Sky Sports Kick Off New Season With Pub Challenge App

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Sky Sports has launched a new app to coincide with the start of the new football season, offering features aimed specifically at fans watching games in their local pubs. Included in Sky Sports Pub Challenge is a pub finder for locating big-screen TVs and a variety of games and activities to play once you’ve been checked in to a nearby watering hole.

The emphasis is on adding a competitive prediction element to a match — you can take on your friends and anyone else who happens to be using the app in the same venue. “We’re expecting Sky Sports Pub Challenge to be a big hit with people who like to watch the big games with friends down at the pub,” said Sky’s David Rey. “It’s a rewarding and sociable way for people to get into the action and make the most of match days down at their local pub.”

Not only do you get bragging rights if you make an accurate score prediction, there’s money on the table too: monthly prizes up to £2,500 can be won and there’s a grand end-of-season prize of £20,000. Free tickets to Barclays Premier League games are also on offer for those who know their football.

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Having an app that can quickly pinpoint a Sky Sports pub in an unfamiliar location is reason enough to download it; the trivia games and prediction leagues are an added bonus that should appeal to groups of supporters who head down to the pub to enjoy (or suffer through) matches on a regular basis. According to Sky, over 2.2m of us watch live sport in the pub at least once a week. With many venues now offering Wi-Fi as well as a variety of beers, you might not even have to rely on a dodgy mobile connection to get involved.

Sky Sports Pub Challenge is available now free of charge for iPhone and Android. Other built-in features include lists of upcoming fixtures and the ability to forward plan meet ups with friends.

Yuilop UK Launches Free Cloud-Based Mobile Numbers

yuilop

When Skype was launched a decade ago, it heralded a new concept in mobile communications. Now, its pioneering template of free internet-based conversations has been taken to another level by the launch of yuilop – a free cloud-based communications platform with truly global reach.

Operated through a downloadable app for iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry devices, yuilop enables people to send and receive free calls and messages, across 3G, 4G, LTE or Wi-Fi. Once the app is installed, users are allocated a dedicated mobile phone number starting with the conventional 07 prefix. Because yuilop utilises the Public Switched Telephone Network, this effectively establishes a fully functioning mobile account without requiring a handset or contract. Calls and texts can be made and received from phones, tablets and even iPods, sharing the same number on multiple devices, with no roaming charges while travelling.

Unusually, it isn’t necessary for the recipient of a call or message to be a yuilop customer as well, although a system of credits provides additional incentives over and above the primary benefit of avoiding usage charges. These credits are earned for activities including receiving calls or text messages, introducing other users to the platform, watching ads or downloading promotions. Indeed, the yuilop system works best when all parties are subscribed, with the ability to supplement straightforward calls and texts with group messaging functionality. The app itself is straightforward to use, with a clear interface and few extraneous options, and it can also handle the distribution of photographs and emoji.

It is worth noting that yuilop has been designed to be portable – it can’t be installed on desktop computers, whereas rivals like Viber are PC and Mac compatible. It is, however, far more flexible than Facebook Messenger, which is essentially a BBM competitor. Similarly, the widely-admired WhatsApp is entirely message-based, whereas yuilop can handle calls as well. As for the undisputed market leader, Skype, although calls are free to other Skype users, there are charges for text messages, landline/mobile calls and obtaining a unique number. However, while yuilop offers all these services for free, it does lack Skype’s desktop/laptop functionality.

Founded in Barcelona three years ago, and described by its founders as a “mobile phone in the cloud”, yuilop already has five million users across over 200 countries, with ambitious plans for further expansion in future. It can be downloaded for free at your phone or mobile device’s app store.

Nokia’s JobLens App: View Vacancies Around You

nokia-joblens-app

“Britain’s economy has turned a corner at last” quip senior Tory MPs ahead of last month’s official Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data showing Britain’s output. Almost five years following the crippling financial crash the UK’s financial woes seem to be witnessing a flicker of optimism, but try telling the 29.70 million people who are looking and available to work but are unable to find a job that the “mood in Britain has changed.”

House prices may have seen a wisp of a rise; GDP may be a little healthier but for the millions unemployed, the rosy picture the Tories seem intent on painting could hardly be gloomier.

While help might not be readily at hand through the government, Nokia seems better prepared to tackle the UK’s unemployment woes in the form of an augmented reality app.

Nokia recently unveiled JobLens, a proactive app which enables job seekers to see more than 500,000 available job vacancies throughout the UK. Users can filter the open job opportunities through company, distance, salary or keyword. At a first glance you may ask yourself how JobLens is different from the likes of Moster.co.uk or Jobsite.co.uk. What gives JobLens an original edge is that users can view the vacancies on a map, or, on some devices, using augmented reality. With selected Lumia models, the app will open up a lens allowing users to search for vacancies in particular town or city.

Looking through a spurious camera lens to hone in on places where jobs are available might not save the UK’s unemployment problems, but at least Nokia is doing, well more than the coalition government that’s for sure.

Employment issues aside, the technology behind the JobLens app is interesting. Nokia’s HERE maps use sight navigation as a way to discover and find your way around the world. LiveSight technology advances HERE maps further by enabling users to pinpoint exactly where they are looking. Users simply have to open HERE Maps, click on the LiveSight icon and pan around. As you pan, shops, restaurants and buildings will stare back up at you on your phone’s display.

Besides allowing job seekers to pinpoint the exact location of a job with interesting accuracy, JobLens will recommend opportunities that are catered to a user’s qualifications, can create CVs and even share CVs with prospective hiring managers. What’s more, if you manage to bag yourself an interview, HERE maps will guide you to the destination.

In its JobLens press release, Nokia describes its new app as being a “catalyst for the employment market” as it “lowers barriers between job seekers and local vacancies.”

JobLens is only available for Nokia Lumia devices, including those operating Windows Phone 8 and 7.5 or higher.

It might not rectify a deeply embedded societal crisis in which the UK government is irrefutably failing, but JobLens certainly beats the old-school job hunting method of squinting over ads in a Job Centre window.

You can download the enterprising app here.

Hands on With Sony Vegas Pro 12

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Regular visitors will know that when we’re not writing about gadgets, we’re busy filming them for our YouTube channel. Over the years we’ve experimented with a variety of video editors and for the last few months we’ve been checking out Sony Vegas Pro 12 – which is aimed at the professional end of the market. We imagine it could also be an attractive choice for those have outgrown Sony’s Movie Studio and who don’t want to start from scratch with the likes of the more expensive Premiere Pro or Final Cut.

If, like us, you are new to Sony Vegas Pro (SVP), then it can all be a little overwhelming at first. As soon as the software loads, it’s immediately apparent that you’ve stepped up a gear (or three) in terms of features and complexity when compared to the more consumer level products such as Power Director and MAGIX Movie Edit Pro – both of which compete more closely with Movie Studio.

Sony Vegas Pro 12 largely focuses on further improvements to software’s workflow. There are over 20 changes in this area alone, including an expanded edit mode. This enables you to see ‘in’ and ‘out’ frames via a split-screen preview and there’s also the ability to identify unused, available frames from within the timeline.

Expanded import options
Expanded import options

Proxy editing has also been introduced. When full frame rate playback is difficult to achieve, this “Smart Proxy” feature will automatically and dynamically replace clips on the timeline with high quality, edit friendly HD proxies. As you’d expect, the software still uses the original media files to ensure a high quality final render.

Another workflow improvement is the ability for users to hold the shift key (for trim) or ctrl+alt+shift (for adjacent trim) while dragging an event edge to quickly ignore event grouping – this allows for fast “J” and “L” cuts.

Similarly handy are the new rectangle/square and circle/oval masking tools which make it easier to mask sections of your media. FX masking is also available which, by masking an effect rather than the image itself, enables you to easily blur or pixelate an area of a video clip – handy for those situations when you want to obscure a face, logo, etc.

New Color Match plugin
New Color Match plugin

There are a number of new plugins, including “Color Match” – which enables you to match the colour characteristics from one clip to another. Using this same technology, there is also the new LAB Adjust plugin which takes advantage of the L*a*b colour standard to provide precise control over the colour characteristics of your content.

Those looking to swap to Vegas Pro from other editors will appreciate the “Project Interchange” feature. As you may have guessed from the name, this enables you to exchange projects between SVP and other popular video editors. The conversion engine currently supports Final Cut Pro 7, Final Cut Pro X (albeit export only), Avid Pro Tools 10 as well as Premiere Pro and After Effects CS6.

Having produced a number of videos that feature colour effects, titles and transitions – we still feel that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what SVP has to offer. That being said, I’ve always preferred to have too many tools and plugins rather than be left wanting. The learning curve, while pretty steep, is certainly achievable and that’s coming from someone who has mainly dabbled with more consumer level products in the past. Within a few days of playing around (and regular use of the undo button), I quickly found myself appreciating some of the “power” features which are often lacking in cheaper, slimmed down programs.

LAB Adjust plugin
LAB Adjust plugin

Some user reviews have identified various compatibility and stability issues, but we didn’t encounter any of these and, apart from a strange EULA acceptance “nag screen” each time we started the software, SVP was very stable and handled rendering and effects in its stride. For those interested in such things, our test system was  a Dell XPS 8300 (i7-2600, 8GB RAM) running Windows 8 Pro (64-bit) with a AMD Radeon HD 6800 series graphics card.

All in all, SVP 12 gets the thumbs up from us. It’s a powerhouse of an editor and this is reflected in its price. Those with a smaller budget and who can live without DVD Architect Pro and the ability to encode their audio in Dolby 5.1, may wish to check out the new “Edit” version of SVP 12 which comes in at around £180 cheaper. We’d recommend checking out this page on the Sony site which gives a handy comparison of the two Pro versions as well as the consumer-focused Movie Studio range.

Trax: The Smart Way to Monitor Kids and Pets

Trax

Thanks to smartphones equipped with GPS we’re constantly reporting our position to social media, employers or anyone else who’s interested. Being tracked is simply a part of everyday existence for most of us. But what about the precious things in your life that you want to track, your pets or your children perhaps? Buying the cat an iPhone is a bit over the top – quite aside from the fact that they’re hard to use with paws.

The answer may lie in the Trax. Claimed to be the world’s smallest and smartest GPS tracker it allows you to monitor its location via a smartphone app. It’s waterproof and comes with a clip that can be attached to a pet’s collar, a child’s coat or whatever you want. In addition to location tracking it has a sensor that monitors speed and direction which means it can alert you if it’s dropped or if it exceeds a certain speed – so you’ll know if the dog has secretly got itself a motorbike.

The Trax app is available for Android and iOS. If you’re worried about the kids straying too far from home, it lets you draw virtual geo-fences on a map and can tell you when the Trax unit strays over the boundary.

Whilst its aimed at parents and pet owners, and could see an end to those photocopied pictures of missing moggies taped to lampposts, we can think of a few other uses too. Leave Trax in your car and you’ll always know where you parked it. Attach it to your partner and you’ll know if he’s really working late at the office or if he’s just sneaked off to the pub.

The Trax is due to be launched in September at a price of €185 which includes two years of data and roaming across the EU, US, Canada and Australia. If you think your dog is headed for South America, therefore, you’ll lose touch with him once he’s across the border.

You can find out more and register your interest at http://trax4you.com/

Payleven: Pocket Chip&Pin

Payleven

Cash may well be king as far as investment goes but it’s becoming a downright nuisance in day to day life. Ever handed someone a wad of coins, hard legal tender, yet had to apologise for all the “shrapnel”. Ever struggled to make change? Not wanted to split a 20? Or wandered the streets searching for an ATM? Cash is ubiquitous yet clearly a crazy anachronism in much of modern life.

Payleven hope to change much of that, having developed the first internationally available mobile Chip & PIN solution that enables anyone to take card payments with their Smartphone or tablet. Whilst clearly targeted at more small businesses than the general populace to start with, it’s a step on the road to cashless transactions.

“Not accepting card payments can cause huge problems for UK small businesses in terms of lost sales and unpaid invoices. No matter whether you’re a merchant with a corner shop, a market stall holder or an electrician at a customer’s house. Payleven is the smart way to get paid- it’s mobile, convenient, secure and low-cost with no monthly fees or contracts.”

Ian Marsh, Payleven UK CEO & co-founder

Payleven works via a small bluetooth Chip&Pin device. The interface is chunky and feels like an overweight calculator. But it’s not overly heavy and feels like it could easily be stored in the front of a traders apron at a market. It’s certainly smaller than the giant things they wheel out at restaurants and comes with reassuringly solid rubber keys. It won’t make or break the device, but it puts me at ease popping my card into a device that feels robust. You change the device via micro USB and it hooks up to any Bluetooth tablet or smartphone with the minimum of fuss. There’s a card slot at the bottom for taking payments. The card reader is associated with your merchant account for security reasons so you can’t change them round on the fly – probably very useful for fraud.

Taking payments is quick and easy – it’s just like traditional Chip&Pin except between individuals. This gives Payleven the edge over American rivals Square as the system complies with Visa’s stringent Chip&Pin regulations – a big deal as according to Payleven Visa transactions represent about 80% of all UK debit and credit card transactions. You track payments via the app, which links back to your online account. Payleven is EMV(Europay, Mastercard and VISA) Level 2 approved and compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard’s (PCI-DSS) highest 3.1 level certification. In addition no sensitive data is stored on either on the Chip&PIN device or smartphone/ tablet, and all data traffic is fully encrypted.

Payleven charges purely on a pay-as-you-go basis with no monthly fees, instead charging users a flat 2.75% fee. Depending on your business model this could work out cheaper than working with Square, who charge a substantial monthly fee. The barriers to entry with Square in a way much lower – the Square reader is sent to you free and is a more lightweight device that works directly with your phone/tablet. Payleven’s card reader carries an £89 price of admission. But the lack of monthly fees, added compatibility via Chip&Pin and widespread availability in the UK make it a winning proposition in Europe at least.

For more info check out Payleven

The Exciting World Of No Cost Electronica

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These days, if you’ve got a PC or a Mac, a little hard disk space and an internet connection you’ve already got everything you need to produce music. No, you don’t need to buy any more hardware and you don’t need to spend any money on software. None at all!

So, getting started is simple. But, as any dedicated producer will tell you, simple doesn’t always equate to easy. After all, the best tools are wasted on the inexperienced craftsman, right?

So, no, we can’t help you become a production wizard in one article, be we can help you down that path, and honour our promise that you can start without a single penny’s outlay.

And who knows, maybe a fruitful career in the music industry awaits, a little later down the line?

Too Much Choice And Too Much Information

But there’s the all pervasive software problem. Of all the masses of freely available software, where to begin?

Well, take it from me, as a composer/producer since about 2006, I’ve tried a lot of stuff, both on Windows and OSX. I’ve wasted many hundreds of hours testing glitchy software, suffering crashes, hard drive failures and pretty much all that bad stuff technology throws at you.

But I’ve also found some real diamonds in the rough too.

So, the purpose of this article is to cut through all the noise and give you a list of things that have stood the test of time and just worked. I intend to spare you many hours of frustration.

Let’s see how we do.

Thus Simple: Good

And, obviously, with so many styles of music to produce, so many types of plugins and so many individual ways of working – we’re simplifying a little here for the sake of your convenience (though it sure beats information overload).

So, let the simplifications begin!

Introducing The DAWs

A ‘DAW’ (Digital Audio Workstation) is essentially the tool that you use to take your musical ideas into musical reality. Everything from recording, to synthesis, to sampling to eventually mixing and mastering, is handled by your DAW.

(Insert Light My Fire joke here as/if appropriate…)

Commercial DAWs start at around £30 and go all the way into the four figure range. True, you aren’t going to get  £1000s worth of functionality with a piece of freeware – but you don’t necessarily need all of those features if you are. In fact it might be better not to get stuck on detail and face the all to prevalent overwhelm which can get in the way of your actually making music…

Reaper

COCKOS – Reaper  Windows/OSX

First up is COCKOS’ Reaper. Reaper comes up as #1 because in terms of speed and flexibility, I’ve found nothing to beat it. REAPER isn’t actually free, but COCKOS as super cool guys have made the trial effectively endless, and priced it quite reasonably for personal use. They probably find that those who stick with it eventually buy, and for $60 it’s a steal. Try it and see.

MU.LABWindows/OSX

I don’t have quite so much experience with MU.LAB, spending most of my time in Reaper, but from what I’ve seen of it I don’t know why it isn’t more popular. Unlike many other freeware DAWs the UI is sophisticated and the featureset is quite extensive. Considering you pay nothing, it’s a sweet deal.

Ardour

ArdourOSX/Linux

Again, I don’t have all that much experience with Ardour either, but it’s got a clean & intuitive interface, excellent plugin compatibility and awesome functions, such as matrix style plugin patching. Again, sweet deal for nothing…

The Plugin Suites

An audio plugin, as it’s name may suggest, is a piece of software that ‘plugs in’ to your DAW, expanding your sonic possibilities. For our intents and purposes they come in two main formats; VST, and AU (OSX only).

Plugins can do pretty much anything, but simplifying again, we’ll divide them into 3 types…

Synthesisers: Generate (synthesise) a unique sound, which ranges from obviously digital in nature, to more ‘natural’ sounding, and everything in between!

Samplers: Are used like ‘loaders/players’ for existing sounds (often banks made up of pre recorded sounds – ‘samples’, such as a drum kit, or a brass instrument)

FX/Processing: Are used to take an existing sound and make it sound different. An example of an FX is reverb, which creates the psychoacoustic impression of space and can make things sound ‘big’.

There are many hundreds, possibly thousands of these plugins available. To save you time I’ve grouped them into ‘suites’, by developer.

Here goes:

NI-Kontakt

Native Instruments – Komplete Players Windows/OSX

Native Instruments are one of the biggest players in the music production industry. Their Komplete range is an amazing (and expensive) set of plugins that pretty much covers the bases in synthesis and sampling . But they also do a little free giveaway in the form of their Komplete Players, which though just a fraction of the paid offering, are still incredible.

u-He’s free giveaways Windows/OSX

Triple Cheese, Zoyd, TyrellN6, Zebralette 

u-HE are one of my favourite developers, and they make some seriously incredible and versatile synths. All of their free synths are worth trying out too, being just as quirky as powerful as their paid offerings (albeit with a little less functionality)

Blue Cat’s Freeware Plugins Pack Windows/OSX

A very non gimmicky and useful set of FX plugins from Blue Cat that includes most of the studio essential, equalisation, flangers, spectral analysis, and so on…

TAL – Effects Suite  Windows/OSX

TAL’s free FX are very handy, and include some more unusual offerings – such as a bitcrusher and a tube saturator, both of which can make your mixes much harder and edgy.

DSK – Synths Windows

DSK are beyond ridiculously generous in their (pretty awesome) free plugin offerings. There’s way too many to list here, but it runs from traditional Indian instruments to synths that specialise in making spacey pads. Shame there’s no OSX offerings…

Illformed – ‘Old VST Plugins Pack’

Which contains a bunch of plugins under the FSU category (I’ll let you guess what the acronym stands for) Glitch 1.3, Crusher, Stretch & TapeStop. As of this date the plugins were no longer supported, but they still work, and for adding carnage to your mixes, it’s hard to beat them.

Soundhack – Freesound Bundle Windows/OSX

Soundhack (who teaches computer science) has some FX offerings that are slightly more…esoteric than some of the other free FX you might find. They’re presented in that wonderful minimalist UI that you might come to love and treasure.

The Single Plugins

These are same as the above ‘bundles’ but are individual plugins. Though not grouped in any convenient collection, these ones were too good to miss…

Applied Acoustics Systems – Swatches Windows/OSX

AAS are perhaps best known as masters of creating realistic (and far out) sounding string synths. Think note for note reproductions of Eddie Van Halen’s lead guitar tone or crazy alien violins. Swatches is preset player that lets you try out the best sounds from all of AAS’s synths.

FXPansion – ORCA Windows/OSX

FXPansion’s ORCA is a somewhat stripped down, yet pretty powerful subtractive synth that was released as a showcase for new & experimental audio technology. One worth collecting.

Magical 8bit Plug Windows/OSX

This is, IMHO, the best plugin to create the 8bit/’chip tunes’ sound in the style of the Nintendo gameboy. I use it regularly and love it.

Sam – CHIP32 Windows/OSX

Sam’s CHIP shows it’s age a bit now, but is capable of creating similar kinds of lo-fi sound to the 8 bit plug we mentioned above.

alphakanal – Automat

Automat is a pretty straightforward and useful synth. It’s workhorse capable of all kinds of sounds, from spacious pads to punchy leads.  It’s a pretty good ‘all rounder’.

Linplug –  Free Alpha 3 Windows/OSX

Linplug’s Free Alpha is a stripped down version of the Alpha synth. It also shows its age a little now, but is still capable of some cool noises, especially with pads.

IK Multimedia – Sampletank FREE Windows/OSX

IK’s Sampletank is the smallest of IK’s sampler series. Packing 58 free instruments and half a gig of samples, all sampled in the high quality IK is known for, it’s worth getting your hands on this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Vrs2OEq3InI#action=share

Camel Audio – Alchemy Player Windows/OSX

Camel Audio’s Alchemy is an extremely versatile sampler/synth hybrid. The full version is incredible, and the freeware ‘player’ still comes with over 200 instruments and a gig of samples – I think this one’s an essential!

Conclusion

This should be enough to get you started. Hopefully I’ve landed this article somewhere in that sweet spot between too little and too much information. What do you think?

Also, if you are looking for some audio hardware to get the most out aural pleasure and accuracy of your mixes (and yeah this’ll probably involve shelling out cash) – you may want to check out what’s big in our Audio Video category

Happy music making!

Stock Android: Pros and Cons

Nexus-Phone

The Nexus 4 comes with stock Android, but now more phones are getting in on the act. Once the exclusive preserve of Nexus-branded devices (and rooters), the stock version of Android is set to appear on the Samsung Galaxy S4, the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z in the coming months (initially in the USA with a wider roll-out expected eventually). But what is stock Android, exactly? And why should you consider getting a phone with it installed?

Stock-Android

What is stock Android?

Simply speaking, stock Android is the plain, vanilla edition of the operating system, straight from the Google conveyor belt. Manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and HTC tend to add their own bells and whistles to Android, most notably when it comes to flashy camera functions and social network widgets. In the same way that computer retailers such as Dell and HP load extra utilities and shortcuts on top of Windows, the phone manufacturers do the same with Android, often providing easy links to their own services and stores. Stock Android is the purest form of Android without any of these extras added on top. Whether or not it’s the best Android for you depends on how attached you are to these manufacturer customisations and skins.

Quicker updates

Perhaps the biggest advantage of using stock Android is that you get new versions of the operating system as quickly as possible. Whenever Google releases a new update, it hits Nexus devices almost immediately. Owners of other phones and tablets must wait until Sony, HTC, Samsung or another company have had a play around with it, added their own layer on top, and shipped it back out to customers with all bugs fixed and scenarios tested.

This trend for customising Android has exacerbated the software’s fragmentation problem. Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3-2.3.7) remains the most common version of the OS in use today, with the most recent Jelly Bean release accounting for 28.4% of the Android phone and tablet market. By using stock Android, you’re less likely to be left behind.

More apps

Google has been steadily spinning apps out of the main Android OS for some time now — most recently the stock keyboard appeared on Google Play — but one of the benefits of using the pure version of the operating system is that it ensures compatibility with the latest apps.

Twitter’s Vine, for example, recently launched on Android and requires version 4.0 or above. If you want to use the lock screen widget built into Google Now, you’ll need Android 4.1 or higher. The more recent your version of Android, the more apps and features you have access to.

Fewer apps

Of course, at the same time you get fewer apps because you’re living without the customised add-ons and widgets produced by the phone manufacturers. In the case of the HTC One, you won’t get the social networking stream widget BlinkFeed; in the case of the Samsung Galaxy S4, you’ll miss out on the Smart Pause utility that pauses videos whenever you look away from the screen. Whether these omissions will be of interest to you depends on whether you view them as useful add-ons or needless gimmicks.

Optimisations

These stock Android versions of existing phones have another disadvantage when compared with pure Nexus devices — the hardware and software haven’t been developed in unison, so you might not experience a fully optimised experience. Stock Android will certainly work without any major problems on the latest smartphones, but you might notice one or two inconsistencies (the HTC One doesn’t have a multi-tasking button, for starters).

Stock Android has much going for it, but the trend of slapping the vanilla OS on any smartphone isn’t without its problems. You’re also more likely to pay a premium for devices sporting stock Android, though LG’s competitive pricing on the Nexus 4 is an exception to that rule. Whichever version of Android you find yourself leaning towards, having the choice can only be good for buyers.