Posts tagged ‘Microsoft’

Microsoft’s revived Intellimouse isn’t a successor to the old


How I had such high hopes that the Microsoft Intellimouse Pro Special Edition bought at Noël Leeming would be a successor to my Intellimouse 1.1. The short version: it isn’t.
   It might be a successor to the Intellimouse Explorer 3 on which the shape is modelled, but for those of us who prefer symmetrical mice, because the higher right-hand side supports your hand better, it literally was a pain.
   There are only some counterfeit ones going for a decent price on Ebay, and I really should have snapped up more of the second-hand ones when I had a chance. The mice now at Recycling for Charity are, like all those reasonably priced ones in shops today, tiny. I imagine mice from the early 2000s aren’t even getting recycled any more, since it’s 2020 and the “old” stuff is from last decade—after the manufacturers began to shrink them.
   Asus did a good job with its ROG Strix Evolve which I bought three months ago, but I find that the absence of tapering at the front and the overall tightness of the buttons didn’t serve me that well.
   The Intellimouse 1.1 is back here as my reserve, and the Asus is on the mouse pad. It took all of a few seconds at my desk to know that Microsoft’s revived Intellimouse wasn’t right—and one wonders why they couldn’t just keep making something that worked so well for so many of us.
   I was lucky to get the similarly shaped Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 five years ago, a dead-stock mouse made in 2005 that had been sitting at Corporate Consumables. In between the properly sized Microsoft mice—three in total, including my first in 2002—I had all manner of other types but nothing was as comfortable.
   When you go to some websites selling mice, they tell you that you can hold their product like a ‘claw’, as if that is a positive attribute. Once again we see the need for humans to adapt to technology, rather than the other way round. I can see why one might need to do this given how mice have shrunk. If your hand’s like a claw, then you may be the modern equivalent of the Chinese women who had their feet bound in the 20th century. You may feel that is the fashion, but you need not live with it.

I did it. On Saturday night I reset my Meizu M6 Note again, the second time in eight days, taking it back to factory settings. Except this time I didn’t load Whatsapp or Signal. Two days later, my phone remains OK.
   I suggested to PB that it may have developed a read–write fault, as deleting photos from the internal memory takes minutes (if it ever completes), which the warranty should cover. It also would explain why the gallery, camera and the downloads’ folder wouldn’t load properly, since they each tried to access the internal storage. I also had difficulty restoring my SMSs with SMS Backup, with the operation crapping out before completing—though strangely, today, the SMSs are back without any intervention from me.
   But it also wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Whatsapp wasn’t compatible with Android 7 now—Instagram never was, not fully. To save a load of time I won’t be putting messaging apps back on there. I lost a second evening to this and I’m not keen on losing more.
   There are two up sides: I don’t need to get a new phone, and if I did, I finally found a vendor on Aliexpress who’ll sell a Chinese-spec Meizu. No more of these western editions: they are less reliable, with a less well stocked app store, and you can’t update the OS. You have to root them to get rid of the Google spyware. I may stick with Meizu but I really won’t be buying domestically again.

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Posted in business, China, design, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »

Finding an Android browser that works without fuss is harder than you think


With my last two cellphones, I’ve not used the default browser. I usually opted for Firefox, and in December 2018, I believe that’s what I did on my then-new Meizu M6 Note.
   I don’t recall it being too problematic, but the type on some sites displayed a tad small, so I sampled a few others. I must have tried the usual suspects such as Dolphin and definitely recall seeing the Brave icon on my home screen, but my friend Robin Capper suggested Edge.
   You might think that that’s a ridiculous option given what Edge’s (and IE’s) reputation has been like, but it actually worked better than the other browsers I sampled. It played the videos I loaded on it, and it displayed type generally well, but there was one very regular bug. If I left a session and came back to it later, or let the phone go to sleep or standby, Edge would almost always falter when I tried to pick up where I left off. It would stutter and close. When I opened it up again, it was fine.
   The latest version began displaying in my notifications that it wouldn’t work properly without Google Services, which was a blatant lie, since it was still stable other than the bug above, and all previous versions were absolutely fine. I wonder if this was some leftover from the Chromium base, but, as with the overwhelming majority of Android apps, Google Services are unnecessary.
   The other bug that began happening on a more recent version was Edge getting confused by stylesheets and not knowing what size to display type at. It might change as you browsed, and when you scrolled back up the page, the text that was legible before had turned minute. It did this on Lucire, and it is serious enough for us to redevelop a template for the site.
   I began wondering if there was life outside Edge. I returned to Firefox to find it stable but utterly incapable of playing videos. I don’t remember it being like this when it was my default, but like so many software programs, the more they upgrade, the crappier it gets. I also believe that a lot of these boffins don’t test with older gear, for reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere on this blog.
   Four browsers were suggested to me as replacements: Vivaldi (which I went to anyway, since I use it on the desktop), Duck Duck Go (which I had heard was slow, but I downloaded it anyway), Brave (they have a programme where they claim to give money to publishers but it’s impossible for a publisher like me to sign up to), and Bromite (hadn’t heard of it before today). I had already tried, and rejected, UC Browser on another occasion.
   Vivaldi has been and gone from my phone as I write this post. It’s buggy as heck. Twitter displays about half a centimetre off, so you think you’re clicking on one thing you see on the screen but you’ve just activated the link that’s 0·5 cm above. YouTube will crash the browser (two out of four times). It loses the tab you were browsing on when you come back to a session. It gives the same BS about needing Google Services when it doesn’t. I was very disappointed considering it syncs with Vivaldi on the desktop, the settings seem comprehensive, and the interface looked pretty good.

Vivaldi struggles to display YouTube before crashing

Vivaldi displays everything a bit low (though it functions as though everything is fine, leading you to click on the wrong things), and the tabs I set it to show have gone

   Duck Duck Go has been working quite well. Other than the pop ups that tell me about things I already know as a decade-long user of the search engine, I haven’t noticed the slowness that I’ve heard from a very reliable and knowledgeable source.
   Brave was back, still telling me about their rewards’ programme, but I haven’t experimented with it enough to form a proper opinion. But it has sent a notification about my first Brave advertisement, which I actually can’t see. I admire what they’re trying to do but if only they’d let me sign up as a publisher—yet their site doesn’t permit it. It might be short-lived on my phone, too.
   Bromite, so far, has worked in a standard fashion with nothing too remarkable, and I’ll be investigating further.
   The day has ended rather differently on the cellphone—a whole lot of time invested on a device I barely use. But it’s been a fun exploration of what’s out there and how some fall well short of the basics of stability, consistency and compatibility. Duck Duck Go has so far won the default slot but the jury is still out on Bromite.

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Posted in cars, China, design, technology, USA | No Comments »

Asus ROG Strix Evolve: a gaming mouse for a non-gamer


My early 2000s Microsoft Intellimouse 1·1 is still the perfect shape for me. After getting the second-hand one into service last year, I thought that I needed a spare. I’ve several other mice, including no-brand ones, that are a decent size, but I got used to having the forward and back buttons on either side.
   Microsoft makes a Classic Intellimouse these days, but it’s based on a later design, and it appears the side buttons are on the left only, which seems to be the convention in the late 2010s and early 2020s. It’s also had some reviews criticizing the quality, so I knew I couldn’t go with the latest.
   I headed back to Recycling for Charity, where I sourced this Intellimouse, but judging by the stock, I’m not alone in my preference. All that were left were smaller mice, making me wish that I bought multiple Intellimouses a few years ago and stocked up. This surely is a massive hint to mainstream mouse makers on a latent, forgotten market.
   After sampling some during spare time at Noël Leeming in Porirua, which did fit my hand, I opted to look online. The Noël Leeming ones were mostly Logitech, and my experience is that their mice last about two years. I wanted quality.
   After much searching, one mouse that matches the dimensions of the Intellimouse (125 mm × 65 mm × 40 mm) with one millimetre out on the height is the Asus Republic of Gamers (ROG) Strix Evolve, and our old friends at Just Laptops in Albany had them on special at under NZ$70 plus freight. That’s a lot more than the NZ$3 I paid for the used Intellimouse and the NZ$25 I paid for the Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 in 2015, but with Asus claiming that the switches were good for 50 million clicks—probably 10 times more than regular mice—I decided that three times the price for ten times the longevity (at least in one respect) was acceptable. And it had two switches on each side, which I could program.
   It arrived a (working) day later. A lot of the gaming features are lost on me: the option to have lighting effects, choosing your own colour or having it cycle, for instance. I don’t necessarily need DPI switching. It’s simply vital that I have something my right hand is comfortable with.

   The mouse comes with a second set of covers, so you can raise it slightly to suit your hand. I tried all permutations: left high, right low, vice versa, both low, both high, before deciding on having both sides in the raised position. The rubber side panels help with grip, and they aid comfort.
   The first negative is that the forward end isn’t as wide as I was used to. The Microsoft mice are a reasonable width all the way down, and the Evolve is slightly narrower. That means my ring finger touches the mouse pad more on the side, as it did with an earlier Lenovo (plenty of those at Recycling for Charity, incidentally). I thought I wouldn’t be able to get used to it, as I didn’t with the Lenovo, and it does continue to be a slight problem. In other words, I haven’t quite got the perfect mouse and it’s a lesson about buying online when your requirements are this strict (though again I wouldn’t have considered this a major problem if manufacturers weren’t skimping on materials and giving people repetitive strain injuries).
   Asus hasn’t deceived about the measurements: it is 125 mm wide at its greatest width, just as Microsoft has it on theirs.
   I may put up with letting my ring finger drop and go along the mouse pad for the time being just for comfort’s sake and see if I’m OK with washing the pad more regularly. Or adjust my hand positioning slightly. But I know I cannot use the modern mice.
   One Tweeter noted that maybe the mouse manufacturers are finally appealing to women, and I had to agree it was nice for us men to experience just once what it’s like for them in a usually male-designed tech world.
   The other features are excellent: the ability to program the switches, which I did very early; and I can turn the lighting off as I see no point to it if my hand is on the mouse obscuring most of it. Then again, I’m not a gamer.
   The mouse wheel and switches are far more solid than anything I’ve encountered, making the 50 million-click claim believable. I do occasionally hit the right button inadvertently, probably out of unfamiliarity, and I must hit the DPI switch from time to time, again accidentally.
   Nevertheless, I’m going to keep my eye out for second-hand Intellimouses. Mine has become the back-up again, and really I didn’t think I was asking for much. Microsoft had a perfect design for which the tooling must be long amortized, so it makes you wonder why they don’t just trot it out again and make a bundle more off us.

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Posted in design, New Zealand, technology | 1 Comment »

Human-centred peripherals should be the norm


I’ve had a go at software makers before over giving us solutions that are second-best, because second-best has become the convention. While I can think of an explanation for that, viz. Microsoft packaged Windows computers in the 1990s with Word and Outlook Express, it’s harder to explain why peripherals haven’t been human-centred.
   I thought about this with my monitor. It’s “only” 24 inches, despite being QHD. But it works for me, as 27 or more would see me move my neck to view the corners. I was always happy with the 24-inch Imac: I had no desire for it to be larger. If I had 27 inches I might need to sit further back, cancelling out the upsizing. Despite saying this, I can see in some situations where people would be quite happy with 27 (and even larger ones for coders), but it begs the question of why there aren’t more 24-inch QHD monitors on the market. My friend Chelfyn Baxter believes it is the optimum size for productivity (granted, he told me this over five years ago, though I still see little to fault him). Are our suppliers driving us to larger sizes, just as car importers are driving us to automatics here? (The latter is not backed up by any research on preferences, to my knowledge.)
   The same thing applies to keyboards. To me, the optimum width of a keyboard is around 40 cm. Any wider, you’re reaching for your mouse and causing repetitive strain injuries. I’ve stuck to my 40 cm rule for a long time and haven’t had the sort of pain I had in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I had a standard-width keyboard. The mouse is roughly where I expect it to be, and I wouldn’t object if it were closer still. Again, it begs the question of why 40 cm isn’t a standard if it saves us from pain.

   Then there’s the mouse—I now use a Microsoft Intellimouse 1.1 from the early 2000s after my 2005-made, 2015-new one gave up. I know there’s a lot of comedy around the US president having small hands, but we’re no longer in the sort of society whose products change to appease a leader. But regular mice are awfully small, a trend that seemed to have begun in the 2010s. I can’t hold them and maybe I have large hands, but I can’t be alone. In so many places I visit, I see some very uncomfortable hands try to grip a small mouse. I learned that was a bad thing in the days of the round 1999 Apple USB mouse (it wasn’t the Imouse), which created a trade in adapters that snapped on around it.
   Fortunately, mice manufacturers do offer larger sizes, recognizing that not all of us accept a child’s size as the standard. Here I can understand why mice have downsized: the manufacturers attempting to save a few bob and forcing more of us into it. However, there must be a decent part of the population who think, ‘I’ll be uncomfortable with that. I won’t buy it,’ and let the market move accordingly.
   I wonder how much more comfortable and productive a chunk of the population would be by following a few basic rules: have a monitor—whatever size suits you—where you limit strain on your neck; have a keyboard around 40 cm wide or less; and have a mouse which your hand can rest on (and keyboard wrist rests and mouse wrist rests to suit to make you comfortable). But I know most of us will just go, ‘The default is good enough,’ and unnecessarily suffer.

Speaking of practical, I hope Mudita gets its designs on the market sooner rather than later. Who needs pizzazz when we all value simplicity? Technology serving humanity: what a novel idea! Here’s how we can help.

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Posted in design, technology | 1 Comment »

The “fortress America” approach to the internet fuels piracy


There are websites such as CBS News in the US that no longer let us here in New Zealand view them. US Auto Trader is another one. It’s a damned shame, because I feel it’s a stab at the heart of what made the internet great—the fact that we could be in touch with each other across borders. These two US websites, and there are plenty more, are enacting the “fortress America” policy, and I’ve never believed that isolationism is a good thing.
   Let’s start with the Auto Trader one. As someone who found his car on the UK Auto Trader website, it seems daft for the US to limit itself to its own nation’s buyers. What if someone abroad really would like an American classic? Then again, I accept that classic cars are few and far between on that site, and if photos from the US are anything to go by, the site’s probably full of Hyundai Sonatas and Toyota Camrys anyway.

   I went to the CBS website because of a Twitter link containing an interesting headline. Since we’re blocked from seeing that site, then I logically fed the same headline into a search engine and found it in two places. The first was Microsoft News, which I imagine is fine for CBS since they probably still get paid a licence for it. The second, however, was an illegal content mill that had stolen the article.
   I opted for the former to (a) do the right thing and (b) avoid the sort of pop-ups and other annoying ads that content mills often host, but what if the Microsoft version was unavailable? These geo-restrictions actually encourage piracy and does the original publisher out of income, and I can’t see that as a good thing.
   Some blamed the GDPR coming into force in the EU, so it appears CBS—which apparently is against Donald Trump talking isolationism yet practises it—decided to lump “not America” into one group and include us in it. But so what if GDPR is in force? It’s asking you to have more reasonable protections for privacy—you know, the sort of thing your websites probably had 15 years ago by default?
   I still don’t think it’s that hard to ask users to hop over to and opt out of ad tracking on each of their browsers. We haven’t anything as sophisticated as some websites, which put their controls front and centre, but we at least provide links; and we ourselves don’t collect intrusive data. Yes, some ad networks we use do (which you can opt out of), but we’d never ask them for it. The way things are configured, I don’t even know your IP address when you feed in a comment.
   Ours isn’t a perfect solution but at least we don’t isolate—we welcome all walks of life, regardless of where you hail from. Just like the pioneers of the web, such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Make the internet great again.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, internet, media, publishing, USA | No Comments »

‘The last USB device you connected to this computer malfunctioned’—such a simple solution for phones


Over the last few years, I’ve had some USB memory sticks go bad. There was one particular type—a cheap one from the Warehouse—that failed once on Windows 10. The error was ‘The last USB device you connected to this computer malfunctioned, and Windows does not recognize it.’ The problem was that any other USB stick of the same brand would return the same error, even non-faulty ones, from then on.
   I took them back to the Warehouse and while one of them actually was kaput, the others I alleged were faulty weren’t. The trouble was that there was no way to make Windows 10 forget the error.
   I did the usual ways you find on the internet: going to the device manager, removing the device drivers, scanning for hardware changes, etc., to no avail. Once guilty, forever guilty. There was no turning back.
   Tonight, I encountered the same error when plugging in my phone. However, the last time I had plugged it in, there were no errors, so something already was amiss. When probing more, the error was ‘Windows has stopped this device because it has reported problems. (Code 43)’, and again, every bit of advice online was useless.
   These included: restarting your PC; uninstalling the affected device driver; installing generic Android drivers (none were available at Meizu directly); checking all cables; using different USB ports. Two hours later, which included contemplating getting a Bluetooth dongle for my PC, I came across a solution that should have been obvious much earlier: reboot the phone.
   That’s all it took.
   I’m putting this here since no one else seems to have suggested this, of all the pages I read over the last few hours. It’s obvious now with hindsight, but not when you’re following well meaning advice online and trying to do it all procedurally. I knew instinctively I didn’t have to uninstall everything that was USB-related, and I’m glad I never made it that complicated for myself. Hopefully this blog post will save others two hours’ trial and error.

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Posted in technology | No Comments »

How to get a perfect 10 in reliability on Windows 10


I’ve had a great week with my new laptop, though it exhibits some of the same traits I’ve frequently seen with Windows 10: settings’ windows vanishing when attempting to load. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, demo PCs I’ve seen at the store have terrible reliability history scores, and mine is no exception. It ranked a 10 when it left Just Laptops in Auckland, but dropped to 1 when I began installing software on it. The lesson here is this: Windows 10 is allergic to software and usage. Never install a thing on it, and never touch it, and it might continue being a 10. It’s that simple.
   Of course, there is the issue of updating it, and even a PC on absolutely stock settings has trouble with that

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Posted in humour, New Zealand, technology | 1 Comment »

A more honest computing glossary


Since (mostly) leaving Facebook, and cutting down on Twitter, I’ve come to realize the extent of how outdated traditional computing definitions have become. To help those who need to get up to speed, I’ve compiled a few technobabble words and translated them into normal English.

app: in many cases, an extremely limited web browser for your cellphone that only works with one site, as opposed to a proper web browser that works with many sites.

bots: fake, computer-driven profiles masquerading as real humans on, predominantly, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

clean install: something entirely unnecessary, but suggested by tech support people who want to cover up buggy operating systems (q.v. Windows 10).

cloud: hackable online repository of naughty photos of celebrities.

comments’ section: when you see this while surfing, it’s a reminder to leave the web page you are on and make up your own mind.

Facebook: a website where bots live, where post-sharing is intentionally broken to ensure you need to pay for attention. Once paid, your posts are shared with bots, so even fewer humans actually see them.

Facebook friend: (a) a friend; (b) a total stranger; (c) a bot.

Google: (a) a virtual hole into which you dump all your private information, to be sold on to corporations, but feel good doing it because you gave it up to a private company to use against you rather than have the state take it to use against you; (b) a cult that supports (a), whose members will think you have a degenerative brain disease if you dare question the perfection of their god.

malware scanner: malware (especially when offered by Facebook, q.v.).

messenger app: an inefficient messaging program where typing takes 10 times as long as on a desktop or laptop computer. Designed to dissuade you from actually calling the person.

phone: portable computing device, not used to make calls.

remote desktop: when your operating system fails, and the odds of you seeing your familiar screen are remote.

social media: media where people are antisocial.

Twitter: (a) social media with no discernible rules on who gets kicked off and why; (b) where the US president gets angry.

white balance: when racists attack people of colour but pretend they are noble and against racism.

Weibo: a website monitored by the Chinese Communist Party, where users have more freedom than on Facebook and Twitter.

Windows 10: a buggy operating system that requires 10 goes at any updates or patches, hence the name.

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Posted in culture, humour, internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »

PS/2 keyboard one way to get your Windows 10 computer back after bricking


Everybody wants PS2. Still from The Professionals episode ‘Servant of Two Masters’.

I read this article in The Guardian, thinking: surely, after Microsoft rolled out some terrible updates, it wouldn’t be so stupid as to do one that bricks customers’ computers again? Especially after the bug was reported a month ago.
   The April update worked reasonably well, though I lost my wallpaper. But everything else was there, and I was using Vivaldi, which is a Chromium-based browser.
   Then I rebooted.
   That was it: my computer was bricked. The first boot, a very tiny rotating circle eventually appeared, but I couldn’t do anything except move the circle with my mouse. Subsequent reboots just resulted in a black screen—something, I must say, I had already encountered with an earlier Windows update that saw my having to take the PC back to the shop.
   I rebooted the computer three times to force it into recovery mode, but then there was another problem: neither mouse nor keyboard worked. It was as though USB was dead.
   Out of sheer luck I had a PS/2 keyboard that was unused, and after more forced reboots, I was able to use the old keyboard to look at various recovery options. Remember: no input device on USB works, and this was a bug that had surfaced with the last update in February.
   Forget system restore: the April update is a fresh OS, so there are no restore points.
   I had no choice but to roll back to the previous version I had installed.
   And here I am, back again, an hour wasted. It would probably be longer if I didn’t have an SSD.
   Microsoft, get your QC sorted, because this current model you’ve employed over the last few years simply does not work. I have spent more hours on these updates than with any OS you have ever rolled out, and that includes XP Service Pack 3 on a comparatively ancient system.
   And if you get stuck like I do, and like all those in The Guardian’s article did, I hope you still have a way of plugging in a PS/2 device and have an old-school keyboard lying around.

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Posted in China, design, globalization, marketing, technology, USA | No Comments »

When Microsoft says your Windows 10 needs a reset or full reinstallation, they might be wrong


As many of you know, between around December 8 and February 2—dates during which I had Microsoft Windows 10’s fall Creators update without the January 31 cumulative patch—my computer suffered roughly three to six BSODs per day. Going on to Bleeping Computer was helpful, but Microsoft’s wisdom tended to be hackneyed and predictable.
   While I was lucky at Microsoft Answers and got a tech who wasn’t rehashing remarks from other threads, eventually he gave up and suggested I download the old spring Creators update, if that was the last version that was OK.
   I never had the time, and on February 2, I got the cumulative patch and everything has been fine since.
   It means, of course, that Microsoft had released a lemon at the end of 2017 and needed a big patch to deal with the problems it had caused. No word to their people on the forum though, who were usually left scratching their heads and concluding that the only option was a clean installation.
   I had bet one of the techs, however, that there was nothing wrong with my set-up, and everything to do with the OS. We know Windows is no longer robust because of the QC processes Microsoft uses, with each team checking its own code. That’s like proofreading your own work. You don’t always spot the errors.
   I said I could walk into any computer store and find that the display models were crashing as well.
   Last weekend, I did just that.
   Here are the Reliability Monitors of two Dell laptops running factory settings picked at random at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt.

Above: The Reliability Monitors of two display Dell laptops at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt, picked at random.

Above: My Reliability Monitor doesn’t look too bad by comparison—and suggests that it’s Microsoft, not my set-up, that was responsible for the multiple BSODs.

   The Monitors look rather like my own, not scoring above 2 out of 10.
   They are crashing on combase.dll for the most part, whereas mine’s crashing on ntdll.dll. Nevertheless, these are crashes that shouldn’t be happening, and a new machine shouldn’t have a reliability score that low.
   For those of you who suspect you have done nothing wrong, that your computer has always worked till recently, and you practise pretty good computer maintenance, your gut’s probably right. The bugs aren’t your fault, but that of slapdash, unchecked programming. I doubt you need full reinstallations. You may, however, have to put up with the bugs till a patch is released. It is the folly of getting an update too early—a lesson that was very tough to relearn this summer.

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Posted in New Zealand, technology, USA | 1 Comment »