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2013 in a nutshell

What a year 2013 turned out to be! Who would have thought that the year that shouldn't have been, if the Mayan calendar interpreters had been correct, was exciting? History was written right in front of my eyes as I watched the news or as I found myself where the history was happening. Pope Benedict XVI resigns. Yes, he has. At first, I thought that the announcements via social media was bogus until I saw the news clips on TV. And because he had given up the leadership of the biggest and what may be the oldest Christian congregation in the world, he has put the Church in a more positive light after news upon news of unbecoming behaviors of priests. Benedict XVI's last day as Pope was covered by a lot of news agencies.With the resignation of the Pope, the Church is in a state of Sede Vacante ("vacant seat"). The papal conclave began on March 12th in which one Filipino cardinal, Luis Antonio Tagle was considered a papabile (among other cardinals from different parts of…

cute na bata daw ako. (hahaha!)

Isang araw, makalipas ang Pasko, namasyal kami ng nanay ko sa isang mall. Dahil malamig, may suot akong makapal na jacket at botang panlamig. Sa kapal ng jacket, nagmukha siguro akong nagkakalad na marshmallow. At dahil nagkataon pang pink ang pantalon ko, nagmukha akong naglalakad na cotton candy! Kaya tuloy habang naglalakad kami, tinigil kami ng isang kapwa mamimili...
"Filipino rin kayo?", tanong niya.
"Oo, Filipino kami," sagot ng nanay ko.
"Sabi na nga ba!", sabi ng mamimili sa nanay ko. Pagtingin sa akin, aniya, "Ang cute cute naman ng batang ito!" sabay pisil sa braso kong balot ng makapal na jacket.
Paglayo ng mamimili, napatawa kami ng nanay ko dahil pang-ilang beses na ito na napagkamalan akong bata. Seryoso.
:D

Statistics made easier by STAR

A few years back, I learned how to use R, a statistical software that requires one to write the commands (or scripts). While I enjoyed deciphering this new language and use it in numerous data analyses, other people are not big fans. They like to click on buttons and get the data analyzed without bothering with the script. Thus, statisticians in IRRI developed the Statistical Tool for Agricultural Research (STAR), a program that does exactly that: analysts just have to click on the preferred/required types of analyses and the software will churn out the values.

And did I say that the software is free? Just like R, STAR is accessible for budget-strapped individuals.
I've taken it for a spin during one of the introductory courses... The version I used in the course has a few hits and misses (particularly the color scheme of data points in graphs) but it appears to be pretty adequate for several types of multivariate analyses.

Now, understanding what the numbers that STAR churns out…

Row, row, row your boat...

Obviously, I wasn't exactly riding a boat in the picture above. This is the first time since my Subic adventure that I took up an oar and went into the water. This is also the first time I've been close to a body water (not counting swimming pools) in a long time... I can't believe that it's been more than a year since I've been to the beach!
Anyway, I was riding this bamboo raft on Labasin Lake in Villa Escudero, San Pablo City, Laguna. While the view from the middle of the lake was very nice, I didn't dare carry any electronic gadget with me on the raft because I might fall into the 30-m deep lake with them (oh no!). I left my gadgets on dry land and donned on a life vest. Then off I and my raft teammate, RK Singh's daughter, went. It took some time and muscle power to figure out how to propel and to direct the raft so that we wouldn't hit the other people in the rafts, the barge with the flags, and the banks of the lake. There were several instance…

my reading list in 2013

On my rest days (when I am decidedly out of the lab), I take some time to read. This year (as in other years), the books I've read for leisure are quite eclectic; I didn't stick to one genre.

1. Negotiate a Kick-Ass Salary (2012) by Nelson Wang
2. Lord of the Ring: Return of the King by JRR Tolkien
3. The Coming Famine by Julian Cribb
4. Snoops in the City
5. Lord of the Ring: Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
6. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds
7. Presentation Zen Design by Garr Reynolds
8. Lord of the Ring: Two Towers by JRR Tolkien
9. Culinary Foundations by Le Cordon Bleu
10. Silmarilion by JRR Tolkien*
11. Inferno by Dan Brown*

*NOTE: I haven't finished reading these books as of December 23, 2013.

AFSTRI's 2013 Cultural Night

If Phileas Fogg went around the world in 80 days in Jules Verne's novel, the Association of Fellows, Scholars, Trainees, and Residents at IRRI (AFSTRI) took the audience around the world in three hours through song, dance, and poetry during the annual Cultural Night. I'd normally come in quietly and just watch from the comfort of one if the seats at the Havener Auditorium; however, Ando, AFSTRI's current president, assigned me as one of the masters of ceremonies that night. I was co-hosting with Man. I sighed... I wouldn't be taking photos then.
But despite being backstage most of the time, talking with participants about last-minute changes to their presentations and our impromptu spiels, Man and I did enjoy the co-hosting gig. Since the theme was "A Night Around the World", we thought it might be good to ask the audience to sit back, relax, and fasten their seat belts; this was going to be a zip through the globe.
And what a fast trip it was: Five continen…

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): We won! We won!!

Another late post...
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Team Tagumpay wins the coveted rice bowl trophy and the bragging rights!


We won on a technicality though: Team Tagumpay placed second BUT the real winning team threw in the towel during their harvest phase, with the members saying that they didn't want to compete anymore. That's really sad because they never knew how close they were to winning when they quit.
The organizers of Rice Survivor proved to be very generous with the prizes. All teams in the 2013 wet season received awards for some attention-catching performance or another. For me, I take the survival of the rice plants and the resulting harvest as victory enough since plants I take care of tend to die (like the basil plants I used to have in my backyard).
Aside from the trophy and the bragging rights, I take the lessons that I learned as prizes in themselves. Being part of this season's challenge taught me part of what farmers experience during a planting season: the hardest lesson for me…

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Did we win yet?

Sometime in November...

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After several months of hard work, nervous waiting, and harvesting, my team became focused on finding out if what we did in the field translated into projected profit. Here's how we did it:
Profit (per hectare) = Sales - Expenses      where: sales (Php/kg) was based on data given by economists                  we assume that 100% of the milled rice was sold                  we actually dried the harvest to 14% moisture content and calculated the yield from that
Then we made several options on selling the grain and calculated the projected profits from the different models: 1. We would sell the milled rice based on the market price  2. We would sell only the whole grain at premium price then throw out the broken grain 3. We would sell intact (whole/unbroken) grain and broken grain separately
It turned out that we'd make more profit (theoretically) with Option #3 so we stuck with that.
Let's see if my Team Tagumpay's business savvy would pit w…

Helping the typhoon victims in our little way

The Philippines made history last November 9, 2013. The strongest typhoon of the current Pacific typhoon season AND what is claimed to be the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall in the history of mankind slammed the eastern coastline of the central part of the Philippines. Super Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) was estimated to have hit the Philippines with winds at 195 mph... yes, the wind speed was in miles, not kilometers! Aside from the strong winds, Haiyan also came with a storm surge whose waves easily wiped out buildings. Not surprisingly, the towns and cities along the typhoon's path were decimated. Initial estimates indicated that as many as 10,000 people died in this typhoon. Tacloban, Leyte is one of the hardest-hit cities, transforming into a virtual wasteland in a span of a few hours in front of spectators glued to their tellies. Who wouldn't be moved by the heartbreaking stories captured by media practitioners?
As soon as the DSWD National Resource …

All Saints' Day 2013

While All Saints' Day is traditionally when people visit the dead, it is also the time to reunite with the living. 
October 28, 2013 With the road going to Manila Memorial Park being notoriously heavy on this time of the year, I opted to visit the grave of my paternal grandfather, Lolo Bats, a few days ahead (right after I voted at the Barangay Elections). With me was my grandma, Lola Bats, who's age and health condition prohibit her from walking long distances. And with her was the househelp, who had to assist her with the short walk to Lolo Bats' grave. If it were just me, I'd have also visited an uncle (buried on a hilltop), his dad (I couldn't seem to find his grave each time I try),  and the Aquinos (buried near my grandpa's site).
After the pleasant afternoon outing, we then went to vist her daughter, Tita Ising. This was the first time that Lola Bats saw her youngest great granddaughter, Elise, because she is overseas with her parents (Tita Ising's y…

Wet and wild Wednesday surprise road trip

I opted to wait the rain out before I went on the road today. However, the rain wouldn't quit so I decided to go and hope that my trip would be uneventful. After all, it was no longer raining fighting cats and dogs at that time.

The initial portion of the trip seemed promising because the traffic condition wasn't so bad. The road was pretty much clean too...
Until I reached Real, Calamba...

Take note, visibility was so low that drivers had to turn on the headlights at 8:30am. Yes, 8:30am! The drive was pretty slow too, thanks to the wet asphalt.
I should have taken the scenic route but it's way too long, so I continued driving on the National Highway. The flooded section of the  Los BaƱos-bound road in front of Monte Vista (in Pansol, Calamba) did not convince me to turn back.

The commuter buses led the counterflowing because the water was just way too deep on the right side of the road. We, with the smaller vehicles, followed suit. 
I finally changed my mind when I saw the long…

Black cat

Some say that black cats bring bad omens. Some say that black cats are signs of good fortune. Either way, the black cat, especially a large one, is a startling animal to see (for me).
In 2012, while on my way to the University of California-Davis, I came across this black cat. It's obviously not a stray, with the confident way it walked and approached people in its territory.
I didn't think it was a cat that would let strangers touch it, though, because of the body language.

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Harvesting rice is easier than I originally thought.

Months ago, I was down in the mud, transplanting rice for a few minutes and watching field workers do it for a whole afternoon. I realized then what I've always known mentally but never experienced before: being a field worker is a back-breaking profession. Whoever penned the song "Magtanim ay 'di biro" was not kidding. 
So when harvesting time finally came along, I was fully expecting to be amid field workers and learning how to use the scythe. However, Team Tagumpay decided to try mechanized harvesting. This means that a machine goes into the field, cuts the stalks, threshes the panicles, and stores the grains in a bin. Ideal conditions allowed us to do so: (1) our plants did not fall over, or lodge, due to the wind and the rains of the wet season; (2) the soil was dry enough for the machine to drive through.

I had cleared my calendar for the morning for this. But it took less than two hours to finish the harvest! If you ask me, I find this as an anti-climactic en…

Review: Glee Season 5: The Quarterback (2013)

I was one of those people who watched out for the Glee tribute episode for Cory Monteith. He used to portray Finn Hudson, a co-leader in McKinley High's New Directions show choir and the quarterback in the school's football team in the tv series. Unfortunately, Monteith/Hudson died too soon. The tribute episode picked up a few weeks after Hudson's death and showed how the members of New Directions and the teachers were coping after his death.
It was a very emotional episode. As the cast opened the episode with "Seasons of Love" the way it's done in Rent, I just knew it would be a cry-fest. True enough, I was crying all throughout the episode. The weird thing was I wasn't crying for Finn or for Cory; I was crying because my maternal grandmother, Lola Estay, had died last year. The sadness felt by the cast during the episode brought back the pain of saying good bye to my grandma. 
It was certainly a difficult hour for me. 
But in the end of the episode, th…

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): It's heart-breaking to see fallen rice plants...

... and they weren't even in Team Tagumpay's plot!



Now that I've gone through what it's like to be a farmer, albeit doing so in a learning environment—visiting the fields almost everyday, stressing out when a discolored leaf appears somewhere in the plot, freaking out when animals attack the plants—I can fully appreciate a farmer's pain when a season's crop is damaged, leading to less harvest, less income, and less food.

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): And now we wait...

Once the seedlings were on the ground, all we had to do was wait. Well, not exactly. We also needed to monitor the water in the field so that if there's too little water, we irrigated; if there's too much, we drained the water. Plus, we kept an eye out for weeds, snails, and rats. And then there was the fertilizer to be added at certain periods of the plants' development stage... we didn't add the fertilizer ourselves; someone from the farm did this for us.

Being the novice farmers that we were (except for RK), Neale, Jen, and I worried about discolorations in the leaves because these surely were signs of diseases. But Adam, an expert in plant diseases, told us to do nothing. So we did.

It's fascinating to watch the plants grow from tiny seedlings to mature plants. I dropped by the field every afternoon early in the season because it wasn't raining yet. But when the heavy downpours came, I visited only in afternoons when it wasn't raining.

When the leave…

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Transplanting cramming

The rain fell over the weekend, which caused some of the land preparation activities to be delayed. So when transplanting day, June 24, arrived, we were CRAMMING. The nice thing though, was that staff from the farm were on-call: if we needed help, they were there to assist; if we didn't need help, they would still stop by and make sure that we were alright.

Since there were so many things to do with the clock ticking and the labor cost meter running, the members of Team Tagumpay divided its chores. RK was at the field watching over the final land leveling while Neale and I were checking if the seedlings were ready for pulling. Maya knew where the fertilizer, which was not applied the day before because of the rain, was kept. Once we've decided that the transplanting would push through, Neale took charge of the pulling activity while I watched over the application of basal fertilizer in our newly leveled field. (I wanted to do it but the farm staff said I'd slow them down.)


Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Let's hunt snails.

As the plants grew in the nursery (and I waited impatiently), it was time to think about land preparations in time for transplanting. One of the tasks that Team Tagumpay had to agree upon was what to do with the snails. Maya, the team's environmentalist, was totally against the application of molluscicides to our team's plot (her words, not mine). So on the morning of June 21, we came to the field armed with plastic bags to hunt snails even though hunting was not allowed... at least according to the sign.

At first, we didn't want to go into the flooded field. Gaye Cuerdo (of The Avengers team) captured photos of Team Tagumpay staying on the sidelines, literally, collecting only the snails close to the bunds. In the end though, the snails just kept going beyond our reach. We just had to jump in... BUT there were no more cameras to take our photos because everyone in the team was collecting snails.
After a few hours, our snail collections filled a plastic bag. But there wer…

maybe i need to become a polyglot.

In my calendar, I'd call the third week of September as language week. There were three days during that week where I was talking with people who spoke little English while I speak little of everything else. Thank goodness for translators!!
Day 1: I was talking with a group of Chinese scientists. I don't know how to say anything in Chinese except for thank you (Xie xie) and hello (Ni hao). Their host acted as the translator and he asked me jokingly if I could talk with the visitors in Chinese. Actually, this is the second time someone has asked me if I could speak a Chinese language; the first time, it was Mandarin.
Day 2: A group of Japanese media practitioners talked with me through a Filipino translator. The only Japanese expression I could say on top of my head is thank you (Arigatou). They did not request a discussion in Japanese so I didn't have to worry so much. They did, however, request that I talk in Filipino. That was the challenge for me: it's difficult for …

Marketplace exhibits take 2: Women in Rice Farming

On August 8, IRRI played host to women involved in rice farming. Because there was just so much to see and to learn during the one-day event, the organizers decided to feature the different research highlights just like during the Ambassadors' Day months back: marketplace-style. Aside from the different exhibits, there was a panel discussion on the role of women in rice farms. Farmers stepped up to share their stories too.
For this event, the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center was represented by me, Cindy, and Tita Dory. It was a good thing that a rehearsal run was conducted before the event; otherwise, we wouldn't be prepared for the number of guests dropping by. Once again, our elevator pitches were put to a test. 
A great experience, overall. :)
As usual, photos taken during the event were captured after the whirlwind visit of the guests.





Theatricality

I have always been afraid of being up on stage. I'd get sick, lose my appetite, and just do something repeatedly (like walking up and down the stairs) hours before my turn onstage. Thus, it comes as a big surprise for me eleven years after my very first technical presentation, that I am actually spending a lot time in front of audiences who come from different walks of life, talking about rice as food.


At some point this year, I was asked to make my presentation as interactive as possible (probably because the audience for that presentation were indoors for a whole-day stretch and needed to be entertained). I had taken up the challenge and adopted one of The Glee Project's core skills as a keyword: theatricality. Since that point, I've been asked to present the science that I do to general audiences that way. In the presentation to media practitioners (see photo above), I didn't even use slides anymore, as per discussion with the organizers.
I am still have stage frig…

Before my toughest scientific talk yet.

I was tapped to speak about rice grain quality at Eastwood Mall's International Rice Festival, as part of IRRI's symposium on July 28. Two days prior to the event, I had a glimpse of just how challenging such a task was as Dr Bruce Tolentino (whose speeches and media interviews are always great studies on how to speak in public) showed me where the speakers would be located: on an elevated stage in the atrium of the mall, in the middle of foot traffic. I felt that I was about to face my toughest audience yet. This marked my first time to speak to (window) shoppers and whoever would stop and listen about the science of rice quality.
While the reality of speaking up on stage was sinking in for me, Dr Tolentino asked the most important question of them all: Do I think I can sustain an audience's attention on a scientific topic for 20 minutes in that situation? How was I supposed to do that IN A SHOPPING MALL?!?

Needless to say, I had to rethink the way I conveyed my message…

History appreciation 101 at the Ayala Museum

Another weekday holiday brought me and my museum-hopping friends Mary, Bing, and Man to the next museum/art gallery in our checklist: the Ayala Museum (http://www.ayalamuseum.org). I've been there twice before (both as a student) and there were instances when Noah and I were staring at the entrance but didn't have the time to go in.
Today, I had the luxury of spending an afternoon viewing dioramas that showcase snippets of Philippine history. Photography is not allowed, just like in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, so I am not posting any here.
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The 60 dioramas at the Ayala Museum divided Philippine history into various stages but not necessarily in the way it was taught to me in school. Philippine history was defined, in my history classes, based on who had occupied the Philippines at any given time: the Spaniards, the Americans, and the Japanese. Instead, the dioramas and a multimedia exhibit showed history based on how Filipinos viewed it: before colonizers, the loss…

Treasures appreciation Tuesday at the Ayala Museum

Another weekday holiday brought me and my museum-hopping friends Mary, Bing, and Man to the next museum/art gallery in our checklist: the Ayala Museum (http://www.ayalamuseum.org). I've been there twice before (both as a student) and there were instances when Noah and I were staring at the entrance but didn't have the time to go in.
Today, I had the luxury of spending an afternoon viewing the various exhibits that showed how strong Philippine international trade relations were with the rest of the world, a common theme I have observed previously in exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum and the National Museum. The Ayala collection further showed how rich the foundations of Filipino culture are. Photography is not allowed, just like in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, so I am not posting any here.
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Gold of Ancestors. Gold has always been one of the most expensive metals worldwide. But it's not only valued by contemporary people. Even in pre-historical periods, Filipino…

Good-bye, Jazz.

January 2006. That's when I first saw the car that would bring me from point A to point B for the next seven years: a Honda Jazz 1.3 CVT. Fast forward 186,000++ kilometers later, I bid the car good-bye. While I've been planning on selling it for sometime, the reality of parting from the car still came as a shock... and that was earlier today. Yes, the Jazz was sold on my Mom's birthday. Since the car transferred hands and I am home alone, I wasn't in such a celebratory mood. Anna and I will eat on the weekend to celebrate Mommy's birthday.
It still feels surreal that the Jazz is no longer mine. So to cope, I'm listing down 10 memories with the Jazz, just on the top of my head.
Here goes... The rear seat became a mini-zoo. The stuff toys became a perfect distraction for my nephews and nieces. A friend was attempting to get the platypus doll for himself; I ended up teary-eyed. They're my toys!Long trip to Pampanga, take 1. Anna and I drove north to see the 16…

Tayo na sa Antipolo

I like to travel, don't get me wrong. But I normally prepare for my trips by studying the route on a map or I have a knowledgeable navigator among my passengers (if I'm the designated driver). Lately, however, I've been going to places I've never been to before thanks to classmates in culinary arts class.

Last time I was with them on a road trip, I ended up parking in Montalban, Rizal as part of a three-car convoy a few hours after class. This time, I was up for yet another drive but to somewhere closer (I think): Antipolo, Rizal.
No, we weren't there to visit the famous church frequented by pilgrim travelers nor the HinulugangTaktak. We had lunch at a Padi's Point roadside restaurant. Ordinary enough, I thought, until I saw the view. Beyond the trees of the mountain we were on, I caught a glimpse of the waters of Laguna de Bay and the peak of Talim Island on the left, and the skyline of Metro Manila on the right. I should have brought my dSLR camera with me. B…

Review: Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo? (2013)

Once again, I found myself falling in line at the ticket booth to watch a movie I didn't know anything about. This time, though, I was with a different group of friends.

As the lights were dimming and as the opening scene started, I blurted: "I thought we were watching Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo?. Why is Kim Chiu in it?!"
"Don't you like watching Kim Chiu movies?", my friends asked. 
"I'm not a fan but I have seen some of her films. Why, is she part of the cast of this film?", I answered, still confused... I thought the first scene was a trailer of a different movie.
As the movie continued, I realized she was the lead actor in the movie. She top-billed the movie and rightly so because she really drove the plot forward. Her comedic timing felt natural, never forced, and as if there were no cameras around. While she clearly led the rest of the cast, none of them were overshadowed by her acting chops. Even the scenes with the kids, the film…

Review: Four Sisters and a Wedding (2013)

I drove back to Calamba right after class one Saturday afternoon because I was meeting my friends from high school. I caught up with them in the cinema after buying a ticket for the movie Four Sisters and a Wedding. Since I was in a hurry (the movie was about to start when I bought my ticket) I didn't stop and look at the posters so I didn't know what the movie was about... Except that it was (supposedly) funny.

Funny, it really was! The scriptwriting and directing team captured the Filipino family reunion as the four sisters (based overseas) came home for their brother's wedding. As the family shrieked and jumped in delight, I felt I was watching the reception my overseas-based relatives get when they visit the Philippines. The movie was very close to home, I thought.
Aside from the joyous occasions, it couldn't be helped to insert a lot of conflict between siblings in the movie. The formula must be effective since I've seen this kind of conflict in several movies…

Ano daw?!

I was driving along the southbound lane of the Southern Luzon Expressway (SLEX) this afternoon from Makati. Since the traffic was moving quite fast, I zipped through the tollway. I didn't have time to process what the billboards found on the at-grade posts of the SLEX were saying. Hence, I had a double take when I saw two ads that I found weird (again)...
"Patigil-tigil ba ang iyong pag-ihi? Don't text and drive."
"Mataas ba ang iyong cholesterol? Don't text and drive."
Say what?!
These ad designers should really rethink how they put their messages onto their posters! I didn't catch what the subsequent posters were saying so it's really easy to miss the opportunity to bring their messages across!

Tricycle cargo

Tricycles are some of the most common means of public transportation in the Philippines. They can be found traversing barangay roads and national highways. The only places I haven't seen them in (because they're not allowed there) are the expressways.
The stuff that these tricycles transport can be as different as night and day! Here are two examples:
This tricycle was transporting a gas cylinder at night along the national highway in Calamba. What a way of transporting, right? it's not the most ideal because the cylinder could get dislodged on a particularly bad bump... And probably explode. For some people though, this is the most convenient and the cheapest way of transporting such things. Traffic was not moving at the time because a container van trailer was being maneuvered into some weird configuration on the outer lane.
And here's another one. I presume that these colorful toys are going to be sold in one of the markets in Calamba. It's just nice to see somethi…

Museum-hopping.

I'm lucky that I have friends who share my enthusiasm on learning more about Philippine culture and who love to visit museums. And we do it every June 19, so far, complete with a stop over at Jose Rizal's monument at the Luneta.
This year, aside from dropping by the museum at the CCP, we looked at the various art exhibits there and dropped by the nearby Metropolitan Museum in Manila. Just by looking at so many artwork from a wide range of genres, I could say (not being an expert at all) that the Philippine visual arts scene is thriving.
When I first saw copies of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo's paintings "La Barca de Aqueronte" and "Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho", I understood why he won reknown as an artist: I was blown away by his depiction of adversity and discomfort and by his play with light and shadows. These paintings, including Juan Luna's "Spolarium", are some of the best I've seen. They're priceless!
Aside from…