3 home tech ideas for your tiny space

So, you got that tiny house. Or that compact one-bedroom apartment for which you endured a frightening co-op board interview. Or you and your partner moved into a studio that is really not meant to accommodate two people. Congrats! You are now Living Small.

There are innumerable ways you could make the most of this: Modular, multi-use furniture is one big way (especially when it doubles as storage); another is to trick out your new tiny abode with home tech.

“‘Home tech? how’s that going to help?’” you say. Well, we’ll tell you. While there’s no shortage of smart home gadgetry out there to help with problems you don’t have (we’re looking at you, smart fridges), there are also a few ways to use smart home products to get the most out of your space. Here are a few products we think will help ease you into the tiny living lifestyle.

Smart plugs are your friend

For even the most home tech averse among us, the allure of the smart plug is hard to deny. Sticking any of these Wi-Fi-enabled plugs into your existing outlets turns the outlet into a smart one that can be controlled with your mobile device via an app associated with the smart plug.

Our historic home-loving columnist is a recent convert—and who wouldn’t be, when on a hot day you can turn your air conditioner on from your phone on the way home from work? You can also, of course, use smart plugs for just about anything—from lamps to fans to just about anything else you plug into an outlet. For those of us who live in compact places, this means you can work with what you’ve got: no need to buy new, smarter things for your tiny space.

There are lots of options on the market and, unlike other things in the home tech world, they come at a reasonable price. Belkin and TP-Link each sell popular options you can find on Amazon.

Sony’s Life Space UX short throw projector and LED bulb speaker

Sony’s ultra-short-throw projector can turn a surface a mere 22 inches away into a screen for watching your favorite shows and movies.

Entertaining can be a challenge in a home of any size, but Sony has recently released a couple of products that could make that easier for the space starved.

The company’s Life Space UX series includes an ultra-short-throw projector (at a spendy $789), which turns any flat surface into a screen. Life Space UX also includes a lightbulb (at just shy of $240) that is both a color-changing illumination source and a Bluetooth speaker. The latter sounds gimmicky, but this editor has seen it in action (at both its unveiling at MoMA Design Store in New York and in a friend’s apartment). It’s actually quite nice, with solid sound quality. If you’re truly starved for space, combining an essential function with a non-essential—but delightful and quality-of-life improving—one is pretty smart.

Consider buying a smart home hub

Google Home.
 Courtesy of Google

The Amazon Echo has done a lot to popularize the idea of the home tech hub, a gadget that acts as command central for your Smart Things devices and responds to voice prompts.

Not long after the Echo debuted, gobbling up marketshare, Google entered the fray with the Google Home—and it was soon followed by the Apple HomePod, which purports to have better audio quality when compared to its competitors.

A smart home hub of any kind is going to help you. With voice commands you can toggle smart lights on and off, and listen to music and the latest news. It will serve up weather information, and more, in a rather compact unit that won’t take up a ton of counter space. For a guide to the what’s what of home tech hubs, you can read more here.

Delay by Railways in electrification projects, says CAG

Photo: Shutterstock

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) came down heavily on the Railways for the delay in processing, assigning and completing the projects for electrification.

It also said that the Railways did not adopt the e-tendering system to reduce the tender processing period.

The CAG in its report, which was tabled in Parliament on Friday said it had done an audit on the 14 completed projects, 15 ongoing projects and seven new projects for detailed examination.

In its report, the CAG said: “The objective of saving time for deciding whether or not to take up a section for the railway electrification is not being fulfilled due to delays in processing the proposals and preparation of abstract estimates, which was up to 59 months in 24 projects.”

The CAG report also pointed out that variations of six per cent to 62 per cent between the abstract and detailed estimates indicated that the system of abstract estimates were hardly adding value to the process.

“The percentage variation was more than 40 per cent in respect of Karepalli-Bhadrachalam, Shakurbasti-Rohtak, Jhansi-Kanpur, Barauni-Katihar-Guwahati and Gunatakal-Kallur projects,” the central auditor said.

The CAG also highlighted that delays were noticed in assigning the electrification projects to agencies by the Railways Board after inclusion of the electrification projects in the annual works programme.

“There were delays up to 337 days in 17 projects in case of Central Organisation for Railways Electrification (CORE) and in case of Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL), the delays were up to 202 days in six projects,” the CAG said.

“Further delays were also noticed in assigning project to their Chief Project Directors by CORE and RVNL, which was up to 229 days and 40 days respectively,” it added.

Rapping the Railways, the CAG said that there were delays in the approval of the detailed estimates upto 35 months in 27 projects assigned to CORE and upto 18 months in seven projects assigned to RVNL.

The CAG said that the e-tendering system which helped in reducing the tender process was not adopted in the case of CORE and RVNL.

“The time taken for the issue of notice inviting tender (NIT) after sanction of detailed estimates was upto 3,177 days in 27 projects assigned to CORE and up to 915 days in 12 tenders in seven projects assigned to RVNL,” it said in its report.

The CAG then said that it was evident that the tenders were processed without giving due regard to the objective of the completion of the project in time.


Another Country launches furniture designed to make offices feel more like home

Image result for Another Country launches furniture designed to make offices feel more like home

Image result for Another Country launches furniture designed to make offices feel more like homeImage result for Another Country launches furniture designed to make offices feel more like home

The range features wooden chairs and stools, a modular shelving system, and a work desk with integrated accessories. The pieces are aimed at the creative industries but have been designed to be adaptable for a range of environments.

“We frequently customise furniture to meet our clients’ needs, so it was logical with our Work series to offer more flexibility as standard,” Another Country design director Catherine Aitken told Dezeen. “We looked to design a system that could be adapted for a number of different types and sizes of workplace.”

Work Series by Another Country

Another Country created the collection to introduce a warmer and more domestic atmosphere to the workplace, while still offering the flexibility that many offices need. The desk can be ordered in a range of sizes, and joined together to make larger workstations or separated for individual tables.

There are also several heights, for those who prefer to work standing up. The desk’s cable channel doubles as a home for its accompanying accessories, which include a pencil pot, planter and screen to give workers privacy.

Work Series by Another Country

The Work Series shelves can be adapted depending on what they’re being used for, and can be either placed side by side or at intervals for displaying plants or other objects. Each shelf is bookended by a brass loop.

“Our Work Series utilises a warm palette of materials and detailing not necessarily associated with office furniture,” added Aitken.

“It can be quite cold and clinical, and traditionally work environments have been intentionally different to domestic environments, with different materials, finishes and styling; however, this thinking is now being challenged.”

Work Series by Another Country

“The work place is rapidly changing and we feel benefits from a softer approach,” she continued. “Bringing in warmer materials and furniture that nods towards a domestic environment can be conducive to work.”

“Crucially workplace furniture needs to function well, but it can also be furniture that you develop a personal relationship with, furniture that is tactile.”


Work Series by Another Country

How Blogger Louise Roe Saved Thousands (!) on Her Dining Room Table

Louise Roe

When Louise Roe went looking for a dining room table last year, she started where a lot of us do—by noting what she liked best about the options she could find, cobbling them into a perfect (but nonexistent) table design in her head. “I had the image in my mind of the table I wanted,” the news-editor-turned-style blogger says, “having ripped out pages from AD,screenshotted bloggers and Pinterest images.” There would be gleaming, cubist brass legs and a large rectangular top. It would seat lots of friends. “Milo Baughman was a big influence,” Roe says, pointing to this rare bronze and smoked glass design circa 1970—but a $10,000 table wasn’t in her breakfast nook budget. They were renovating, after all. An RH Modern version with a polished marble was closer to budget but still too much. She resolved to beat the system by sourcing the parts herself.

A friend recommended that Roe scour the internet for table legs, and she found the perfect pair—brand new—with a Florida supplier on eBay for $1,500, including delivery. As exciting as the find was, it was still nerve-wracking, she remembers. “At about 1 a.m., after scrolling for hours, I hit ‘pay now’ and screamed!” Conveniently, Roe was in the middle of a bathroom renovation (this was her Melrose Place townhouse that she eventually sold to move into this 1935 Hollywood Hills gem) when she undertook the project, so she already had a Caesarstone supplier on speed dial; he would supply her a custom-cut tabletop slab for $600 (it would have been about $1,000 as a one-off order). Which brought the overall cost to just over $2,000, a fraction of the antique that had inspired her search in the first place. Being quartz, the Caesarstone surface didn’t need to be sealed or treated at all—dinner is served!—as “it’s already nonporous and waterproof,” Roe explains. And while it’s possible to watch enough YouTube videos to learn how to effectively connect the parts yourself, calling in a professional is never a bad idea when you’re working with expensive, new-to-you materials. “Personally, I’d always get a professional to do this (I know my limits!),” she says, which made for a perfect construction. They loved the table so much, and it held up so well, that it made the move.


Sears is adding Alexa support to its Kenmore smart home appliances

Amazon’s Alexa assistant is now able to control an even wider range of home appliances. Smart appliances from Sears and its Kenmore brand are joining the list of hardware that can be used through voice commands to Amazon’s Echo lineup of speakers and other Alexa-enabled devices. GE and Whirlpool have already integrated similar support across their respective products, and now “the full line of Kenmore smart appliances” — air conditioners, refrigerators, and more — can be controlled with a new Alexa skill, Kenmore Smart.

Owners of connected Kenmore products can say commands like “Alexa, tell Kenmore Smart to set my air conditioner to 70 degrees” to make adjustments without having to walk over and do it the old fashioned way: with buttons. Or with the remote that came with your air condition that always gets misplaced.

Amazon will also begin selling Sears’ Kenmore products directly, which is a significant bit of good news (and a new sales channel) for the struggling department store chain. The company has acknowledged “substantial doubt” about its future prospects, according toBloomberg, after years of losses brought on by its flailing attempts to compete with retail competition — including Amazon’s giant e-commerce presence.


How the Modern World Made Cowards of Us All

BACK in the late 1980s, Dana Carvey of “Saturday Night Live” used to do a funny impression of President George H. W. Bush, in which the character would justify his own supposed timidity by muttering “wouldn’t be prudent” to himself about every small risk. The impression neatly captured the contemporary notion of prudence: faintheartedness, caution and a general bias against action.

So perhaps it seems odd that this is my advice for young people heading out of school and into the world: Be prudent.

Yes, it sounds boring, but it may turn out to be a more radical suggestion than most graduates hear.

I thought prudence was not my cup of tea. When I quit college to go on the road as a musician, I was being imprudent. When I quit music to go back to school in my 30s, it was imprudent. When I left a tenured professorship for an unsecure job? You guessed it — imprudent.

Then I had an epiphany. When I finally read the German philosopher Josef Pieper’s “The Four Cardinal Virtues,” which had sat unread on my shelf for years, I was shocked to learn that I didn’t hate prudence; what I hated was its current — and incorrect — definition.

The connotation of prudence as caution, or aversion to risk, is a modern invention. “Prudence” comes from the Latin “prudentia,” meaning sagacity or expertise. The earliest English uses from the 14th century had little to do with fearfulness or habitual reluctance. Rather, it signified righteous decision making that is rooted in acuity and practical wisdom.

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Mr. Pieper argued that we have bastardized this classical concept. We have refashioned prudence into an excuse for cowardice, hiding behind the language of virtue to avoid what he calls “the embarrassing situation of having to be brave.” The correct definition, Mr. Pieper argued, is the willingness to do the right thing, even if that involves fear and risk.

In other words, to be rash is only one breach of true prudence. It is also a breach to be timid. So which offense is more common today?

A new study by the University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt helps answer this question. He started with the premise that people who agonize over important choices may systematically make wrong decisions, defaulting to either “yes” or “no” with too much regularity. To investigate, Mr. Levitt found several thousand people in the throes of a difficult decision, weighing choices like job offers and marriage proposals, who volunteered to let him make the decision for them — with the flip of a coin.

Heads meant to decide in the affirmative; tails meant to decline. (Let it sink in that thousands of people agreed to have their most important decisions made by a stranger — worse, an economist — flipping a coin.) When given heads, Mr. Levitt found people were much more likely to take the decision affirmatively than they would be if left to their devices, so the experiment was effective.


Amazon’s latest assault wipes $12.5 billion off Home Depot, other appliance-seller stocks

Shares of Home Depot and Lowe’s were slammed Thursday, along with Whirlpool, after Amazon threatened to take on the appliance market in a much bigger way in a deal with Sears Holdings.

The market cap loss in Home Depot, Lowe’s, Whirlpool and Best Buy was about $12.5 billion by the end of the day, after falling to more than $13 billion. Amazon stock was up slightly, and Sears closed up about 10 percent.

But the early read from some analysts was that the sell-off has created a buying opportunity for home improvement retailers Home Depot and Lowe’s, which have proven themselves to be somewhat “Amazon-proof” and among the best performers in the sector. Best Buy, already battling Amazon in electronics, ended the day about 4 percent lower.

Sears, which has been losing share in appliance for years, saw its stock rally as much as 25 percent early Thursday, soon after it announced it would sell its Kenmore-branded appliances on Amazon.com. The products will be compatible with Amazon’s Alexa platform.

“The net takeout is it’s a potential negative for pricing and profitability for white box appliances,” said Bob Wetenhall at RBC. “I don’t think Alexa is the big deal here. … It’s more the fact that Amazon is going to sell Kenmore-branded appliances.”

“It’s probably less of a Whirlpool issue,” said Wetenhall, adding the price pressures would hit retailers. He said Whirlpool is the source for about half the appliances in the Kenmore brand, at one time a household standard and now a laggard. Wetenhall said it’s too early to know how the deal will affect the integration of appliances and online retailers, and there were few details offered.

“It’s hard to know,” said Wetenhall. “Does the guy come out to your house to install it? It’s a totally different thing.”

Analysts at Robert W. Baird said the selloff in Home Depot and Lowe’s was an overreaction. The nearly $7.5 billion market cap loss in Home Depot stock equals slightly more than the amount of its annual appliance sales. Lowe’s stock loss was a little more than 50 percent of its $7 billion in annual appliance sales.

Home Depot trucks sits parked in a parking lot at a Home Depot store in Daly City, California.

Home retailers take a hit after Amazon partners with Sears  19 Hours Ago | 03:26

The analysts said Home Depot and Lowe’s are by far the dominant retailers in the sector, and Amazon’s online sale of appliances has not harmed them so far. With the Sears deal, Amazon will now be selling a product line not available in Home Depot and Lowe’s stores.

Once a dominant force, Sears Holdings appliance sales account for about 15 percent of its total sales of $3.3 billion in fiscal 2016.

“Appliances have been a key driver of growth for both [Home Depot and Lowe’s] over the past few years … so we understand the concern the announcement creates. That said we view the [approximately] $12 billion market cap reduction in [Home Depot and Lowe’s] … to be an overreaction,” the Baird analysts wrote.

They said the two retailers have about half the $30 billion in annual sales in the appliance sector. They are also benefiting from a pocket of strength in home improvement sales, compared with the rest of the retail sector, which has been crushed by consumers shifting to online shopping and changing tastes.

Oppenheimer analysts said they see the deal as more of a lifeline for Kenmore than a threat to the home improvement retailers, which have made big inroads into appliance sales.

“We think a link up with [Amazon] should prove beneficial for the Kenmore brand. But, in our view, such a relationship is more likely to keep Kenmore alive, even as [Sears Holdings] continues to falter, than pump new life into the legacy brand,” wrote Oppenheimer analysts. “Over the past several years, [Home Depot] and [Lowe’s] put forth significant efforts to enhance their lineups of appliance products and advertise themselves as key sellers of the category to target consumers.”

Oppenheimer retail analyst Brian Nagel said in a phone interview that appliances are a difficult business and while Amazon gains a new foothold with the Sears deal, the logistics of the products are difficult in terms of installation and the need to ship quickly.

Over the years, Home Depot and Lowe’s, which sell an array of building and home improvement products, have taken a great deal of share from Sears and its Kenmore brands.

“Home Depot and Lowe’s are smart companies. They know what they’re doing,” he said. Nagel prefers Home Depot to Lowe’s. Home Depot stock is up 9 percent on the year, versus a 1 percent gain for Lowe’s.

Nagel said he’s recommending investors buy the stocks on weakness. “It’s frustrating for investors. News like this puts doubt in the minds of investors. You have these high multiples, and people are selling.”

Wetenhall said he sees the retailers more at risk because of the pricing element. Whirlpool also has its own Amazon deal, already announcing a smart Alexa product lineup. “We think it’s a negative, but it’s not a death blow to the head,” he said of Whirlpool. Whirlpool also makes Maytag products.

“Whenever Amazon gets into a category, you worry about pricing. Price matters, but it’s not a huge factor. There’s been a lot of innovation in appliances, and people are looking more at the capabilities of these products, rather than prices,” Nagel said.

The two home improvement companies have been able to withstand the assault from Amazon, which recently broadened its threat to the retail sector with its plans to buy grocer Whole Foods.

“I think there’s a nice moat around their businesses,” Nagel said. “Home Depot sells 50,000 products. There are likely products that sell online better than others. But Home Depot stores are known for great service.” He said the retailer has a strong goods stocking system and powerful private-label brands.

JPMorgan analysts have also said the home improvement companies are doing well defending themselves from Amazon. They have noted that 40 percent of Home Depot online orders are picked up in stores, and the professional market is 40 percent of Home Depot’s business and 30 percent of Lowe’s.

Appliances were 11 percent of Lowe’s total annual sales last year, and 8 percent of Home Depot’s fiscal 2016 sales.

Lowe’s stock was down 5.6 percent and Home Depot’s down more than 4 percent Thursday.

Market value loss for appliance sellers July 20


Microsoft 4Q17: Office 365 revenue surpasses traditional licenses

In the fourth quarter of its 2017 financial year, Microsoft posted revenue of $23.3 billion (£17.9 billion), up 13 percent on a year ago, with an operating income of $5.3 billion (up 73 percent), a net income of $6.5 billion (up 109 percent), and earnings per share of $0.83 (up 112 percent on the same quarter last year).

For the full 2017 financial year, revenue was $90.0 billion (up 5 percent on 2016), operating income was $22.3 billion (up 11 percent), net income was $21.2 billion (up 26 percent), and earnings per share were $3.31 (up 29 percent).

Microsoft currently has three reporting segments: Productivity and Business Processes (covering Office, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype, and Dynamics), Intelligent Cloud (including Azure, Windows Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, and Enterprise Services), and More Personal Computing (covering Windows, hardware, and Xbox, as well as search and advertising).

As was the case last quarter, Microsoft is including its LinkedIn results in the Productivity group, as well as breaking them out independently. Revenue for the social network was $1.1 billion, with operating expenses of $1.0 billion and cost of revenue of $0.4 billion, for a total operating loss of $0.4 billion.

The Productivity group reported revenue of $8.5 billion, up 21 percent year on year, with operating income of $2.8 billion, down 8 percent. LinkedIn was responsible for much of the growth in revenue and the decline in operating income. Office 365 commercial revenue was up 43 percent, with seats growing 31 percent and the rest coming from increased revenue per user. Traditional commercial Office licensing was down 17 percent, as Office users migrate from perpetual and Software Assurance licensing to Office 365 subscriptions. Office 365 consumer seats have grown to 27 million. Microsoft CFO Amy Hood said that this transition had reached a key tipping point: Office 365 revenue surpassed license revenue for the first time.

Cloud group revenue was $7.4 billion, up 11 percent, with operating income up 15 percent to $2.5 billion. Server product and cloud revenue both grew 15 percent, with Azure revenue up 97 percent, and compute usage growing by more than double. Enterprise Services revenue, however, fell 3 percent, as Windows Server 2003 support contracts ended.

Microsoft’s total commercial-cloud annualized run rate is now $18.9 billion, and it should hit $20 billion in the next financial year.

More Personal Computing revenue dropped 2 percent to $8.9 billion, with operating income up 68 percent to $1.8 billion. The decline in revenue was due to the evaporation of Microsoft’s phone presence—revenue was essentially zero, just as it was last quarter—along with a 2-percent drop in Surface revenue. For most of the quarter, Microsoft was continuing to sell some old, rather stale systems; the new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop were only available for two weeks of the period.

On the other hand, Windows revenue was surprisingly strong; OEM Pro revenue was up 3 percent, ahead of corporate PC market, due to a greater shift to high-end systems and SKUs. OEM non-Pro revenue was flat, though this still outperformed the consumer PC market, again due to the shift toward premium devices. Search revenue was up 10 percent, thanks to more searches and more revenue per search.

Gaming revenue was up 3 percent, with an 11 percent increase in Xbox software and services revenue. Xbox Live monthly active users was also up, to 53 million.

Overall, then, the quarter showed some familiar strengths and weaknesses. The transition to Office 365 is, for Microsoft, an enormous success story, showing that not only can the company change its business, distribution, and development models, but that, with perseverance, it can bring customers along for the ride.

But the Surface and phone stories show that the company still has difficulties in some segments and that it still hasn’t really resolved how those segments are going to be handled. If Microsoft wants to be in hardware seriously, then the delays to updating its lines—and the substantial revenue hit that came with those delays—have to end. If, on the other hand, it’s content to merely dabble then it should probably make this clearer to the businesses that are buying Surface machines for their fleets. Right now, Microsoft still isn’t acting like a real PC hardware company, but it’s not not acting like one either. It’s time to, uh, commit, or get off the pot


‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ Revival First Teaser Unveiled by Nickelodeon

JULY 20, 2017 | 04:43PM PT

Rocko, I have a feeling we’re not in the ’90s anymore.

Nickelodeon released a first look at the reboot of its beloved cartoon “Rocko’s Modern Life” at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday afternoon during the show’s panel. The clip features voice actors Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, Doug Lawrence and Charlie Adler.

“Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling” picks up with Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt’s return back to Earth after being blasted into outer space in 1996. The teaser shows Rocko and his crew embracing (or at least trying to embrace) the modern world for the first time — technology and all.

Back in their home of O-Town, the trio is introduced to now long-adapted traditions, including iPhones, social media, food trucks, energy drinks, and 3D printers. While his friends adapt to the new social and technological realities of the modern age, Rocko clings to his nostalgia for the past, believing it can save him from the tortures of present day.

“The 21st century is a very dangerous century,” a frazzled Rocko concludes.

The reboot reunites creator Joe Murray and the entire original voice cast, along with director Cosmo Segurson, for the TV movie special slated to air on Nickelodeon in 2018.


New record: $2,090 a month is average cost of one-bedroom rental in Vancouver

For more than a year, Vancouver has taken top spot for the most expensive city to rent in Canada and now the city of glass has broken another record.

In July, the average price of rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver hit $2,090 a month; which is the first time this type of property has cracked the $2,000 mark since Padmapper started tracking rental data. Padmapper collects rental data from 25 of Canada’s biggest cities based on population.

In June the average price for renting a one-bedroom was $1,950. That’s a 2.5 per cent jump in cost from June to July and year-over-year price of a one-bedroom in Vancouver has increased by 15.5 per cent.

Similarly, rent for a two-bedroom grew by 2.5 per cent in July to $3,230 a month.

READ MORE: West End residents fight against “unfair” rent increases

While Vancouver stays poised at the top of the list, Toronto comes in second consistently with rents increasing only slightly (0.9 per cent) to $1,800 a month for a one-bedroom and $2,430 for a two-bedroom.

Affordability for both renters and homeowners continues to be a hot topic in Metro Vancouver.

In March, tenants on Vancouver’s west side fought against a 35 per cent rent increase. The landlord of the building, located in the 1000-block of West 13th Avenue wants to raise the rent above this year’s legally-capped limit of 3.7 per cent under a clause of the Residential Tenancy Regulation.

READ MORE: Housing affordability taking huge swipe at Metro Vancouver’s ‘missing middle’: Report

The province currently caps annual rent increases at 3.7 per cent, but landlords can apply for exceptions if the rent they are currently charging is significantly lower than what is being charged for similar suites nearby.

The City of Vancouver conducted a survey of 10,000 residents, which resoundingly said affordability is their top priority and the city’s new housing strategy should prioritize housing based on what local residents can afford.

The survey also found that many residents believe investment pressure is a primary contributor to rising prices and that the majority of renters are concerned about their future in Vancouver — with affordability being a main reason why they might choose to leave. City staff will be reporting to council on July 25 with the results of the public consultation, housing targets in the next 10 years and actions to achieve those targets.

Victoria also remained in the top five even though rent fell by 5.1 per cent for one-bedroom units ($1,120/month) and slightly increased by 0.7 per cent for two-bedroom apartments ($1,410/month).