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printf("goodbye, Dennis"); (economist.com)
497 points by wahooligan on Oct 21, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 105 comments

As an old dude, been around since uucp was the only way we talked to each other, was on the arpa net when we had the 11th IMP that connected people in real time, I really can't honor Dennis enough.

He was the real deal, very quiet, very passionate about what he did, he wrote, both in code and in papers, in a terse way that just got to the point.

If you have not gotten copies of the Bell Labs Technical Journals that have all the Unix papers in them, you are in for a treat. Get them. Read them. They wrote about what they did and wrote well. If all of us wrote that well the world would be a better place. I've tried. It's not easy.

When you read those you'll grow to like Brian and Ken as well. There is a lot of good there, I wouldn't hire anyone who had not read that stuff.

Bell Labs ought to be getting some loving here and we ought to be trying to bring something like that back. It was home for Dennis and Brian and Ken and Unix.

I could not agree more. I remember reading about dmr and Bell labs back in the Byte days; when Microsoft and Apple were radical and the tech world revolved around IBM.

I can't stress enough how fundamental this man, his work and Bell Labs was to our industry. These guys, they created the foundation that much of what have today is built on.

I hadn't read the Unix papers, but I just tracked down Volume 57 of the Bell System Technical Journal online.

I thought I'd share the link for anyone else interested: http://www.alcatel-lucent.com/bstj/vol57-1978/bstj-vol57-iss...

Now I just need to find the time to read it.

"All operating systems know when they were born. Their internal clocks start counting from then, so they can calculate the date and time in the future. It is unclear whether it was Mr Ritchie or Mr Thompson who set the so-called start Unix time at January 1st, 1970. That moment came to be known as the epoch. Mr Ritchie helped bring it about. And with it, he ushered in a new era."

Well said.

People who don't regularly read The Economist probably ought to. It wears its biases on its sleeve, and is the only place in the English language press to find quality, in-depth coverage of parts of the world other than the Lower East Side and the Isle of Dogs.

Let's not forget their stalwart support of war with Iraq in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion.

Well-written obits and cultural pieces are one thing. Propaganda to turn the minds of Anglo-American movers and shakers is quite another.

Absolutely. And they never cloaked it in faux-objective reportage of the sort that Judith Miller and her ilk rammed down the throats of American newspaper readers under the guise of "just the facts, ma'am" style journalism.

The Economist has repudiated its support for the war; has the Times repudiated theirs?

Exactly. I remember reading an article from an outgoing editor of The Economist. He said there was an unwritten rule: 80% fact, 20% opinion, but that opinion should be clearly stated as such.

I usually find the opinions quite easy to notice and consider apart from the facts.

[The Arab spring] was certainly not inspired by the invasion of Iraq (which this newspaper, wrongly certain that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, strongly supported). Most Arabs opposed the invasion, dismissed Iraq’s new government as a puppet and resented George Bush’s “freedom agenda”.

- September 11th 2001 - Ten years on (http://www.economist.com/node/21528258)

It's wasn't clear at the time (pre-2003) that it was going to end up as a catastrophe. Furthermore the Economist always mentions now that they supported the invasion -- they've never sought to hide the fact.

If you are not aware of the many, loud critics during the lead up to the invasion, then you need a more diverse portfolio of news sources. Scott Ritter alone, remember him? He was an actual intelligence officer and weapons inspector who spent years in Iraq, and who went on TV numerous times during the lead up, strongly arguing that an invasion would be a disaster. So yeah, it was plenty clear to many people.

Actually it was perfectly, perfectly clear, both that it would end up as a catastrophe as well as the motives for having it

At the time it was far from clear that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destructions. In fact, there was ample proof he had used those weapons previously on Kurds and American intelligence reports claimed he had more where those came from (which turned out to be false, of course, but who knew). There was no way to know that Bush would bungle the whole rebuilding phase and let Iraq slide into anarchy.

Hindsight is always 20/20. At least they owe up to the fact that they changed their opinion, I know lots of politicians who'd rather chose to rewrite history instead.

Please don't write anarchy when you mean chaos.

When the Iraqi army was dissolved there was no recognized form of government left, the very definition of anarchy. Chaos did indeed ensue.

"""At the time it was far from clear that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destructions. In fact, there was ample proof he had used those weapons previously on Kurds and American intelligence reports claimed he had more where those came from (which turned out to be false, of course, but who knew)."""

Everybody in the world knew, except American's watching FOX News and giving any basis on Bush era "intelligence reports". Weapons of mass destruction, my ass. Just an excuse to attack on the same man that was a valid us ally for decades (like in Iraq/Iran war era).

I debated the WMD topic in high school pre-Iraq war and the expert consensus was that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons. Arguing otherwise was a losing debate. It may have been obvious that invading Iraq would be disastrous, but it wasn't obvious that they didn't have WMD. The experts had little information and were misinformed.

The tone of your response to the OP is belittling and adds little to discussion of what experts knew or thought they knew. You think the Economist relied solely on Fox News and Bush intelligence when believing that Iraq had WMDs?

Which experts are you referring to? Pundits on tv? The president? The head of the CIA? The president had an agenda that he wanted to pursue since 2001. Him and his staff were selective in what information they believed. The director of the CIA unfortunately told the president what he wanted to hear. Pundits on television took them at their word.

There were people who said there was no evidence that Iraq had WMD, and they were ignored. This is not a case of "they did the best with the information they had." This is a case of "they made their conclusions first, and looked for the evidence second." Books that touch on this subject: "Plan of Attack" and "State of Denial" by Bob Woodward; "Legacy of Ashes" by Tim Weiner; "Your Government Failed You" by Richard Clarke.

"""I debated the WMD topic in high school pre-Iraq war and the expert consensus was that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons."""

What experts? Bush appointed bozos? Media pundits, the John C. Dvorak's of the political world? "Intelligence" agents? The whole WMD charge was a thin veiled excuse of invasion to take control of the petrol supply. They could care less about WMD, not to mention that it's not the US job to say what another state should or should not have those. Doesn't the US have WMD aplenty? Doesn't Russia? Doesn't half of Europe? Doesn't Israel? I don't see any invasions there.

Just think how difficult it is to get accurate and intelligent tech reporting in the US media, and then think how more difficult it would be if there is political pressure and huge economic and geo-strategical interests.

"""You think the Economist relied solely on Fox News and Bush intelligence when believing that Iraq had WMDs?"""

No, I believe that the Economist in general tries to accommodate the interests of the ruling economic elite. It's FOX News for rich, neoliberal people, and in fact it wears its biases on its sleeve.

Forget all the experts: You have a mad men who previously used WMDs on his own population, flagrantly ignored 20 UN resolutions to give them up, actually claimed he had WMDs at some point, and now all of a sudden he has given them up just like that?

You can claim that is "obvious" behavior now that we haven't been able to find them, but it really wasn't obvious back then. A lot of mistakes were made, the Economist concedes that too, but rewriting history to fit your cause really isn't helping the debate.

For Americans, perhaps. The Guardian is also excellent - I subscribe to their weekly and it's fantastic.

The Guardian is excellent, but I maintain that The Economist is the best newspaper on the planet, at least in English, even as my politics are much more consonant with The Guardian.

Disagree.The Financial Times is much better than those two, which are pretty patchy.

Yes, indeed. It is truly the smart person's news source. There's also an audio edition, where they read the entire issue word for work, which is the best way to spend a long commute. (It takes 8 hours or so.) It is free for subscribers of either the print or online editions.

And they have a very nice app for subscribers as well.

I disagree with the Economist's lack of by-lines. Also, it has more of a dogmatic free market ideology than a bias [1]. Whether you agree with that ideology or not, I think it is bad journalism.

The Economist basically puts itself on the same level of China's People's Daily nationalist newspaper. Not matter how good the writing might be, it is just propaganda of a different sort.

[1] http://www.economist.com/help/about-us#About_The_Economist

The difference being that there is a metric pants-load of evidence of the free market system producing better results in terms of individual wealth, individual liberty, life expectancy, and quality of life than other systems. You are basically saying that both the journal Nature and Astrology Today both have a heavy degree of dogmatism (one in the scientific method, the other in superstition) and that puts them on equal footing.

The difference is that Nature will change their position (as much as they have an editorial position) as new facts come to light. I was never convinced by the argument that the scientific method is like a religion when it came from creationists and I'm not any more convinced when free-market fundamentalists use it as an excuse to ignore facts. (I won't disagree with your comparison of the Economist to Astrology Today other than to say that I find the Economist to be much better written).

>there is a metric pants-load of evidence of the free market system producing better results in terms of individual wealth, individual liberty, life expectancy, and quality of life than other systems

There is also plenty of empirical evidence that free market fundamentalism has produced worse outcomes. The academic literature is full of such analysis. An example:

Stiglitz, J.E, 2004, "Capital-market Liberalization, Globalization, and the IMF", Oxf Rev Econ Policy (2004) 20 (1): 57-71. http://oxrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/1/57.abstract (PDF: http://www.relooney.info/00_New_951.pdf )

One of the most controversial aspects of globalization is capital-market liberalization—not so much the liberalization of rules governing foreign direct investment, but those affecting short-term capital flows, speculative hot capital that can come into and out of a country. In the 1980s and 1990s, the IMF and the US Treasury tried to push capital-market liberalization around the world, encountering enormous opposition, not only from developing countries, but from economists who were less enamoured of the doctrines of free and unfettered markets, of market fundamentalism, that were at that time being preached by the international economic institutions. The economic crises of the late 1990s and early years of the new millennium, which were partly, or even largely, attributable to capital-market liberalization, reinforced those reservations. This paper takes as its point of departure a recent IMF paper, to provide insights both into how the IMF could have gone so wrong in its advocacy of capital-market liberalization and into why capital-market liberalization has so often led to increased economic instability, not to economic growth.

It might be interesting to go back and look at how the Economist reported on the IMF paper discussed at the start of that article (the FT reported on it, so it seems to have had mainstream awareness). I'm not sure which is better: ignoring it completely, or reporting it but ignoring the content and continuing on with an editorial policy that contradicts the things being reported in the same paper.

Edit: I agree with JDShu below when (s)he says

There is a difference between the free market dogmatism displayed in the Economist, and the simple idea that the free market works better than planned economies. And yes, free markets fail, this is a staple idea in economics.

I'm not suggesting that the Economist should be come Marxism Today, or that they should not advocate the many positives of free markets, but that dogmatic adherence to financial deregulation is not a neutral position that is backed up by facts; it has plenty of problems, as most economists will tell you.

> dogmatic adherence to financial deregulation is not a neutral position that is backed up by facts; it has plenty of problems, as most economists will tell you.

Is that something they advocate? From actually reading it, that's not the impression I get.

Good journalism in my book attempts to report the truth objectively no matter the subject. By-lines are an important part of that. It puts the author out there so his or her biases and conflicts of interests are not protected.

The Economists shields its authors from scrutiny and lends its credibility to who knows who. How do I know if the writer of an article criticizing one industry doesn't have interests in its rival? Or is a person of one political party criticizing a political opponent? Is it "The Economist" criticizing the Democratic Party in this article or is it penned by the hand of Karl Rove?

Second and most importantly, like I said, even if you agree with free markets, it is one thing to agree with them. It is another thing to close yourself off from alternatives.

The truth is key. Remaining objective is key. If there is evidence of the free markets working, by all means report it. But don't glorify it. And if there is evidence of free markets failing, report that, too. Don't hide it. Don't apologize for it. Report the truth. Journalism isn't about believing in something. It's about reporting what happens. The Economist is about believing in free markets. Therefore it is bad journalism, but it is good propaganda. If The Economist was about objectively reporting on politics and economics and just happened to have positive articles about free markets because there really is positive evidence to report, I would forgive it. But that isn't the case, so I can't.

EDIT: I realize people are misinterpreting my criticism to be about The Economist's ideology. It is not. My criticism is that it has an ideology. That's propaganda not journalism by most commonly understood definitions of propaganda and journalism.

I don't believe that objective journalism is either possible or desirable. The best that can be done is a clear statement of bias along with well-researched and cogently argued opinion; you get this in The Guardian and The Economist, but in American journalism, you see the miserable contortions that people put themselves through to provide "objective" reporting on a world that is anything but.

In the end, you have to decide for yourself. I feel that the English papers (including the FT) give me better tools to this end than even the vaunted Times.

Indeed. In the ultimate attainment "objective" journalism is nothing more than performance art. There's nothing wrong with journalism having a perspective, so long as people are aware of it.

Open and honest journalism is achievable, objective journalism is not.

This is just completely absurd and just shows complete ignorance of economics. Among economists (yes, I am one), there are no longer debates about free markets. Krugman and DeLong, both heavy and prominent Democratic supporters, heavily support free trade. Krugman, for instance, "likened the opposition against free trade and globalization to the opposition against evolution via natural selection." [1] The current Administration's economic policy team are all free market advocates. Even Obama calls himself a "fierce" free market advocate. [2] I really can't find any economist who doesn't advocate free markets.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Krugman

[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a...

There is a difference between the free market dogmatism displayed in the Economist, and the simple idea that the free market works better than planned economies. And yes, free markets fail, this is a staple idea in economics.

That said, i agree with others that I don't think the biases in the Economist are a problem. They make their opinions very obvious.

I agree with JFB here. It's impossible to be completely objective. There is bias in everything --so it's a fool's errand to try and think one can achieve that.

As many have stated, they have their biases, but they don't hide them. I have the utmost respect for them. They don't shy away form their mistakes and readily admit to them, unlike others who try to explain their mistakes away.

Can you give me a list of these perfectly objective sources of journalism? I'd like to read them.

I can't argue that their ideological bent is pretty strong (and not one I altogether share, really) but the financial and international reporting is consistently superb. Even though I disagree with them often, I always learn something in the process.

it's not like they hide their ideology though - the paper is called the economist!

Oddly enough they and The Telegraph (the most conservative UK daily) were the only places with decent science reporting, which is an interesting difference with 'conservative' in the USA

> conservative

The Economist is very free-market, but they are not 'conservatives' in the US sense at all. I think the label that best fits them is the European meaning of "liberal". They support some sort of universal health care, gay marriage, drug legalization, science not based on the bible, and other things that send the right wing in the US into apoplectic fits.

I heartily agree with the recommendation of subscribing.

> it's not like they hide their ideology though - the paper is called the economist!

Economics as a field is in a sad state, isn't it? You basically stated outright that being an economist implies following an ideology, and nobody contradicted you.

Unless you water down the meaning of "ideology" to the point where you would call scientists' adherence to the scientific method "ideological", that's a pretty scathing indictment of the current state of economics as a science.

Just something to reflect on from time to time...

It's also amusing/scary how many U.S. 'conservatives' consider The Economist to be some sort of lefty-pinko rag.

Economist left of centre? I'd suggest you hide some other UK publications carefully unless your conservatives have heart attacks.

I am slightly bothered by the lack of a '\n'.

You're not the only one.

Think of it as an open ending, there is still much more to come.

Yes, but what better metaphor for new beginnings than a "new line"? :-)

As both programmer and journalist, I can guess what happened behind the scenes. The author probably originally put in the newline into his headline but was overruled by the editor who felt that it would have distracted too many non-technical people. You and I see the correctness of the \n but a non-programmer will just see it as strange noise or punctuation.

He allowed him the C statement but kept it simplified - a good compromise I think.

I'm more bothered by the lack of #include and abysmal function signature.

My first thought, too.

Quite surprising, though, at least as Wikipedia claims¹, this (except for the lack of "\n") was the exact "hello world" code from the first edition of K&R.


¹) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C_(programming_language)#.22Hel... and I don't have any copy of the first edition.


The code

    printf("goodbye, Dennis");
would give

    $ ./goodbye
    goodbye, Dennis$ 
What you want is to add a newline ('\n') at the end:

    printf("goodbye, Dennis\n");
Now you get

    $ ./goodbye
    goodbye, Dennis
That's why the canonical "hello, world" program contains the line

    printf("hello, world\n");

"\n" is a linebreak which would guarantee the text is printed and place whatever output came afterwards on the next line.

Isn't the output stream at least guaranteed to be flushed once on completion of the program, though?

Yes, it flushes completely outputting all characters. None of which contain a newline.

Flushing doesn't automatically add newlines for you in C. It flushes the buffers you gave it, it doesn't make new stuff up to print out along with your buffers.

(Right, I didn't mean to suggest it added a newline; just that adding a newline flushes the buffer, which was one half of the problem with missing a newline—but that if this is the only line of the program, this half of the problem is obviated.)

Adding a newline doesn't flush anything. You'd want to call fflush() to do that.

printf prints to standard output, which is line-buffered by default when reading from a tty on UNIX variants. This can lead to strange problems for those who try to use it to track which parts of a program are being executed, as demonstrated by the following program with an infinite loop:

  #include <stdio.h>
  int main(int c, char **v) {
    while(1) ;
    return 0;

Yes. You're not agreeing or disagreeing with me. Did you reply to the wrong post?

Also, using printf() for debugging? In 2011? I seriously hope you guys don't do this.

"Also, using printf() for debugging? In 2011? I seriously hope you guys don't do this."

OK, I'll bite. I haven't done any serious straight up C programming in over a decade, and yes, I used a lot of printf for debugging back then. What's the best way to debug C programs now? (I imagine printf wasn't the best way to debug programs when I was writing C, either.) A different logging library? gdb?

printf() is fine if you just want to see if something is being run (assuming, of course, you recognize the flushing caveat we're discussing).

If you're dumping printf()s all over the place to see exactly what flow your program is taking at runtime, you're better off just setting a breakpoint or two and using a debugger to quickly step through it.

Adding a newline into a line buffer (which is a user-space buffer) flushes the buffered data up to and including the newline. fflush also flushes a user space buffer. Also, the "for those" implies I'm talking about someone else, not myself.

I'm glad you said that. I thought it was just me.

I'm curious about what a world without Mr. Ritchie would look like. What were the popular alternatives to C and Unix in 1970?

There was a lot of OS research pre-unix. In some sense, unix, at least the API, killed them.

Lots of folks were working on "portable" (as in "easy to port") OSs at that time but unix won the battle on PDP-11s and the other ISAs failed to gain much traction.

My favorite was OS was Tenex, from parc (?) which later became TOPS-20. (TOPS-10 ran on the same basic hardware but was completely different.) However, it wasn't portable.

We would all be living in Windows (DOS?) hell. :)

Early in my career I was lucky to use Unix System V. I found those voluminous unix manuals so natural. I could find anything came to my mind less than a minute. Unix system was so coherent, so intuitive. I still enjoy unix prompt, shell to this day.

His book "The C Programming Language" has been the best language book I have ever read. So succinct, but so rewarding for those who studied diligently. Such a beautiful book. I always took that thin book as a standard to compare all the technical books I encountered. If it is that fat I thought there must be something wrong with either the book or the subject of it.

In a broader context:

There was this article recently about Steve Jobs. In that it said somewhere around 90 billion passed through this life and only a few could be able to find his/her voice. Many died before his full potential could even be recognized by themselves. I wonder what would world look like if those could fulfill their talent to their maturity. Because not all societies of the past allowed such liberty for many.

Actually I'm not so sure about that. There was much debate at the time (when Windows 3.11 was everywhere) whether it was a subset of UNIX.

At the very least, it was inspired by UNIX.

Where would we be? Probably all running VMS (which by the way runs on PC's). Or maybe WangVS or something owned by CA now.

//edited for typos

VMS was a a reaction to UNIX, I'm not sure how different DEC's operating systems would have looked if UNIX did not exist.

VMS runs on ALPHA and ITANIUM systems, it doesn't run on anything that vaguely qualifies as a PC, unless you think Windows NT is a VMS variant. It's certainly influenced by VMS, but I say it's a different product.

CA - where software goes to die. (Besides Erwin).

> We would all be living in Windows (DOS?) hell. :)

Would they program Windows in Pascal?

When I went to school, they taught using Pascal. Then you moved to C. Now I think it's just Java?

This is a really good question. All operating systems I am familiar with owe their heritage to C and most of them also to Unix. I would like to know too.

It would be pure class if wasn't for the late Mr. Jobs mention. Surely, one can think of hundreds of more concrete examples that C enabled other than iOS, like, i don't know, the Internet?

It does.

  "Linus Torvalds ... reinvented Unix for the internet age"
  "Unix-like systems power several hundred million Apple and Android mobile devices, most internet firms' server farms"
Given the massive amounts of attention shown to Jobs' death, mentioning him gives the article sensible context (especially considering that most Economist readers are unlikely to have hear of Ritchie).

The Economist ran an obit of Mr Jobs recently, hence it made sense to refer to it to help regular readers understand the context and relationship between the two figures.

> Babbage used his first Sun Unix workstation at university in the 1980s

It says so in the article. Which Babbage are they talking about?

The blogger. It is customary at The Economist to assign to a columnist as a pseudonym the name of a foundational figure in whatever the column purports to be about ("Lexington" for their USA coverage, "Schumpeter" for the coverage of business, &c.). One person will write the column for a period, and then move on.

Ahh.. I see

Babbage is the name of the Economist's Science & Tech blog, which this story was posted under. The blog name is being used to stand-in for the author's in that sentence.

"The blog takes its name from Charles Babbage, a Victorian mathematician and engineer who designed a mechanical computer."

Glenn Fleishman wrote this article, according to his tweets. (His twitter account is great fun to follow.) There are also other writers who post under the Babbage name.

Probably the author - though why they stated it like that I haven't a clue.

"About Babbage In this blog, our correspondents report on the intersections between science, technology, culture and policy. The blog takes its name from Charles Babbage, a Victorian mathematician and engineer who designed a mechanical computer"

They do it that way because that's the way they do it. :-)

I've seen the use of "this Babbage" in contexts where e.g. the New York Times would say "this reporter". This would seem to acknowledge that there are multiple authors for these blogs; they can be identified by initials and location at the top of the piece. This one's author, "G.F.", is Glenn Fleishman of Seattle Times and TidBITS fame.

Babbage is the name of the blog: http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage

From the description: "The blog takes its name from Charles Babbage"

So I presume it refers to the author.

Is it wrong to wonder about Dennis' personal life? Did he marry, have kids, take a lover? Like to garden, travel, read? He is such an important and influential figure in the history of computing, but it feels like we know little about him beyond his professional accomplishments.

AFAIK, he's never married. He lost his interest in soccer too after sometime. So he's steep geek with some interest to country music.

It is not wrong to wonder about this stuff, but i don't think knowing it will help you.

Its a bit sad but the obituary is often the best article in the economist. In this case it was a very fitting tribute to a tech hero.

I disagree, but that doesn't mean that I don't turn to the obituary page immediately on receipt of each week's issue.

jfb: bringing down the median subscriber income of The Economist for 20 years.

I've helped drag down the median for about 10 years myself.

I wonder if their subscriber income stats aren't heavily bifurcated.

I always felt weird doing this. Almost always I turn to their Obit page when I get a new issue. Glad to know I am not the only one who does it.

I usually start with the funny letter to the editor. (Usually the last letter printed.)

Based on the tone of the article I guess it was destined to be this weeks obituary, but Qaddafi died just before they went to press. So unfortunately it looks like dmr's obit is only online, unless they run it next week.

Yep, Quaddafi got the obit in the Android app, at least.

..and probably Crown Prince Al-Saud has the inside track for next weeks obit I'd wager.

The print version of The Economist did cover a nice item about Richie in the letters section ("The death of a tech genius")

> Its a bit sad but the obituary is often the best article in the economist.

That's not sad. That's actually the case for newspapers in general.

Went down the wwww rabbit hole, found this current trove of Bell System Technical Journal PDFs


If iOS was derived from Mac OS X, isn't it also a unix? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IOS

EDIT thanks, misread it.

yes, and the article mentions this twice

AFAIK, he's against to AT&T split. Can anybody share some info on that?

I don't feel it's right to use printf where a simple puts would suffice.

RIP. Every time I type printf, I honor you, my friend

epoch time has a new meaning to me.

Pure class from The Economist

Unfortunate that they give Linus Torvalds so much praise for "reinventing Unix" with Linux. It was at least substantially, if not equally, made possible by projects such as GNU. Clearly the kernel was a huge and necessary part, but it was just that: a part.

It was also made possible by cheap ubiquitous i386 PCs - so it was really all due to the Microsoft monopoly

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