Alpha Five Desktop Database

 {jcomments on}I was so busy trying to get up to speed with php that I lost all vision. I actually lost my senses. I had to get version 9 because version ten only comes out, possibly late October, early November and I wasn’t prepared to wait. So I spent my last few sheckles, suffered the wrath of the wife and have been testing version nine which is going to become obsolete in a month.  Was I happy? Was I surprised? Was I making the right choice – in fact, had I made the right choice when there are so many viable products all vying for our attention?  Well yes, one way or the other Alpha Five markets one so intelligently that even if you don’t need it you will still buy it. It’s a matter of greed of course, but what the hell. Cool (Gerald you need to shake a leg there – you have a fine product but you can’t ask people to Beta test Version 6 of dbqwiksite which has an expiry date). 

Now onto matters less trivial. I love Alpha Five because of two reasons: A BIG reason is because they are applying common sense to an application they believe in and if A5 had to nose dive I’d eat this web-site. Actually I’d eat two: This website and Alpha Five’s website. The question coming from you now is obviously why are we advocating desktop databases when this is a parts swap site.  Ummm, I aren’t really – what I can say is get Alpha Five trial version and test it out. Businesses – trust me, in my real job I see thousands of them – don’t know their arse from their elbow when it comes to tracking stock/inventory, sales orders, purchases, staff, what may have you. A top product in South Africa right now costs you about U$1200 for the package. Yes, you are now forced to but licences to use it. You must pay for the user base you have.  At the end of the day you end up paying U$200 per user PER YEAR and if you are part of a big company that’s going to cost you a mint. With Alpha Five you’ll need someone with a little bit of database pedigree (for a big company) and she or he will have you up and tiunning in no time. Don’t fool yourself that this is small fry – A5 is only as big as the ceiling you put above it.  

And the second reason:  It’s an addiction. Designed by people that know what YOU want – not what by what they want.Money mouth.  Four weeks ago I tried to use Microsoft Access and although I still will never knock this product – I believe the most popular desktop database on the market – it just seems so, (loss for a word) …. clumsy.  I don’t know – I purchased the first Windows version of A5 (A5 version 5) and it had something attractive about it although the GUI had to be plenty modified to make it look good. My boss laughed when I brought a run time version to work – it looked so… yesterday. But it worked. It worked very well.  We used it to track certain data from our assembly plant. One day it decided to fall over and everyone laughed. They laughed hysterically that this database that I stood so robustly by had fallen over. Until I found the swap file on the server had been reduced to 19MB. I of course had the last laugh – I promptly removed the app – the very one that could email and SMS clients automtically when a job had been done. Try that on Access – with alpha it’s only a day’s work. But I digress, Microsoft make products that are incredibly integrated and possibly this is a pitfall – but they do rock. Just try Excel from 2007!

Alpha Five remains my firm favourite to win the race. In the next two years I’ll be interested to see how their application is going to be ported to Linux – because it would  surely be a fatal thing if they aren’t looking down this road.

Ye Olde dBProphet

The Parts Ring Network

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It’s no hidden secret that used parts dealers can and will charge a mint if the part is in demand. But Parts-Ring feels that somehow the public have been ripped off in the vast majority of cases. Our Services network (just click on services in the main menu) allows a user to become a subscriber, post his business and offer his services. All for free. You can use the classified section to post a need for a part or if you are selling, well then post that as well. Users can search the entire Joomla based CMS system (thanks J Community) for parts or go onto the services section and do a drill down.

Over the next month we will be posting names of companies in Cape Town that are known to provide an excellent service – this is not only dedicated to people buying and selling parts. We want you, the reader to be able to quickly look up a company, the service with a good star rating and be able to use these or their services without fear of shelling out money for rubbish. Yes! This has happened to all of us, me as well Money mouth. Do yourself a favour and go onto the yellow pages and try to find a company that you can contact without going through a cell-phone number – the worst of course. This in no way boxes all cellphone only companies but believe me when I say I am part of a billiuon dollar company that really is getting tired of been ripped off by would be agents, service providers and whomever because we carry a Pty Ltd on the door.

Initially we were hell bent on prviding only a service, similar to Craig’s List – but focusing on parts and service providers. Hell no, this would not have worked. We use the Joomla CMS system, added the various but brilliant modules, components and plug-ins. What we did though was to provide the service module – we will be monitoring this very closely once users sign up but most of all as said before – we need a dedicated service to help all those around us looking for a part. Google, Yahoo, Bing (I’m very impressed with Bing)  take a while to latch on what our insane webmaster is on about but we sincerely hope that Parts-Ring will become your choice in the future. And hey, it’s free.

Please add your comments, advice theories and join the community board.

Thanks for reading this….

Ciao for Niao

Scribe Z

The Sound Comparison Test

 {jcomments on} I ran an article recently which gave my version of what I hear and believe.  I built (actually slapped two 100W R.M.S/8 Ohm MOSFET modules together and it blew a colleagues Bose speakers to pieces. He was running a Phase Linear 200W (about 1971 vintage) into these speakers but when he heard the MOS amplifier he could not believe the sound quality. The phase linear amplifer ran a +/- 70V rail, had previously blown and some wise owl had used 2N3055 (8 per channel) as the replacement output devices. I doubt this ever worked but give the devil his due – I didn’t hear it before it blew or even while it was ‘testing’. Foot in mouth 

So give us your feelings and possibly, if so inclined – advice!

Power Corrupts – the Zen Factor

Power Corrupts

Power Corrupts – Is Nuclear Power Cheaper?

Then suddenly our one and only nuclear power station shut down. (Cape Town, South Africa) Oh my goodness! Then the media stepped in. And that was ‘Oh My Golly Gosh‘ in serious, hard core capital letters.

Power Corrupts
Koeberg Nuclear Power – Cape Town (source: Philipp P Egli. No affiliation or endorsement to this web site)

Let’s look at hard core reality: a nuclear power station stops because someone dropped a bolt in an alternator as an act of sabotage. How big was this bolt? So, a nuclear power station only has one guy looking after the show, no security video and this person drops a bolt in without seeing whom it is. No supervisors in attendance, no other people working with this person. Gee, guys, this is not a car engine!

Power Corrupts – the Absorption Factor

Yes, power corrupts because first and foremost our political allies do not seem to be doing enough about the rebated structures offered our neighbours, secondly the Zen Factor – which is a the state we are all in. We make a lot of noise each year about fuel prices, inflation and taxes but within a month its all forgotten. We all know of course that there is going to be a state of equilibrium and then a state where things are out of balance. We are currently out of balance, our income is no longer enough to save for retirement and economists paint the road ahead with a very bleak brush.

Coup de Grace – Pay for our Cock Up

And now for the coup de grace – South Africans will be liable for a price hike of nearly 600% over the next 4 years to pay for the mistakes they made over the last 10~20 years years. The media jump in, the tree huggers jump in, Joe Soap jumps in, the bosses jump in with a pay increase and we have a Michael Jackson concert! Let’s look at the reality. Yes, we need to look at greener alternatives.  Is something being done about it? Yes and no. One – you will receive rebates, discount whatever for going the green route. What does it cost the home owner to go this route. Do we actually know that most electricity is used by industry. (at a rebated price too!). Can a  gold mine that uses a 10 000 HP hoist run on a couple of solar panels and batteries. The chances are zero to nil to sweet blow all – because it costs too much. How many mines are still using coal power? Can they convert overnight to solar energy? Come on guys, get off the ganja weed. Two – speak to your staff and find out how much they know about power i.e. electricity and a savings plan. Ha ha! Unless you work for a company that works with electricity which is nil to zero because they don’t need premises to make money you’ll be shocked to find that most people know jack. With a capital J.

Power Corrupts the Home Owner

Now of course we look at the home owner. The average home has an electric stove and geyser. Let’s economise and throw in a windmill, solar energy and a couple of batteries to run these devices. I won’t tell you how much this lot will cost you but it will be the price of your home, I bet your bottom dollar. Where the frigging hell do the media come with throwing in a solar panel; etc to be the end of your woes? So what is 600%. Look at the electricity bill and maybe, if you are lucky multiply this by 6. My bill currently is R500.00 per month, the biggest consumption coming from the pool pump first, the geyser secondly and thirdly the stove. The pump runs for 6 hours per day, my geyser is new (is switched off peak times) and has extra insulation. Sorry guys, I need to get rid of these gadgets. Do you know why I’m writing this – because the home owner is going to be screwed over because the media have made it sound so simple. I know a guy that has the IQ of a gecko and he is making a mint out of home-owners through this crap.  What’s the solution?

Popular Mechanics – Tech advancement at its extreme

Guys/Girls subscribe to Popular Mechanics or at least a magazine which will give you the latest technological advances. If you don’t have an answer the readers will or almost definitely the people writing the articles.I’m not advocating the purchase of this or these magazines and we are in no way affiliate to them but their articles are topical and will give you insight. Rather a reader with a bit of foresight than a monkey with hindsight.

Now that I have inspired you I can only advise that you as a responsible home owner should look at wind energy and the noise factor, solar power, batteries and the replacement value.  The replacement cost will be higher than what you save on electricity over a period of a year. If you do not maintain these deep discharge lead/acid cell batteries they will fall over. If you can afford these batteries you should be talking about the pitfalls. Hold the horse! If you can afford these batteries you obviously work for Escom. BTW has the media gone to the executive panel of Escom and seen how they save energy? I’m still waiting for it. Unless their ‘dwellings’  run off surplus methane gas from the banknotes they handle, or the garlic from the meal they had last night at the Ritz, in all likelihood they don’t.

Power Corrupts – but not so much the honest man!

On a more positive note I am glad to see that more and more people are starting to conserve energy. Starting with lighting, computer and sound system the results have been encouraging.

So what if power corrupts – Why aren’t we fighting against over-population?

When I was in standard six (nowadays in grade eight, 1972) our one language teacher (Afrikaans, Ronnie) mentioned that our biggest problem was based on over-population.  I don’t read about this problem because obviously this is no longer of concern. In 1972 it was a problem and now we all copulate like tomorrow doesn’t exist. Give me a break!

Should we not be looking at this first or is this not a money making news breaking story?  I say cut down on the babies, teach people how to build energy efficient houses and f**k the rest. For starters.

Your loyal scribe: Scribe Z

(Ed’s note – the price of electricity in South Africa has effectively doubled since 2009. Oct 2009 – Jan 2014 = 4 years).

Road Freaks

Recently, driving along the N1 between Cape Town and the Northern suburbs I came across an interesting scenerio, rather the rule than the exception. The fast lane in South Africa is supposedly the right hand side lane but don’t be fooled by this. In actual fact more often than not it is the left hand lane. Impatient drivers jump from lane to lane trying to get in front and the use of indicators has become more or less obsolete. I have it in good faith that this procedure slows down the process of moving between lanes. However we also have motorcycles driving between the vehicle traffic so the odds of having an accident is pretty high. In this specific case the motorcyclist nearly hit the back of a vehicle which swerved out in front of him. He overtook the car and another car swerved out in front him. Again he overtook the car.  In both cases the motorcyclist shook his head as he passed the drivers as if they were imbeciles. Well, yes strictly speaking they were. But why would a motorcyclist not anticipate that this would happen. But instead of learning through the first lesson proceeded to do the same thing again within 30 seconds. The various motorcycling clubs have warned traffic authorities time and time again about the dangers of vehicles not indicating in a responsible manner before changing lanes. Well, nothing has changed. In actual fact I’m also worried that motorcylists drive too fast between the lanes.  Is it normal to not expect the unexpected when riding a motorcycle? Why should traffic authorities clamp down on stupid motorists when the motorcyclist takes such unnecessary risks. I see this every day, morning and night. Motorcycle clubs should be teaching their members to ride defencively. And that is the problem. Motorcyclists take unexpected risks – they are not driving a panzer tank and WILL come off second best.

We feel at Parts-Ring that besides a trafficator system, manufacturers should have a mechanical hand that comes out whenever the a sensor detects a lane change and the indicator is off – the hand can either grab the driver’s throat and throttle the life out of him or possibly give him a couple of bitch slaps. I mention the male gender in this case although I am happy to see that the female driver is actually the same or a worse offender. New Money, New Car, No Brain.

The traffic department has released a report stating that almost 20% of licence applicants do not pitch up on the day of testing and this is causing the back log at testing centers. Is it then?  Their next strategy will be to obviously push the fees up. If one looks at the mathematics of this I’d say this is impossible. I’d actually very much like Cosatu to look into this matter and set the record straight.  Most jobs nowadays require a driver’s licence so this may very well be affecting the GDP of the country. I feel the taxi driver’s association should be conducting these tests – an open book learner’s licence and for the practical testing, a day on one of the numerous taxi runs. Actually, both tests could be run on the same day. Think of the time and money one would save.

The powers that be have once again emphasised the importance of having a great public transport system in place by 2010.  What bothers me is recently there was also mention of us not having enough B&B or facilities for the tourists that are likely to be coming over to our beautiful country. So we have an RTS system in place but nobody knows where the touyrists will be be staying. In South Africa they have a saying “n boer maak n plan” ( a farmer makes a plan). Possibly the powers that be should be looking at the farmer for assistance then.

Service Providers

Many years ago it was my thought to have in place a network of the following artisans to provide a service in the small town (50 000 inhabitants) that I lived.  Home and Garden – builders, interior decoration, painters etc.  Plumbers.  Electricians. Refrigeration and as an added service through the electrical service, electronic repair services. This never materialised because the ‘general’ thought was that it wouldn’t work. When I asked why it wouldn’t work I was shocked by the reply (75%) – “it just won’t work”.  Well that was that. Blow me down if not less than 10 years later I meet a very well heeled gentleman whom actually supplies all these services including surveillance.  Yes, I thought. It wouldn’t work where I lived before because the individuals that I spoke to were so nestled up in their own cacoon that to get them out of bed or out of the pub would have broken the ‘complacency theory’.  Sorry guys, this gentleman that I spoke to said he over-charges because he has the best people for the job. He doesn’t suffer fools and if someone broke the rule of complaceny they get ushered out the door very noisily.

What am I saying here?  It can be done. I was done in like thousands of other innocents out there – not because I didn’t know I was been screwed over but because I saw someone that should have been in prison making a 100 yard dash for my bank account. Yep, I was screwed over. I won’t bawl about it – it happens. The guys that do this are easy come, easy go.  So what to do about it.

Parts-Ring supplies the service. We monitor the businesses that add their company name to our database. You, the user/reader supply us with the accolades or fireworks. If someone does not serve the credentials they shouldn’t serve the public. And that’s what we do. We are not going to bring out the heavy guns – businesses make mistakes and Monday or Friday jobs are notoriously bad. We are talking about the cowboys and get rich quick yokels. We need your input. If a company isn’t listed, sign up and list them. We are not responsible for the complaints that follow – you are. Right now we need business to sign up. Right now I also know of five very decent hardworing individuals that deserve to be listed. I cannot do that – I need you, the user/reader to do that.

Yellow pages don’t give you the credibility of the company that you have just recruited for your home changes. I know of two builders in Cape Town that are credible – one small and one big. The owner of the big concern phones me regularly. If I ever needed to vouch for this guy, whom has never done a job for me – I would not hesitate. Why? Because he knows what he is talkingabout but more so, the people that he has done work for state that he is the best in the business. He studied a plan I had and he gave me such solid advice about the layout, the prepareation, the steel to be used that it blew my socks off. Why?  Passion.  This guy had such passion about his profession AND the qualifications to add. I cannot put his name down here but guaranteed in a few months he will be listed.

We will add contacts and references for big work to be done. I don’t believe in family and friends getting work unless they have the credentials – and so should you. This is not the government.  But hang on. Watch our tenders board come up in the next month.

Good bye and may the winds of good fortune be with you.

Scribe Z

Modifying Computer Power Supplies

Computer power supplies are inherently fast switching hence the smaller mains transformer – not the linear type which is inefficient but serves as a great heater for winter months. Can these power supplies be used elsewhere – for instance to drive a car stereo system?  This is a very good question.
 To answer this one needs to look at the loading on the power supply and and what it was designed for. A computer power supply will almost definietly run a car stereo but the disadvantages are over current tripping. A car stereo will not draw a constant current because the amplifier requires changes in current to drive the loudspeaker and unfortunately these currents can vary from a few amperes to anything up to 50 to 100 Amperes.  The power supply will stall under heavy load conditions – it’s designed to do this. Unfortunately car stereos are often driven to it’s maximum potential and when hitting transients the power supply may not be able to cope.  A 12V rail feeding an amplifier which has been bridged (max 20W into 4 Ohm load) means that the user requires about 2A per amplifier * 4 or about 10 Amperes. So the minimum power dissipation one would be looking at is about 120W to run a standard, as advertised 25W * 4 car system and one isn’t even looking at the efficiency of this system.  But yes, in my experience the 20A 12V rail will supply the power required without tripping.  (not the same power supply feeding your computer though – this is inviting problems).   

What about modifying the power supply to run your home stereo system which requires higher voltages. Now this is something that only the experienced electronics buffs should try and should have a great deal of experience in the design and construction of switched mode power supplies. There are circuits shown on the web, one of which I link to but please be cautious. If you have had no experience with switched mode power supplies I would not advise you to attempt any project where you are looking at changing the output voltages.
First of all, the power supply is going to need some changes to the filtering, which means high voltage electrolytics – these, because of their capacity of possibly 10 000uFds and up have a very low reactance when looking at it from the output of the power supply side (you would be using lower capacity than 10 000 uFD BTW because of the SMPS switching frequency) – and in fact is pretty close to a short – you will need to charge these capacitors through a resistance network first and then bypass the network otherwise the power supply will trip. I mention this because often the experimenter overlooks this issue. Remember that you will be powering an amplifier so this should form part of the slow switch on circuit. ATX power supplies do need some sort of load initially to start up – I do this via the slow switch-on circuit as well. Load 500mA until the rails are stable and then switchover to the power amplifier. 

Now what about that voltage you are trying to get?

There are two very important aspects of your design you need to look at a) is this split rail or single rail you require b) what is the voltage you require and c) your SMPSU has an over voltage protection circuit – is this on the 5V rail or 12V rail, in most cases it is on both. You will need a schematic – modern power supplies are cramped and can take you ages to trace. 

Regarding (a), most power amplifiers are directly coupled and need a split rail supply so you will need to start looking at rebuilding the secondary windings. See below.  (b) Regarding your voltages, remember that the amplifier you are delivering power into most probably did NOT have a regulated power supply which means under heavy load conditions the voltage rails drop reducing power dissipation. Regulated supplies usually have excellent results but are also brilliant at destroying output devices if they cannot handle the voltages AND current across them. (Bipolar transistors are a case in point). Consult the specification sheet and check the load line graphs otherwise you may end up with an expensive mess. Regarding the final point (c), your power supply needs a reference voltage – it will hunt for that voltage and lock on. In most power supplies this reference is from both the 5V and 12V rails so you will need to trace and remove these feedback lines. Get the pdf data sheet on the pulse with modulator from the manufacturer. Texas Instruments and International Rectifier readily submit their sheets on the web, it’s easy to trace back  from the control circuit case you don’t have the schematic.  Go to this web site for some details – thanks guys.  The 200W power supply is a great learning tool, uses the ever popular TL494 (spec sheet readily available as you can see). I’m not going to bore you with the details but experimenting with these supplies you must remember that…

The output rails are low voltage. You will need to change the output rectifiers to fast switching devices with the proper PIV rating.
Your filter capacitors need to be changed as well.
You should modify the over current circuitry to suit your needs.
Possibly use the +5V standby circuit to power up a 110/220V fan.
Use the soft start circuit to power up the main switching circuit (the 200W power supply gives a very good indication of what one would normally find) and not hard wire the main switcher because in most cases this circuit also forms part of the over voltage circuit. i.e. look at the base of Q1.
The secondary transformers in PCs are normally centre tapped where the centre tap is grounded (and earthed). You will need to isolate this part and full wave rectify the output (remember that these diodes must be fast switching).  I mentioned split rail power supplies earlier on – this is where you will need to start looking at rewinding the secondary part of the main switcher. I believe the more professional experimenters normally opt for two power supplies in series – obvioulsy you will then need to start looking at the polarities of the output. Myself, although I no longer have the project running any more – I rewound the secondary winding and with a little bit of asistance from an engineer whom specialises in UPS design we managed to get a running +/-40V 8A  from an older 400W power supply. There was a lot more to this though – I had issues with the main switchers blowing because of a saturation issue. I’ll try to find the plans, should have it still. I will still be redoing this project within the next month or two and give full plans. Power supplies are so much cheaper these days.  BTW – do add a choke / pi filter to the output.

I came across this very interesting forum which essentially covers what has been said here but please remember that you are working with mains voltages and very importantly remember to filter out noise.  You may not worry about it but your neighbours will.  To the budding experimenters out there always use fuses that are not going to explode and leave glass fragments all over the place, normally your arms and face. I have repaired hundreds of PC power supplies over the years and more often than not taking short cuts have their complications. You can end up losing an eye if you are not careful. Do use HRC or high rupture fuses – they are there also for your own safety. They are usually ceramic or sand filled.

Many of the circuits shown on the internet are designed by passionate people, often engineers and very experienced hobbyists – they expect you to respect electricity.

Used Car and Motorcycle Parts

 a) know the part, know the car model and year. b) Please also know what the part does if you are phoning around.  Often used spares dealers are far apart and it works out cheaper just to phone around first but if you know what the part is, what it does (believe me, people often think they know what the part is until the dealer starts asking questions and finds to his horror that the guy on the other end of the phone is looking for a push rod when in actual fact it may be a cam-follower – yes this has happened and it’s time wasting). Lastly c). Do you know what the part costs new. Scrap or used part dealers may take a chance, even in some instances they may not know the true second hand value and are not trying to rip you off but just trying to get a fair price. This happens, so don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. 

Anyone vaguely interested in working in onld motor cars, motorcycles, whatever should have a good selection of service manuals and know the different parts. Sending your wife to pick up a part when her interests are bird-watching and growing plants is been a bit unfair to say the least. Oh, yes, this happens. So get off your butt, you lazy oaf and get the part yourself. I’m going to cover some case histories here:

Case History One

A friend of mine saw an add for a reconditioned Toyota Hilux motor in an advertisment for only 500U$. As the seller was living upcountry and claimed to have quite a few in stock my mate purchased one and it was duly shipped down. The unit looked like it came from a wreck. What had transpired was that the seller did indeed have a few but they sold like hot cakes – when my mates turn came he only had a write-off where he promptly removed the engine and shipped it down. Without cleaning it up or even tried to make it look presentable or cover the con it was shipped 1 000 miles to the buyer.
Needless to say the story has a happy ending. The engine was in fact in excellent condition – the top was taken off and there was virtually no wear. The big ends were like new but best of all, according to the local dealer mechanic, the engine looked as if it had done under 60 000 miles and the model was newere than the one it was going to replace. For 500U$. Ok, this story is more than 10 years old but it shows you – some of us are lucky.

Case History Two

Another guy I knew, a builder, used to recondition Ford V6 engines in his spare time.  These were really grand engines, lots of power, never very green but from robot to robot and a good aftermarket tune up nothing could really keep up. This guy was busy replacing a geyser for an old timer when he noticed an old Granada in the garage. Car had done only 20 000 miles (still marked in miles) when the owner had a stroke and was reluctant to drive it. The builder purchased this car for about 400U$ – needless to say he held on to it.

Case History Three

Now this is even a better luck story than number two. This story involves a con-artist whom used to dress up as the local vicar and go scouting around the old villages to pick up bargains in the name of the church. He came across some really backward brothers in this really out of the way place and invited himself in for tea. Noticing that their house was adorned with Chippendale furniture he mentioned to them that his church was looking for firewood and as their furniture was so old, were they thinking about getting a modern replacement? – he would gladly take the old stuff off their hands and sell it off as firewood. “Arr”, said one. “Arr” said the second one. They gave the Chippendales to the con and off he went to bring his car and trailer around the back entrance to pick it up. By the time he got to the back porch they had already smashed the priceless chairs into smithereens for his firewood collection.

Well, this is not really a true story – it’s an old Roald Dahl tale. But it makes one think of what is lying out there.

On a more serious note.

Getting older motorcycle spares are a  problem – a bike doesn’t have the same life-span as a car but yet there are so many around that I have sleepless nights thinking of ways to get dealers to start publishing their inventory. That’s what we are all about. In time I want to see these pages full of advertisers pushing after-market parts for older machines.  I want to see especially older engines (complete), pistons, rings, cranks, carburettors, CDI, gearbox parts.  Have you ever tried to get a good condition speedo and tacho set for an old machine? Where are the companies out there re-furbishing these units, or even better still, selling aftermarket kits.

Please contact our sales staff and let us know what you have. We publish the list in full – we do the marketing and you make the profit. We do charge 5% of your selling price though but this is negotiable.