Let’s raise a glass for the ultimate teacher…

Experience.

Challenges, failures, and successes – all culminate into experiences that shape our decisions.

These experiences are extremely potent; to the extent that they can color our perspective on a number of important things.

Some experiences can alter our moral fibre; others can reinforce the preliminary truths that have been ingrained in us since childhood.

Experience is the yardstick with which professional  acumen and financial worth is measured out in the workplace.

Experience adds an extra swagger in one’s walk after nailing ten three-pointers in a row on the basketball court.

That satisfied smack of the lips after applying lipstick flawlessly while driving – that’s experience, all right.

It wakes you in the middle of the night, as autumnal breeze makes the windows creak and groan with increasing frequency.  All those pre-Halloween movie marathons, they count as experience, be it fictional and borrowed.

Experience saves us from heartbreak.  You can spot the red flags from a mile away.

Why pause before every turn? Even on a deserted intersection? Previous experiences, more accurately described as close calls, demand you leave space for crazed drivers breaking stoplights.  Experience saves your hard-earned money from ending up in the mechanic’s wallet.

This week social media will be flooded with poems and platitudes, all praising the traditional wielder of wisdom and clarity – a teacher.

You know better than to subscribe to that trend.

After all,  you have the Experience.

Virtual Reality: Untapped Opportunity

The Science

Immersion + Interactivity = Tele-Presence. That is how the VR techies define Virtual Reality.  For us regular folks, here is a simpler definition: Virtual reality is  computer generated environment that allows the user to experience an alternate reality. This reality may or may not resemble ‘real life’.  The headset uses two small lenses to feed the user’s eyes with three-dimensional images while headphones supply the accompanying soundtrack or noises.

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The VR Engine

Virtual Reality headsets are powered by regular personal computers, since contemporary PCs are sophisticated enough to run software for Virtual Environments.  Headsets consist of two monitors, one for each eye, and they combine images to create a stereoscopic effect. This creates the illusion of depth while exploring a virtual world.

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The user is literally is immersed into a new world that is ‘near reality’ or virtual – so this is called immersion. Once in the user can interact with this new world. The combination of the immersion and the interactivity is what is called Telepresence.

Remember this formula?  Immersion + Interactivity = Tele-Presence

VE designers determine the success of their design when the user becomes completely unaware of their real surroundings and solely focuses on their existence within the virtual environment.

So far most VE involve visual and audio simulation but engineers are working to incorporate the user’s sense of touch – user force feedback and touch interaction is called haptic systems.

The Lingo

  • VE= Virtual Environments
  • VRX= Virtual Reality Experiences
  • Haptic Systems = User Force Feedback and Touch Interaction

How is it already changing our lives?

For perhaps the most obvious place of entry, virtual reality is edging into the Entertainment industry.  Films are being filmed exclusively for VR headsets while live-streamed concerts are giving users a front-row experience from the comfort of their own home.

If you recall the computer monitor at the Home Depot that helps you select the right colour for the living room, it makes sense that the design industry has eagerly adopted VR tech.  Pop on a headset, feed in a picture or two of the room that needs a renovation, you can build a new space with 3-D tools.  

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Collaborative experiences beyond traditional gaming are gaining momentum, you can tap in friends to help you build a 3-d painting -Google’s Tiltbrush.  You can use apps and wand-like controllers to add further customisation to the 3-D experience.

Gaming has gotten infinitely cooler with VR as now game designers flip the switch on traditional designing, creating easter eggs and predicting where their player will actually turn or reach out and touch in the gaming dimension – the possibilities are only limited by their creativity

Did you listen to my latest podcast ‘Virtual Reality: Are We There Yet?’? 

There is the logical extension of VR tech with Tourism and Exploration of places near and impossibly far – Google Cardboard and others promise a tour of the Planet Mars.

However, I think the potential of disrupting Meditation is infinitely more exciting!  Psychologists in the United States have already starting using it with army vets to treat Post-traumatic Disorder.  Researchers are using VR worlds to explore human behaviour in a safe space, suspended from reality.

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Studies have shown VR sessions to work better than traditional painkillers – meaning it can be used in place of medicines to heal with distraction and engagement of the mind.

Video conferencing has become common-place, but VR technology means logging onto a Tele-presence robot that wheels around automatically in the workplace while you work from a remote location.  It’s not all work, you can also log onto a chat room, not much different from The Sims, and chat or play in the guise of your game avatar.

Shopping in virtual reality is gonna be like never before,as you can try on a new pair of shoes or  squeeze into a shirt before buying it online.

What Skills Are Required to Break into VR Tech Industry? 

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The virtual reality space has taken off and the demand for job candidates with VR knowledge has gone up by 37% since 2015! Since the tech is new, VR Startups and research companies are facing difficulty filling that demand.  There are a large number of jobs available for those open to building virtual-reality apps, games, and experiences. If there is anything that screams CAREER OPPORTUNITY – this would be it.

There are two different types of VR content being created for VRX:

  1.  360 VR Video, and
  2. True-VR .

A career in 360 VR Video asks for experience in  Film Production and VFX skill-set.  The 360 video medium is a highly complex mixture of on-location production skills, sophisticated technical cameras and detailed post-production techniques. Once the experience is hot, technicians need to stitch scenes back into 360 spheres with tools like Kolor, or Nuke compositor. The final edits are made in Premiere, while any motion graphics tweaking is accomplished with After Effects or Fusion.

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360 VR Video content can be used on Youtube 360, Facebook 360 as well as all apps and devices that play VR.

A contender for a job in the 360 VR would require portfolio that exhibits:

  • Examples of grading and editing,
  • VFX breakdowns of complex fixes ,
  • Motion Tracking and embedded motion graphics,and
  • A showreel with their best 360 video work, including samples of before and after post-production stitching.

game-development

Entering into a career in True-VR requires a strong pre-knowledge of game engine technology as well as a demonstrable game design skills-set.  The workflow for True-VR is similar to traditional game development, from modelling and animating to the eventual rendering.  Virtual Experiences created by True-VR technicians are geared for headsets such as Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, HTC Vive, and even the humble Samsung Gear VR.

Familiarity with the following programs will be beneficial for any True-VR hopeful:

  • Animation and Modelling: Maya or 3ds Max
  • Sculpting and Texturing: Mudbox, ZBrush, or Mari
  • Final Rendering and Publication:  Unity or UnReal Engine

Within True-VR there are two career paths:

VR Developer

Those looking to become VR Developers should have a showreel of VR experiences they have created for game engines, a downloadable link to the game or experience, sample code in C#, C+ or equivalent and further detail of the content they have created.

3D Artist

Those wanting to become 3D Artists should have a showreel that best exhibits their artistry in live games and experiences, wireframes and samples of their work in a game engine like Unity, UE4 or Marmoset.

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Interested in the software end of things and itching to break into Virtual Reality Development? You will need experience in the following to break into B2B VR startups:
  • Strong Knowledge of Realtime Game Engine Tech + Arts Skills: Designing and Developing with 3D Modelling Software such as 3ds Max or Maya, texture or sculpting in Zbrush or Mari and Unity or UnReal Engine to pull the whole project together.
  • SDKs (Software Development Kits) being used by VR developers, such as SDK 0.8 for Oculus,
  • Head tracking, 3D calibration and side-by-side rendering, and
  • Programming Experience with C or C ++ languages.

Leaning towards hardware? Skills from PC and Mobile Phone technology easily transfer over to immersive filming. You will need experience in Optics since visualisation is key for developing engaging Virtual Environments (VE).

Past Gaming – Where Else Can VR Be Found?

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VR jobs are expected to show up in education, military and medical fields as tech can be used for trainings, simulations, safety modulations  – as well as construction, engineering and architecture that can exploit 3D design to optimise models/estimates.

Venture into Computer Vision to understand the fundamentals of VR Tracking and camera-based user interaction.  Cognitive computer engineers are needed to help businesses create, test, and evaluate cognitive software designed for their computer network.

On The Horizon

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Scientists are also exploring the possibility of developing biosensors for VR use. A biosensor can detect and interpret nerve and muscle activity. With a properly calibrated biosensor, a computer can interpret how a user is moving in physical space and translate that into the corresponding motions in virtual space. Biosensors may be attached directly to the skin of a user, or may be incorporated into gloves or bodysuits. One limitation to biosensor suits is that they must be custom made for each user or the sensors will not line up properly on the user’s body

Thinking Out Loud

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Is this it, fellow humans? Is the pinnacle of human ingenuity and creativity  limited to regurgitating real-life scenarios onto digital screens for rapid consumption?  Are we fulfilling the prophecy predicted by the animated movie ‘Wall-E’?

Are we destined to become increasingly sedentary, floating about on hoverchairs, consuming packaged foods, viewing the world through strapped-on headsets and booking our flights to the nearest planet?

Listen to latest Catalyst Woman podcast ‘Virtual Reality: Are We There Yet?’? 

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Tiny Stories #ForEveryChild

I am taking part in this brilliant initiative by Unicef called Tiny Stories – Writers Unite for Children’s Rights.

Here is my submission:

For warm sunshine to greet their young eyes every morning. To bathe in clean water and get their hair ruffled by a towel as their parent dresses them for school. A mouthful of oatmeal or a fistful of egg-n-paratha to fill their tummies then they race to the bus-stop. An understanding teacher who kneels down to explain the lesson once more. A certificate of appreciation from the principal who reads every entry in a poetry contest. The echo of laughter and the thrill of the chase as playground games take up most of the lunch-break. The excitement of a new discovery as they explore the far reaches of the galaxy on a school field-trip. A quick hug from Mama/Baba/Nana/Dada and then the sweet collapse into a soft bed for a post-school nap. For homework time at the dining table with other kids, maybe siblings or maybe neighbours. Helping to set the table best that they can. Saying grace at dinner-time and getting an extra helping of their favourite dessert. Sandwiched between two hearts, listening to their most-loved bed-time story, ‘one more time!’. Closing their weary yet happy eyes, knowing tomorrow will be another wonderful day to grow, to learn, to live and love!

Meet the Millennial Asian: Over-educated + Under-employed

If you are a Millennial Asian, the newspapers think you are pretty pathetic. Looking at the numbers, you have earned more degrees than anyone else in your family,  are up to your neck in education debt, you are chronically under-employed and will stay so for the foreseeable future.

Yes. Under-employed.

Investopedia defines this phenomenon like so:

Labor that falls under the underemployment classification includes those workers that are highly skilled but working in low paying jobs, workers that are highly skilled but work in low skill jobs and part-time workers that would prefer to be full-time.

The market has few jobs to offer the growing legions of fresh grads and the ones available fail to offer much of anything: little money, little career growth and little in terms of security. These handful of jobs are not what you aspired to back in college. It is highly likely you will be delivering goods ordered online or managing a social media campaign for the local non-profit organisation until a “Real Job” opportunity turns up.

Let’s suppose that you finally get a chance to interview for a “Real Job”.  As a fresh grad  you are facing competition from the people who graduated years before you and have relevant work experience to show for it.

Jobs available in the government sector are scarce, practically impossible to access unless one has a ‘link’ (how I loathe that practice)  and the benefits hardly ever compensate for the dismal pay.

Gordon Orr warns China’s fresh graduates that even the low-barrier, entry-level careers  in bank telling or insurance agencies are going obsolete. Technologies like AliPay and WeChat have streamlined basic banking tasks and banks will soon be a thing of the past – much like post offices.

…there may be new jobs but they are just not the jobs you set your heart on when you went to university: low pay and low security is a poisonous combination of many of the new jobs in China’s “rebalancing economy”.

Orr suggests brushing up on vocational skills that may come into play in the emerging sectors, like learning coding or other such I.T. wizardry. If nothing else, it is suggested that a fresh grad like you should start a business and embrace self-employment as your fate.

The fastest growth category of urban employment in recent years has been self-employment.  While some of this is likely a cute way of describing unemployed, the broader trend that it represents is the growth of small and mid-sized enterprises and their importance to job creation in the economy. 

Next up is the “Has Pakistan overeducated it’s middle class?” article that appeared on Dawn’s website about two days back.  The lack of congruency between the education Pakistani universities are churning out and the jobs available is painfully apparent for anyone who been through a hiring cycle. Not only is the quality of education suspect, the graduates are ill-prepared for the rigours of the job-search and interview process. I am in complete agreement that there need to be university-based career prep centres at both public and private universities. Private universities barely scratch the surface when it comes to preparing their students for the corporate/real world. A mandatory 2 hour workshop in the last week of university does not suffice.  I recommend universities to start students on mandatory courses that cover internship seeking, c.v. writing and interviewing skills from freshman year.

The author, Murtaza Haider,  makes a valid point about how loosely underemployment is tallied and also how faulty the premise is regarding what constitutes a ‘living wage’.

My primary concern is about how the state defines underemployment.

The state considers those working for fewer than 35 hours in a given week as underemployed. This definition assumes that those working for 35 hours or more in a given week are gainfully employed, i.e., they are earning enough to support their families.

The under and unemployment figures are quite meaningless for struggling economies like Pakistan. Even by the government’s estimates, 60 million Pakistanis, 29.5 per cent of the population, live below the poverty line. Experts at Oxford University estimate a much larger proportion of Pakistanis (44 per cent) to be poor.

Thus, boasting about low unemployment rates is rather futile because a large proportion of those considered employed by the government are not earning enough to feed and clothe their families.

Lastly, here is an article from the World Economic Forum warning us that for the millennials post-graduate degrees may be a waste of money.  Lux Alptraum shares that despite belonging to a family accustomed to collecting degrees (the way some collect shares) she ultimately decided not to seek a postgraduate degree.  For her, the math simply didn’t add up!

Every time I’ve considered going back to school, I’ve done a cost-benefit analysis—and for me, that analysis has never worked out in academia’s favor. My law school dreams died when it occurred to me that the kind of do-gooder law I was interested in would likely leave me in debt for the rest of my life (and also when I realized that “liking to argue” is but a small part of a law career). My potential public health degree stopped making sense when I realized the small salary bump I might secure wouldn’t balance out the money—and time–I’d spend getting the Master’s.

As a fellow Millennial Asian, I feel your anguish.

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I also sense your need to reach for the nearest tub of ice cream to drown your sorrows.   Hold off on that for a second.  There has to be a Plan B.

Will it be running our very own Food Truck? Maybe.

Can it be starting up a coaching centre for the chronically under-employed and helping them loosen up via improv sessions?  Could be.

The beacon of hope lies in our ability to carve out careers, create brands  and provide services in emerging markets – despite the nay-sayers and dismal statistics. 

Drop me a tweet @marsonearth.

I write about financial empowerment, digital literacy, and educational technology at my blog called Catalyst Woman.  Who am I? I once described myself as a Communications consultant who conducts trainings focused on Women’s Empowerment, Employability Skills and Educational Innovation.

More than Desks: Co-Working Spaces in Lahore

Co-Working  Spaces need to be More than DesksSCC00WCQ3I

Listen to the Podcast on Soundcloud  or iTunes.  

Don’t forget to rate the podcast on iTunes! 

I pick up where I left off on the topic of Co-working Spaces in Lahore. I talk about one of new spaces I visited upon invitation in April, Forrun Office, as well as what is still missing in these spaces.

Read the original post  on the blog or on Medium.

Check out Forrun Office’s website here: forrunoffice.com/ .

 

 

bits, bytes, blockchain

CW bits,bytes,blockchainBlockchain is today what Big Data/ Cloud Data was back in 2012- part new-kid-on-the-block and part mysterious technological chanteuse. Everybody’s talking about it, everybody wants a piece of it and almost everybody is intrigued by it.

The open ledger-mining method for tracking, trading and creating digital -slash- cryptocurrency called Bitcoin for monetary transactions across the internet – that’s how most of us have been introduced to Blockchain technology.

Not familiar with what  Blockchain is?

“The blockchain is a digital ledger of sorts, where all transactions that have been made, or events that may have occurred, can be seen online, by anyone, without compromising the privacy of the parties involved. These ledgers are shared and distributed amongst different computing nodes, and can only be changed once there is a shared consensus among all nodes. Once information is entered, it cannot be erased, and the distributed nature of these records — along with a built-in layer of cryptographic protections — make them difficult to hack or alter by any one individual.”

A blockchain is a massive, fraud-resistant distributed ledger that could be the new infrastructure of the future. The open ledger uses consensus algorithms to transparently record and verify any transactions without a third party. It replaces the middleman with mathematics. Because the blockchain infrastructure is decentralized, there’s a lot less friction and time wasted than traditional, centralized processes.

CW blockchain everythingNow, more and more, we hear of Blockchain being paired up with varying partners – Education, the Banking sector, Governance  to the Music industry- any discipline where records are kept.

Zeroing in on my particular favourite, what can we expect if Blockchain technology is applied to Education? In particular, what, if any, revolutionizing will take place if the open ledger database system is applied to everyone’s academic records?

Looping back to last year’s hottest story, the Axact – Fake Degree scandal, there are enough people out there with inauthentic academic qualifications, intentional or not, to make a case for verification of academic credentials and to identify products of diploma mills. Then the question is raised whether a public ledger system for educational records will be considered reliable.

Audrey Watters covers this particular conundrum wonderfully in a recent post of hers. Here’s an excerpt:

…When it comes to issues of “trust” and, say, academic certification, who is not trusted here? Is it the problem that folks believe students/employees lie about their credentials? Or is the problem that credential-issuing entities aren’t trustworthy? I mean, why/how would we “trust” the entity issuing blockchained credentials? (What is actually the source of “trust” in our current credentialing system? Spoiler alert: it’s not necessarily accreditation.) How would the trustworthiness of blockchained credential-issuing institutions be measured or verified? If it’s by the number of transactions (eg. badges issued), doesn’t that encourage diploma milling?”

Audrey Watters of  Aud.Life 

According to The New Stack blog, the Holberton School in San Francisco is using blockchain technology in a bid to authenticate degrees it offers. Effectively providing a service to both the graduate as well as the potential employer by being the very first educational institution to offer secured and publicly accessible academic certificates in the world.  Sounds like music to my ears, what with recent experiences in hiring department, though it seems to put the pressure on other institutions to either follow suit or share why they will stick with the status quo.

Sony Global Education announced it’s launch of  block-chain-based technology to share academic records; Sony’s product will be in the market sometime in 2017.

I had been meaning to write about this for a few days now, however, with the global uproar over the Panama Leaks, it seems to be kismet!

The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca….The documents show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

The scandal lines up nicely with the topic at-hand; with such wide-scale corruption, a decentralized, distributed model of public record-keeping applied to the purchase and transfer of assets seems to be a scheme worth trying.

data_transferIs the growing enthusiasm for uber-transparency in all services up for consumption a symptom of the decaying global economies?

Are we abandoning the bogeymans enforced on us in the era of Capitalism and trumped up banking charges to embrace the glaring authenticity of a public record-keeping system for all transactions  – all to avoid a dystopian future where no markets exist except for under totalitarian rule? (Think of any post-apocolyptical society represented in popular Hollywood cinema)

Is this the continuation of the global equality movement underpinned by technology – such as open source softwares or free online college courses?

Or is this forced declaration of one’s records (financial, academic, professional, etc) exploiting technology and millennial zeal for transparency to satisfy the need of habitual whistle-blowers and conspiracy theorists?

Tell me what you think. Leave a comment below. Tweet at @marsonearth or @catalystwoman

 

“Phir ban gaya na, equal -equal” – Fair and Lovely takes a Jab at Fairness in Adulting expectations

You *must* have eye-rolled at this fairness cream ad by now. It depicts a father-daughter duo jogging in a park when the father pitches a potential suitor who has EVERYTHING a young girl could desire ‘a good job, his own house, well-settled’.  Since this is a fairness cream commercial, based in India but also shown in Pakistan, the young woman gains confidence to ward off the potential suitor with her OWN plan to get a ‘good job, her own car, etc’ in three years.

Surprisingly, my issue this time around with the fairness creme advertisement is not that the systematic bleaching of one’s skin makes a woman not only more beautiful, but also endows her with wit and savvy.  (That is a long-standing objection with the prejudicial and superficial approach that such beauty cream adverts take when marketing to multi-complexion communities such as Pakistan. No complexion takes precedence over another.)

She is effectively bargaining with her parents/guardians  for a paltry three years to put into play all that she has learned at university (even Life) before entering into an arranged marriage situation.hqdefault

Can Fair & Lovely ad execs back up the claim that Snow White makes that she can accomplish all the markings of financial and vocational success fresh out of university in 3 years? a car, home, “good job” in THIS  global economy? It is impossible to afford a home independently on just a Bachelor’s degree in Pakistan or India, especially within three years of graduation.

Going with the general dynamics when desi folks go ‘rishta’-ing, it is likely that that the potential groom is at least 5 to 7 years older than our  formerly- dark and distressed damsel. Why does this invisible casanova of her father’s dreams get a minimum 5 year advantage on the whole ‘success’ aspect?

This ad reinforces that the double-standard that is glaringly relevant in Pakistani and Indian communities the world over; if a young woman is to experience her adulthood as singleton, she MUST be achieving the very pinnacle of vocational, educational and social success.  That, too, on a considerably shorter deadline (leash?) than her male counterparts; to be exact, before her  ‘looks’  or ‘charm’ fade into oblivion. 

F&L, if you are listening, this may be the one time I will applaud you for illustrating just how drastically societal expectations for  young men and women vary, especially when it comes to leading one’s life as an Adult.

What do you think? Drop me a tweet @catalystwoman. 

 

 

On the way

 

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Gaining altitude steadily

There comes a Subhan Allah moment

Streetlights fast becoming ants a-glow

Stars their firefly brethren

Guarding the cobalt galaxy

In between slices the wing of the mechanical bird

Catapulting us wearily into the past

Counter orbit

Dome of stars

Sprinkling of childhood dreams and glow-in-the-dark sticky space-scapes

The defining glimpse of twin realities

Grab an eyeful ‘fore it’s gone

Like all that is Magic

Sudden, serene and swift

The Master’s handiwork is limitless,

Indeed.

(Note: This was typed on the 11 pm flight, with the Auto-correct making for hilarious interpretations of words like ‘glow-in-the-dark’. I used to write phrases all poem-like quite often, so this was like ‘going home’. )

Stop Outsourcing Your Decision

“What advice do you have to offer someone who is just starting out? The biggest piece of advice I would give to aspiring writers is: if you’re writing, then you’re a writer. You don’t need anybody’s permission to start living your dream; the only person’s permission you need is your own. It’s your decision to make, so stop outsourcing it to other people.”

Excerpt from Interview of Ashley C. Ford

Stranded in Career Hell?

Slowly but surely, your career search is starting to resemble the Sahara Desert *- miles upon miles of punishing expanse with no guarantee of relief. Interview calls that never arrive – CVs and resumes that illicit no response – the future looks bleak and lifeless.

The thirst is unbearable, the need to live, truly live and regain control, even for the simple things, paying the bills on time or buying your sweetheart their favorite book, has reached it’s pinnacle.  You reach for a glass of water only to find it empty – the last drop long evaporated in this never-ending summer.

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Any hope of a viable career opportunity has long abandoned you. Panting, dusty, and covered with the stench of failure, you drop to your knees in the burning sand and squint upwards into the Sun.

Should you wave the white flag?  Settle for the ‘job-you-can -get’ versus the ‘career-of-your-dreams’?

Continue reading “Stranded in Career Hell?”