classes (and I got full points on the paper I had to write reviewing it), Odd and the Frost Giants written by my favorite author (it was on sale), and Infected: Click Your Poison by James Schannep (because, duh, zombies — totally worth the four bucks by the way, I recommend going and buying).

I’m liking e-books so far.  The one-click buying option on Amazon makes it very dangerous for my wallet, but otherwise, the Kindle’s highlighting and note-taking capabilities proved very useful for my writing assignment, and I like that my Kindle app on the computer can synch to the one on my phone, and I’m able to open up at the page I left off reading on anywhere, anytime.

On twitter, which is another dangerous new toy that’s becoming far too much of a distraction, I’ve recently collected several e-book authors on both my follower and following lists, and I realized as I sat there scrolling through the ridiculously numerous tweets of “buy my e-book” or “buy his e-book” or “buy her e-book”, that we are currently in the midst of a revolution in the literature world.  This thought may or may not have been prompted by an email update I received from Writer’s Digest featuring an article talking about e-books as an easy, low-cost alternative to conventional forms of self-publishing.

Admittedly, I have a few prejudices when it comes to self-publishing, I think most people do, but I’m trying to break away from those biases.  I like the indie movement, in music, movies, video games especially, so it stands to reason that I should be open-minded towards indie books, but I’m still very torn on the issue.

I know that traditional publishing can be very difficult to break into, with or without an agent.  I’ve heard many an anecdote on the subject; one about Steven King taking his first book to something like thirty-four different publishing houses before one agreed to option his manuscript and that J.K. Rowling and her agent had to offer paying half-the-costs of printing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in order to get a publisher willing to sign.  If such stories are true, it does beg the question, do publishers really know what makes a good story?  Not to mention, it fuels theories of an elitist world, where publishers decide whose voices can be heard, censoring the masses by silencing and squashing stories they dislike for whatever subjective reasoning they might supply.

On the flip-side, I feel that, with a few exceptions, the traditional publishing industry does help to maintain a certain standard of quality in the literary world.  When you, allegedly, have experts with degrees in English, Literature, Creative Writing, etc., boasting oodles of practical knowledge on the fine mechanics of story-telling, sorting through the hundreds of millions of would-be novels they receive yearly, you have to assume that at the very least, a good chunk of the absolute best in that stack are making it through to our eager reader hands.  I’m not an English teacher, and I’m not an editor, I don’t want to read juvenile writing efforts, and I most certainly don’t want to waste precious money (poor college student, remember?) on a book that probably should have been rewritten a couple hundred more times, or maybe just been tossed altogether.  Cruel as it may be, there is still much benefit in the tactics of the traditional publishing industry.

That being said, what do e-books mean for publishing?  Some speculate that between Amazon signing authors and the advent of the e-book industry, traditional publishing houses might be looking at going the way of the dinosaurs.  Though it would set a very scary precedent for the future, I’m not entirely convinced.  I do think that most authors looking to break into the field will try more conventional publishing routes first, e-books take a lot of work on the writer’s part, generally requiring the writer to do their own marketing, schedule their own events, and just all around doing the promotional work that a publishing house would do for them.  For some of these beginning authors, Amazon will be that “conventional” route, but there will be other author’s that won’t want to sign with Amazon for varying personal or professional reasons.  Those that can’t find a way into writing, or perhaps just don’t like the idea of going through traditional publishers may then look at e-books as an initial option, some will possibly stay e-book only, but I think many will use it merely as a springboard into print.

Because, honestly, at the end of the day, digital cannot replace the feel of holding an actual solid book in your hands, feeling the texture of the pages beneath your fingertips, hearing the soothing whisper with each turn, and breathing in the familiar smells of either the fresh ink in a brand new text or the dust and age in an ancient, yellowing tome.  The words aren’t the story alone, but the book itself, the object in physical form, is an experience that book-philes like myself will be none too eager to give up in lieu of fancy highlighting and note-taking capabilities.

I like my Kindle apps.  I love my books.

That being said, I think one day I may publish an e-book or two, mainly because I have some stories I’d like to put out there that I don’t think would ever sell in the traditional market.  Why write them then?  Well, every writer knows the answer to that question, the stories will eat me alive if I don’t.

Risk – “Junk Drawer JuJu”

Today I had originally planned on posting a completed version of a short story I’d been working on, however, as the story started developing I started to think about my dreams and why I began this blog in the first place.  It’s moniker, “Dastardly Reads”, was inspired by my own cowardice as a writer.

As a child, I used to write with full intention of being an acclaimed author, hoping to one day have my stories out into the world and maybe make a bit of a living off of them.  Yet, as my life went on, and I got older, more world-weary, and a lot too cynical, I became crippled by fear.  I didn’t want to put my stories out there, to let them be heard, because what if no one listened?

Or worse, what if no one liked what I had to say?

It is so easy to tear apart someone who has something they care about, especially something they created, displayed for the world to see.  I think it’s easier than some people realize and still others do realize and happily exploit its ease.   Writers, creators — artists in general, they take a great risk in putting their work out there.  The rewards can be great, or so I’m told, but they’re also rare, and more often the outcome is that you leave yourself vulnerable and wide-open to attack, and attacked you will be.

It’s no wonder Harper Lee cautioned would-be writers, “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”

Starting this blog was the first of many steps I’ve been taking in hopes to develop that thick hide, and I think  that it’s time I finally test its durability.  The short story I planned on posting today, I’m going to instead make attempt at getting it published and, once it is finalized, I will begin querying and submitting to a few literary magazines.  If nothing else, it will provide me a little insight into the publishing process.

Wish me luck.

Or even better, I’m posting a very brief snippet of the short story, and would love any constructive feedback you could offer?

Excerpt of “Junk Drawer Juju”

The tiny house at the end of Canterbury Lane looked ordinary by all outward appearances, and Millicent felt skeptical pulling her powder blue Coupe de Ville up sidelong the driveway. She peered vaguely out her window, took in the red brick two story with its wrap around porch, hanging plants clasped to the trellis, scant lawn decorated with pink flamingo ornaments and a dream catcher in the window, ivy growing up the building’s side, and a long hedge poised like a crouched tiger all around. The only aspect of the house that really set it apart from its neighbors’ own tacky layouts was the auspicious tree that stretched high up, over the top of the house, its wicked branches curved into spindly limbs scratching at the clear sun-baked sky.

Millicent threw her car into park and scurried up the walk, tentatively tapping the door, its knocker shaped like a napping cat. She hugged her purse to herself and shuddered, suddenly feeling ice through her veins, though it was a warm summer day. The door swung open and a small, beady-eyed woman filled its frame and gasped.

“You’re late!”

“I…I didn’t know…you were expecting me?” Millicent stammered, taken aback, perhaps there was something to this woman after all, with her bedraggled hair, gold spandex, and swampy “Mizz Thang” sweatshirt.

“Of course. Franz called. Said you’d be here around noon, it’s nearly supper time now,” Mizz Thang answered, swinging her door open wide and ushering Millicent inside.

Millicent softened her expression and smiled at her own silly conclusion jumping.

“Franz. Of course,” she drawled, stepping into the house and flinching when the woman slammed the door shut and tossed its lock and a series of deadbolts into place.

The house’s insides were even less conspicuous, knick-knacks and doilies topped with vases from flea markets, a large clock overhead featured a watercolor rooster cock-a-doodling atop a red barn. A shaggy dog, its eyes — one blue and the other brown, sat on the stairwell, disinterestedly watching the two women enter the house and stride swiftly into the den. There was a tweed sofa, a knit afghan flung over its high back, and a coffee table littered with magazines about gardening, cooking, and high-tech gadgetry.

“Would you like something to drink? Maybe some chamomile tea?” the woman asked and Millicent politely declined. Chamomile gave her hives.

Altogether, the atmosphere in the house seemed pleasant enough, like grandmother’s home, where small children sat quietly on the couch sucking sweet lozenges thirty years expired and hoping their parents would take them home soon.

“Right to business then,” Mizz Thang announced, clapping her hands together and causing Millicent to nearly jump clear out of her own skin, “Will we be casting a curse, hex, or love spell?”

“Aren’t they all the same thing,” Millicent dryly wondered. Mizz Thang grinned, she had maybe five teeth in her mouth.

“Of course not. A love spell is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, a hex is the hasty excise of a fleeting moment of anger that smarts for weeks after, and a curse is a rage so precise and exacting, their great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will feel it!”

“I see. Then I suppose I’m here for a curse,” Millicent decided, setting her features grim. She was a chubby cheeked woman, prone to fits of giggles when drunk, though, so the effect wasn’t much.

“Of course,” Mizz Thang replied whimsically, “No one is ever here for a hex, but as a matter of professionalism, I’m compelled to recommend the hex over curse. It’s more efficient, economical, gets the job done with a fraction of the side-effects…”

“Well…I don’t know…” Millicent wavered, crossing her arms over her chest and worrying her bottom lip. When Mizz Thang put it that way, it was difficult to resist.

“Hexes are far easier to reverse in the instance of buyer’s remorse, and also, require no animal sacrifice whatsoever. Easier clean up.”

“Ah…well…I do feel bad about the animal sacrifice bit…but no. No. I’m definitely going with the curse,” Millicent announced.

“I tried,” Mizz Thang said…

…also Juan “Johnny” Rico was Filipino

I got waylaid today in a message board for a show I, oddly enough, choose to no longer watch, “Falling Skies”.  The title of the post was “Dead Characters – Why are they all minorities?” in which the original poster makes valid complaint that the show has a significant number of white characters versus minority, yet, a largely disproportionate number of minority to white characters die.  The subsequent responses spiraled off into debate about casting choices in Hollywood with several well formatted arguments on both sides, though admittedly some of the assertions made lacked factual context, and one foolhardy reply chose to lay blame on the minority actors themselves as though they wrote themselves three lines and then a pitiful death scene.

It really got me thinking, though, about portrayal of minorities, and disenfranchised groups all around, in popular media, most specifically in regards to Science Fiction and Fantasy, as Science Fiction is the genre “Falling Skies” falls (no pun intended) into, and thus was the most cited by commentators, and also because those are the genres in which I prefer writing.

Scifi and Fantasy, to me, have always been the safe haven genres for outcasts — people who have been deemed by society to fall outside of the “norm” — because inside of those genres anything you can imagine is possible.  Although they’ve been scoffed at for being weird or silly because they aren’t based in reality, more so than any other genre, Scifi and Fantasy have done more to explore political and religious ideologies, they’ve analyzed and questioned social injustice, and examined our lives in more accurate and greater detail than romance or mystery can claim.  They’re often times speculative, philosophical, and delve into notions and ideas that mainstream was originally afraid to touch.

Yet, lately, Hollywood and popular media have co-oped the genres, streamlined them, removing anything of value and depth , gave them a sleeker, glossy, more attractive finish (slender women with manicures and plucked brows in an apocalypse, lean muscular men with unscathed faces and pristine white teeth on the battlefield), and turned them into little more than action/thriller fodder with high-end graphics and fancy pyrotechnics.

Gone now are the explorations into social injustices, and in are the token minority characters that we can typically expect to die first.

One commentator hit on an important point, and although I’m not entirely convinced of its validity, I think it does carry a hint of truth.  She points the finger at the audience, and though she makes claim that Hollywood casts white characters because the majority of the audience is white and therefore can relate better to the characters which I feel is utterly false – demographics aside, a character is more than their “racial” or any other identifying category and people can relate regardless, I do think she’s right in that part of the blame may fall on the audience.

Why do we continue to watch shows/movies that marginalize minorities?  Or is that an unfair assumption?  Is Hollywood truly guilty of obliterating Scifi and Fantasy’s inherent nature of equal possibilities?

Procrastination and Other Drugs

I’m thinking about buying the game Minecraft.  I know I’m a bit behind not owning it, and buying it would make my sister (who is obsessed with the game) so happy, but I’m a tad concerned about my preoccupation with buying it at this particular juncture because of what it means, that it’s that time of the season again.

School is in session and I am all geared up and ready to…procrastinate!

Because my goal this year is to get straight A’s (or four A’s and a “pass”, which is the only “grade” I can receive from my internship), I thought I’d write out my Top Five Ways to Procrastinate, listing them out will help me think up ways to avoid and overcome them, and I figured if I’m writing them out I might as well share them with all of you!

So, here goes nothing.

My Top Five Ways to Procrastinate

1) Play video games.  In my (nonexistent except in my delusional fantasy world) spare time, I’m a bit of a gamer.  Not hardcore, mind you, but I’ve been acquainted with a joystick or two.  My favorites of the moment are Don’t Starve (which is a beta indie game about survival in a Gothic-inspired, demon infested, alternate dimension) and Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition (I played the original and all its subsequent incarnations, sequels and side-stories, so this is an old favorite reborn).  Typically I keep my game play to a reasonable minimum, but when school is in session,  it becomes a chore pulling myself away from the tree chopping and kobold slaying (little bastards come in packs of ten with fire arrows!!).

Breaking the Habit: Right now, my method of putting this procrastination fix on hold is to shift to another addiction on this list, but it only lasts for so long.  Now I’m taking a cue from Felicia Day.  She’s an actress, writer, Youtube sensation, and gamer that I’ve been following on twitter (@feliciaday if you’re interested).  She doesn’t tweet often, I imagine because she’s so busy with running her successful Youtube channel but every now and then she mentions having an “hour to play” some game or another, usually as a reward for having gotten some big project done.  This seems to me to be the best way to motivate myself to do homework and also nip this bad habit in the bud.  I’ll do homework for an hour, take a twenty minute or so game break, then do another hour of homework.  We’ll see how that goes.

2) Browser Window Shopping.  In the digital age, window shopping has never been easier.  I’m already at a computer, my mind is numb from having to read about Life History Theory again, and although I may not have any money, there’s no reason why I can’t simply browse through books on Amazon or build my if-money-were-no-object dream PC on  CyberPowerPC or  assemble my fantasy wardrobe on Modcloth.  Of course, this is all just a gateway drug, because eventually surfing the shopping sites leads me to Youtube, and Youtube leads me to a video of a cat chasing snow and suddenly…suddenly…hours of my time have flown by and what have I been doing?  Watching the, albeit adorable cat, pounce through white powder and not learning a single thing about how Life History Theory ties in to Cultural Evolution and behavior change as adaptation.  Do you see how this is a problem?

Breaking the Habit: This one is tricky.  The web is literally at my fingertips, and I am a few keystrokes from window shopping addict’s heaven.  I can hear Etsy calling my name right now, and gosh darn it all, there are way too many cute octopus necklaces on that site than ought to be legal.  I don’t know why I’m obsessed with the tentacled-beasties, I swear I don’t!!  That being said, I need a way to get on the wagon and fast, I just don’t know what it looks like or where it’s going.  I’m thinking this one might have to be a rubberband trick.  You know the one, put a rubberband round your wrist and flick it every time you go to do the bad habit (run of the mill behavioral conditioning).  Except, instead of a rubberband, I think every time I feel the urge to window shop, I will put my computer to sleep and take a ten minute break (stretch my legs, get a drink or snack).  This should give my mind the obviously much needed refresher, and keep me from getting sucked into a spiraling vortex of cute kitty-dom that will rob me of my entire study time.

3) Watching television or Youtube.  Typically, I’m not much for watching shows.  I usually spend free time writing, nothing worth reading mind you, but it feels more productive  than staring mindlessly at the boobtube watching other people’s stories unfold.  I have a few television shows I watch (like Justified, and can I just say, this season has been so fucking fantastic, I gape at the screen five minutes after an episode ends crying “I can’t wait until Tuesday, I want more now!”), and I take care of watching those off the DVR on my day’s off from work.  The problem is Youtube more than anything, and those amalgamations of insidiousness Netflix and Hulu.  Once again, right at my fingertips…and, let’s face it, all links lead to Youtube.

Breaking the Habit: I have to quit cold turkey.  It’ll hurt for awhile, especially since i just discovered Table Top (courtesy of my all-things-nerd expert, aka, my older sister), hosted by Wil Wheaton.  Youtube is a huge time suck, it’s like a giant, swirling blackhole for time except…theoretically…time goes slower the closer you get to the center of a blackhole, therefore if Youtube were a blackhole and my free time was approaching its center I would have an eternity of time…but this is not astrophysics here, this is a metaphor and I got literary license for it.  I’m going to walk away from this one and I’m leaving Youtube behind with it.

4) Socializing.  In general, I’m not really a social person.  I have friends, family I like to see from time to time (and then immediately get drunk right after) but overall, I’m a hardcore introvert.  I prefer spending my free time alone in my room listening to music and typing up stories or reading a good book.  That being said, I go out so much when school is in.  I book plans every weekend: lunches with old friends I haven’t seen in months, hiking trips and family dinner/game nights.  Anything that gets me out of the house and far, far, far away from my homework is high up on my must do now list.

Breaking the Habit: This one is tricky because it involves friends, family, loved ones in general.  But I have to do it…I have to silence the phone, cut off the text messages and stop making plans.  The mountain can wait, even if I only have two months left on my season pass to Red Rock, my friends can go another month without hearing from me, family dinner is sort of locked in and unavoidable, but I need to focus on getting more homework done earlier in the day, which I should be able to do if I can overcome all the other procrastination techniques on this list.

5) Last, but most certainly not least, Writing.  Yes, at this very moment, I am procrastinating.  I’m actually, currently, supposed to be reading a chapter of my textbook for my Patterns of Human Growth and Development class and then writing up a quick discussion post based on those readings and yet…here I am!  I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but my number of blog posts has increased over the past few weeks and that is because…school started a few weeks ago.  This is probably the worst method of procrastination on this list.  Why?  I can justify it.  I’m a writer.  I maintain (sort of) this blog, and I have the twitter thing I have to every now and then post to in order to justify it’s existence and then I also have to dedicate time to writing my stories in hopes of one day writing something worth selling and…well…maybe you’re starting to see my conundrum.

Breaking the Habit: Or not.  Take inspiration where you can get it, right?  Because if I flunk out of school, at least I’ll always have writing to fall back on…er…well…I guess, taking into consideration that writing is a really difficult industry to break into and it takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and a lot of rejection before you can even come close to making money you can live off of…right, on second thought, I think I’m going to go hit those books.

Still Trying to Figure Out This Twitter Thing…

A few things I’m not entirely sure about:

1) When people click to “Follow” me, I feel like I should do something…like thank them in a private message or in a tweet.  Is there an established protocol for this?  What’s considered polite?  I can imagine some people being miffed if I don’t thank them, others being perturbed if I do…right now, my solution is apparently to just follow everyone who follows me, which isn’t a terrible thing I suppose, but at the same time, it makes it hard for me to find the tweets I really enjoy reading (like everything from @wilw aka Wil Wheaton, if you want a guaranteed smile everyday, I suggest following him).  Someone help me!?

2) Hashtags (fighting the urge to call it a pound symbol, this is how noob I am) will be the death of me.  I’m kind of tentative to use them because I’m not entirely sure how they work.  I know that you hashtag a topic in your tweet that you want others to search it by but…do I create my own hashtags, or do I use those already established, and more importantly, does anyone actually use these things to find tweets of interest or is it just when the media tells them they might win something?

3) Tweets…right.  I don’t really want to be annoying.  I keep having these “flashes of brilliance”, immediately thinking something would be great to tweet and then (thankfully) talking myself out of it.  A lot of celebrities can get away with tweeting whatever the frick they want because they have an established (slightly fanatical) fanbase that worships (almost) everything they tweet no matter how irrelevant or entirely random it might be.  This sets up a strange atmosphere of social conduct, because twitter puts you (essentially) on the same level of these celebrities, you all have the same license to tweet whatever and the same 140 character limit, but most of what celebrities say (which gets retweeted and favorited up the wahzoo) would never get a second glance were I to say it.  But then, I don’t want to feel so confined as to what I can tweet that I never tweet anything.  I have a co-worker like that, he wants to make sure everything he puts out there is just so awesome and brilliant, that he’s had his twitter longer than me and we’re at about the same number of tweets.  I’ve already decided to use the twitter account as another type of interface for the blog, and as an extension of that my writing, so I will tweet pertaining to those things, but I don’t want to limit myself to only that, or I’ll never find new followers, at least, that seems to be how it work.s.  I guess what I’m trying to ask is, what do you guys think are unacceptable tweets?  What gets annoying?  And more importantly, what really catches your eye?

4) How do people not grow incredibly frustrated with the 140 character minimum?  I mean, seriously, I’ve had to forego proper punctuation on a tweet and I nearly ripped my own hair out.  

5) There is no five.

6) I apologize for all the seemingly random tweets I’ve already posted and will probably post in the future.  I blame my job.  If work were more interesting, I wouldn’t be tweeting.  Gosh, I hope my boss isn’t reading this…

And that’s all for now.  If you got solutions for me, please, let me know in the comments below!  If you want to talk to me or follow on twitter: @dastardlyreads

The Talent Myth (Talent versus Hard Work)

I’ve been wanting to write this post about Talent versus Hard Work, but I just keep running into personal hang ups over how its turning out.  What I’ve got so far sounds so very cynical and negative, as though I’m bashing the entire idea of “talent”, and almost being a little bitter about it, which isn’t how I want it to come off at all.

The whole point of what I wanted to write was that people have a tendency to misuse and abuse the word talent.  It gets applied to things that are otherwise skills learned over time and through hours and hours of effort, like art and writing, which creates this terrible kind of myth that you have to have an innate talent for these things in order to do them.

This myth becomes detrimental in a number of ways.  Beginning writers that don’t see their work as being on par with more experienced (“talented”) writers can become discouraged, especially if they receive any negative feedback for a piece of writing they share, This could lead them to the false assumption that they don’t possess a “talent” for writing and cause them to give up.

More so, critics, especially ones that aren’t themselves writers, who fall into the falsehood that writing is a talent and not a learned skill finely honed through time and discipline might more readily dish out negative comments to less experienced writers, discouraging them from continuing with their craft, instead of making attempt to give advice/suggestions and encourage them to continue working at it.

On the flip side, writers that receive a lot of positive feedback, especially praise that they’re “talented”, may develop the false notion that they don’t need to actually “work” at becoming better writers, and furthermore, may be less inclined to tolerate and/or use constructive criticism given them by their peers.

Even worse, and this is my greatest conflict with this misuse of the word “talent”, it feels less a compliment and more an excuse, “Oh, you’re just talented”, for why you might be “better” at something than the “praising” other.  Writers faced with this may become apathetic towards their craft, that “why bother” mindset overwhelms them and the challenge in writing, in crafting something that will awe and move readers emotionally, is replaced with this overwhelming cynicism.

Now this is where I need to back-peddle a little.

There are talents in the world.  Talent itself is not a myth, and I’m not knocking on talent.  Talents are fantastic, as are talented people.  Nor am I attacking anyone who prefers to think themselves a “talented” writer or artist, as opposed to one who’s worked hard to master their craft.  I do think there are aspects of people’s characters which might make those people more inclined to learn particular skills, such as writing or art, and those traits might themselves be considered talents (whether these are things you’re born with or things that develop in early childhood due to upbringing is still up for debate).

Just don’t rule out hard work.

In our current social world, there seems to be a large emphasis on how special everyone is, and how everyone has a talent.  I’d rather not get into the debate of whether this generation is more pampered and coddled than the last, but I won’t lie, I did praise teacher, David McCullough Jr. when he delivered his graduation speech eloquently stating, “None of you are special”, while his message isn’t the one I’m trying to get across (rather, he wanted to drive the point home that in a world where we’re constantly told we need to be the best, it’s statistically impossible for all of us to be the best, so relax and enjoy life, do what makes you happy and stop stressing over it), the point I’m trying to make is that, although your vision may be unique and special, it takes a lot of hard work, and maybe a little talent, to bring that vision into reality.

So don’t give in to the talent myth, keep writing, keep creating, and keep working to better develop your skills.

kgbethlehem

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