Tuesday, 30 June 2015

cone-y island


The 'Operation Stack' road-signs have been switched on around the routes I've driven over the last few days.

I've been delayed in previous Operation Stacks when on my way to France by road. That's when they close the motorways in Kent to use as a giant lorry park until the Channel crossings re-open.

Even more it's the sheer amount of the UK road network covered in cones. My regular route from London to the south-west has had cones for the last year and they continue until December 2016. They are just adding another section beyond the current 16 or so miles. I was stopped in a traffic jam after midnight on one stretch.

Similarly on my recent 300 mile route to the north east. It is mainly motorway, but between 30%-40% of it is coned. More than 100 miles is under special traffic management including single lane and even a stretch that was closed.

That old drawing of a country lane, a replacement motorway and then a coned motorway emulating the original country lane still applies.

Monday, 29 June 2015

setting up the @ukmixtape photoshoot for #edfringe2015

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We'd planned to run a flexible Mixtape photoshoot on Sunday afternoon.

It meant clearing a big enough space and finding a plain wall for individual pictures, to feature various types of band.
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We also needed some external shots, requiring the inevitable railway arch wall, the obligatory closed and shuttered shop and a broken down hotel. Some beach would also be useful.

We found all of these within easy walking distance and also adjacent to a useful pub.
Mixtape at the Central
A quick bit of furniture rearrangement, a cleaning of wall that had somehow gained mysterious tea stains and we were ready for business.
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I'd brought my little Olympus cameras to take the pictures and we'd found an angle-poise lamp to add some illumination/toning without resorting to flash guns.
P6270259-Edit.jpgThe plan was some colourful 80's pictures, some grainy indie pop and some rock'n'roll which we'd set in the pub.
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We also needed a few headshots and some Mixtape identity shots with wristbands, actual cassette tapes and even some pulled out tape which could be wrapped around things.
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Next stage is reviewing the photos and selecting a few for publicity.
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Get tickets to see your new Mixtape friends:
Underbelly Booking Office
Edinburgh Fringe Booking Office
Live Theatre Preview

Sunday, 28 June 2015

a few of the @ukmixtape escape into the wild

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What?

I know, There's been a gap in transmission from rashbre central.

A combination of being on the road, away in hotels, very late nights and general tardiness.

We'll soon get things going again.

I may have to backdate the visit to Southampton, the trip to deepest Norfolk, my experience of the 34% coverage of the entire route to the North-East with traffic cones, or the entertaining time back at the Udderbelly on the South Bank.

For now, it's Lewis, modelling a Mixtape.
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Thursday, 25 June 2015

reaching industrial stage of #mixtape production for #edfringe

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We're going into full production of the Golden Mixtapes in preparation for Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Back in a box, the finished tapes look like a strange gold bullion.

And yes, we have experimented with silver, bronze, stone and purple mixtapes too. Everyone craves Limited Editions.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

London to Brighton Bike Ride Pt 4 : Afterwards


Photobombed by Pippa Middleton*

My final 2015 #L2B post where I praise the great organisation by the British Heart Foundation, the big sponsors (like Tesco), the hundreds of upbeat marshals, police, paramedics, bike mechanics and other helpers, as well as the amazing reception along the route and at Brighton.

And a special thank you to my own sponsors and those of Team Nemo.

Admittedly we didn't have the sort of outfits that some teams managed, and it would have conveyed a spurious professionalism if we'd adopted a 'look'.

So after my recovery on the pebble beach at Brighton I made my way through the crowds and cycled along to the next town (Hove) for the bus back to London.

It's a two part affair, with the bike loaded with 95 others onto an articulated lorry and then an accompanying couple of coaches to wend back to Clapham Common.

Team Nemo had split up again at Brighton, with some staying overnight and three of us making our way back to London. The other two had gone for a burger, so I was by myself at this point.

Fortunately, I had a good travelling companion, a svelte woman cyclist who was preparing for the Prudential 100 in August. Her team had also split up after the event although they'd managed a lunch in Brighton before returning. I guess from that fact alone that they were somewhat faster than us.

Chatting made short work of the journey and our lorry had already unloaded most of the bikes when we reached Clapham. I was soon reunited for the cross London journey, although I decided to cut through Battersea Park around the loop, to avoid most of the busy traffic.

Except, I'd forgotten the Formula E Grand Prix, which they are preparing for next weekend in the park.

The whole Battersea Park internal perimeter road was being converted into a sort of Le Mans racetrack, with crash barriers, pit lanes, new pedestrian bridges and more.

I couldn't use the road at all and had to traverse some of the footpaths to get back. So I finished my day of cycling with a muddy scramble. Truly a long longest day.

* Pippa couldn't really be in my picture but sends her best wishes to everyone in @TheBHF #L2B

Monday, 22 June 2015

London to Brighton Bike Ride Pt 3 : Riding it


The first ten or so miles of the ride are through the streets of London, progressively further into the sticks until the route turns rural.

It's a psychologically good way to start, with what is a gentle downward slope to the entire first section, although there's buses and traffic to deal with after the first couple of 'closed to traffic' miles.

I'd decided to abandon my Garmin and other technology for this ride. We'd all planned to use WhatsApp to communicate, but once my phone started saying 'no signal' I realised, like last year, this would be technology free.

The first bottlenecks appeared around Tooting. The same places as last year, with the difference that we cleared them much faster. The organisation and marshalling was brilliant throughout, keeping the roads moving in a cheerful manner.

Then onward to the edge of contiguous London and the first of the hills, somewhere between miles 10 and 11.
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At this stage, it's not too bad, although by the top I'd certainly noticed the incline. It reminded me that this wasn't really one of the bumps that counted, yet I'd still noticed it.

A short downhill and then on to Chipstead, where the little lane is cleared for the cyclists. I say cleared, but it had large rock chippings along it, washed there from yesterday's rain. Bumpy, steep and I saw a few cyclists pulled over looking at tyres. I soon also had to dismount too and walked until the road's gradient eased.

Along this section are a couple of the official stopping points. The first one I really noticed had countdown from 800 metres, and I was shocked when I eventually saw the second countdown at 400 metres after what seemed to me to be an eternity.

I'd decided to avoid the stopping points on the right, if they were on hills. I'd found this out the previous year when theres a complicated manoeuvre to move out on an uphill section into the faster moving traffic.

So onward!

Then the long downhill stretch after Fanny's Farm Shop (that's where I stopped last year and had my awkward restart). I pay heed to the hay bales and people shouting to slow down, and there's also some sudden turns to deal with on this stretch.

Then it's speedy progress until the uphill section into Nutfield. The villagers turn out in force, cheering, providing cakes, sweets and water from along the roadside.

Then downhill before getting into the lanes that lead past the Dog and Duck stopping point. This would be an ideal stop for me, but last year I was stuck there for two-and-a-half hours, so this time I kept going.

My own first stop would be at the pretty little village of Turner's Hill. The whole place has a friendly carnival atmosphere and we had a brass band playing on the triangle by the pub.

At this point we are past the halfway mark. Its followed with about 6 miles of largely downhill cycling before the first bump heralding the approach to Ditchling Beacon. So from here, to about the 40th mile, it's a pretty good ride, and with an increase in the number of refreshment stops too.

I decided to stop once more, at the Scout place just before Ditchling Beacon, where many of us sat in the sunshine drinking cups of tea.

I'd decided that I'd go as far up Ditchling Beacon under pedal power as possible and then walk the rest. That wasn't very far. I had to walk the rest of the away to the top at 740 feet. My approximation is about 50% walkers and 50% cyclists at the time I started walking, with the walker percentage increasing as we got closer to the top.

"Only another 100 metres", said the woman shouting encouragement. I really felt that last 100 metres, but then it flattens and the entire road is filled with happy cyclists.

As luck would have it, the ice cream van didn't have a queue at that moment, so a Mr Whippy '99' was in order, before continuing the last seven or so mainly downhill miles into Brighton.

Then, across the line, over to the pre-assigned meeting place where our various supporters already had a picnic. We arrived in stages, so those of us already over the line could go back to cheer the others in.
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I stood for the triumphant bike/beach/sea/pier snapshot.

Then I laid on the pebbly beach. It somehow felt just right...(tbc)
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Sunday, 21 June 2015

London to Brighton Bike Ride Pt 2 : The Start


The combination of the evening's festivities, a bit too much expresso and the thought of the ride itself helped me wake early.

04:30 early. The building works at Battersea power station were temporarily the source of the greatest light.

This was even earlier than my strategically placed iPhone alarm, which was set for 04:50 (OK, and 05:00).

I decided to make a start. First priority was to check for early rain.

None. So far so good.

Now to get ready, including an optimistic application of SPF30. Light breakfast (okay, with the instant porridge and a banana) and I'm ready to go. Acquire bike and backpack and begin my cycle to the start on Clapham Common.

Except.

I've left the water bottles in the fridge! I usually cycle around with a small Camelback backpack, so this normal water bottle process was something of a variation. I hadn't gone far, time to turn around.

Cycle back to pickup the water bottles.

Second attempt to reach the start. I'm all labelled up with my number so basically ready for my 06:00 start.

The Sunday morning roads at 05:30 were surprisingly busy. I realised that much of the traffic was on its way to do drop-offs at the Common. I also noticed the increasing number of converging riders, including a whole team in proper kit who tagged along at the same gentle pace as me to the start.

I'd been told that there might be some very enthusiastic riders at the 06:00 start, because this was the time least likely to be troubled by bottlenecks.

This was Lycra city with vibrant colours cutting through the early light, as well as every other variation from fancy dress (lightweight obviously), serious looking teams and every type of bike from single speed fixie, basket bikes, mountain bikes and racers.

Sure enough, 05:45 and I'm in a good position near the start of the funnel.

"Are you losing your bottle?" asked a fellow rider.

She looked towards my bike. One of my originally missing water-bottles was hanging sideways at a jaunty angle.

I suddenly remembered.

I'd only put the water bottle cages back on Friday. I'd hand tightened them until I could get the right spanner.

I wheeled my bike to the side, rummaged in the saddlebag and found the Crank Brothers all-in-one tool. A few minutes of twiddling things and I'm ready to rejoin the line.

But what a difference a moment makes. I look up and there's suddenly another 3,000 people in front of me. I can't even see the people I was standing with any longer. Everyone has bunched forward to get into the funnel ready for the start.

I'm now in what is probably the third batch to get away. It's all good natured as we thread our way to the start, walk the first grassy 200 metres until we can get to the road surface and gingerly start pedalling through the already quite dense throng.

I know that this early start will be less busy than later and that the density will thin out as we get onto the main road systems leaving London.

But hey, we are on our way! ...(tbc)

Saturday, 20 June 2015

London to Brighton Bike Ride Pt 1 : Before

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I was sitting in the coach, smiling. It had been a good day.

"Mind if I sit here?" asked a fellow cyclist.

She sat down next to me.

"What did you think?" I asked.

"It was brilliant..."

I agreed, "Yes, and with a real sense of achievement at the end..."

We carried on chatting, but I must rewind to the start.

It hardly seems possible to have packed so much into a single day, but it was the longest one, after all.

INTERNAL SCENE: ROOM - EARLY SATURDAY EVENING

Yes, I've assembled all of my materials for a kind of Wallace and Gromit 'New Trousers' start the following morning. Sports gear, breakfast, spanners. The water bottles are in the fridge chilled and ready.

There are bananas.

I'm ready to go to the pub to meet the others.

EXTERNAL SCENE: FRONT DOOR - SURPRISE RAIN
I'm standing looking up at the sky. It is what I call 'car wash rain'. I decide to retrieve a better waterproof from the boot of my car. Then walk along the road to The Mason's Arms. I've taken my stripped down wallet, which I'd prepared for tomorrow's bike ride. Folding cash and one debit card. No Oyster Card.

So I have no choice but to walk the ten minutes or so to the pub. Using a 137/452/44 wouldn't normally enter my head for such a short trip, but the rain, which was on - let's say - setting 8 has just moved to a 9 - Fire Hose.

I notice that I'm now the only person walking - everyone else is sheltered in doorways, the petrol station, under railway bridges. I'm glad I picked up my waterproof with the hood with the wire in it. I'm now a little walking rainproof canopy on the way to the pub.

INT. SCENE: THE MASON'S ARMS
I spot David straight away, drinking something Balham-hip which starts with the name Sierra Nevada. I'm thinking beer with a story, gold rush, Lake Tahoe?

David is mildly amused at my appearance. I notice the pub mainly contains people in shorts who look as if they have been, or are on their way, to barbecues.

There is that moment of pub silence as they register my bedraggled appearance. I make for the bar. Two separate people ask me:

"Raining outside, is it?"

They know the answer.

I get my beer and we chatter whilst waiting for the others. Eventually John arrives in an understated version of my wet appearance. He'd managed to get a cab for the last part of the journey.

We all look at the menu. We are still waiting for three more to arrive at seven o'clock.

"They'll be late" we hazard.

David is the expert on cycling and says we should eat something pasta or pizza based. The menu looks delicious, but is more skewed towards Ash goat's cheese, salmon with wilted garlic spinach, samphire, Chalcroft farm burgers with Cholla buns that kind of thing. Normally it would be perfect, but this evening we decide to cross to the nearby Italian.

Our remaining group still haven't arrived. We get the text explaining they have only just left. They are an hour away. The rain, don't ya know?

INT. SCENE - LIVELY ITALIAN RESTAURANT
So we move to the Italian. Get a lovely window table. Order starters. Eat them. Order pizza and pasta. Still no sign of them. A phone call. Complicated.

INT. TUBE STATION AT GREEN PARK - CUTAWAY TO THE OTHERS
They are bringing their bikes on the train. Into London worked fine. They are now in the deep tube network. On the Victoria Line. Bikes are not allowed on Victoria Line Trains. The first driver notices them board.

"Will the person with the blue bicycle please leave the train"

The driver refuses to move the train until they leave. Passengers glower quietly. The scene of eviction has probably made their early evening. Especially as one of the bikes has mudguards and panniers.

Another train. Same story. Rule of thumb is inside the Circle Line permits folding bikes only. Back in the Italian restaurant we muse how they got their bikes down the very long escalators.

They renegotiate their way to the surface. Two of them are Londoners. The other is from Norfolk.

The two Londoners lead the way. They get lost/separated.

That's when they phone.

We decide to tell the restaurant waiters that they are cycling in from Essex. The entire restaurant is impressed.

INT. SCENE - LIVELY AND ANIMATED ITALIAN RESTAURANT

We ask for our main courses. They arrive.

Just as...

The others finally arrive. They are all very bright. Orange. Yellow. Bicycle-y. We go outside to greet them. Hugs all around.

The staff and people in the restaurant cheer them. Everyone knows about this epic journey from Essex.

They are only one-and-a-half hours behind schedule. It's great though - they've arrived and we diners are all feeling well established. The three latecomers decide to go on to their hotel before joining us for something to eat.

We order pudding/coffee.

But enough. This is still the build up to the ride.

There's another event in their travails when they order a minicab from their hotel (1.4 miles from the restaurant) and it shows a starting price of £12.

But lets's skip over all of that and move to the now rapidly approaching dawn of the ride...(tbc)

Friday, 19 June 2015

test loading of bike into car boot in prep for @TheBHF #L2B

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I thought I'd try a test loading of the bike into the car boot. It doesn't really need to be there until Saturday afternoon, ahead of the British Heart Foundation London to Brighton cycle ride on Sunday.

However, it is surprising how many small things pop up that are better handled in advance, with this test.

I've fixed most things now and got everything down to a low operating weight, although I will take my small backpack this time.

It drove me nuts last year carrying random loose items in damaged carrier bags once the bike had been loaded onto the articulated lorry for the return trip to Clapham Common.
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Thursday, 18 June 2015

#mixtape @ukmixtape wristband particles for #edfringe already sighted

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A shower of wristband particles for Mixtape arrived at rashbre central. There's already a few tweets and Facebook pictures of people trying them out.

I'll also take these limited editions to the #BHF #L2B bike ride on Sunday, or at least as far as the Mason's Arms on Saturday to distribute around Team Nemo.

They'll also be available at the upcoming Mixtape Edinburgh Fringe Preview at Live Theatre, on 24 July, although if that is too long to wait, they'll soon show up on the Mixtape website.

The main Mixtape shows run all the way through Edinburgh Fringe at Underbelly (@FollowTheCow). Check P.141 of the #edfringe programme, or link here to get tickets.

And for the wristbands, what's the phrase...

Hurry, stocks are limited!
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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

engineering the veil


The various political parties are banging on about purdah with regard to the eventual EU Yes/No vote.

Isn't it great to wheel out such an arcane term as purdah for the European Union decision? One that probably helps create a divide in the electorate based upon its very use? Oh, yes, and these same politicians are now referring to the electorate as 'The Public'.

Purdah in the current 'pre-election' meaning is an Edwardian term repurposed from its middle eastern meaning. There's multiple ironies in its use when discussing the European Union, not least that Edward VII was nicknamed the 'Uncle of Europe'.

The British public schoolboy corridors of power moved the word away from its use about the veil of female seclusion to instead being about government silence pre-election on matters of political controversy.

When I worked in Saudi Arabia a few years ago, purdah was ubiquitous. The woman all wore the black veils, there were separate zenana womens' areas in houses.

The local (Shwarmah) McDonalds had separate lines for men and women queuing. All the women or families had to sit behind a curtained or walled-off area in restaurants. The Starbucks logo was rebranded from the mermaid to the crown (I think this sinking mermaid logo is to becoming the new global branding) and famously the IKEA catalogues were reconstructed without showing women.

My nearby huge shopping mall (Saks of Fifth Avenue, Debenhams, M&S etc.) had its own separate floor for women - no men allowed. Religious police ensured that prayer times were upheld and the stores closed. In my experience, often these mutaween were accompanied two steps back by a soldier in a khaki uniform, just to ensure the message was understood.

Women couldn't drive cars, they had to sit in the back seats behind darkened windows. I still recognise the type of cars when I see them being used in London.

With an accustomed eye, one could spot that women would find ways to subtly accessorise the burqas they wore at all times in public. Then, for a while the rules slightly relaxed with even examples of non-black abayas being worn.

Since the change of monarch in the Kingdom this year, seen here in February with Prince Charles, the religious police have stepped it up again to reinforce the black abaya, nikab and gloves in public.

So when I hear purdah, I can't get my mind away from the Saudi version.

And here in Britain, why can't we just say 'pre-election period' or 'pre-referendum period'? Surely it can only be to confuse 'The Public'?

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

locating my number for #BHF London to Brighton, this Sunday

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I had an email from another of our Team Nemo cyclists who is also doing the London to Brighton this weekend. It contained all kinds of helpful tips about things to take (sunblock AND waterproofs) and things to leave behind (large things)

I'll take some water and some snacks. I may treat myself to a banana before the start. I'm number 000145, which will be lost somewhere amongst the other 29999 or so riders.

I've put the wider flat pedals on to the carbon bike now. Removing the old pedals was harder than I expected because they had seized into place.
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I had to get out the serious hex spanner set, and then additionally use an old seat post to get extra leverage to shift them.

I still get confused about the one on the left which has to be unscrewed backwards, but it also depends where you are standing! The Park Tools descriptions come in handy for this.

And I've only had enough time for a meagre 7 miles today. It'll be 54 miles at the weekend, plus the bits to and from the event.

Monday, 15 June 2015

real humans

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It was probably to do with licensing, but the original Scandic-Noir version of Humans didn't get screened here in the UK.

I happened to watch it when I picked up a Canadian set of the DVD some time ago. The Canadian version is the original Swedish dialogue (or French) and English subtitles.

For a British audience the Swedish + subtitles would usually work well and grab a mid-evening audience on, say, BBC2 or Channel 4.

Instead, they are screening a UK-remake which I suspect is also destined for America. It is a well-filmed very similar storyline so far although the scene orders have been switched around.

I gather writers Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley from Spooks handled the adaptation, which keeps the parallel present day, but with robots. We also get known faces as some of the main roles.

The Scandinavian original starts with a woodland twisty road, a Volvo, lots of dark fir trees and a rainy, dark, dramatic incident. It's a quicker setup for one of the main early plot-lines.

The UK version starts with a scene similar to something from I, Robot, with lines of partially-clad pristine robots in a warehouse, but with a recognisable type of DIY shopping trolley.

The premise of these stories is no secret, with machines overtaking human processing speed and then being capable of human emulation.

'The singularity is near', is the premise, which goes back to the thoughts of von Neumann, Minsky and others in the 1950s, when the possibilities of clever artificial intelligence were first debated.

Ray Kurzweil attempted to plot the increase in AI ten years ago, predicting AI insect brain by around now, a mouse brain by 2020 and the human brain by around 2030.

I look back to the 'neats vs scruffies' arguments of artificial intelligence, where neat logic is all mathematically pure and scruffy is pragmatic.

Anything that starts with a human builder is going to have both neat and scruffy it (note the Swedish machine sports a 2012 USB socket), so we'll have to see how this version plays out in this 2.0 upgrade path of these hubots.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

cloudy thoughts

Yikes
I was reading a post a few days ago about what and where to save things into the Cloud. This idea that all of our data can be secured in a vast database in the sky.

Like many, I do use the Cloud in its various forms for some things. Much of my music collection is stashed away in it and some of my videos, too.

But it's all stuff that is commercially available and relocatable.

I still back up my own stuff to my own system. Now I realise I'm probably extreme compared with many who might just take an occasional hard drive copy of their work in progress.

Here at rashbre central we've got spinning RAID arrays with redundant disk drives, so that if one fails then everything still works. On the backup system if two disks fail then it still works.

My first disk drives many years ago were when two hard drives might have held 30 Megabytes of data. That's less than a CD's worth of MP3 music nowadays. I seem to remember it seemed vast at the time, on TRS80 LDOS.

I'm told that the 26 million books of the US Library of Congress are about 10 Terabytes of data, so we've come a long way.
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Today, as I replace a defective drive in one of the rashbre central RAIDs, I notice that it is designated as capable of holding around 6 Terabytes of data. That'd be over half the Library of Congress then?

But not really, of course.

This particular RAID has 5 of these 6 Terabyte units which could be a theoretical 30 Terabytes. With the safety duplication etc, I get about 16 Terabytes of storage from it and currently use about 40%. Forget about world libraries, that's just rashbre central.

True that this is just a backup unit and there's another one like it with the Active data on it.

Rebuilding the 30 Terabyte RAID whilst it was still running took about 25 hours. It was still fully usable, although the various flashing lights on it could be a little unsettling.

It's why I still prefer to keep my own data on my own systems.

Putting it out to the cloud and then needing to do some sort of recovery could be interesting.

I've no idea how long it would take or whether there would be some distant help desk telling me that I've used the wrong software or something. A bit like they attempt to do sometimes when I say I'm using a Mac.

So yes I'll use cloud, but somewhat carefully.