Of Omens, the Interior and Defeat

21 11 2016

It was Mrs E’s birthday this last week and as a little treat I took her for a wine tour in BC’s interior. Summerland, on the west bank of Okanagan Lake to be specific.

We set off good and early. The tour was scheduled to start at 2:45pm, and if we missed the bus, we were in trouble. It’s about a 4 hour drive, depending whether you go North then East or East then North. I took the precaution of checking the BC highway webcams and was shocked to see “The Connector” (the northern East/West option) was not only snowy… but it hadn’t been ploughed yet! Now in fairness, it was still a bit early and being the most busy route I’m sure it would have been totally fine by the time we got there. However, not wishing to risk anything, we opted to head East first and took the lower route on Highway 3 – the Crow’s Nest. This was such a quiet drive, it was a real pleasure. There were no big trucks trying to push us to go faster, and there was lots of time to enjoy this great province. We paused briefly in Hedley – little more than a kink in the road and a heavily tattooed pop band. We hastily moved past Princeton which gives me the willies. It always feels like one of those places that have been taken over by aliens. Everyone looks at you a bit weird.

At one point we slowed briefly to let an injured coyote cross the four lanes without further harm and later saw quite a large stag looking at us from the side of the highway like we were the first car he’d ever seen.

As we drove through Penticton, we could see the Skaha bluffs on the opposite shore of the Skaha Lake, and shortly after that we were driving close to the Okanagan lake and into Summerland. The hotel (Summerland Waterfront Resort) was easy to find (as most things are with a GPS), and we were comfortably early for checking in. The jolly receptionist was happy to let us check in early and we had a little while to familiarise ourselves with the locale.

Summerland Waterfront Resort

Summerland Waterfront Resort

We’d paid a little extra and got a top floor suite with a balcony and almost a view of the lake. The low building in the picture is a bar/restaurant, and if it hadn’t been so windy it would have been nice to walk out on the floating dock.

The room was very light and airy and there was a reception gift of a bottle of wine and cheese plates.

Wine and cheese awaits us.

Wine and cheese awaits us.

We’d just nicely explored the suite and it was time for offsky!

We joined the group of ne’er do wells by the front door and before long a shuttle bus arrived. This one however was “Merlot”, and we were waiting for “Kerner”. Kerner is a grape variety I’d never heard of, so I was already feeling like this would be an educational afternoon. Soon after, our driver arrived and 21 of us piled on to the adventure. One bloke loudly declared that “I’ll be asked to sit at the front soon. I always am…” Oh great – we’d got the piss-head!

A quick ride down the highway and we were at “8th Generation“. I’d seen the winery’s sign on the way into town earlier. The winery was run by a German family who had been making the grape juice sing for… surprise!… 8 generations. In 1757 Christian Schales started it all with 3 acres and in 2003 Berndt Heinrich Schales emigrated to BC as the 8th generation and started his own winery in 2007.

Vines of the 8th Generation

Vines of the 8th Generation

It was our first stop of the tour, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We were apologetically told that several wines were sold out, and given three wines I honestly can’t remember much about. One of the ladies seemed to be part of the family and was very passionate about the wines. This was a theme throughout the tour – if you could engage with “the principal” you learnt a lot about their wines and their winery. Here though I just felt like we were being thrown from pillar to post and was almost glad to be back on the bus. Mr SitAtThe Front and his wife had bought a bottle of ice wine and it was almost gone by the time we arrived at the second winery – Lunessence. Lunessence (NOT Luminescence as several people insisted on calling it) is a new winery, only 18 months or so in the making. They were quirky to say the least, but their Reserve Chardonnay was lovely! They use the phases and essence of the moon (hence Lunessence) to guide their routine and – I shit you not – they play opera to their vines. Raucous tragedies to the reds and gentle romance to the whites. The guide was Slovakian and once more exuded passion for her wines and the process of making them.

Back on the bus, and next stop was Sumac Ridge. Now this is a well known winery and I was expecting a brusque, dismissive experience. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I applaud the company for the care they took in offering an excellent experience. We sampled no less than 5 wines including both the Sumac Ridge and Black Sage brands. The Shiraz was great, and I was told that the Black Sage vineyard was actually further south and gave bolder reds than those here in Summerland – hence they branded them differently. They also had a port-style wine called Pipe… and we made our first purchase of the evening.

Sumac Ridge

Sumac Ridge

Each of the five tasters was paired with a little food to really set it off, and again – I applaud Sumac Ridge for the attention to detail. By now, I was feeling decidedly mellow, but we weren’t done yet!

Although it was included in our tour fee, the last stop at Crush Pad usually charges a $5 fee for their tasting. This is more than offset by the experience they offer and the excellent food. Everything from whiskey chocolate truffles to a hearty stew or bread and cheese dip. All of it gorgeous and all of it paired well with the wines on offer. Our favourite here was the “Narrative Fortified Small Batch”. According to their web site, this wine is a combination of Merlot and Syrah, fermented in concrete, fortified with their own grape spirits distilled on site, and aged for two years in neutral oak. Like port… but not quite.

 

Narrative Fortified

Narrative Fortified

The venue was itself interesting and I took a couple of photos of the wine currently in process of being made.

Yup - 2.1 degrees Celsius!

Yup – 2.1 degrees Celsius!

Magic happens here

Magic happens here

By now, “Front Seat Guy” and his wife were very well oiled (and loud). This led to her losing grip on an expensive bottle they’d purchased and its demise was mourned by all. the winery wouldn’t hear of her buying a new one and insisted on replacing it at their own cost. Amazing service.

Back on the bus for the trip back to the hotel and we were very happy with the evening indeed! After a spot to eat in the nearby restaurant we had to sit through the Canucks snatching a 4-3 defeat from the jaws of a 3-0 victory as only they can.

Sunday we had to head home, but not before we fit in one last visit. First though… breakfast! We asked Uncle Google for suggestions of local cafés and we selected “Good Omens” for no particular reason at all. The GPS took us straight to the location… where we found anything but good omens!

Not so Good Omens

Not so Good Omens

We chose Saxon for our last visit as it had been recommended by the shuttle driver. The GPS took us straight to it, and we were relieved to see a sign by the entrance saying “Open for Tasting”. It wasn’t a given on a Sunday morning. As we approached, the owner bid us a welcome, but told us they weren’t actually open. They’d just forgotten to bring the sign in. We were already there though… we could certainly still have a look. The owner – Jayne Graydon – was a lovely person and spent a good half hour telling us all about the winery and their products. Since they weren’t open for tasting, she went as far as letting us sample the in-progress wines being made at the moment, as well as a sample of their port style. We were enamoured by the taste of half-made Gewürztraminer and though I would not have naturally been a fan of German grapes, we were moved to purchase a bottle for the fridge.

Saxon Winery: 2015 Organic Gewürztraminer VQA

So – if you find yourself with the opportunity to go to the Okanagan, I thoroughly recommend taking a wine tour along the Bottleneck Drive.

Bottleneck Drive

Bottleneck Drive

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The North is dripping with history

13 11 2016

I subscribe to the print version of the BBC’s most excellent History Magazine. As is often the case with magazines, the letters page is usually quite entertaining and informative – if only for the occasional ill-informed vitriol from a reader. Being in one of the distant reaches of empire commonwealth, I receive the magazine a little later than most, but it’s a history magazine anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

As I mentioned, the letters page was interesting, and one contributor was making the point that “collective memory” can be extremely localised. He recounted the history of the Leeds Dripping Riot of 1865 – an event I was totally unaware of, despite growing up less than 20 miles away (to be fair – significantly later than 1865, despite what my kids may think).

For those not educated in the culinary arts, “dripping” is the collected fat drippings from roast meat – particularly beef or pork. Though much less common now because it’s allegedly “not good for you”, the best tasting fish and chips of my youth were from shops who deep fried their offerings in beef dripping. As a youth, a quick snack at home would be a knife-full of dripping (collected over several sunday roasts) on a slice of white bread. A pinch of salt would just top off the snack and make sure you were hitting all the right food groups. :S

Dripping (Source: Wikipedia)

Dripping (Image source: Wikipedia)

It’s actually sold in Germany, if you go to places selling “authentic rustic food” and ask for Schweinshaxe, it’ll often come with a starter of crusty bread and a little pot of dripping.

The Yorkshire stuff – as illustrated in the Wikipedia image above – would be left to separate, and you’d get this meaty jelly at the bottom, under the thick crust of solid (at room temperature) fat. Anyway, there’s no argument that it is pretty hard (pun intended) on the arteries, but a wonderful taste sensation. It is also laden with class implications. Having read out the magazine letter to my dear wife, she commented about her family “not sinking to eating bread and dripping”. Being of English origin, and therefore not communicating often anyway, she’s still not realised I’m not talking to her. (I expect this to become more apparent as the month wears on.)

I jest of course, but the comment about sinking to eating bread and dripping was true enough. It remains one of the pointed North/South divide issues, though is making a slow comeback as we learn more about nutrition and the importance of fat in our diet. The Daily Mail valiantly tried to rehabilitate it a couple of years ago too.

Bread and dripping (Image source: Daily Mail)

Bread and dripping (Image source: Daily Mail)

So anyway – getting back to the point: I paraphrase the Wikipedia entry of the events…

In January 1865, Eliza Stafford was a cook employed by Henry Chorley, a well to do surgeon and local magistrate in Leeds, Yorkshire. He apparently discovered that Stafford had disposed of about 1kg of dripping to a local dressmaker and took umbrage and had her arrested. Being well connected, he pressed for her to be prosecuted for theft.

Stafford’s defence was that although she admitted disposing of the dripping, it was a perk of the job. (We’re not talking about stealing the meat remember… just the fatty waste that comes off it during cooking and which might simply be disposed of immediately today, without comment.) Chorley claimed that this was one of several similar incidents but that this was the only one he had any direct evidence of. The magistrates convicted Stafford of the theft and sentenced her to one month’s imprisonment in Armley Jail.

Armley Jail (Image source: Wikipedia)

Armley Jail, Leeds (Image source: Wikipedia)

The local populace were upset and many people considered the prosecution petty and the punishment harsh. Attention was also drawn to the circumstances of the trial which for reasons unexplained had been heard in private rather than in public as normal, and before magistrates known personally to Chorley. The protests culminated in a demonstration, estimated at being between 12,000 and 15,000 people, outside the prison on the Saturday before Stafford was due to be released. A smaller number of people, about 700, went on to protest outside Chorley’s house. Apart from some snowballs being thrown (how very English), these protests all passed off peacefully.

The riot itself occurred on the day of her release. She’d been let out earlier than scheduled and missed all the fun. The crowd, disappointed they’d missed her, largely dispersed but about a thousand people marched from the prison to Chorley’s house and threw stones that broke several windows in the house. The Chief Constable of Leeds, William Bell, and some police officers managed to form a cordon round the house and withstood several attempts by the protesters to break through to the house.

During lunch the numbers of people in the square increased as workers came to view the affair. (There was no telly in those days). The Mayor of Leeds, John Darnton Luccock, called for assistance from Bradford police and from the army at York. At 1 pm, lunch break over, many people left, and the police decided to try and clear the square. After issuing a notice ordering the crowd to disperse, the police charged and drove everyone out of Park Square. During the charge one man, George Hudson, was trampled and severely injured – injuries so severe that he subsequently died – and a number of men were arrested for “riotous conduct”. This effectively ended the riot and reinforced by the Bradford Police with two troops of the 8th Hussars from York on standby, the Leeds police prevented any further attempts at disturbance despite a sizable number of people assembling nearby in the evening and attempting to march upon Leeds Town Hall.

The men arrested were tried for riotous conduct but the magistrates took a lenient view and only one was imprisoned and then only for a week. The sentencing magistrate described the incident as “very silly excitement” and the other four defendants were bound over in the sum of £10. Henry Chorley died in 1878, of Eliza Stafford there is no subsequent history.





Autumn’s here folks!

27 10 2016

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Centripetal Force

1 10 2016

Today we went to get some more dog food for the Devil Dog. She’s been looking a bit suspiciously at us all day. Might have something to do with the vet shoving a finger or three up her arse this morning, but who am I to say what a dog finds undignified?

Naturally we perused the pet shop prior to lugging the massive bag of dried food out to the car, and went for some “ah” therapy in the fluffy animal section. Anyway, it’s been a good few years since we owned hamsters, and back then they were expected to exercise in the traditional treadmill. I see now though that there’s a new toy on the block. It’s like a shallow dish at an angle to allow easy access for short legged beasties. Unfortunately though, physics still applies, and if you can’t keep up the pace, you get thrown off the island dish…





On Book Remainders, Origami and Connectivity

18 09 2016

Regular visitors to these pages will know that I often remark on the connectedness of things. Of course, if you live a relatively normal life, interacting with others, reading a little, observing the world as you pass through it – and to some degree, it passes through you – you will almost inevitably notice (or at least perceive) connections. Those moments of déjà vu  when you think you’ve seen something before, or see some connection with something you saw elsewhere.

A few months ago, I was partaking in one of my personal vices… perusing the shelves of Chapters’ Book Shop in Surrey. I have sufficiently eclectic tastes that I often find books that interest me in the discount/remainder section, and this time was particularly fruitful. I discovered a book called On Paper, by Nicholas A. Basbanes. It is a personal account of the author’s discovery of the history of all things “paper”. It’s invention, its development and of course its uses. One chapter that really caught my imagination was about the real gurus of origami and one man in particular – Robert Lang. He is renowned for making a full scale replica of a cuckoo clock out of a single 1’x10′ sheet of paper.

Robert Lang: Black Forest Cuckoo Clock, Opus 182

Robert Lang: Black Forest Cuckoo Clock, Opus 182

His origami skills are put to use figuring out how to fold up a space-borne telescope for putting on a probe that had to be squeezed into the top of a rocket then unfolded in the vacuum of space. Despite his stellar (sorry…) folding skills, he’s a scientist for a day job. In amongst all his achievements I read that he’d created a pteranodon with a 16′ wingspan that was installed at the Redpath Museum in McGill University… where my daughter is a student. Though she’d visited the museum she had not seen the installation. Seems hard to believe given the size, but then again… many people don’t take the opportunity to look up!

Anyway, she is an archaeology and anthropology student and recently took a volunteer position at Redpath, helping the great unwashed understand what they’re looking at. Being based on the balcony level, she really couldn’t miss the gigantic piece and took a couple of photos for me. I don’t know why, but this somehow brought closure to the open file in my mind, created when I first read of his amazing design skills.

Redpath: Robert J. Lang's Pteranodon

Redpath Museum: Robert J. Lang’s Pteranodon

 

XXX

Redpath Museum: Robert J. Lang’s Pteranodon





Still Grousing

18 09 2016

Well – after 4 years it seems I finally climbed the equivalent of Everest! Not just Everest, you understand. There are package tours to do THAT – meh.

No – I hike up Grouse Mountain whenever the urge (or guilt) takes me, and for the princely fee of $20 a year, they offer to keep track of how many times I’ve done it. Really it’s for the drones who run up the Grouse Grind and try and beat their personal bests. Many do it multiple times a day (16 is the record I believe). The fastest is a mere 20 minutes or so. Incredible feats of fitness, to be sure, but woop-di-do.

I do it just to prove to myself I still CAN! The recorded times vary depending on which route up I take (I hardly EVER do the Grind these days, preferring the BCMC trail and occasionally the Skyline). After you’ve done it three times, they encourage you by letting you know you’ve ascended the cumulative equivalent of climbing Mt Kosciusko in Australia.

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VancouverTrails.com: BCMC route up Grouse Mountain

If you keep at it and are still adding to the total, you eventually get told you’ve ascended the equivalent (in addition) to the Vinson Massif in Antarctica… but without needing all the cold weather gear.

Here’s the whole list:

  1. Mt. Kosciusko, Australia – 7300 feet, 2228 metres – 3 grinds
  2. Vinson Massif, Antactica – 16050 feet, 4892 metres – 6 grinds but need 9 total ( 3 from No.1 above plus the 6 for Vinson)
  3. Mt. Elbrus, Europe – 18510 feet, 5642 metres – 7 grinds, 16 total
  4. Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa – 19341 feet, 5895 metres – 7 grinds, 23 total
  5. Mt. McKinley, North America – 20320 feet, 6194 metres – 8 grinds, 31 total
  6. Mt. Aconcogua, South America – 22841 feet, 6961 metres – 9 grinds, 40 total
  7. Mt. Everest, Asia – 29029 feet, 8848 metres – 11 grinds, 51 total

For some reason, I needed to accumulated 52 ascents before it acknowledged I’d done the equivalent of all 7 peaks rather than the expected 51… with Everest being the final one. That’s 52 x 853m (ascent) or a cumulative ascent of 44km!!

The weather has really changed recently and it was cooler and even drizzled a bit on Friday. All of which suit me. As well as the preferably cooler conditions it reduced the numbers of the fair weather Lululemon crowd.

In the top half I encountered a couple of signs I’d not noticed before. There is only one fork in this entire route, almost at the very top. These signs were nowhere near there and seemed to be merely a check that you weren’t climbing the BCMC by walking on your hands, upside down. There seemed no other purpose to them, given that the route itself is clearly marked with a series of small orange diamonds the whole way up and most people can surely tell the difference between up and down!

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The only way is up – Yazz

Anyway, after an unusually satisfying hike (it’s always the decision to do it that’s the hard part), I finally got to see the coveted “Everest” next to my name on the finisher’s board. So what’s next? Well… I’ve only done 9 ascents this season, so an obvious “next” is to make it at least 10 before the Grind is officially closed for the season. Then – we’ll see. Snowshoe Grind was a bit of a let-down last couple of years, but never say never.

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Name in Lights





Not FitBit For Use

13 09 2016

There follows, dear reader, a tale of consumer woe. A story so imbued with terror and despair that I strongly suggest you find a settee to hide behind… just in case it becomes too much. This story will make childhood memories of Dr. Who battling giant maggots and even the daleks seem like a pleasant stroll in the park. In short – think carefully before continuing to read this blog entry.

Too much? Too hyperbolic?

Perhaps. But you’re here now, so you might as well keep going, no?

As regular visitors will know, I like to go hiking, take the occasional (these days, very occasional) run, and generally try and keep as active as my boredom threshold will permit. To encourage this rare glimpse of common sense, by long suffering wife Mrs E. bought me a FitBit for Christmas a year or so ago. It was only the basic model – a Flex – but it suited my inner geek perfectly. Essentially just an electronic pedometer, it fits into a silicone wristband and counts how many rapid changes of direction it is subjected to, via an accelerometer. It makes a reasonable assumption that this is due to your arm swinging as you walk and counts (approximately) how many steps you’ve taken as a consequence.

Being electronic, and this being the glorious age of the post-necessary computer, it can connect via BlueTooth and has an online application to run software that allows you to configure whether you’ve put the strap on your dominant or non-dominant arm. I’m guessing it uses some weird algorithm to try and assess whether the accelerometer reading is from a legitimate walk-induced arm swing, or because you’re taking an unhealthy interest in the glossy adverts in this month’s Vogue.

Assuming the user is actually earnest about measuring performance, it even allows you to calibrate it so it more accurately infers kilometres covered based on average step length. I went to the trouble of walking a few laps of the local racetrack to make sure I properly calibrated mine.

It comes with a non-accessible rechargeable battery that is refreshed by placing the device in a special “pigtail” USB cable. The battery lasts about a week, and by and large I loved the thing. I set a goal of 8km a day, and the little gizmo dutifully told me how well I was doing for several weeks with little issue. At this point though, the weekly removal and reinsertion of the device into the silicone wrist strap caused the latter to split. It wasn’t a very good design and it was entirely predictable this would occur. After discovering that a replacement strap was $30 for three (they obviously expected one to be insufficient!), I did what any sensible person would do and bought 10 for $10 off Amazon. This should have been an early warning, but I pressed on, assuming that the technology would be much better than the wrist band in which it was housed. By the way, my $1 replacement wristband lasted over a year and is still going strong.

Now, there’s a phrase in product management: “fit for use”. I’m no lawyer, but the general principle is that if you’re selling a product to perform some function, it should fundamentally be able to do that under reasonable circumstances. This gives rise to such witticisms as “it was as much use as a chocolate fireguard/teapot”. It’s not unreasonable you might think for a fitness device costing over $100 to last more than 18 months – especially when subjected to nothing more strenuous than typing a few emails, a daily lunchtime walk and a weekly 90 minute hike.

But no – after just 18 months, my FitBit refused to hold a charge. One day it was fine, the next it decided the internal battery was exhausted and it would not recharge. Again, I turned to the internet and discovered that the device was prone to problems related to charging. Mostly these revolved around dirty (sweaty?) electrical contacts and the advice was to use a cocktail stick, a Q-tip and a drop of solvent to clean up the contacts. Again, I should have smelt a problem when FitBit’s own FAQs referred to a customer’s video and suggestions of how to do this. The procedure even included a device reset just to make sure. They seemed to be in denial themselves and relied on self-help from customers rather than an official procedure for what was plainly a weak spot in the design. Not hard to realise people buying fitness trackers might get sweaty and grimy…

I’d had cause to reset the device before, and as I experimented this time I discovered that the device would indeed charge fully… just not hold the charge once removed from the power source. I even learnt that the mysterious LED light pattern it showed when first put into the power port meant “cold boot” inferring it had indeed been starved of power as soon as it was disconnected. The battery was undoubtedly buggered.

The internet – untrustworthy source that it is – suggested that FitBit had great customer service and a few people with similar sounding problems were effusive about how well treated FitBit had made them feel, and how readily they had replaced their faulty devices.

I was of course aware that my device was out of its 12 month warranty, though arguably not out of its “reasonable lifespan”. Nothing ventured nothing gained, so I dropped them an email. I explained the situation, how long I’d had the device and all the things I’d tried that had led me to the conclusion it was parrot-like, and had shuffled off its mortal coil. It’s was dead Jim, as proven and previously documented.

After a couple of days, I got a friendly reply asking me to try the things on their customer’s “how to clean the contacts” video – despite me having pointedly said I’d already done that in an apparently fruitless attempt to avoid this predictable unthinking reply.

So – I repeated that I’d already done the procedure prior to interrupting their slumber, added some more details about the LED diagnostic pattern to prove I knew what I was about, and asked them to agree that they had designed the device to last more than 18 months. (i.e. I asked them to choose between “faulty manufacture” and “faulty design”).

Again a friendly reply thanking me for self-diagnosing and agreeing that something seemed wrong with the device. Now they asked how long I’d had the thing. For the third time I told them EIGHTEEN MONTHS… see? Like all the other times I told you!

“Ah,” came back the next polite reply. “That would be outside the 12 month warranty then.”

No shit, Sherlock! So you can count at least? I had never denied it was out of warranty, merely that an 18 month battery life on a non-replaceable part seemed to imply it wasn’t fit for use. If it had been $30, or the battery could be replaced I might have just shrugged at 18 months, but this was over $100 and I was feeling slighted.

The coup de grace though was when they assured me I was a valued member of “the family” and they then made me an offer I found trivial to refuse… they offered me 25% off a purchase of a new FitBit – but only from their online store. A quick check showed that this 25% brought the price back down to the local street price a new purchase would be anywhere else. Woo-hoo, great bargain!! Thanks for nothing.

After some rewrites, I managed to send a reasonably polite email thanking them for a great concept poorly implemented, and told them I’d no longer be using their products. Especially when it turned out that my iPhone (always in my pocket) has a link to the FitBit app, and FOR FREE keeps my steps updated anyway. In fact it also measures height gained (translated into “steps ascended”) that my FitBit did not. Did I mention it was free?

To add insult to injury FitBit then sent me another email to ask if I’d made up my mind as the 25% offer was time-limited!

So – if you’re thinking of buying wearable technology… consider carefully whether FitBit is the one for you. Check out what your phone offers. Depending on the sophistication of your needs, you may find it already does what you need… for free. Don’t get me wrong – I love the concept of wearable technology, and applaud FitBit for being one of its pioneers. Their physical design has undeniably improved over the last couple of years, but their attitude of dropping you like a hot brick once their manufacturing choices (crappy battery supplier) let you down leaves a lot to be desired. That plus the fact that the strap can fail and fling your expensive device to the four winds at any time means I’ll likely look to other manufacturers if I ever decide my phone’s not providing me with enough spurious data on my daily activity.

Rant over – you can come out from behind the settee now. I’m off to yoga…