The Embuggerance Revisited

I’ve now completed the course of chemotherapy and immunotherapy that were called for when it was discovered that I had an embuggerance.

The good news is that the lymphomas have shrunk, and a couple have disappeared altogether; the not-so-good news is that most are still hanging around.

It’s not bad news however, the doctor was pleased with the results, but it does mean that I am now on a “maintenance” regime – an infusion of rituximab every three months to keep everything under control. This may go on for a couple of years. Every now and then there will be a PET-scan to see how the lymphomas are doing.

The bottom line is that there has been no magic cure, but I should be OK for a few years yet… As Alan Bennett said, I intend keeping on keeping on…

Posted in Health and wellness | 4 Comments

Another Day, Another Microsoft Rant…

As I predicted a year ago, Microsoft is dropping Skype, and trying to persuade people to move to a version of Microsoft Teams intended for home users. It will come as standard in Windows 11, but it is already available for Window 10 as a download. Actually, it’s been available for some time for iOS and Android devices, with support for Windows having been added in the past few weeks.

I’ve been using the business version of Microsoft Teams for some time, but I thought I would check the personal version out in view of the likely demise of Skype in the not too distant future (if Microsoft has its way).

For years, I’ve had two Microsoft Accounts, each associated with its own separate email address, and for years, both accounts have had the same mobile number associated with them because I have a single mobile phone.

I’ve just tried to set up the personal Microsoft Teams application with the second Microsoft Account.

I get to the stage where it asks for a phone number to be added to the Microsoft Account. But, hang on I think, that account already has my number – why is Teams asking for it again? Oh well, no harm in giving it again I think.

Wrong.

I get a message saying: “That number is already taken”, followed by a message from the Authenticator app on my phone telling me that my phone number has been removed from my account. Er, what?

Could it be that the developers of Microsoft Teams cannot conceive of a use case where someone can have multiple email addresses, but only has one mobile? Please say it isn’t so.

Gah!

Posted in Computers and Internet, Organizations | Tagged | 2 Comments

Microsoft: Opens Mouth to Change Feet Yet Again…

I see that Microsoft is demonstrating its endless capability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yet again.

Last week they proudly unveiled Windows 11.

Their web page for Windows 11 includes an App to check whether your Windows PCs are ready for Windows 11. Naturally, I downloaded it and ran it on all my PCs and tablets.

I had expected that my old desktop PC would not meet the requirements, but I was somewhat flabbergasted to see that my 1 year-old Surface Go 2 also failed to pass the tests:

The Surface Go 2 has an Intel Core m3-8100Y CPU, which is actually on the list of supported Intel CPUs for Windows 11.

It turns out that the PC Health Check app is a load of dingos’ kidneys. And that Microsoft don’t seem to be able to agree amongst themselves what, precisely, the actual requirements are.

Oh, and I see that while Microsoft says Windows 11 “will be coming later this year”, the fine print later on the same page qualifies that to “The upgrade rollout plan is still being finalized but is scheduled to begin late in 2021 and continue into 2022. Specific timing will vary by device”.

‘Twas ever thus for Microsoft. Plus ça change…

Posted in Computers and Internet, Organizations | Tagged | 5 Comments

The UK’s Home Office Does It Again…

Are they incompetent, malign, or both?

Acclaimed British cellist has passport cancelled by Home Office

Judging by their past performance: both is probably the closest to the truth.

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If You Go Down To The Woods Today…

…You’re sure of a big surprise.*

Took the dogs for a walk in the woods this morning, and we were greeted by this newly-erected sign at the entrance.

It says: “beware of defensive buzzard”. There’s obviously a nest up in the trees somewhere, but I couldn’t spot it. At any rate, we were not buzzed by a buzzard.

The last time I saw a buzzard’s nest in these woods was eleven years ago.

Good to see them back.

*The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

Posted in Nature, Photography | 4 Comments

Hating Peter Tatchell

That’s the title of a documentary about the LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell, which is now available on Netflix.

It is very good and well worth watching.

I have always liked and admired the strength of Tatchell’s convictions and his willingness to keep on battling against all odds. Seeing the rerun in the documentary of the time of Thatcher’s Britain with AIDS and Section 28 and that awful woman was painful.

It was only the activities of Outrage and people like Peter and Derek Jarman who really got things moving to repeal Section 28. I used to be a member of CHE back in the 1970s, but I always remember that it was the UK’s GLF that galvanised me into becoming a soft activist, doing what I could in my small way.

Peter is rightly celebrated in this film. He’s paid for his actions with his health, but long may he continue to speak truth to power.

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Accidents Will Happen…

Following on from my last post, it would seem that people are beginning to at least consider all the options concerning the origins of Covid-19. A good thing too, however uncomfortable it may be to consider the possibility that it was an accident arising out of virus research being carried out in labs that were only at BSL2 level.

There are four degrees of safety, designated BSL1 to BSL4, with BSL4 being the most restrictive and designed for deadly pathogens like the Ebola virus. From Nicholas Wade’s article:

Before 2020, the rules followed by virologists in China and elsewhere required that experiments with the SARS1 and MERS viruses be conducted in BSL3 conditions. But all other bat coronaviruses could be studied in BSL2, the next level down. BSL2 requires taking fairly minimal safety precautions, such as wearing lab coats and gloves, not sucking up liquids in a pipette, and putting up biohazard warning signs. Yet a gain-of-function experiment conducted in BSL2 might produce an agent more infectious than either SARS1 or MERS. And if it did, then lab workers would stand a high chance of infection, especially if unvaccinated.

Much of Shi’s work on gain-of-function in coronaviruses was performed at the BSL2 safety level, as is stated in her publications and other documents. She has said in an interview with Science magazine that ‘[t]he coronavirus research in our laboratory is conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories.’

The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan? – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (thebulletin.org)

And so, questions are beginning to be asked…

And so, like many other times over the past year, we’re stuck without a clear answer. The point has been made that, epidemiologically, none of this really matters. Lab or not, the pandemic happened and is still going. But finding its origin would be hugely consequential. A natural origin would absolve any one person, but further confirm that our nature-encircling world is incubating pandemic disease at an unprecedented rate. A lab-leak would tarnish the job of scientific research for a lifetime and prove some of the worst people in the culture war – partially – right. I think I’d prefer the first case, but even more than that, I’d like to know the truth.

Why the ‘lab-leak’ theory of Covid’s origins has gained prominence again | Stephen Buranyi | The Guardian

Absolutely.

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Oops…

Nicholas Wade has written a long analysis of the question: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?

As he writes:

I’ll describe the two theories, explain why each is plausible, and then ask which provides the better explanation of the available facts. It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory. Each depends on a set of reasonable conjectures but so far lacks proof. So I have only clues, not conclusions, to offer. But those clues point in a specific direction.

What I find worrying in his analysis is the early strenuous denial by researchers that the COVID-19 pandemic could possibly have been the result of a laboratory accident because of a conflict of interests.

The conflict of interest point about Peter Daszak seems pretty damning to me. And what is also worrying is that the WHO team visiting the Wuhan lab had others who could potentially fall prey to this. e.g. Marion Koopmans from the Netherlands who heads (with Ron Fouchier) the Dutch lab that has been doing gain-of-function research for many years. She’s been on Dutch TV talkshows regularly over the past year.

Until now, I had never thought about whether GOF studies had any real benefit in combatting pandemics. Now I’m more inclined to view them as playing with fire, because we can…

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It’s A Sin

And following on from the It’s A Sin TV drama, Olly Alexander teams up with Elton to perform a big production number of The Pet Shop Boy’s classic:

Posted in Entertainment, LGBT Politics, Music, Television | Leave a comment

The Fox in the Henhouse?

According to a news story in the Guardian, none other than Nigel Farage has been appointed to the Advisory Board of the Dutch Green Business Group.

This does seem to be a rather ill-thought out decision for a company supposedly proud of its “green” credentials.

Farage has a long history of climate warming denialism. I doubt that this particular leopard has suddenly changed his spots. And now he is to act as a “spokesman” for the company? The mind positively boggles.

Addendum: It just goes from bad to worse.

Posted in Nature, Organizations, Science | 1 Comment

It’s A Sin

That’s the title of a five-part TV series written by Russell T. Davies. Spanning the years 1981 to 1991, and set in London, it charts the impact of the AIDS crisis on a group of friends.

It is, quite simply, a stunning piece of work, a masterpiece. A strong cast, inspired directing, and RTD’s writing combine to give explosions of joy, horror, and homophobia.

Watching it together with Martin brought all those times back to us. The friendships we made, the friends we lost, the callousness of Thatcher’s government, and the homophobia in British society, fanned by the tabloid press.

RTD’s writing draws upon all of this – there are references to the infamous Section 28 legislation, and he puts the word “cesspit” into the mouth of a policeman in one scene that directly references the utterance by the then Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, James Anderton, who said that homosexuals, drug addicts and prostitutes who had HIV/AIDS were “swirling in a human cesspit of their own making”.

As well as the wider references, RTD has drawn upon his own memories of the friends he knew to create his central characters. The character of Jill Baxter is modelled on his actress friend Jill Nalder, who herself plays the role of Jill Baxter’s mother in the series.

As I say, watching the events unfold brought all the best and the worst of those times flooding back. These days, while HIV/AIDS is not the automatic death sentence that it once was, it is still not something that should be treated casually. I hope that the series will be watched by the younger gay generations to learn something of what we went through and the awakening of our political action.

It struck me that RTD and his team have produced a work that completely fulfils Lord Reith’s directive to the BBC that its programming should “inform, educate and entertain”. The irony is that it ended up, not on the BBC, but on its commercial rival, Channel 4…

Posted in Entertainment, Health and wellness, History, LGBT Politics, Society, Television | 2 Comments

An Embuggerance

Last October, I noticed that a lymph gland in my groin was swollen. That was the beginning of a roller coaster ride of scans, surgery and biopsies. Come Christmas Eve, I received the news that Prostate Cancer was present, and in January, heard that it had been joined by Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

The good news is that the Prostate Cancer is at an early stage, and only active monitoring is called for. The bad news is that the Lymphoma needs a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy – and I start treatment this coming Friday; six cycles of treatment, each lasting three weeks.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride – the seatbelt is fastened.

The Dutch Health Service – doctors, nurses and healthcare workers – have all been very good; caring and competent. I’m optimistic about the outcome.

Posted in Health and wellness | 7 Comments

“Let Them Eat Cake”

While Boris Johnson has claimed that the post-Brexit trade deal allows Britain to “have one’s cake and eating it“, it is becoming abundantly clear that this is not the case.

The latest twist is that British exporters to the EU are being encouraged by the UK government’s Department for International Trade to set up companies in the EU to circumvent border issues and VAT problems.

Far from having one’s cake and eating it, this sounds more like Marie Antoinette’s apocryphal response to the news that starving peasants could not afford to buy bread.

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Putin’s Shell Game and Navalny’s Gamble

This is quite an extraordinary video. Alexei Navalny documents Putin’s elaborate arrangement of shell companies and what the money is being spent on.

Navalny must be a very brave man, deliberately walking into the lion’s den by returning to Russia, and then releasing this video.

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America’s Kristallnacht

I have to say, I am rather impressed by this video of Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s Governor, addressing recent events in the USA. I didn’t think he had it in him, but I am happy to stand corrected.

Perhaps the events in the Capitol on the 6th January will prove to be a turning-point, and bring about a return to building democracy instead of tearing it down.

However, I share the fears of Francine Prose when she writes that anyone shocked by the events has ignored a lot of warning signs. As she says:

Throughout the 6 January attack on the US Capitol, as journalists and politicians expressed their stunned astonishment, one couldn’t help wondering: hadn’t they heard about the hundreds of people, some of them armed, who stormed the Michigan state capitol building in April, objecting to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order? Had they forgotten that a young woman was killed during the August 2017 Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia – a neo-Nazi event that Donald Trump declined to unequivocally condemn? Had their interns not been keeping up with – and informing their bosses about – the popular Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of far-right hate groups and extremist conspiracy theorists? Had no one explained that the Proud Boys’ T-shirt insignia – 6MWE – means “Six Million [Jews] Weren’t Enough”?

Turning a blind eye to the transgressions of Trump and his supporters during the past four years made the events of the 6th January inevitable. That particular horse bolted the stable a long time ago.

Posted in News and politics, Society | 5 Comments

Sedition

With the recent events in Washington, I needed to laugh to stop crying. Thank you Randy Rainbow.

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The Robots Are Coming

I don’t know whether to be amazed or terrified…

Posted in Computers and Internet, Humour, Science | 1 Comment

Taking Back Control?

So the Brexit deal has now been approved by both the UK Parliament and Brussels. True to form, Boris Johnson is claiming it as a great deal: “Having your cake and eating it“. This is, of course, a shameless lie – but when did we ever expect anything else from Mr. Johnson?

Far from “taking back control” as the Brexiteers have long espoused as their goal, what we appear to have got in its place is the EU-UK Partnership Council and its raft of committees.

credit: Anton Spisak

So far from being “free from the yoke of unelected bureaucrats and the tyranny of red tape”, it would seem that even the post-Brexit world requires proper management of the EU-UK relations and trade. What a surprise. Oh well, it will give the Brexiteers the opportunity to continue to moan endlessly about the vicissitudes of Brussels.

The draft agreement requires careful analysis, which I am certainly not competent to do. For that, I point you towards Chris Grey’s excellent blog as a starting point on what will be a long and frustrating journey. And those frustrations will not be felt in trade alone, but affect politics and society in both the UK and EU. This is not a cause for celebration.

Addendum: from where we stand, it seems to us far from “taking back control”, Britain has been taken over by gamblers, liars, clowns, and their cheerleaders.

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Home Automation Re-revisited

Introduction

Five years ago, I posted about my first foray into the realms of Home Automation. Then, after evaluating a number of HA systems available at the time, I chose Domoticz as the basis for my system here at the Witte Wand.

Domoticz has served me well over the past five years. It’s an open-source project, run by volunteers, that has grown in scope quite considerably, and with that have come some growing pains and project management issues. The last Stable release (March 2020), for example, broke many people’s production systems. When a new Stable version is released, Domoticz notifies you that it is available, and puts an “Update” button on the main Dashboard. Seeing that, many people just clicked the button, without reading the Release Notes. Big mistake. The developers had changed the underlying version of the Linux operating system from the previous version, and the new Stable release did not work on the old Linux. The result was a lot of very unhappy people.

Fortunately, I had learned to be cautious, and did not click the button. But it did mean that I had to build a completely new version of my Domoticz system from the ground up before I was able to move to the new Stable version, several months after it had been released.

That experience made me take stock of whether I wanted to continue using Domoticz, or move to another Home Automation system.

Looking around, I found another open-source project: Home Assistant. It seems to have started at around the same time as the Domoticz project, and the founders of both are Dutch. I have the distinct impression that the Home Assistant project is the better-managed of the two, an impression that is also shared by the author of this comparison article. For example, he writes:

Home Assistant
Home Assistant has split up their platform into several projects: Documentation, GUI, Hassio (the OS system) and Home Assistant itself. There are plenty of developers that develop the system but also review work of their peer developers. There are strict rules to maintain also the documentation of the commits. This is very professional and well managed open-source project.

Domoticz
The small group of developers is doing great work and every commit is checked / reviewed by Gizmocuz (the founder of Domoticz). But there is no control of the documentation and the actual commit is not always tested very well. When using the beta version you have always the latest features and it can took a while before the beta’s are integrated into the main stable branch. A lot of users are running the beta but are not helping the developers.

I decided to see if I could reproduce my current Home Automation system using Home Assistant in place of Domoticz.

My Domoticz system runs on a Raspberry Pi model 3, using an SSD for storage (in place of the default MicroSD card). I did this because Micro SD cards don’t like the constant read/write cycles of databases – and since Domoticz has a database in it, I decided to use an SSD instead. At the time, this was a project in itself. However, with the introduction of the Raspberry Pi model 4, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is moving towards full support of SSD devices, including as a boot device.

The Hardware

So, I bought an RPi4, a Pimoroni heatsink case, and an M.2 128GB SSD card in a USB enclosure:

I followed this guide to install Home Assistant on the SSD, and to use it as the boot device for the RPi4. All proceeded according to plan, and I had a working Home Assistant platform ready to test my Z-Wave devices on.

My Domoticz installation uses an Aeotec Z-Stick Gen5 Z-Wave controller. The first problem I encountered was that apparently this device doesn’t work directly with the new RPi4 model. I would either have to perform surgery on the controller, use a USB hub as an intermediary connection, or purchase the new Aeotec Z-Stick Gen5+. I decided to get the new model of the Z-Stick. Using Aeotec software, I migrated my current Z-Wave network from the old to the new Z-Stick.

Z-Wave Support in Home Assistant

Home Assistant already has an integration for Z-Wave, but I noticed that the team had announced a new Z-Wave integration project in February this year. This is currently in beta. Which to choose? It seemed to me that there were pro’s and con’s for both:

Original Z-Wave integration:
pro’s

  • stable
  • well integrated into HA

con’s

  • only supports version 1.4 of OpenZwave. Newer Z-Wave Plus devices may not be supported out of the box.
  • Restarting HA forces restart of Z-Wave network

QT OpenZwave (beta) + Mosquitto (a message broker):
pro’s

  • uses version 1.6 of OpenZwave
  • touted as the future by the HA project team
  • the developer apparently works on both the QT OpenZWave (beta) project and the OpenZwave project itself
  • runs in a separate Docker instance so the Z-Wave network runs independently of HA itself.

con’s

  • It’s a beta; lots of unfinished bits, particularly in the UI integration with HA.
  • the Z-Wave admin tool is crude, but it works.

On balance, I decided to go with the Beta, since this was more likely to support newer Z-Wave devices, and is supposed to be the future for Z-Wave in the Home Assistant world.

I have thirty Z-Wave devices in my network. Aside from the controller there are devices such as smart wall plugs, switches, remote control, smoke detectors and a siren. The test would be to see if this network could be successfully migrated across to Home Assistant and then managed as a production system, with the ultimate aim of retiring Domoticz in favour of Home Assistant as the platform.

Moving to Home Assistant

I booted up Home Assistant for the first time, and waited until Home Assistant had got the latest version downloaded and set itself up ready for the Onboarding Step. This involved setting up the initial administrator account and telling HA where it is located. All very straightforward and well-described in the documentation.

The next step was to add and configure the integrations that I needed to use Z-Wave.

On the HA web-based interface, I clicked the Supervisor button, followed by the Add-on Store link. From the list of official add-ons, I chose the OpenZwave (beta) and the Mosquitto Broker:

These are required for support of Z-Wave. Once added they appeared on the Dashboard screen (here shown together with some additional add-ons I included for testing)

Clicking on a module shown in this dashboard gives access to the module’s documentation, configuration and module logs.

Configuration was fairly straightforward (after a couple of false starts), and the Z-Wave network was read from the Aeotec Z-Stick and after a few minutes of messages being passed between the OpenZwave beta and the Aeotec Z-Stick controller, the following appeared in the OpenZWave administration tool:

Actually, the details of the smoke detectors took a day or so before they were filled in. They spend most of their time “sleeping” and only wake up every 24 hours. So it took time for the new Z-Stick to discover the devices fully.

And as you can see, this is a separate administration tool – the beta does not yet have full integration of the administration into Home Assistant itself.

Nonetheless, the contents of the Z-Wave network was now fully available to Home Assistant, and I could start adding devices to my Home Automation Dashboard.

Here’s an example of what the current Dashboard looks like. This will likely evolve over time.

You’ll notice that besides the Z-Wave devices, there is some additional information being shown, e.g. the Weather here at our location, rubbish (garbage) collection dates, and electricity use.

This is being fed by additional devices and services supported by integrations in Home Assistant.

On the Home Assistant web-based interface, I clicked the Configuration button, and then chose Integrations from the list of configurable items:

On this screen, I added the necessary integrations. For the support of Z-Wave, I had added the OpenZwave (beta) and the MQTT (the Mosquitto message broker) integrations. This screenshot shows them added, along with some other integration modules that I have added.

There are currently over 1,700 integration modules available for Home Assistant, including a module for Roon (but that’s another story…). Suffice it to say that Home Assistant is able to integrate a wide range of devices and services into a unified environment.

Automation in Home Assistant

The whole point about Home Automation is that it should take over the control of common tasks for you. For example, turn on the house lights when it gets dark.

Here in the Witte Wand, Domoticz had been set up to do the following simple tasks:

  • Turn on the living room lights and the lamp in my study 45 minutes before the sun sets.
  • Turn off the lamp in my study at 23:00 each evening
  • If no-one has turned them off at night, then turn off the living room lights at midnight.
  • Turn on the pond pumps at 08:00 each morning.
  • Turn off the pond pumps 30 minutes after sunset.
  • If the temperature falls below freezing at night, turn on the pond pumps.
  • Turn on the water heater in the outbuilding at 08:00 and turn it off at 17:00 each day.
  • If the motion sensor at the entrance detects movement, send a “Someone’s here” message to our smartphones.
  • If it is dark, and the motion sensor detects movement, turn on the outside lights for 10 minutes.
  • Turn on the Hi-Fi system and speakers at 08:00 each morning and turn them off at midnight.
  • At Christmas, turn on the tree lights at 08:00 each morning and turn them off at midnight.
  • At Christmas, turn on the garden lights 30 minutes before sunset, and turn them off at 23:30.

All these automations were easily reproduced in the Home Assistant environment, using the built-in automation tools.

Conclusion

I’ve been impressed with what the developers of Home Assistant have achieved and how the project is managed.

I have migrated my current Home Automation system from the Domoticz platform across to the Home Assistant platform.

I intend to carry on using Home Assistant as the platform for our Home Automation system for the foreseeable future.

Addendum: 11 January 2021

I thought I should just add a note here concerning the OpenZWave (Beta) integration in Home Assistant. Development of OpenZWave seems to have slowed to a standstill during the last six months. As a result, there’s been concern raised in the Home Assistant Community Forum about whether this integration is, or should be, the future direction for support of Z-Wave networks in Home Assistant.

It appears now that the developer of OpenZWave is stepping back from further active development of the software, he will continue to tinker with it, at his own pace, to his own demands.

That has led the leaders of the Home Assistant project to put in place a plan B for an alternative integration of Z-Wave networks into Home Assistant.

The current OpenZWave (Beta) integration will remain in place for the foreseeable future. It works for me and many others. OpenZWave itself is software that is used by 100,000+ users; not just in Home Assistant, but in Domoticz and other Home Automation platforms.

I will continue to use it until such time as the proposed Zwave-JS integration is mature enough to migrate to.

Addendum: 17 May 2021

A couple of months ago, I migrated the ZWave support in Home Assistant from the OpenZWave (Beta) integration to the Z-Wave JS to MQTT integration. This has been configured to use the ZWave JS add-on under the covers. At the moment, the control panel functions of the ZWave JS add-on are incomplete, whereas the Z-Wave JS to MQTT add-on has a complete set of ZWave control panel functions now.

I’m not actually using any MQTT broker functions at all, only using this integration for its ZWave control panel functions.

Once the work on ZWave JS is complete, I can decide whether I will migrate fully to it and drop the temporary use of the Z-Wave JS to MQTT integration.

Posted in Computers and Internet, Consumer Electronics | Leave a comment

“All We Ever Wanted Was Our Freedom…”

So it comes down to this, Boris Johnson. After years of concocting lies over the EU as a journalist in Brussels, and then as a third-rate politician exemplifying the Peter Principle, you have to recognise that you have failed utterly.

Pathetic on all counts.

Over to you, Marina…

Posted in News and politics | 1 Comment