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Ask me your questions!

By Karina | March 12, 2012

Hi there friends!

It’s been a couple-a-three weeks since any new content has come up here at TinyChoices.com. I’m sorry about that! I had a busy couple of weeks and have been a touch ill as well. When I tell you that the last six days straight have involved me stumbling upstairs and climbing into bed by 9PM I am not exaggerating.

But! I want to write more about Tiny Choices, and I want to hang out with this neat community a little more frequently.

Now, a LONG time ago we had a regular (irregular?) Q&A feature on the site. People would post questions and Jenn and I would do our very best to answer them. I’d love to do that again!

so let’s try this again: leave a question about anything – really! but especially environmentally related or with respect to tiny choosing – and we will do our best to answer them for you!

now my job is to go back and double check the original questions post for any that haven’t been answered yet… whoo hoo!

Topics: Q&A | 1 Comment »

Product Review: JR Liggett Shampoo Bars

By Karina | February 13, 2012

I’ve written before about my love of solid shampoos – since writing that post, I’ve started to use JR Liggett’s shampoo bars almost exclusively for about three and a half years! (For the record, this product review was not sponsored in any way and the products I am discussing were purchased by myself for my own personal use.)

I used to see JR Liggett’s in the awesome Pittsburgh Food Co-op and marveled at the old fashioned packaging – but I didn’t start using it then, for whatever reason. I think because I was still hung up on using baking soda and vinegar, and also because it was perhaps not fancy enough for me. I hate to say it, but it’s hard to believe that something so “traditional” could honestly be made of such simple ingredients. I spent some time reading about the Appalachian Trail in 2008, though, and it turns out that several journals (that I wish I could find now to link to!) wrote about how JR Liggett’s is the secret workhorse of the trail – because it’s biodegradable and doesn’t have any of the nastys that more conventiaonl soaps and detergents do. It also doesn’t have any SLS and comes in a plain paper wrapper (recyclable!).

All that is great, though, but how does it work?

I have pretty resilient hair type. It’s wavy-straight, fairly thick, and has lots and lots of it, so I don’t have to worry about it flattening out. The JR Liggett’s bars keep my hair clean and I don’t have to worry about using it every day (I’m on an every two or three day wash schedule for shampooing). I follow up sometimes with a mild conditioner and sometimes without.

My partner, on the other hand, has a thinner and more curly hair type and when I asked him what he would describe his hair as he said “oh, you know, high maintenance and greasy.” When pressed he said that was using traditional shampoos, and with the Liggett’s bars, it’s much less so – his hair is much more controllable and it doesn’t feel as dirty as quickly after shampooing as it does with traditional shampoos. He doesn’t use conditioner at all, and he doesn’t have any problems with his hair drying out or being tangled.

The Liggett’s shampoo bars are also long-lasting – we bought four bars of shampoo in August, and have used them exclusively since then (between two people – we tell the boys to wash their hair with them but they are only with us for showers every other week [it's just the way their schedule works out] and I’m pretty sure they dodge the scary shampoo bars). We just ran out of shampoo this week. That’s not a bad track record! Certainly long lasting, even with my partners predilection for making lots of soap foam when he bathes.

You can also use it as a body soap in a pinch, and boy is it nice body soap.

The convenience is really important to us too. We try to travel light, and my partner in particular has had long stints of one-carry-on-bag plane travel and loved having a slice of the Liggett’s bar with him (without worry of violating TSA requirements). I like that it’s biodegradable, because there’s nothing I like better than taking a nice outdoor shower at the beach and using soap without worrying that I’m impacting downstream waterways.

The one big problem is that I can’t get JR Liggett’s locally, so every few months I make a big on-line purchase. It is pretty easy to come by coupons at their blog, but it’s kind of a hassle when you run out of something and have to buy it quick and hope it arrives before that big dinner party! (*cough* not speaking from experience or anything…)

Any other JR Liggett Lovers out there? Do you have a personal favorite shampoo bar?

Topics: Home | 8 Comments »

Easy Peasy Tip: Craft your Valentines!

By tinychoices | February 11, 2012

Valentines Day is, arguably, a holiday designed by greeting card manufacturers to make some extra bucks in card sales. However, what’s to hate about a day to remind those around you that you love them and value their presence? This year skip the high-cost and high-energy gifts, and take some time this weekend to make a few things.

It’s easy to get in the habit of feeling like we have to spend money to prove we care. This year, though, create a new paradigm. Make something special and assure your loved one that you thought of them through the entire process.

If you can, share your V-Day plans!

[[Photo from flickr user meeni2010 via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips | Comments Off

Traveling Choices

By Karina | February 6, 2012

I flew out to San Diego last week for a conference on Sustainable Remediation. It was great! I love this group of experts who are so committed and engaged in implementing sustainable protocols and methodologies into remediation projects. I had a few observations while I was traveling and thought I would share them with you all!

Do you have any tips or insights from a recent trip?

Topics: Food, Transportation | 2 Comments »

Our New Furnace

By Karina | January 30, 2012

We have finally gotten a new furnace installed! For the record, this is a photograph of our old furnace. Scary, right?

We’ve been meaning to do this for AGES. We were heating our house with fuel oil, which was expensive and dirty, plus, it’s super smelly and actually exactly the same thing as diesel fuel, really. Every year the furnace would need service because of sludge clogging the lines (algae grows in the fuel oil because of the low sulfur formulation – which is good for emissions! but was a real hassle every year when we had to replace the filter). The furnace was old, too – I live in the 845 area code, and the “call for service” number on the side of the furnace was a 914 area code – which changed about 12 years ago to 845. We estimate the furnace was about 20 years old. And old means, in general, inefficient – especially when it comes to heating equipment that runs on fossil fuels. We also had a hot water heater that was over 10 years old (and those tank heaters are known to kind of randomly explode into a mess of hot water at any time over 10 years) that ran on propane, and was also wildly inefficient. It was time to replace both of them.

So, once we had enough money saved up, we found someone to come out and put in a new furnace and hot water heater! It was a multi-step process.

We decided to go with natural gas because it met several of our criteria: it was available, it was possible for us to install with a minimum of expensive infrastructure upgrades, we had the money on-hand, and as a bonus, there were several rebates we were eligible for. By going to natural gas, we can get rid of the fuel oil AND the propane tanks and rely on only one formulation of fossil fuels to heat our house and our hot water, cook our food, and dry our clothes.

First, however, we had to have a gas line installed to our house. This was pretty expensive, because we had to pay $40 a foot over the first 100 feet. It added up to just over $1,700. It looked kind of like this — we absolutely got our moneys worth, by the way. The gas company usually is able to use a horizontal boring machine to drill sideways under the homeowners lawn, and install the gas line without disruption and fairly quickly. We live on top of a granite outcropping, however, so they had to go the old fashioned way with bulldozers and diggers. I’m glad they had to do that work, and not me.

Then we waited a few months and saved more money.

Next we found a local contractor. The fellow we did find was pretty wonderful – he gave us lots of options that included ways to make our entire home more efficient, including rerouting the ducting downstairs and creating a dual zone system so we could have different heats set for both the downstairs and the upstairs, insulating all the ducting, and changing the locations of some of the heat registers for more effectiveness. We also wanted to install a tankless hot water heater, which would heat up the water right when we need it instead of keeping a bunch of water hot all day long when we are not even home. Unfortunately, we found ourselves with restricted funds so we told this nice fellow that we would have to wait on the extra efficiencies and we went ahead with the efficient furnace and a standard natural gas water heater — but we look forward to working with him in the future when we’re able to afford fixing up the forced hot air system and putting in a tankless hot water heater system.

And from the realm of incredible, the night before the furnace installation we ran out of fuel oil! It “clunked” off at about 11 at night and we put an extra blanket on the bed. What stupendous timing!

We now have a new furnace that is 95% efficient. I can’t even hazard a guess as to how efficient our old fuel oil furnace is, but according to the energy.gov page all about heating systems, we probably had a furnace that was between 70% and 80% efficient. The new furnace and a new hot water heater (also a natural gas version, though not the super efficient one we wanted – we didn’t save that much money!) was $6,400.

The new furnace runs on natural gas and is still a forced hot-air model like we had before. The major differences, though, besides the fuel source, are the electric ignition, the variable speed blower motor (which starts up slowly while the air is heating and ramps down as the furnace shuts off, so there’s less time where the furnace is burning and no air is moving).

Of course we still have lots to do. The next thing (which we can do ourselves) is to insulate the ducts in the basement. Middle-long-term is to get a new direct-contact/tankless hot water heater. And the long term plan is still to put some solar panels on the roof and further evaluate a geothermal system.

But for now, I’m so happy that we don’t have to buy any more fuel oil. We haven’t gotten the prices in on running the natural gas yet, but we are hopeful that it will be cheaper for us to run. We’re not keeping the house any warmer than we did before, but it *seems* warmer because we know we have a new furnace. Plus we were able to give away the two above ground oil tanks in the basement to people who really needed them, which is pretty great as well!

Clearly, upgrading our old farmhouse without going into debt is a long process. It was last year that we put in new insulation in the attic. We still have a long list of things to do, including finding a way to reinsulate all the house walls (either with or without taking off the siding) – their thermal value, is, well, suspect. There are a few cosmetic things (and functional things) too – like finishing the attic so we can use it as a family room, and redoing our incredibly ugly bathroom. And painting! so much painting to do. It’s nice, though, to do this as we’re able to, and to know that we’re tackling some big ticket items that are making a real difference both to the environment, and to our pocketbooks!

And as soon as we can calculate our payback you can bet I’ll be telling you all about it!

Topics: Home | 2 Comments »

Repurpose! Jars Edition!

By tinychoices | January 27, 2012

Let’s take a quick internet tour of some interesting repurpose projects. Maybe y’all will find some weekend project inspiration!

We love JARS. glass jars! they’re hefty and heavy, sure, but they are super durable and you can be positive that the jar itself (though perhaps not the cap) is chemical-free. How can we keep showing jars the love after we’ve exhausted their original contents? Here are some neat ideas from the internet!

[[Photo from flickr user Chiot's Run via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Repurpose!, Waste | 5 Comments »

New Shower Curtains!

By Karina | January 23, 2012

It’s no secret that for several years I have struggled with unsightly shower curtains. In my last apartment the curtain was in tatters by the time I moved away but I didn’t want to buy a new one! The house I live in now requires two shower curtains – one to protect the unfinished window sills in the tub, and one to protect the rest of the bathroom from the shower splatter – and they were also both held together with duct tape and getting incredibly disgusting with mold and soap scum. The last time we washed the curtains they started to split, so they were also held together with duct tape.

Now for nearly four years I’ve been publicly announcing my intentions to sew my own curtains. The way I see it: cloth curtains could be washed without concern of shattering or shredding. Plus by sewing curtains I would be avoiding the purchase of new shower curtains that would be either PVC or another plastic, heavily treated cotton, or incredibly expensive.

So this weekend when I had a free hour I sat down and made two shower curtains.

I know! So exciting, right? The first photo is the curtain that protects the window – my partner already had this fabric in his stash. I had to hem the top and the bottom to make a neat seam.

The second is from an old sheet we had stashed in the fabric closet. It was just about the right width, and all we had to do was cut it shorter on the bottom (so it doesn’t soak up all the water from the bottom of the tub. That was just one hem.

And then I put in grommets – which is not the best or most fun thing to do. I have a grommet tool already and we just had to buy some extra grommets to complete the job.

and Hey Presto! Finally we have new and beautiful shower curtains. I am so thrilled about this! And further, it’s really improved the quality of shower I can take. The water is so quiet when it hits the cloth that there is no comparison to the old plastic curtains we’d used for so long.

And I especially like that we had the majority of the materials ready at home to make the curtains!

What kind of shower curtain are you using in your home?

Topics: Crafts/DIY, Home | 4 Comments »

Easy Peasy Tip: Remake It

By tinychoices | January 21, 2012

Sometimes by changing something small, we can get a second life out of things we already own:

Have you remade anything lately?

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips, Waste | 1 Comment »

Repurpose! Pallet edition.

By Karina | January 20, 2012

Instead of happy econews, let’s take a quick internet tour of some interesting repurpose projects. Maybe y’all will find some weekend project inspiration!

I love wooden pallets. It turns out they’re good for all kinds of things:

Have you used wooden pallets for anything around your house? What are your favorite examples of pallet repurpose?

[[Photo from flickr user Eclipse Awards via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Repurpose! | 2 Comments »

Easy Peasy Tip: Try a teleconference!

By Karina | January 14, 2012

These days it can be really hard to collaborate with other people. We all live far away we have busy lives, and lordy, what a lot of gas to drive between places. So if you have to go to a meeting, try collaborating with a teleconference! If you ‘ve got a good group of people, it can be a wonderful experience. It’s easy to set up with free tools like wiggio for conference calls, or skype or google hangouts for video. Not only will you be saving on time and fossil fuels, but you can also have your slippers on, enjoy a cup of hot tea, and even slurp down some dinner while you’re meeting.

Just be warned – the cat WILL jump right in front of the table, the kids WILL scream even more before bed, and you will probably feel shortly after starting the call that maybe you should have taken off your funny hat and puffy vest to be a little more professional. And use the restroom before you start!

Photo from Karina’s recent google+ hangout to discuss exciting Cooper Union things!

Have you used online collaboration tools? Do you have any favorites? What about hilarious goofy stories during the collaboration?

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips | 2 Comments »

Happy Eco-News Fridays!

By tinychoices | January 13, 2012

Topics: Happy Eco-News | Comments Off

Palisades Park Commission

By Karina | January 9, 2012

We’ve been enjoying the unseasonably warm weather with some nice weekend hikes lately – we’ve been finding spots of nature and taking advantage of it wherever we can!. This weekend, we went for a ramble through the Palisades Park – and stumbled upon some ruins called “Millionaires Row” which really piqued our interest. One of the Ringling Brothers used to have a summer home! Giant hotel resorts! There were bunches of big mansions all along the cliffs – until they made the park and knocked them all down.

What’s really interesting is the history of the Palisades Park – after large quarries were found destroying the cliffs of the Palisades citizens and regulators banded together to stop them – lead by women’s clubs.

To respond to this threat, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC) was formed in 1900 by the New York and New Jersey state legislatures “to provide for the selection, location, appropriation and management of the certain lands along the Palisades of the Hudson River for an interstate park”. The park stretched along the cliffs for 14 miles between Fort Lee, New Jersey and Piermont, New York. The first step in this preservation effort was the acquisition of the Carpenter Brothers trap rock quarry in Fort Lee, New Jersey for $132,500, most of which was donated by J.P. Morgan.

The Palisades were cobbled together through a bunch of (generally rich) conservationists who bought up land and donated it to the Commission:

The unwavering backing of benefactors has been critical in almost every major Park undertaking since then: the first 10,000 acres of today’s Harriman State Park were donated (along with $1 million) by Mary Harriman in 1910; the Palisades Interstate Parkway became possible when the Rockefeller family, in the 1930s, donated key parcels for the project; dozens of citizens’ groups raised the funds necessary to purchase High Tor in 1943; Archer Huntington donated land adjacent to Little Tor the same year; in 1998, the lands that form Sterling Forest State Park were purchased, in part, with funds from private land trusts such as Scenic Hudson and the Open Space Institute; the visitor center at Sterling Forest was completed in 2003 thanks to a generous gift from U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey.

Of course, the Palisades Park was also created, in part, because of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. This highway was designed and built by Robert Moses – who was kind of the highway constructor of rich guys who wanted to get their way by knocking down everything in their path. So as much as the Palisades Interstate Parkway was created with a seed grant of land from John D. Rockefeller (700 acres over a 13 mile stretch of land along the tops of the cliffs) – that was probably acquired through generally acceptable land sales (like this one) — much of the parkway was “paved,” so to speak, with condemnation of properties that people actually didn’t want to turn over. (Like this compelling story of the Elephant house – and this kind of less compelling story of the Riviera. And the families who lived at Cape Fly-Away.)

The Palisades Park is an interesting look into US History – a time when a group of people had kind of the right idea, but then, it was kind of steamrolled through by the “right people,” and if you weren’t with them, you were kicked out. But now we all have access to a beautiful park that celebrates a section of the Hudson River that really shouldn’t be blocked off for the use of those with special access. These days, when issues of eminent domain has been bolstered to support the rights of corporations over the individuals – these questions are still present. So not to be a downer, but how do we watch for this kind of thing? How do we make sure that all of the stakeholders are properly represented, and somehow build consensus to protect land and open access to all?

I got no ideas, but I would love to hear some! Do you have any examples of this in your own area?

[[Photo from flickr user ladymay79 via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Favorite Green Places, Transportation | 2 Comments »

Easy Peasy Tip: Make some Soup!

By Karina | January 7, 2012

During the long cold days of winter, there’s nothing better than a bowl of soup. And soup is one of the most perfect foods – better than pickles or cabbage, even! Because it is not only warm and filling, but it can be super affordable to make, and also can use up lots of leftovers and odds and ends from your pantry and leave you with lots of leftovers to put up.

What’s probably best about soup is that you can make a big pot, it will make your kitchen smell delicious, and you can invite people over for a wonderful party. Have someone else bring some bread and another person the salad or dessert, and you’ve got an instant dinner party with friends without making too much mess, fuss, or trouble for any one person. Take it from Jenn – it’s perfect! And if you’re not sure where to start, Karina highly recommends this delicious and easy curried lentil soup.

Do you have a favorite soup recipe to share? Leave it in the comments!

[[Photo from flickr user slowping via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips, Food | 1 Comment »

Happy Eco-News Fridays!

By tinychoices | January 6, 2012

Topics: Happy Eco-News | Comments Off

Mexican Water Bottle Gourds

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | January 4, 2012

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a water bottle post here at Tiny Choices, but some of you may remember that we used to write them fairly often– trying to avoid disposable plastic water bottles meant there was some thought going in to which option worked best for our lifestyles.

Well, I was recently told about a type of water bottle I’d never heard about before– and, talk about being green!  Turns out that the traditional way of carrying water in Mexico is in a “Mexican Water Bottle Gourd” (Lagenaria siceraria)!

It’s impossible to get more eco-friendly than these: it’s a gourd.  With a corn-cob stopper.  And if you want to get fancy, a piece of rope tied onto it as a handle.

So while we debate the merits of stainless steel vs. aluminum vs. glass, and worry over the type of paint used in the pretty design, and whether the bottles are made in the US or China… we could all instead be carrying around these awesome gourd water bottles and call it a day.

If you want to DIY one yourself, you can buy a Mexican water bottle gourd online for about $5 and make your own canteen… and whittle yourself a corncob stopper after a nice homecooked dinner.

[Image by Mixtec.org]

Topics: Food, Waste | 1 Comment »

Tractor Trailer Aerodynamics

By Karina | January 2, 2012

I drove to Ohio and back again this weekend with my partner and the little dudes to ring in the New Year at Aunt Kate with my partner’s aunts and uncles – and on the way, cruising on Rt 80, there were a few tractor trailers with lots of modifications. I’ve seen many of them before – the gap closures and the trailer skirts – but for the first time we saw a trailer with an added back that narrowed down – to smooth the air as it goes around the trailer and to reduce drag.

All of this got me interested in how, exactly, people were improving the efficiency of these tractor trailers.

Apparently, there are four major places where air drag can slow down these vehicles and waste fuel:

So it makes sense to evaluate some simple fixes to improve the drag. And apparently it’s also a USEPA initiative called SmartWay, which is a program to implement, measure, and track the effectiveness of these options, offer grants, and help to sift through the techologies available.

For example, to reduce tractor trailer drag, there are the following options:

Some of these fuel efficiencies don’t look like much, but when you consider that over the course of the year, you can save thousands of dollars on fuel costs using these retrofits, it looks a lot better. For the owner-operator of a truck, that might represent profit or needed repair funds where there was little before as they tried to keep up with escalating gas prices. For the fleet owner, that might make the difference between expansion or contraction of their fleet. One manufacturer estimates that the advanced trailer end faring would be paid back in fuel savings in six to twenty-four months.

And you know, even if the environment isn’t the first thing on the minds of the long haul trucker (or fleet owner), moving goods is a necessary in this culture we’ve got, and I’m so excited that these retrofits are available to make this kind of transportation a little greener.

What kind of crazy aerodynamic mods have you seen out there on the road?

Topics: Transportation | 2 Comments »

Easy Peasy Tip: Find your Nature!

By tinychoices | December 31, 2011

This week, take a look around your community and Find your Nature – no, we’re not getting personal here! not YOUR nature. But the nature spot that you have closest to your house. Is there a park you can walk or bicycle to? Is there a small community garden nearby? Do you have a surprise hidden state park that you can go to and hike away the afternoon?

One way to do this easily is to zoom in with Google Maps and use both the map and the aerial photograph to find interesting looking places to investigate.

It’s important to know what kind of great natural resources you have near by because it’s much harder, when you’ve got a hankering for a park, to find something right then and there and head out. If you’ve already got an inventory of awesome spots to go to, it’s a lot easier to get yourself moving to visit and utilize them! Also once you know about them, you’ll be able to volunteer and help out. In the spring there will probably be park clean-up days that you can pitch in at. You’ll get to know your community better, in number of ways.

Do you have natural spaces nearby? Do you get creative in any way?

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips | 1 Comment »

Bottled Water Making A Comeback?

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | December 28, 2011

Something strange has happened in the past few weeks, and it’s so odd that it’s made me take notice.  While dining in restaurants (which, as you know, I do an awful lot) and asking for water to drink, I’m brought a bottle of water instead of a glass of tap water.  Which is very troubling.

For the past few years it seemed like many restaurants were more amenable to serving customers tap water, even though they make a huge markup on selling bottled water.  With all of the environmental pressure against the bottled stuff, I’d noticed that there was less of a hassle getting a plain ol’ glass of water, which I really appreciated.

But now it seems like things may be shifting back to bottled, and I’m wondering why.  My first thought is that since more businesses are struggling to stay afloat in this economy, eateries are trying to make extra dollars any way they can– and refusing to serve tap water and only providing bottled water is one sure-fire way to do just that.

And they’re sneaky about it, too!  Perhaps knowing that some patrons are anti-bottled, the waiter will bring the bottle to the table and crack it open as they approach, leaving me no time to cry, “No!  No bottled water!”  And of course there are times I’m incredibly thirsty and need that water, so it’s either bottled or nothing.  If I can hold out until after dinner I do, but given my history of dehydration sometimes it’s a little difficult to do.

Of course, when this situation has happened recently I’ve talked to the restaurant managers, telling them the reasons people prefer tap water and the arguments against bottled water.  They listen politely and I can only hope I’ve helped them to think about this issue in a way that goes beyond the few extra dollars in their pockets.  And it goes without saying that I won’t patronize those restaurants again, and I’ll let the owners know the reason why.

Have you had to make an unexpected eco-decision lately?  How’d it go?

[Image by Dottie Mae via Creative Commons]

Topics: Food, Waste | 2 Comments »

Happy Eco-News Fridays!

By tinychoices | December 23, 2011

Topics: Happy Eco-News | Comments Off

Lighter-Impact Vacations

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | December 21, 2011

I’m the luckiest duck around– surf trip for the holidays!

But when it comes to being green, outdoor sports can be a tricky thing.  While riding your bike through the woods or hiking along a treeline ridge are close to no-impact activities, all of the bits around the sport itself can sometimes be incredibly impactful.

First, there’s the gear: bikes made in foreign lands, the metal mined to make them, and the shipping involved in getting them to us (not to mention the paints, waxes and plastic bits); clothing made out of “performance fabrics” are mostly made from petroleum, and it turns out, shed microscopic plastic fibers every time you wash them, which end up in the ocean and on beaches (which is one reason Team Tiny Choices advocates wool clothing).  And surfing?  Petroleum-based sticky wax goes right from my board and into the mouths of fishies.

Then, there’s the arriving: for those lucky enough to live close to their activity of choice their transportation footprint is small, but many of us need to drive (or, worse, fly) to get to the mountain or crag or surf break.  So while enjoying the great outdoors is most certainly a green activity itself, as usual, we humans can make it more impactful than it needs to be.

So, how did I make this trip as green as possible?

Have you taken or planned a trip lately?  What considerations did you take to green it up?

Topics: General, Yoga & Fitness | Comments Off

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