28 November, 2011



The cure for printer pain

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 09:00 AM PST

This sponsored message is brought to you by Epson.

Choosing the right printer is just like choosing a business partner. As smart entrepreneurs know, the right partner makes you (and your business) look good, pitching in where needed, never leaving you high and dry at 2 a.m. when you’re finishing up an important presentation, and always performing at maximum potential.

The Epson WorkForce® Pro printer is a lot like a good partner.

It’s the world’s fastest two-sided inkjet printer and it's reliable. (Which you’ll appreciate when you’re printing those slide decks in the wee hours of the morning.) Thanks to a large ink and paper capacity, the Epson WorkForce® Pro requires less printer downtime to add paper and ink than competitive models. Even two-sided printing is practical and pain-free!

The Epson WorkForce® Pro is built to perform — with technology that allows the ink to dry instantly, creating smudge, fade, and water-resistant prints that are half the price per page for color printing versus laser (not to mention the savings on paper). Better printer efficiency and value means more money in your pocket — and a nicer pocket, too. That’s why it’s one of the easiest and smartest business decisions you’ll ever make, allowing you to run your business at full speed.

Filed under: VentureBeat

Galaxy Nexus volume bug fixed with custom Android ROM

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 08:40 AM PST

Galaxy NexusThe anticipated Samsung Galaxy Nexus still isn’t available in the U.S., but the phone’s U.K. owners have been troubled by a volume fluctuation bug since its release. Thankfully, a fix has now been found — if you’re willing to install a custom ROM.

The volume bug, which has been closely documented by The Verge, is contained inside the Android Ice Cream Sandwich software and is not a hardware problem. Google says it is working on issuing a fix for the bug, but MoDaCo has released a custom ROM of the phone first that solves the issue. We would recommend that you actually know what you’re doing if you decide to install the hack, as tampering with standard software can mess up your phone permanently.

The Galaxy Nexus will be released in the U.S. in December. It was released in the U.K. on Nov. 17 and will reportedly launch in Canada on Dec. 8. Verizon Wireless ran an ad for the Galaxy Nexus during Thanksgiving weekend that said the phone would retail for $199.99, but no date was mentioned. We suspect Verizon, Samsung and Google are trying to get the volume bug fixed before releasing the phone in the U.S., which is a much larger market than the U.K.

U.S. users are so excited for the device because the Galaxy Nexus is top of the line for Android in almost all categories. On top of being the first Android phone with beautiful Ice Cream Sandwich software, it has a massive 4.65-inch screen with 1280-by-720 resolution that is capable of 720p HD video playback and Verizon's blazing 4G LTE data speeds. It also includes a 1.2-GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video capture and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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HTC hoping to spark consumer interest with new phones in 2012

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 08:37 AM PST

HTC hopes to renew consumer interest with its new line of smartphones in early 2012, despite the company’s poor performance in the global smartphone market this year, reports Reuters.

Future HTC phones will likely focus on LTE technology and run Android Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of the mobile operating system.

In the past few years, HTC saw double-digit growth rate from a number of different phone models, including the Desire, Sensation and Wildfire. However, the company cut its revenue forecast for the fourth quarter 2011 to zero — causing investors to question the company’s long-term future as a smartphone leader.

While growth might be down, it does make sense that HTC will produce new devices starting early next year. With Apple’s iPhone 4S booming in sales and Samsung getting ready to launch its Galaxy Nexus (Google phone) in the U.S., HTC will need something new that can compete at the top.

The company signed deals with Beat Electronics — the audio company started by hip-hop producer Dr. Dre — to help drum up interest in its products. The deal will include Beats audio into smartphones and tablets. Yet, HTC will need to much better than audio partnerships to compete on the same level as Apple and Samsung again.

Even if HTC manages to produce a hit from one of its new phones in 2012, the company still faces other problems. For instance, German patent firm IPCom is attempting to halt the sale of all HTC phone in the country due to patent infringement concerns. Earlier in the month, HTC also lost in a patent dispute against Apple.

Are you planning to buy a HTC phone in the future?

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Zynga spurned by both Rovio and PopCap Games in huge takeover offers?

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 08:33 AM PST

Zynga was reportedly spurned by two companies it was trying to buy in what would have been gigantic deals in the game industry, according to a story in the New York Times.

Zynga reportedly offered $950 million in cash to purchase PopCap Games this summer, the Times reported citing two unnamed sources. Interestingly, that would have been ALL of Zynga’s cash, unless it was able, as it did later, secure a big line of credit.

But after PopCap’s founders heard about the company’s reputation related to rescinding share awards and fierce internal competition, they turned down the offer. Instead, PopCap agreed to a rival offer from Electronic Arts for $750 million in cash and stock, plus a $550 million bonus if goals were met. Seattle-based PopCap is the maker of casual hit games such as Bejeweled.

Zynga also reportedly offered $2.25 billion in cash and stock this summer to purchase Angry Birds maker Rovio, according to three unnamed sources in the story. The two offers were part of a larger story about the risks related to a talent drain for Zynga, in the event of its pending initial public offering.

Filed under: games

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Cyber Monday sales may reach $1.2B, mobile shoppers will double

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 08:12 AM PST

When it comes to e-commerce sales, Cyber Monday is still expected to be the reigning champion among made-up shopping holidays.

Cyber Monday sales may reach $1.2 billion this year, reports the LA Times, up from over $1 billion last year. 122 million Americans are expected to take part in Cyber Monday deals, and the amount of consumers using their smartphones to shop is expected to double, according to a recent survey by BigResearch.

In comparison, Black Friday sales this year were $816 million (up 26 percent from a year ago), according to ComScore.

Not surprisingly, the rise of Cyber Monday seems to follow the rise of e-commerce in general. As ComScore’s Andrew Lipsman points out, Cyber Monday was just the 12th-biggest online shopping day back in 2006, but it steadily rose throughout the years, reaching the No. 1 spot for the first time last year.

Shop.org first coined the term “Cyber Monday” in 2005 as a marketing term to explain the noticeable rise in online shopping sales the Monday after Thanksgiving. The notion was that consumers were returning to high-speed internet connections at work and following through with purchases they had in mind over the holiday weekend.

Last year, over 12.1 percent of consumers surveyed by BigResearch said they planned to shop at work, this year that number has jumped to 15.9 percent. The company recently found that 76 million Americans will likely shop online during the holiday season.

It’s worth noting just how much mobile shopping has exploded when it comes to Cyber Monday. 3.6 million consumers used their phones to shop for deals in 2009, a number which is expected to triple to 17.8 million this year. That’s double the amount of consumers who used their phones on Cyber Monday last year (7.3 million), according to BigResearch.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Zynga to add Indiana Jones to Adventure World game

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 08:00 AM PST

Starting Tuesday, Zynga will add the Indiana Jones character to its Adventure World game on Facebook.

As we noted earlier, Zynga has a distinct lack of well-known brands compared to traditional game companies such as Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard. To compensate for that, Zynga has been doing marketing deals with celebrities such as Snoop Dogg and Lady Gaga. Now it will integrate the Harrison Ford character Indiana Jones into the Adventure World game.

The new integration will feature a chapter in the game entitled Indiana Jones and the Calendar of the Sun. The chapter is a collaboration of Lucasfilm, which owns the rights to Indy, and Zynga. Jones will be woven into the Adventure World story as a character, and the game’s new name will be Indiana Jones Adventure World.

This kind of tactic will help the new medium of social games get more traction with users. The company said previously that it would add the Indian Jones character to Adventure World in October. It is a little late with finishing up. The new chapter will be available in 13 languages. Players will have three different kinds of Indy outfits to wear and will get Indy gadgets in upcoming maps such as an Indiana Jones tent, snake bait, greased push blocks and a bear trap.

If games like Adventure World take off, then Zynga will have a better chance at pulling off an initial public offering. Zynga filed for an IPO in June and is expected to go public any day now. But Zynga’s total user count has slipped to 215 million monthly active users. So it's time to call in Indiana Jones to the rescue.

Filed under: games, social, VentureBeat

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Apple may launch new Macbook Air models in Q1 2012

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 07:45 AM PST

macbook-airApple will launch refreshed models of the popular MacBook Air laptop in the first quarter of 2012, including a new 15-inch model, according to a Digitimes report.

Hardware manufacturers are expected to debut between 30 and 50 new “ultrabook” laptop models at CES in January. Ultrabooks, like the MacBook Air, have a minimalist thin-and-light design philosophy and emphasize low power usage and strong processing abilities. If the Digitimes report is true, Apple is concerned about the new deluge of Windows-based MacBook Air competitors and wants to have the most up-to-date components for a refreshed model to better compete.

The Digitimes report says Apple has planned new MacBook Air notebooks with panel sizes of 11.6, 13.3 and 15 inches, but only cites unnamed sources from the Apple manufacturing supply chain. (Digitimes has a hit-and-miss record with Apple manufacturing news.) Apple does not currently offer a 15-inch MacBook Air, but it does offer a 15-inch MacBook Pro, so an eventual 15-inch option on the Air is a reasonable guess.

In the ultrabook realm, Asus, Acer, HP and Toshiba have already announced models, but we wouldn’t be surprised if these manufacturers debuted more machines in January at CES, the largest consumer electronics convention of the year. Digitimes suggests enterprises especially will be more interested in Windows-based ultrabooks, most likely because they will work best with legacy software. Some PC manufacturers are also expected to be waiting for next year’s Intel Ivy Bridge 22-nanometer processors before releasing models.

Are you interested in the MacBook Air or do Windows ultrabooks catch your eye more?

Filed under: mobile

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Amazon: Black Friday Kindle sales up 4X, Kindle Fire tops charts for 8 weeks

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 07:12 AM PST

We might as well call it Kindle Fire Friday. Amazon revealed today that its Black Friday sales were through the roof for its Kindle lineup, though, as usual,the company didn’t offer any specific numbers.

Amazon said that sales for its entire Kindle lineup were up four times over last year’s Black Friday amount, with the Kindle Fire tablet leading the way. Additionally, the company announced that the Kindle Fire has been its top-selling product for the past eight weeks.

Of course, the numbers aren’t very surprising since Amazon is offering a slew of cheap Kindle devices this year, not to mention the $200 Kindle Fire. Now the Kindle e-reader family starts at $79 for the most basic model, compared to last year’s $139 entry price. Early estimates suggested that Amazon could sell up to 5 million Kindle Fires this year, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if the company surpasses 10 million.

With prices being driven inexorably downward, we can expect the Kindle family’s sales to rise even further over coming years. It won’t be too long before Amazon offers a completely free Kindle, at which point no other product can hope to top Amazon’s sales charts.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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The definitive interview: The making of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Posted: 28 Nov 2011 07:00 AM PST

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is one of the best video games of the year. It is the flagship of Sony’s games on the PlayStation 3 this fall and shipped 3.8 million copies on its first day of sales on Nov. 1. We described it as one of the best but also one of the most annoying games yet in the series from Sony’s Naughty Dog studio.

Justin Richmond, game director at Naughty Dog, told us about the big decisions that the company made as it began work on the title two years ago, after the previous title Uncharted 2: Among Thieves title walked away with most of the “game of the year awards.” Once again, Uncharted 3 is going to be a strong contender for top-game status. To stay on top, the company did everything from sending its developers to the desert to experience sand storms to completely rewriting the way the game played compared to Uncharted 2.

We thought it would be good to delve into the thinking behind the game and why it turned out the way it did. Here’s our edited transcript with Richmond (pictured right).

VB: You are game director on Uncharted 3. What exactly does that mean?

JR: Amy Hennig, our creative director, handles most of the writing and the story, and I handle the game design and the actual game plan. I try to work with Amy to make sure that it works as well as possible with the story.

VB: And where in the hierarchy does that put the two of you?

JR: Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra are the co-presidents, and Amy and I report to them.

VB: Can you take me back to when you guys finished Uncharted 2? How did you feel about how that game turned out, and what did you decide to do with Uncharted 3?

JR: We were obviously all super happy with how Uncharted 2 came out. It was one of the million games where it was the right game at the right time and everybody wanted it. I think we did a great game. At its peak, it came out when the industry really wanted that style of game, and people swept it up. That was awesome. So right away we started talking about where we go from making a “game of the year” to our next game. How do we try to keep up with that? We started looking at how we make a new story that's interesting and make brand new set pieces and game play that is fresh and keeps you coming back to the game.

So we latched on right away to trying to make a brand new melee system. We wanted to make a game that had even better hand-to-hand combat than we did the game before and then, on top of that, try to make a brand new enemy who is more insidious and gets inside your head and messes with you. That is our Katherine Marlowe character. She is part of the game’s tradition of secret societies in Britain and is Drake’s main nemesis in this game. That was something different for us as well. And then on top of that trying to make sure that our set pieces at our big moment were even bigger than they were last time.

VB: So remind us what the melee system was like for Uncharted 2. What was different?

JR: In Uncharted 2, you basically can only fight one person at a time in hand-to-hand combat. It was all using the square and triangle buttons. In this game, we added a bunch of stuff. You can fight many more guys at the same time. We added other systems, like using the circle button to fight off a hold. We added different combo systems for punching and grabs ducks to make the game play even more interesting. We added a new character, called the Drew, which has a whole different system of hand-to-hand fighting than the regular guys.

VB: The melees were interesting and had a lot of variety, but I felt like I ran into some of the same fights over and over again.

JR: Other people had the same reaction, and that is certainly something we look at adjusting in the future. But I think the fights were fun. I think one of things we realized afterwards is that it is tricky to make people realize that the big guy is actually a different guy every time. I think what we could have done there is identify him as him being a classic character and using him more like a class rather than as a special set piece.

Filed under: games

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Half of all Black Friday shoppers bought electronic gadgets

Posted: 27 Nov 2011 01:58 PM PST

About half of all goods purchased over the Black Friday weekend were electronic gadgets, according to a survey by the Consumer Electronics Association and polling firm Caravan.

The survey estimate that 118 million Americans will shop Thursday through Monday and consumer electronics trailed only clothes as the most popular gifts purchased this weekend.

"Black Friday shopping has fast become a Thanksgiving weekend tradition, like football or a post-Turkey dinner nap, for millions of shoppers,” said Shawn Dubravac, chief economist and director. "The holiday shopping season got off to a strong start as many hit the stores or went online to kick-off their holiday shopping as soon as they finished Thanksgiving dessert. These bargain hunters were able to find the deals they were after."

About 48 percent of all shoppers bought or will buy consumer electronics from Thursday through Monday, the survey found. More than 60 percent of shoppers were buying clothes in the same time frame. The CEA’s annual CE Holiday Purchase Patterns study showed separately that the average consumer will spend an all-time high of $246 on electronics gifts this year, up 6 percent from last year and amounting to a third of all gift spending.

Black Friday and Saturday were the most popular days to shop during the period, though 11 percent of shoppers got out on Thanksgiving Day. The most popular electronics purchases, in order of priority, are digital cameras, video game consoles, accessories such as cables and cases, TVs, notebook computers, smartphones, MP3 players, eBook readers, and tablet computers.

Mass merchants were the most popular place to ship, with roughly 77 percent of those who had already shopped saying they shopped at a mass merchant. Department stores, electronics stores, and online retailers were also popular. About 46 percent of shoppers purchased their consumer electronics online.

Of those who shopped, 69 percent said the deals and sales were good or excellent. When it came to electronics, 61 percent said the deals were good or excellent. About 60 percent said the deals they found in stores were better than online.

"Electronics continue to be the must-have gifts of the holiday as consumers are allocating more of their overall gift budget to buy the latest, innovative technologies," said DuBravac. "Mature product categories, such as televisions, digital cameras and MP3 players, fared well this weekend as unprecedented price points proved too tempting for shoppers to ignore."

Filed under: VentureBeat

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For venture investing, will 2012 look more like 2008 than 2011? (poll)

Posted: 27 Nov 2011 01:18 PM PST

Will 2012 be a continuation of the good, bubble-like times for the venture capital industry and startups that are raising money? Or will we see a dramatic, economic-doldrums-induced slowdown like we did at the end of 2008?

Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch has raised these interesting questions in a post that recalls the R.I.P. Good Times slide deck that Sequoia Capital produced in 2008 as it was predicting disastrous times for startups and advising those startups to batten down the hatches and get ready for a long dry spell.

Schonfeld quoted Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital. Kopelman (pictured right), warned, “I think 2012 will look more like 2008 than 2011.” Kopelman and others said the froth of the last 18 months is coming to an end. The number of seed fundings is exceeding the number of Series A fundings, which could result in a crunch for companies seeking Series A fundings.

The economy looks fairly weak, unemployment is at 9 percent, and in a survey released today, about 44 percent of Silicon Valley residents feel like they are not participating in an economic recovery. The latter report comes from the Survey and Policy Research Institute, which polled 458 Silicon Valley adults from Oct. 18 to Nov. 12, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Only 35 percent of valley residents said that they felt an improvement in their own lives from an economic recovery, according to the Silicon Valley Pulse survey. What’s your own view of whether the startup fundraising environment is improving or getting worse? Please take our poll.

View This Poll
Filed under: deals

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Black Friday e-commerce sales were up 26 percent from last year

Posted: 27 Nov 2011 12:46 PM PST

Black Friday electronic commerce sales were $816 million, up 26 percent from a year ago, according to comScore.

The number underscores the relentless march of digital commerce as users prefer to surf the malls of cyberspace rather than brave crowds in physical stores. ComScore said that e-commerce sales for the first 25 days of the holiday season — Nov. 1 to Nov. 25 — were $12.7 billion in the U.S., up 15 percent from $11.1 billion a year ago. On Thanksgiving Day, sales were $479 million, up 18 percent from $407 million a year ago.

"Despite some analysts' predictions that the flurry of brick-and-mortar retailers opening their doors early for Black Friday would pull dollars from online retail, we still saw a banner day for e-commerce with more than $800 million in spending," said comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni. "With brick-and-mortar retail also reporting strong gains on Black Friday, it's clear that the heavy promotional activity had a positive impact on both channels.”

On Cyber Monday, Nov. 28, sales are expected to be the strongest for online retailers. That day is popular because it is the day when shoppers can order and be confident their packages will arrive in the mail before Christmas day. Shop.org says that eight out of ten online retailers are running special online promotions on Cyber Monday. Last year, Cyber Monday was the heaviest day of online spending ever, with sales exceeding $1 billion. ComScore expects another record this year.

Consumers flocked to sites describing Black Friday deals. Bfads.net saw 3.9 million unique visitors from Nov. 21 to Nov. 25, up 51 percent from a year ago. Theblackfriday.com saw 3.2 million visitors, up 137 percent from a year ago. Amazon saw the most traffic on Black Friday among retailers, followed by Walmart, Best Buy, Target and Apple.

[image credit: digital trends]

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Charlie Walton, inventor of RFID, passes away at 89

Posted: 27 Nov 2011 10:41 AM PST

Charlie Walton, the inventor of an ubiquitous wireless technology known as RFID, has passed away at 89.

Walton, who lived in Los Gatos, died on Nov. 6, according to his wife Ann Walton. I once wrote an article about Walton while at the San Jose Mercury News and his efforts to proselytize RFID, known in long form as radio frequency identification.

These are the chips that go into the access control devices, so you can slap a badge across a reader to open the door to an office. They are also used in car locks and on shipping pallets so that companies can track expensive goods. Every time you use one of these chips, it would be nice if, once in a while, you thought about the man who invented them.

The passing of Steve Jobs recently gave Silicon Valley its first real experience with the mortality of the technology legends that we have all grown up with. But Walton’s passing reminds us that there are inventors who have toiled away in relative obscurity. Walton pioneered the technology as a lone inventor in the 1970s and 1980s, but it came into its own in the last decade as the cost of making the tiny chips came down to a matter of pennies. Walton made a few million dollars from the invention, enough to keep him inventing technology for the rest of his days.

“I feel good about it and gratified I could make a contribution,” Walton told me in 2004.

RFID is expected to generate $6 billion in worldwide revenue in 2011, according to ABI Research. The chips are used in access control, car immobilization, electronic toll collection, electronic document identification, dog tags, asset management, baggage handling, cargo tracking, contactless payments and ticketing, and supply chain management.

The chips transmit information about a product’s location and use over short-range radio waves to a computer, where the data can be cross-checked with a database. Libraries use RFID readers to track books, and hospitals use them to track drug bottles. In 2007, Walton wrote a book about the things around us that we cannot see entitled, “The Space Before Your Face.”

Back in the 1970s, bar codes were the main competition. At 25 cents each, they were hard to beat. Walton’s first RFID cards cost $1.75, and so bar codes beat out RFID for use in scanning grocery items at supermarket checkout scanners.

RFID had been around in different forms before Walton created a radio-operated door lock, but his design became popular. With his tags, a tiny electrical current from a radio transceiver, or RFID reader, wakes up a dormant card and gives it enough power via the wireless connection itself. That power gives the card enough power to generate a response. Walton’s first patent to mention RFID was filed in 1983, but the first patent that he got on the technology (No. 3752960) was granted in August 1973. That patent was later reference by dozens of later inventions.

The invention earned Walton some recognition. He appeared on the TV quiz show “What’s My Line? And his invention was mentioned in articles about electronic locks in Business Week and Popular Science in 1973.

Like many inventors of his era, Walton grew up as a ham radio enthusiast. He was raised in Maryland and New York and studied electrical engineering at Cornell University. He went to work at IBM’s research labs in 1960. there, he studied analog and digital computing. In 1970, he struck out on his own as an inventor with his own company, Proximity Devices, in Sunnyvale, Calif.

He showed his RFID technology to the board of General Motors, but they rejected it as “too Buck Rogers.” In his career, he collected more than 50 patents. He went for a year without a salary. Finally, he got lucky licensing it to lock maker Schlage, which used it to make electronic locks that can open by waving a key card near a reader (pictured in a San Jose Mercury News photo at top).

The first RFID card key was passive. It used no battery power itself and was awakened when it came within six inches of a reader. It was bulky at first, but then it was integrated into chips and miniaturized over time. In 1980, he also got a patent for a digital version of RFID, which could change data on the cards. The low-cost led to its widespread adoption in the past decade.

After about a decade, Walton said he began to make good money from the patent royalties. I visited his home on a two-acre lot in the hills of Los Gatos. I recall he had a toy train set on a big pool-table-size board with all of the accompanying scenery. Walton rigged it to a pulley that would raise the board and keep it out of sight when it wasn’t in use. It was clearly the creation of a natural tinkerer. As we walked the grounds, Walton pointed out that he invented a better gopher trap as well.

In some ways, Walton’s RFID patents were bittersweet. His last royalty-bearing patent expired in the mid-1990s. That meant that he wasn’t able to cash in on a giant windfall as big entities such as Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense began in the past decade to require supplies to put RFID tags on millions of warehouse goods. Patents, by law, run out after 17 years. The old bar code rivals are still around, but RFID is here to stay.

There will be a memorial service for Walton on Dec. 18 at 3 pm at the Los Gatos Unitarian Fellowship.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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