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Cats and children [19 Aug 2014|10:08am]
Some of you ask for cat and children pics. I say "sure!" and then fail to provide.

Ok, here are the cats. The black one is Megaera, age 12. The fluffy one is Katja, age 4. The ginger one is Jamie, almost 1!

And here are my two wonderful girls. Littl'un is A, Big'un is K. Ages 6 and 8 respectively. Beaches represented are Camps Bay, Cape Town, and Grotto Beach, Hermanus.
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Thatching pictures [19 Aug 2014|09:30am]
I've created an album of thatching pictures. I chose the pictures of one specific part of the roof so that you can see progress. This is the bit over the main bedroom. It's the bit they did first.

First a tarp is thrown over the trees so that the heaps of old thatch which they throw down can avoid getting caught up. Then they strip the thatch. This is where they discovered that the batons (the horizontal strips of wood under the thatch) were friable and needed to be replaced. So the first two weeks of thatching were extremely noisy; the reedy part is quiet but the woody bit involves power tools and hammering. Then they start to layer on the bundles of reeds, which they sew on with a giant needle. When they get to the top, they fold over the top reeds, cover with waterproofing and then cement. The cement gets painted with white waterproofing, then the final colour (cliff brown, in our case). Later it gets a second coat.

I've also included some pictures from inside the stairwell. That's the only part of the house where you can see the thatch from inside the house. It's very odd to look up and see sky when you're inside... We simply sealed off that part of the house for two weeks.

I have many more pictures, but I think this gives you the general idea.
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Excursion day [28 Nov 2013|09:40am]
Wednesday was excursion day. I was quite disappointed, as were many others, that no excursions had been planned. Even having to pay would have been fine, but a shuttle or bus to take us somewhere would have been great. But instead we all had to make our own plans. Some begged lifts from people with cars, others hired cars, others went on walks or caught the train. The thing is that none of the fun excursions that were recommended could be reached without a car.

I went for a short walk in the morning, out to the Kiama blowhole and the lighthouse. It was pretty. The water went whoosh! Then I caught the train to Wollongong. There are two stations, the central one and the north one. I chose the central one as my online searches had suggested good shopping there and I was on a quest to buy a large plush koala. I was not impressed. If you know Goodwood and N1 city, then picture that, only with a beach, and some heavy industry on the side. Yes, there was a big shopping centre, but it didn't have much of what I wanted. I managed to find a plush platypus (which is very cute, I cannot deny) and some small other things. My main shopping for presents will have to wait for Sydney airport.

I walked all the way to the beach which my map said was very long. I wanted to take a picture of it, but you couldn't see much length while standing on it - a combination of very little breadth due to a steep drop off, and a curving coastline. There were chimney stacks and lots of smoke in the background. Not very picturesque. Wollongong does not cater for the tourist trade. This is justified as there was nothing there which encouraged me to go back. Perhaps getting off at North Wollongong might have been better. The university is there and botanical gardens, although in the opposite direction from the station as the beach. There's also a Science Centre. But who knows? I might have found it equally dull and *not* got a platypus, so I must look on the bright side.

I am starting to figure out the South Coast train line. I leave tomorrow. Silly brain, learning stuff it doesn't need. Tomorrow I leave directly after the closing ceremony, taking a 3.5 hour train ride to friends north of Sydney. I'll get there in the late evening. At 6:45 on Saturday morning (that's 9:45 Friday night in SA) a shuttle will whisk me to the airport. And thus will end my Aussie adventure.
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the birds here are weird [26 Nov 2013|09:26am]
I swear I saw parakeets in the park. And there was some bright green thing in the tree outside my window yesterday morning. On the topic of wildlife, on Sunday I and some friends walked from the venue to the hotel after nightfall. Twice something dark skittered across the pavement almost under our feet. I am assuming they were cockroaches (large ones) even though they looked too leggy to be cockroaches because ... my brain will just not go there. They were cockroaches.

I gave my talk yesterday. It went well. I ended saying that the assumption the whole thing was built on I now think is bollocks. It went down well. Only one talk has been deadly boring so far and it was a short one, so that's fine. I have heard lots of very interesting talks and met lovely people and linked up with old friends.

Tomorrow is excursion day. The conference organisers have organised no excursions, we need to find our own transport anywhere. My plan is currently to do a coast walk here at Kiama, seeing their legendary (?) Blowhole, and then catch the train through to Wollongong. Once there I'll find some info booth and make a plan. One of the recommended excursions is a treetop walk which is apparently very fine. I can't be bothered to find someone to lift me and I can't afford to hire a car, but a colleague from CT is keen and is trying to organise that, so we'll see.

It's Tuesday evening now and there's a barbeque. We do this sort of thing better, of course, but it'll do. I am drinking a $5 = R50 beer which tastes like ordinary beer to me, not beer worth R50...

I have Timtams.

I have learned the maths of juggling and how to make juggling balls out of rice and balloons.

Blogpostwriting interrupted by mad kiwis. Back soon.
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travelling again [24 Nov 2013|01:12am]
This time to Australia. I am attending and presenting at Lighthouse Delta, the 9th Southern Hemisphere Conference on Undergraduate Mathematics and Statistics Education. It's being held in Kiama, south of Sydney.

The travel was ok. 2 crying babies on the leg to Joburg, but we survived. Nice neighbour on leg to Sydney. Train to Kiama went through lovely scenery: woods and view of sea. All signs of human habitation clean and shiny and middle class. In SA that train would have passed some grotty bits, but not here!

I need to read up on Australian fauna. What sort of deer would be casually browsing near the coast in NSW?

So far I only have internet access in the hotel lobby. The conference venue supposedly has free wifi, though. Registration is this afternoon.

So far everyone is friendly.
The breakfast room overlooks a beautiful sea view.
Have run into several conference delegates so far. Am no longer peripheral participant...
The Sydney area has thunderstorms.
So far my broken shoes are holding up well. I'm taking them for a walk now. Let's hope they hold up.

I have managed to mispronounce two place names, both within minutes of arriving. Wolli Creek is Woll-eye not Woll-ee. The i in Kiama is also eye and the first a is like in jam. All together now: Kiama.

Off to explore.
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The house that Jack built [05 Mar 2013|07:49am]
[ mood | excited ]

We have a new house! You can tell this is momentous by the fact that I'm dusting off the old LJ.

We sold our old place in early Feb and transfer will go through at the end of March. We're moving in with my Mum at the end of March for 1 or 2 months until we gain ownership of the new place. It's large enough for all of us to live there without impinging on one another's space. By the time we're settled it'll have 3 bedrooms, a study, a tv room, a formal lounge, a diningroom, a storeroom/guestroom, a kitchen, a laundry room, an entrance hall and a small mudroom. The garden is quite a bit larger than our current one, plus there's a pool and a small flat/outside room. We're really excited.

The only reason we're able to afford a place this huge is because it's a bit shabby, but we're willing to work on that for the years to come and we have great hopes for the property.

Now I just want all this pesky teaching and research stuff to go away so I can focus on house stuff. We're packing all the time and moving stuff into a storage facility we've hired. In the last few days, for instance, we packed 3/4 of the kitchen and half the girls' toys. The moving lorry comes for the big stuff on 26 March.

But! time to go and teach the multivariate chain rule, so the blog returns to snooze mode.

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Days 10 and 11 of my Epic Adventure [19 Jul 2012|05:06pm]
Day 10 was the last day of the conference. There was the last plenary, the last set of talks and then the closing ceremony. Most of the closing thing was thank-yous, which took a while because so many different groups of people were involved in the running of the conference. We got the final numbers: 3616 delegates from 84 countries. There were students and school children involved as well, which apparently upped the numbers to several more thousand. The closing ceremony ended with a performance by Noreum Machi. I just looked them up online to find you a video and see they do more than what we saw. Here is a video of Noreum Machi very like the show we saw. However, that video is just under 4 minutes and our show went on and on, quite spectacular and amazing. Then a final chat with some Southern Hemisphere pals and off I went to finalise packing.

Korea was sad to see me go, so rained on me. Upside: I got to look cute with my Hello Kitty umbrella. Downside: I had to trundle my heavy suitcase and heavy backpack for miles through the rain to the alleged airport bus stop. Anyway, I found the bus stop - quite impressed with myself - and safely caught the bus. The public transport system in Seoul is excellent. If you think about visiting, be assured of that at least. Very easy, safe, reliable and not expensive.

All cars in Seoul are Hyundai or Kias.

So, the aiport is called Incheon airport. This is because it is actually in a town called Incheon, next to Seoul, not in Seoul itself. This is why it feels like you're travelling so far. I took the time and distance before to be an indicator of Seoul's size, and Seoul is indeed large, but the airport actually is far away.

After that: fairly dull. I found that my favourite Seoul coffee shop, Cafe Pascucci, has a branch at the airport, which was a great comfort to me. I found the check in counter - it was unmanned and a sig said it would be an hour before anything happened. There was no one there, etc, so I went and had a cup of coffee and came back to find a queue of 100+ poeple. sigh. I should just have parked off on the floor. Some lovely South African people in the queue with me, though, so made some new friends. The flight to Dubai was predictably dull, except I was seated next to other conference people so we had a nice time chatting about maths ed and all reading actual paper books. In Dubai airport I had coffee with my new Danish maths ed friend, hiked several miles to my boarding gate, and had a hideously boring and uncomfortable flight back to CT.

By this time it's Day 11. We took off an hour late, no explanation, no apology. Shame on Emirates!

And then after that home! My delicious girls! My bed! English everywhere! Nothing interesting to blog! I shall now fall silent until I have something to say.
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Day 9 of my Epic Adventure [14 Jul 2012|03:23pm]
Getting dull now. Yet more conferencey stuff. The group I'm helping run met for the last time today. I had to run the wrap-up as my co-chair could not attend. I made some scruffy notes which I'll have to polish and send around to the relevant people. Apparently there's some sort of report we need to write, but I don't know the details. So! All my stressful stuff is done. I'm very tired, though. Let's see. Today I attended some talks, did a wrap-up, attended some more talks, bought a jigsaw puzzle of a map of Korea.

Every day there has been a "happy hour" where they hand out little boxes of a roll and some juice, there's beer and there's entertainment. The entertainment has mostly been (amateur, I think) musicians. Tonight there was an excellent clarinet player and the Daejeon Queens Ocarina quartet, playing Abba, The Carpenters and Celine Dion hits on the ocarina! It was awesomely bizarre. Then there was a short video on an amazing ancient Buddhist temple in a cave, called Seokguram, 1200 years old. Very interesting.

Also today, I attended the Korean cultural exhibit. The Korean cultural something-or-other set up an area with 4 sections. The first was a place where you could make a fan, the second was a tea ceremony, the third was for watching sweet making and the fourth you could dress up in traditional dress and have your photo taken. I at last got to see the sweet making today, it was amazing! and it was so yummy, like soft nougat. I found a youtube video with a man with almost exactly the same patter as the guy I saw today. First he takes a lump of hard honey which has been fermented for 2 weeks, then he bores a hole in it to get purchase for his fingers and starts stretching and folding and stretching and folding, all the time coating the honey in corn flour. Finally he ends up with over 16000 fine hairlike strands, breaks off bits and folds them around a filling, in our case nuts and sessame seeds, I think. Watch this making of kkultarae.

Then I travelled home on the subway with a new Korean friend who was catching a later stop and got to wet my new Hello Kitty umbrella.

I've begun packing!!! My suitcase is mostly done except for pjs etc tomorrow. My carry-on is prepped but waiting for the laptop, which I'll only shut down last thing. I still have a couple of small presents I want to buy for family, but other than that I'm ready to leave.

I don't think I'll have time to blog tomorrow. When I get back from the closing ceremony I plan to finish packing and high tail it out of here straight away. I don't know how long I'll have to wait for a bus so I don't want to hang about even though I only fly late at night. Also, just getting moving at all will make me feel nearer to home.

Korea has been fascinating. I would love to come back with the family, but I don't realistically see it happening - just too far away, too long travelling, too expensive. But, who knows. It is easy to get around, there is lots of interesting stuff to see, the people are friendly. If the journey were shorter and cheaper I'd come again. Possibly wearing simpaticos.
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Days 7 and 8 of my Epic Adventure [13 Jul 2012|03:05pm]
Right, so Day 7 was yesterday. Excursion day. I was on excursion 1, a popular one. We were divided into groups of ~45 people and set off. In hindsight I see that whoever drew up the itinerary put too much in. Discussion with people in other groups afterwards reveals that all the tour guides made their own decisions about what to leave out. Ours left out the market and swore blind it was not on his list. "You must be mixing it up with another tour." Except, other groups did go, so this was not quite true. Anyway, we saw the following:

The Blue House - This is the president's residence, called blue because it has darkish blue roof tiles. Visitors go to a reception house across the road. Pretty fountain. Brass band. Pictures and video and stuff. Also, a mock-up G20 summit table with country names. I had my picture taken representing ZA.

Gyeongbokgung palace: Interesting, looked terribly Asian - that sort of concave roof with bumpy tiles. The eaves were all highly decorated. We saw part of the changing of the guard, which was interesting. Drums and music and flags and fancy outfits. Then we had a whizz through of the National Folk Museum, which is there at the palace. It was interesting, but there wasn't enough time. Flash photography was not allowed and then they've cunningly made it all so dark and mysteriously lit that non-flash photography doesn't really work.

Insadong: A region that more than anything else reminded me of the main drag in SF China Town. We had lunch there, which was Korean and not startling. Then we had time to browse the shops for a bit. I got a few small things for my Mum and some cute things for the girls.

Myeong-dong: An upmarket area stuffed full of shops. Cavendish-Squarey sort of shops, designer clothes, larny beauty products, that sort of thing. I browsed and bought a t-shirt.

The last thing should have been Namdaemun market, apparently quite a sight to behold, but we did not. We were told which direction to walk (apparently it was not terribly far) but then we'd be committed to catching the subway back as we would not get back to the bus in time. Feet, as usual, in tatters, I caught the bus and did not go to the market. I would have liked to have seen it, I was really looking forward to it. However, I don't want to miss any of the conference time, this conference is too valubale. I've already bunked about 3 hours in a few bits here and there, but I'd have to miss half a day or more to go to the market. So no market. Next time! (There is unlikely to be a next time, just too darn far from home.)

I tottered home, showered, changed, and tottered off to supper with Southern Hemisphere friends. The restaurant was great - a generous buffet with unlimited ontap beer included. They seem to like beer here. Then I tottered home again.

For the first night I had a good night's sleep. I was so tired that the incredible lightning, thunder and rain only lifted me to drowsines and then I went back to sleep. Yay! Perhaps I'll sleep again tonight? That would be fun.

Today was conferencey stuff. The day started with a plenary panel on East Asian school mathematics teaching. It was great! So informative, so slickly done, it was worth attending this conference for that talk alone, almost. So glad I went.

Then I shopped!! Having failed to find much in the way of pretty clothes on my trip yesterday, I bought some today. Wait for it ... I bought a dress! a frilly dress! Sometimes leaving one's comfort zone can be rewarding. Sometimes it can end in tears. I think this is the former, but who knows! Also, I bought 2 tops. And a tshirt for P. Now I shall stop shopping. Well, I still want a jigsaw puzzle with a map of Korea, but have not found one yet.

Then another talk, then my presentation, which went very well. Lots of discussion, much easier than chairing this darn group. More conferencey stuff, happy hour with more beer, tottering home on increasingly mangled feet. I have one large, deep blister that will be making its presence felt for some time, I think.

There is an aquarium here in the mall. It doesn't look very big from outside, but perhaps it is. Today there were school groups visiting and there were crocodiles of indescribably cute small Korean children outside. I couldn't help but smile.

Starbucks isn't actually very nice. Cafe Pascucci is better.
Only the larger clothing shops have fitting rooms. In the small ones you just hold it against you while the sales assistant says "size ok! size ok!" (she was right).
I have "jigsaw puzzle, map of Korea" written in Korean on a piece of paper, ready to wave at the non-English-speaking assistant in the jigsaw puzzle shop downstairs.

My fellow co-chair will not be there for the final session tomorrow. She will be catching her plane. So I shall have to wrap up :(. I am not happy. She is the academic heavy weight, not me. Also, I brought a small beaded elephant to give to her as a gift, but am not carrying it with me, so now cannot give it to her. I shall give it to MC instead, who has already given me a Machu Picchu keyring. So it's only fair.

I popped back into the Mathematics Carnival again today to pick up something for schedule5. That place was rocking! In Korea, you can hold a maths enjoyment exhibition and it will be full of adults and school children having a whale of a time. Maths is valued here. Highly valued. There's no "oh i'm bad at maths" attitude, everyone values it and believes hard work will make you better at it. The biggest differences I can see between the East and the West (and you can read the maths ed literature, there are big differences) are about value: valuing education, valuing mathematics, valuing teachers. You should hear how hard it is to become a maths teacher in Korea! Degree in pure maths, teaching certificate, then writing a teaching employment exam (TET) by which you compete 10:1 for positions. In the TET they are tested on hardcore maths (we're talking topology, differential geometry, complex analysis, etc, not, like, differential calculus), maths education (includes history of maths), general pedagogy (where they are expected to know the latest research), write essays, and design and give sample lessons. And then compete ten people to 1 position. Oy.

On another note, There's a doc Martens shop here. I had some fuzzy idea that Doc Martens were no longer available. Just in ZA?

MC has just got back, she's having a quick change then heading out to a salsa club. Good grief. I'm going to settle down to a nice book and putting my feet up. After I've prepped for chairing tomorrow. Almost done. Almost done.
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Day 6 of my Epic Adventure [11 Jul 2012|02:20pm]
Today there was conferencey stuff and then some more conferencey stuff. There was a plenary and a panel and then a larger panel and a talk or two. Once again I had a headache. Also, I kept almost falling asleep. I'm not getting much sleep, I can't fall asleep until well after midnight and then I'm having to wake early to catch the train, so I'm probably averaging about 4 hours a night. So I bunked some boring stuff in the late afternoon and went and had coffee and cake at a Starbucks. Gasp! I go to Korea and go to a Starbucks?! Yes, I did. It was easy and unexciting and gave me a calm space to read a book and relax. For lunch I had crunchies which I brought from home. So today was not an exciting culinary day, sorry. Tomorrow I'll be going to supper with friends, though, so that might be exciting.

Ooh, confluence, there's a kimchi museum here, downstairs from the convention centre. I'll go at some point, and if they have plushy kimchi in the museum shop I'll totes get you some.

I successfully withdrew money from a cash machine! It took a bit of doing. I got it to work after several different tries by telling it my atm card was a credit card. That worked. I was withdrawing the money because there's no conference tomorrow and instead we're going on excursions. Mine goes to < looks up > Presidential Blue House, The Royal Guard Changing Ceremony, Gyeongbok Palace, The National Folk Museum, Insadong, Myeongdong and Namdaemun Market. I plan to shop and we've been advised to take cash as souvenir shops won't necessarily accept cards. Then, after withdrawing cash meant for tomorrow, I went and visited the Mathematical Carnival, which is an exhibition cunningly planned for the same time as this conference in the hall next door. Fun!! Maths games!! Lots of them!! I had a blast and bought 2 games and a mug. The mug has a picture of Euler on it - I know, you're jealous. There were these fabulous magnetic thingummies from which you could construct polyhedra but they were far too expensive for me. Sigh.

Let me try and think of non-conference stuff for you.
Korean people eat pizza with a knife and fork.
The pavements here (at least the part I walk along to get to the subway) are wide and about 1/3 is covered with a tough green stuff which has more give than the hard slabs. Nicer to walk on.
There's no real junk food. Junk food seems to be squid+rice+veg that you eat at the mall instead of the alternative squid+rice+veg you eat at home. I'm sure there are important subtleties I'm missing, but basically: no junk food. (Okay, there's burger king and a pizza place, but that's all, out of 100 food places in this mall and they're not that popular.)
They like cute stuff. A lot!
They mostly are cute themselves. Until they suddenly turn craggy at age ?? 60?
They are very polite and thoughtful in many ways, but then surprisingly are not: they don't hold swing doors for the person behind them. This strikes me as bizarre. To hold the door 1 second longer so it doesn't hit the person behind you in the face is second nature to me and I have the expectation that other people will do it - because they do in ZA. But Korean people don't. Also, there doesn't seem to be a custom of letting the old person beside you precede you through a doorway. It's each man for himself!
They all have smartphones! I know I've mentioned this, but it's quite astonishing. If you hit Korea with a massive EMP they'd have a collective heart attack. (Not advised, please don't try this and don't tell North Korea.)
I got a tourist brochure pack today (in a cute bag!) and it had brochures, booklets, postcards and a tiny microfibre cloth for wiping the screens of digital devices.
I'm eating crisps which taste plain salted but which totally smell of fish. literally. I suspect fish sauce went into the saltiness.
iphone covers (either pink or white) with sticky-out rabbit ears are popular.
There is a booth in the mall below the conference centre which sells only doggy outfits. Like maltese poodle size. Intricately made, with embroidery and stuff. Oh, and doggy accessories, bows, sparkly clips, etc.
Vending machines selling coffee are more prevalent than vending machines with cooldrink.
The ratio of shops selling digital stuff to shops selling food is about 1:3. By that I mean there are *a lot* of shops selling phones and phone stuff. A lot. On the short passage between the entrance to the university subway station and the ticket booths, there are about 5 or 6 food shops and there are 2 phone-etc shops.
They drive on the right and, if you stand still on the escalators, you stand on the right.
So many cute dresses and blouses in the shops! But so expensive :( I'm hoping I'll have more luck at the market tomorrow. If not, I might succumb and buy one of the expensive blouses in the mall. Of course, Korean women are all several sizes smaller (skinnier) than I am. I might not find anything to fit me.
Korean school teachers can take sabbatical - it's a standard thing. (Don't you dare move to Korea schedule5!)
The Korean houses near the university (perhaps in general?) are 2 or 3 or 4 storeys high, separated from the house next door by <1m, perhaps not at all. Roof flat, possibly crennelated, with garden on top. Sometimes potplants on windowsills or around front door.

Hmm, can't think of anything else right now. Enjoy!
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Days 4 and 5 of my Epic Adventure [10 Jul 2012|12:57pm]
Yesterday, Monday, was the first full day of the conference. There was an opening ceremony which was quite something. First of all, you need the setting, which is a very large room, with a very high roof, a stage, a large (6mx6m?) screen on either side of the stage. Then, halfway down the room (because by that point the speaker is a smudge in the distance), there were another two large screens for the benefit of the back half of the room.

We started with 12 women in zooty outfits playing the o-go-mu, the 5 drum dance. Here is a youtube video of what it sort of looked like: Ogomu. Very impressive. I was in the second row of this huge room, so close to the action. I forget the order of the speeches which followed, but the drumming was followed by:
a speech by the president of the ICMI (International Commission for Mathematics Instruction)
a speech by the obviously Very Important Person boss of the conference
a speech by the Mayor of Seoul
a speech by the Minister of Education, Science and Tecnology
and a recorded welcoming speech by the President of South Korea.


You hear what I've been saying about big pond? Forget pond, this is an ocean.

The president of S.Korea is very passionate about maths. Apparently he tried to get this conference in Seoul back when he was a mere Mayor of Seoul. He is delighted that it has finally happened, maths is the engine of civilisation, etc. He got quite poetical. He looked quite sweet. He's probably as scary as hell in real life.

Then there were the awards. A whole major thing was made out of this, 4 big time awards were given out: two for "conistent and outstanding lifetime achievement" and 2 for "developing a theoretcially well-conceived and highly coherent research programme which has had a significant impact on the community". I know one of the lifetime achievement winners. I have yet to have my five minutes of NETWORKING with him, though, as there are about 50 million people here and I've only occasionally seen him in the distance. I must, though. My university needs to get its money's worth out of this trip. Each awardee had their praises sung (not literally, although if the organisers had thought of it ...), were presented with medals, certificates and flowers by the Minister of Education, Science and Technology and had their pictures taken by all of Korea's major and minor news outlets. I swear there were 50 photographers at this shindig. Small cameras, big ones, still and moving, on tripods and not, right up to the two huge, probably tv, cameras on platforms at the back of the hall. And if I'd got up and walked across in front of these almost-crown-wearing dignataries, it would have been damn rude. But do it with a camera in your hand, looking official, and it's fine. Like Johnny, of Johnny and the Dead fame, who says you can get in anywhere if you simply say you're doing it for a school project.

Finally, the ceremony ended with four songs, sung by four terribly cute young Korean men in tuxedos. The first was a jolly Christian number (?!), the second a passionate rendition of My Way, the third an equally passionate rendition of O Sole Mio, and the fourth a perky Korean number which was apparently a modern remix of a beloved classic. Altogether it was moderately overwhelming.

After that there was a dull pleanary and then lunch. I adventurously went to a place with not forks (!) only chopsticks (!) and had a spicy pork thing on rice. It was accompanied by strange things, but none of them seemed to have eyes, so that was a relief. (Sorry, I'm a recoverer from Korean-food-induced-anxiety, be patient.) Then there was a choice of talks during the afternoon and then more free beer. Then I went home.

Today there was a really great plenary, in which I learned that the first of this series of conferences (1982? not sure) had as the invited speakers Georg Polya and Jean Piaget. OMG. There's my thesis right there. You know, I'm not sure I'd come to one of these conferences again because they're really stupidly big, but the density of big names is amazing. I had to choose this afternoon between four or five major speakers. It's a very rich conference in that sense, and that is what would bring me back.

Anyway, after the plenary was the bit I was dreading, chairing a specialised group. It was ... okay. Not a disaster, but pretty dull. We had 3 speakers instead of the expected 2 because one appeared out of the woodwork when we thought she'd withdrawn. That was ok, I suppose. Then I had to encourage discussion and the people just would not talk. Blood from a stone. The 2 from Ireland spoke, the one from Germany and a Canadian dude at the front. Oh and 1 Korean person joined in for a bit. The rest of the room (25 people?) sat in silence. 1 dropped off to sleep. It was not so great. Tomorrow in our session we have a panel. I just need to be there and ask at least one intelligent question. I'm sure I'm up to that.

I had lunch with my fellow co-chair! This is extremely exciting. She's a VIP and a really nice one too. I did not fall at her feet and lick her shoes, nor did I cry, nor did I tell her I was not worthy. Instead I did my best to sound capable and intelligent and hope like hell I pulled it off. And! I paid for lunch. Lunch was a seafood buffet where I even ate stuff I could not identify. One roll had gelatinous small spheres inside it, which I'll try not to think about too much.

Then I did that choosing between fabulous speakers thing mentioned above, chose a good one, was one of the two thirds who got a seat, the rest sat on the floor. Then I attended an excruciating talk. Countries could apply to do a national presentation, where their general maths educational system, curriculum, etc. would be explained. There were 5 (Spain, India, USA, Singapore, Korea) and I went to USA. I know a fair bit about US curricula, know they're undergoing some radical changes in their maths Standards right now, and want to keep up. The content was interesting, but oh the delivery. Oh boy. 90 minutes of reading from pieces of paper while my headache got worse and worse. I learned interesting stuff. Sigh.

Then I admitted that my pounding headache was only getting worse and left early (not mising anything vital). I'm getting some serious exercise this week. Perhaps all this walking to and from public transport is what keeps these Korean people so slim. They're an attractive bunch, in general. I've seen a few sour faced old ladies, I think every culture has them, but on the whole they're really lovely people to look at. And the toddlers! Korean toddlers are indescribably cute. I can see why you wanted one, bumpycat!

Oh, there's a Totoro shop here. Full of very cute and expensive things which presumably have a totoro theme of which I am ignorant. If you are one of my friends who likes that sort of thing, let me know and I'll browse and tell you prices. I saw small fluffy toys for >R200 and keyrings for >R100 and wandered out again, but you may draw the line in a different place.

This is a very long post, isn't it? Pity I don't know how to do that "behind the cut" thing. Sorry for swamping your friends page. Soon I'll be back in ZA and this blog will return to its usual state.
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Day 3 of my Epic Adventure [08 Jul 2012|02:13pm]
Today the only conference things were registration (starting at 12) and the Welcome Reception at 6. I slept late! Yay! Till 10a.m. Then I got up and braved the subway system. The entrance to the subway is as far from the dorms as the bus stop is, just to keep we students fit, I suppose.

There is very little English anywhere around, but, where necessary, the bare minimum has been nicely calculated. In the case of the subway there are the actual Roman numerals (I needed line 2), with accompanying Korean text and meaningful arrows to follow. Then there is a sign next to the ticket machine (identified as such by carefully watching Real Korean People purchasing tickets) with the steps in English on how to buy a ticket. First step is 'press the button which says English'. My stress levels were high, but the signage was good and I had a map with station names and numbers so it all worked out fine.

The instructions I had were basically "get off the subway at the Samseong stop and COEX is right there" (COEX is where the conference is). Well, yes, but the instructions failed to say that COEX is enormous and the subway drops you at one insignificant corner where there are shops and nothing else. What you have to do is enter the mall at that insignificant entrance, walk past about a million shops, go up some escalators, up some more, round an unmarked corner and, now that you're getting warm, they've posted some signs to help you the rest of the way. Well, the conference is for maths education, I suppose we don't want anyone here who is lousy at solving puzzles, has no staying power, etc. Basically, finding the registration desk once I'd arrived at the conference centre was much harder than navigating the subway system.

This place is a huge shopping mall, topped with an enormous convention and conference centre. Picture Canal Walk (only with many more food places and lots of sparkly hair accessories shops) and on top of that the CTICC scaled up by a factor of 5. It has free wifi, though. Which neither CW not CTICC has...

I am wearing my summer shoes, to which my feet have become unaccustomed. It is very hot here. My feet are in tatters. Which is a shame as I'd love to go out in the cooler evening and see interesting stuff, but I need to give shoes a rest for a few hours.

The Welcome Reception was held in a huge hall. You're going to have to get used to me using the word "huge" a lot. I should alternate ... The Welcome Reception was held in a very large hall. The hall was filled with lots of tables with snacks to eat and no chairs at all. The only drink was beer. I didn't actually notice as I saw beer and took one, but apparently there was nothing else, not even water. What's up with that, Korean people? bumpycat does Y drink nothing but beer?

The reception food was tasty and unalarming. Perhaps they've heard that my previous encounters with Korean food were scary and they're trying to lull me... Earlier I had lunch at an Italian restaurant. Cowardly, I know. I ordered the fish of the day. I like fish and it won't be scary, but it will still be exotic, because it'll be Korean fish! Strange and alien and foreign, yes? It was salmon. Oh well, I'll try again elsewhere. (It was very nice salmon! just not exotic.)

I have a new camera! It is pink. I have taken a photo of the ice sculpture of the conference name and two of the very large hall.

I met up with some Southern Hemisphere friends (ZA, Aus, NZ) and then we were thrown out. Only, the Korean gent who went to the microphone and said "thanks so much for coming. good night!" might have been too polite, as many poeple were refusing to get the hint and were continuing to chat and consume Korean beer. I left, though, and took my tattered feet home through the subway system.

The people here are friendly and approachable. Some speak no English at all, but some very good English. I have yet to ask for help anywhere and not get it. I can say Thank You in Korean so far. I should probably learn some more...
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Days 1 and 2 of my Epic Adventure [07 Jul 2012|02:49pm]
Day 1: Friday
I finished packing for myself and the girls, foegetting all sorts of stuff, like the camera with which to take photos of Korea. I'm thinking Korea itself might be one of the cheaper places to actually buy a camera, though, so I'll look into that.

The girls and I went over to my mum's and then through to the airport much too early so that they'd have time to have a snack with me before my mum took the girls off to see Noddy.

The trip to Dubai was a pain. 9.5 hours of sheet boredom. The companion to my right was a sweet German boy who was heading home after spending his gap year working at a facility for disabled children outside Hermanus. Isn't that sweet? My companion to my left I know nothing about except his atrocious elbow etiquette. I was ready to thump him by the time we landed. It was very boring. I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It was good.

Dubai airport is big. And very busy. 3 a.m. (and 32 degrees C) and planes were leaving in 5 minute increments. And several at a time. Apparently Dubai is a good place to shop. The next leg of the trip there were many Dubai airport shopping bags on the plane. I did not shop. I didn't have much time to get from the one gate to the other one, half the Arabian peninsula away.

Day 2: Saturday
The Dubai to Seoul part of the trip was better because it was only 8 hours, I dozed fitfully for half of it, and it had a much larnier tv system than the first plane (which had set channels like a tv) and one could choose what to watch and start it going. I watched a documentary of the Arabian seas and one on Susan Boyle and then 3 episodes of csi. Also, being a larny plane, it had first and business class upstairs, so peasants like me could sit near the front, which I did. 3 rows from the front! Quite exciting. I caught glimpses of the cockpit. I was in an aisle seat with two Asian gentlemen to my left who mostly just snoozed. quite peaceful.

Did you know, on flights somehow associated with Korea you get offered kimchi with every meal? Even breakfast?

Seoul airport is huge. HUGE! HUUUGE! We got off the plane, walked down a corridor or two, went through quarantine, went down some escalators and then took a train to passport control (queuequeuequeue) and baggage collection. And! The area with the baggage collection carousels is so large that you find out which carousel you want after leaving passport control and then choose your route according to your carousel. You wouldn't want to choose the wrong escalator and end up kilometres from your baggage!

Anyway, I caught the bus with ease, something I was rather worried about. The trip took 90 minutes from airport to university. Kind of like picking up someone from CT airport and taking them to Gordon's Bay. I have had fully impressed upon me that this is a big city. This is not a surprise, but still notable. There are far too many buildings called Trump World. I counted at least 3 and 2 of those 3 were twin towers. What's the deal with Trump and Seoul? Koreans like to paint their bridges. and it seems a damp sort of city with lots of bridges over waterways. They like green and blue and orange and salmon pink.

The hardest part of the whole trip was finding the university dorms once the bus dropped us off (there were a few of us conference types in the bus together). Turns out the campus is also huge, and the dorms were at the opposite corner, and there are no direct paths, and there is a lake that looks big on the map but actually lurks and hides. But I made it. I'm sharing the room with a nice Peruvian lady whose English is quite possibly as good as my Spanish (!). We mostly communicate with signs and smiles and the occasional overlapping word. Apparently takkies in Peru are called "simpaticos". She wants to buy her teenage son some here as they are cheapcheap, I understand. Perhaps cameras are too.

She (henceforth MC) got here from the airport by subway, not bus, so she has already braved the subway system, which we need to do tomorrow to get to the conference centre. Registration is only lunchtime/afternoon with a welcome function in the evening, but we'll head out tomorrow morning earlier and scout things out.

Counting from CT departure to CT arrival, this is an 11 day adventure. 2 down. 9 to go.

Flying away from my children was horrible. It reminded me most of walking away from K that first day I left her at Educare. Walking away I got a headache and stomach cramps. This time I didn't get stomach cramps but it felt very wrong.
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Rabenmutter [28 Jun 2012|09:47pm]
I am embracing the identity of the Rabenmutter. Thanks to xavierxalfonso for introducing me to the term. A Rabenmutter (raven mother) is an uncaring mother who abandons her babies to pursue a career. The internet informs me earnestly, however, that (bird) mother ravens are actually caring mothers, so it's all a bit silly. There's some nice artwork out there:
There's this one and also this one.

There's even a t-shirt!

Thanks for the input on my previous post. It was a lively discussion which provided me with much food for thought.
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[27 Jun 2012|10:20am]
So, I have something I want to talk about which is too long for Twitter. Hence blog.

When we had children, being working parents we had to choose between daycare or nanny. For us, daycare was the obvious first choice, nanny the much less desirable second choice. The reasons seemed obvious and still do to me. There are other children with whom to play, there is a caregiver who is trained in childcare and childhood development, there is a team of caregivers to relieve one another and share the load, there's a team of caregivers in case there's an emergency and more than one adult is needed to sort things out. The advantages of a nanny were apparent, but clearly much less than those of daycare.

Now, my workplace has a daycare facility, the baby class only takes 8 at a time so it's hard to get in. We were extremely lucky to get in. If we hadn't, though, there were a couple of other places next on my list. I'd have looked hard for a suitable daycare before giving up and choosing the far less desirable option of a nanny. Yet, if the advantages of daycare over nanny are so obvious, why is no one else going that way? Why is every other family with small children in my social circle choosing a nanny? (or a stay-at-home (grand)parent) Perhaps they are looking for daycares and not finding a suitable one and settling for a nanny, but I don't think that's the case.

It makes me doubt my choices. The advantages are clear, yet then others would see them too, but others are choosing nannies, so the advantages are not clear, perhaps they don't exist, perhaps I made the wrong choice, but the advantages are clear, etc... rinse and repeat.

A friend has recently organised a nanny for her second child, which is what has brought this panic attack on. Now, my bewilderment at this decision is silly as they had a stay-at-home parent for their first child, so the choice has not actually changed, but somehow it has just highlighted how our choice of daycare over stay-at-home (grand)parent/nanny is so unique in our crowd.

So the first thing is my confusion and bewilderment. I don't get it. I don't get how having a nanny is desirable over a daycare. I just don't get it. Yet everyone else is choosing it ... so I must be wrong?

Yes, yes, every family makes the choices which work best for them, I know that, my rational mind is fine with that, the guilt and brooding at midnight about which specific ways I'm screwing up my children's lives has little to do with rationality.

The second thing is the imbablance between how we manage our family time and how others do. Sometimes it's hard to cope. It's school holidays or a child is sick, but we both have to work, or there's some function on and the children can't come, or some or other reason why we need to someone to look after the children. That's fine if you're in a network like that, because I'll look after your children and one day you'll look after mine and we'll look after one another. When you have a nanny and I don't, then there's imbalance. Your need for someone else to look after your child is restricted to weekends or evenings, other than that you have no need of a support network of other parents. I still need that network as I don't have a nanny (for good reasons, that others don't see, so they must be bad reasons, but they're good reasons, etc... round and round we go).

Now, this particular friend has always had more of a support network than I have because of a superhumanly supportive grandmother. (My mum is great, don't get me wrong, but she could not have the girls over so much or she'd collapse of exhaustion.) So, once again, this acquisition of a nanny has not changed the imbalance, that imbalance was always there, but .. it's just more pronounced now. Now if I have an emergency and ask her to take the girls on a weekday, the nanny's there to sort it out. I don't have a nanny, I can't offer the same. Imbalance. Beholdenness. Parasite. Sponger.

Fact: We haven't had a nanny. we're not going to get a nanny.
Fact: All my children's friends have nannies. All my friends with children have nannies.
Fact: I end up feeling like a parasite when their nanny has to look after my children and I need to stop putting myself and my children in that position.

Also, I can't find my phone.
Also, K has a persistent stomach ache and intermittent headaches. Yay! Hello 2009!
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[01 Jan 2012|07:05pm]
A selection of pics from our New Zealand trip:
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[05 Dec 2011|04:05am]
We went to the Weta Cave!! For those for whom that is meaningless, Weta is the company which has done the special effects (material and digital) for The Lord of the Rings, District 9, Narnia, Avatar and most recently Tintin. They are also involved or solely responsible for Jane and the Dragon and The Wotwots. Also a bunch of other stuff. Anyway! They have a shop called the Weta Cave, which is quite small but delicious all the same. They sell a lot of high-end collectibles which are so wonderful, but so expensive. We browsed a bit and drooled a lot (well, I did) and eventually left with two bags of the cheaper stuff. There was a small play area, basically a play pen, which A particularly enjoyed. She laid claim to the sequined cloaks and only left after draping them carefully over the edge and saying "they'll wait for me to come back". A good omen!

Afterwards we went for lunch at a cafe overlooking Scorching Bay. The weather was damp, but the sea in the rain is just as beautiful as the sea in sunshine. I have had fish and chips with three different fish here: snapper, hoki and groper. All delicious - the hoki was the nicest.

Now we're back at home again. K, A and P put together a magnificent train track* while I gloated over our purchases. Tomorrow: Christchurch for me for the day while P and the girls entertain themselves. Wednesday, our last day, we'll spend in Wellington**, partly with me visiting the Victoria University and partly with me joining the rest of the family for Wellington fun :). Thursday we fly home - a 26 hour trip.

*I can hear the girls playing with the track right now. The game involves trains, superman and the fat controller (from Thomas the Tank Engine), also chortling.

**We are staying in Lower Hutt, outside Wellington. You'll probably find me conflating them some of the time, simply because most people have an idea where Wellington is but not Lower Hutt.
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[04 Dec 2011|09:32am]
What did we do on Saturday? Lazed about for the morning and went to a local beach and playground in the afternoon. It was all in all a lazy day. It was nice to relax after the confusion of the conference and after the constrained habitat of a hotel room. Our girls and the two boys we are staying with seem to get along fine. K is the oldest, J1 the next, A next and J2 the youngest. J2 has taken a serious shine to my K.

Today we met with U, an old friend from Cape Town and it was really great to see her again. Later we, J1 and J1's dad went through to Wellington by train and visited the Te Papa museum. Giant squid! (Sorry, first_fallen, the plushy squid were cheaper than at the Auckland acquarium but still too $$. I checked.) It's a great museum for children, the curators have really thought about it and there are wonderful activities. Wait till you see my pics of the girls crawling around inside a to-scale Blue Whale's heart! A, of course, lost all use of her otherwise perfectly functional legs and had to be hauled about on a parent's hip or in J1's stroller. Show her a jungle gym and she's a duracell bunny. Oy.

I think my K needs some affirmation that she's the eldest, she seems to be going through a bit of a crisis. So I'm going to go off with her and buy some jewellery for us both, something special for us Big Girls.

Tomorrow, the primary focus of this entire trip. Forget the conference, we're off to the Weta Cave. The girls are supposed to be asleep, but are trying to kill one another. Excuse me while I go and sort it out ...
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[02 Dec 2011|11:27pm]
The conference (The 8th Delta conference on the teaching and learning of undergraduate maths and stats) began on Sunday evening, so we spent the morning down at the "waterfront" while the girls played on a jungle gym, went on a carousel, ate ice cream, etc.

So, Rotorua, it's a weird place. The area is only slightly threateningly volcanic, with steaming water coming out of the ground all over the place and hot bubbling mud pools. Also sulphur flats. And a pong which overlies the entire town and was particularly strong around our hotel and, indeed, in our hotel room. The town itself is slightly seedy. All in all a very odd place, but certainly different from anywhere else I know and possibly you too! There are places one can go to see quite spectacular muddy geysers and multicoloured pools and thermal areas but they all cost $$$. So, we went to Waikite (why-KEE-tay) which was cheaper and not so muddy, but still very alien and interesting. Waikite is south of Rotorua and is a system of pools in which you can bathe after the water has been cooled to ~30C after gushing out of the ground at 98C. There is a walk one can take alongside the stream to the source, where you can sometimes make out the frothing geyser through the clouds of scaulding steam. Bizarre. So we swam in a swimming pool filled with, effectively, hot bath water. Fun :). And then we had fish and chips.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though, as the Waikite visit was on Wednesday. So, from my point of view the week went like this:
Sunday: fun at the waterfront, which is the edge of a warm lake (we could see clouds of steam rising off it in the mornings from our hotel room), then register for the conference, attend the welcome function and schmooze with delegates. The welcoming function involved lots of people in Maori dress shouting at us and being terribly aggressive until our representative managed to placate them and show we came in peace. I'm going to have to ponder this whole Maori thing as it's, to me, an odd mixture of culture taken very seriously and culture used as ever-so-ethnic pantomime.
Monday: lots of conferencing, evening drinks function
Tuesday: lots of conferencing, evening drinks function
Wednesday: Waikite and lots of happy shopping
Thursday: lots of conferencing, including both of my talks which seemed to go well.
Friday: half a day of conferencing and then hopping in the car at lunchtime to head down to Wellington.
From P's point of view, he's seen all the jungle gyms Rotorua has to offer (pretty fine examples of the genre, actually), including the ones in the volcanic park which also entertains passersby with bubbling hot mud pools. They took photos for me as I couldn't see them and one shouldn't come to Rotorua and not see bloopy mud.
On Thursday night we organised a baby sitter through the hotel so P and I could get to the conference dinner. More Maori being impressive, also mathematical origami. The baby sitter was about 110 years old and hard of hearing. K handled the experience ok and went to sleep easily. A put up a psychological fight and eventually went to sleep, apparently, standing next to the bed with her head drooping down onto the bed. She also told the baby sitter, quite emphatically, that she didn't like her. Ah well. No one was injured or kidnapped by ninjas, so all's well.

Friday afternoon was spent driving down to Lower Hutt (town outside Wellington) where we have good friends. right now is Saturday morning. The friends are off at gym while my girls spread the boys' toys all over the floor, P attempts to put more air in our air mattress and I catch up with the internet. Right! up to date.

Activities to come over the next few days, not necesarily in this order: visiting Wellington a few times, shopping, going to the Weta cave (!!!!), visiting the museum, shopping, meeting with our friend Ute (Maarten replied to emails months ago, but not to more recent ones, so probably no Maarten), oh yes and earning my grant money by schmoozing with Wellington academics and flying down (just me) to Christchurch for a day.

Thr bank has stopped answering my emails. It's been nover a week since we've heard from them. We have been told that it shoud be fine to simply avoid putting in a pin and sign for the credit card instead, but, with only one try left on my card before it gets blocked, we're reluctant to try. We're saving that for paying for the car hire when we drop it off as that will be ~R7000 and tricky to do with cash. Until then we continue to use the ATMs at exorbitant charges.
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[02 Dec 2011|10:56pm]
Right, right, this blogging lark. So, on the Friday after I last posted we went to Auckland Zoo. It's a really nice zoo. We saw a red panda very briefly, but not for long enough to get a photo. We saw a real kiwi (!) in a darkened habitat. It was larger than I expected. We also saw wallabies and emus. There are a surprising number of African animals there: zebra, lions, elephants, giraffe, meerkats. The meerkat enclosure is quite fun as they (the human curators, not the meerkats) have made burrows underneath which humans can scurry through, even adults if they bend over a lot. I'm not remembering all the animals we saw, but I'll dig out the photos later and stick some up. Unfortunately by the time we got around to the area where the tuatara was we'd been there a long time and we were all tired, also it was starting to drizzle. So, no tuatara for me, which was disappointing. I'll just have to come back! K had a lovely time, but A acted like we were trying to extract a kidney the entire time, moaning and wailing and insisting we carry her. Little drama queen.

We watch the Wotwots, which is partly filmed at the Auckland zoo, and it was really obvious. All those lovely little bendy pathways with hedges on either side, very Wotwots.

In the afternoon we drove over to Devonport, which is a lovely little town across a body of water from Auckland proper. A very sweet little (wealthy) English country village sort of place. K was particularly taken with it and wanted to move there.

On Saturday we drove down to Rotorua via the Waitomo glowworm caves. The caves are fairly impressive, as caves are, just by themselves (similar organ thingummy to at the Cango Caves) but they also have these glowworms which live there, sticking to the tops of the caves and dangling gelatinous strings of goo a few inches long. You can only see the stringy goo if you look at them sideways, which we did manage where the walkway passed alongside a low overhang. Mostly you just see the glowing patches on the ceiling when the lights are turned off. Then, the guide took us on a boatride, in the caves, in the dark, while these glowworms gleamed overhead. It was quite otherwordly.

We arrived in Rotorua in the evening and settled into our very small and dull hotel room which pretends to sleep four people but provides unpacking space for one and glasses and mugs for two. After our stay in Auckland City Oaks, which is an "apartment hotel", the shift to a hotel room with no space and no potential for self catering was a bit of a shock. However! we had planned for this by bringing plastic bowls and cutlery from ZA. So it wasn't too bad. Next; the conference.
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