Posts tagged ‘computing’


Can a no-name mouse take the place of a Microsoft Intellimouse?

01.08.2021

I’ve occasionally had good luck with ultra-cheap Chinese mice. Years ago, I bought one, with very simple left and right buttons and a scroll wheel, and it proved to be one of the most comfortable I owned. The wheel didn’t run smoothly at first but a quick trim of the plastic, and it’s been fine since.

   This US$3·89 mouse (price at time of writing) was a similar case. I ordered it to see if it might be better than the NZ$75 Asus ROG Strix Evolve mouse, and that was bought to replace my favourite, the Microsoft Intellimouse 1·1. One of those was being used after my Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 died—like the Intellimouse, these had large bodies that people with bigger hands, like me, can use.
   As those in a similar predicament know, mice have shrunk over the last decade, so finding a replacement takes months as you read the specs and, in some cases, visit the stores to see if they have anything.
   A Tecknet mouse proved too low by a millimetre or two to be comfortable, but when I saw this no-name unit being sold by a place called 7 Elves Store (did they mean dwarves, as in Disney?) on Aliexpress, I decided to take a punt. (The specs suggest the brand name is Centechia, but it’s nowhere to be found on the device or in the heading and description.) And for US$3·89 plus (sorry) my share of carbon emissions from the air freight, it didn’t cost me much to find out.
   It arrived a few weeks ago in damaged condition. The buttons did not work at all, and once again I had to make some simple repairs to get it working. It’s too light. The plastic is of a crappy grade. And the details on the base of the mouse suggest whomever wrote the text had not been in the occident much, if at all. I don’t like the lights because I don’t care if a mouse has pulsing RGB effects since (a) my hand is over it and (b) I’m looking at the screen, not the mouse.
   But here’s the thing: it fits my hand. It’s nowhere nearly as comfortable as those old Microsoft mice, but as a cheapie that I can take in my laptop bag, it does a better job than the Tecknet. It’s not as comfortable as the Asus, but it beats every other mouse, that is, the ones I didn’t buy, that I’ve seen in the shops. On the whole, I can use it more than the Tecknet, and it will do when I’m travelling or out of the office, though I still haven’t found the holy grail of a decent sized Microsoft mouse. (The revived Intellimouse, as I may have mentioned earlier, is asymmetric, and its shape doesn’t work for me.) I’m not sure why this is so hard for mice manufacturers: you’ve all peaked a bit early, and none of the improvements you’ve made have advanced the ideas of user comfort and ergonomics.
   For those who care about this stuff, here’s the Aliexpress link.

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Fixing Wordpress’s problem of fake bolds and italics

11.06.2021

I haven’t been able to find anything on this bug online, but it’s very common.
   As far as I can recall, all of our online publications that use Wordpress have themes designed or modified by yours truly. However, Lucire Rouge has a mostly bought-in theme, where my changes have been limited to a couple of CSS rules. The theme developer actually came in and helped us with a few modifications, which shows the extent to which he does follow-up for paying customers.
   But there was one thing he was never able to crack, and I don’t think it’s his fault, since it happens on a lot of websites, including Medinge Group’s (also a theme I did not design, though I did earlier ones). On both these sites, there were no bolds and italics. There still aren’t on Medinge’s.
   There are <strong> and <em> codes in there, but the bolding and obliquing are done by the browser. The font files actually aren’t loaded, so what we see are false bolds (the browser attempts to “overprint” the roman, duplicating the outline and shifting it marginally to give the illusion of a heavier typeface) and obliques, not italics (it’s the roman file pushed over 15 degrees or so). The former is particularly bad, as the outlines clash, and the result can be hollow glyphs, something that any font developer will know when one outline winds up accidentally on top of another in Fontographer or Fontlab.
   These Wordpress themes rely on Google Fonts (another sin, in my opinion) so I don’t know if the fault lies with Google or Wordpress, or the developer. If Wordpress does indeed power 70 per cent of websites, then I have to say the bug is awfully common, and I probably do see it on a very high percentage of visited sites.
   The themes allow us to select the font family, but the selection only calls a single font file from the family.


Above: A graphic clipping text from Lucire Rouge that I sent to the developer.

   The solution, as I discovered after months of toing and froing with Lucire Rouge’s theme dev, was to do your own font-linking rules in the CSS file and upload the fonts themselves to the relevant directory on the server. I must note publicly the ‘months’ were not his fault, but due to my own delay. I should not expect computer programmers to be typographers, either.
   It is something that one needs to watch out for, as the fake bolds and italics are horrible to look at, and must look amateur, even to the non-professional.



Above: Fixed at last by yours truly.

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May 2021 gallery

01.05.2021

Here are May 2021’s images—aides-mémoires, photos of interest, and miscellaneous items. I append to this gallery through the month.

Sources
Viki Odintcova, via Instagram.
   Alexa Breit, photographed by Weniamin Schmidt, via Instagram.
   Vickery Electrical advertisement: something I asked my Dad to photocopy for me in the 1980s. Briefly we had one of those Apple II portables, on loan from a colleague of Dad. I can’t recall if it had one disk drive or two, but it was a fun little unit to have in my bedroom for that period. Dad was prepared to buy it if I wanted to keep it, but I didn’t have much software to run, plus I already had the Commodore 64 for schoolwork.
   Lucire issue 43 cover, photographed by Damien Carney, creative direction and fashion styling by Nikko Kefalas, make-up by Joanne Gair, hair by Kirsten Brooke Anderson, and assisted by Rachel Bell, and modelled by Elena Sartison. Find out more here.
   Drew Barrymore quotation from Elephant Journal on Twitter.
   I still have plenty of old stamps, which I tend to save for family (though I’m less discerning about those discounted Christmas ones, which I always used to buy in bulk). This is going to my cousin’s daughter and her husband, and their family.
   Comments after an article on Buzzfeed News. Business as usual for Facebook.
   Happy birthday to our niece Esme!
   Tania Dawson promotes Rabbit Borrows, from Instagram.
   Bizarre that the only car with a manual transmission on sale at Archibalds is from the 1950s. I’m sure New Zealand was majority-manual into the first decade of this century.
   More on the 1982–94 Chevrolet Cavalier at Autocade.
   Citroën C5 X, as covered in Lucire.
   Amira Aly (Mrs Oliver Pocher) photographed by Christoph Gellert, reposted from Instagram.
   Gaza statistics, sourced from Twitter.
   Even after 44½ years of living in the occident, I find certain western customs very strange. From Twitter.
   Number crunching from Private Eye, reposted from Twitter.
   Evaporated milk, reposted from Twitter.
   Triumph Herald advertisement from the Car Factoids on Twitter.
   Cadillac tailfins, reposted from Tumblr.
   This photo of Sophia Loren was captioned ‘© David Hurn | Sophia Loren, Inglaterra, 1965’ on Tumblr. I wonder if she is on the set of Stanley Donen’s Arabesque. Reposted from Tumblr.
   I had the pleasure of watching Peggy Sue Got Married again a few weeks ago. This was a nice scene at the end, that seemed to suggest that Peggy Sue had travelled back in time. John Barry’s score is sublime.
   The Murdoch method: reposted from my old NewTumbl account.
   Alexa Breit photographed by Sagaj, reposted from Instagram.

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Posted in business, cars, design, France, gallery, humour, India, interests, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, TV, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Facebook whistleblower gets fired; and a workaround for Meizu Music’s inability to find your SD card

19.04.2021

This is a pretty typical story: find fault with Big Tech, try to alert the appropriate people in the firm, get fired.
   Julia Carrie Wong’s excellent article for The Guardian shows a data scientist, Sophie Zhang, find blatant attempts by governments to abuse Facebook’s platform, misleading their own people, in multiple countries. Of course Facebook denies it, but once again it’s backed up by a lot of evidence from Zhang, and we know Facebook lies. Endlessly.
   Facebook claims it has taken down over ‘100 networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior,’ but I repeat again: if a regular Joe like me can find thousands of bots really easily, and report some with Facebook doing next to nothing about them, then 100 networks is an incredibly tiny number in a sea of hundreds of millions of users. Indeed, 100 networks is tiny considering Facebook itself has claimed to have taken down milliards of bots.
   And people like me and Holly Jahangiri, who found a massive number of bots that followed the Russian misinformation techniques, have been identifying these since 2014, if not before.
   Zhang reveals how likes from pages are inflating various posts—forget the bots I’ve been talking about, people have manufactured full pages on the site.
   She uncovered one in Honduras, and then:

The next day, she filed an escalation within Facebook’s task management system to alert the threat intelligence team to a network of fake accounts supporting a political leader in Albania. In August [2019], she discovered and filed escalations for suspicious networks in Azerbaijan, Mexico, Argentina and Italy. Throughout the autumn and winter she added networks in the Philippines, Afghanistan, South Korea, Bolivia, Ecuador, Iraq, Tunisia, Turkey, Taiwan, Paraguay, El Salvador, India, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Ukraine, Poland and Mongolia.

   Facebook was inconsistent with what it did, and its own self-interest interfered with it taking action. In other words, Facebook is harmful to democracy, and not just in the US which has received most of the occidental news coverage. On Azerbaijan, Zhang wrote in a memo:

Although we conclusively tied this network to elements of the government in early February, and have compiled extensive evidence of its violating nature, the effective decision was made not to prioritize it, effectively turning a blind eye.

   She was ultimately fired for her trouble, Facebook saying she wasn’t doing the job she had been hired for.
   So if you are going to work for Big Tech, leave your conscience at the door. That blood on your hands, just ignore it. Red’s such a fetching colour when it’s not on a balance sheet.

Little Tech can be troublesome, too. Last year, Meizu updated its Music app after a few years of letting it languish (a familiar theme with this firm), and it was a real lemon. It wouldn’t pick up anything on my SD card, at the location the old Music app itself saved the files. When I could still access the Meizu (English-language) forum, I managed to post a comment about it. Only today did I realize someone had responded, with the same issue.
   I can read enough Chinese to get the phone to do a search for local music files, and the only things it could pick up are what’s on the phone RAM itself, not the card. There’s no way to point to custom locations such as a card (even though there is a custom search, but it applies to the phone only).


Above: Meizu Music will only find music on the phone’s RAM—in this case sound files that come with the dynamic wallpaper and a couple of meeting recordings I made.

   Eventually I restored the old app through the settings, and all was well. It would occasionally forget the album cover art and I’d have to relink it (who says computers remember things?), but, by and large, Music 8.0.10 did what was expected of it.
   Until this last week. The phone insisted on upgrading to 8.2.12, another half-baked version that could never locate any SD card music.
   Sure I could just move the entire directory of 1,229 songs to the phone, but I wondered why I should.
   Restoring the app would work only for a few hours (during which I would try to relink the album cover art, ultimately to no avail). Blocking the new version the app store did nothing; blocking the entire app from updating did nothing. Blocking network access to the Music app did nothing. Essentially, the phone had a mind of its own. If anyone tells you that computing devices follow human instructions, slap them.


Above: I asked the app store to ignore all updates for Meizu Music. The phone will ignore this and do what it wants, downloading the update and installing it without any human intervention.

   I had a couple of options. The first was to make Migu Music the default—and I had used that for a while before I discovered I could restore the Music app. It’s passable, and it does everything it should, though I missed the cover art.
   The other was to find a way to make Music 8.2.12 work.
   There is one way. Play every one of the 1,229 songs one by one to have Music recognize their existence.
   Using ES File Explorer, you head to the SD card, and click on each song. It asks which app you’d like to open it. Choose Music. Repeat 1,228 times.


Above: I finally got there after doing something 1,229 times. As a non-tech person I know of no way to automate this easily. I can think of a few but developing the script is beyond my knowledge.

   Whoever said computing devices would save you time is having you on. They may have once, but there are so many systems where things are far more complicated in 2021 than they were in 2011.
   You may be asking: doesn’t ES let you select multiple files, even folders? Of course it does, but when you then ask it to play them, it ignores the fact you’ve chosen Music and plays them in its own music player.
   And even after you’ve shown Music that there are files in an SD card directory, it won’t pick up its existence.
   It’s at odds with Meizu’s Video app, which, even after many updates, will find files anywhere on your phone.
   For a music player with the same version (8) it’s vastly different, and, indeed, inferior to what has come before.
   How’s the player? Well, it connects to the car, which is where I use it. But so many features which made it appealing before are gone. Editing a song’s information is gone. Half the album cover art is unlinked (including albums legitimately downloaded through the old Meizu music service), and there’s no way of relinking it. European accented characters are mistaken for the old Big 5 Chinese character set.
   The only plus side is that some songs that I had downloaded years ago with their titles in Big 5, as opposed to Unicode, now display correctly. That accounts for a few songs (fewer than 10) of the 1,229.
   I know Meizu will do nowt, as its customer service continues to plummet. I may still file something on its Chinese BBS (the western one is inaccessible and, from what I can tell, no longer maintained by anyone from their staff), but it’s highly unlikely I’ll be brand-loyal. It’s yet another example of a newer program being far, far worse, by any objective measure, than its predecessor, giving credence to the theory that some software developers are clueless, have no idea how their apps work, have no idea how people use their apps, or are downright incompetent. It’s a shame, as Meizu’s other default and system apps are generally good.
   In the future, I’m sure someone else in China will be happy to sell me a non-Google phone when it’s time to replace this one.

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Posted in China, design, internet, media, politics, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Despite being blatantly obvious, Facebook does nothing about thousands-strong bot nets

01.04.2021

We already know that Facebook does nothing if you want to use scripts to join groups, even if the scripts all give roughly the same answers. Apparently that’s not enough to trigger the systems at this company that’s worth almost a billion dollars (that’s a proper billion, or what the Americans call a trillion). Unless, of course, they want these bot accounts on there to continue lying about reach, or run some other sort of scam.
   But what about brand-new accounts that are clearly bots, that write nonsensical things that bots are programmed to do, and which friend other bots? These are bot nets, the sort I saw all the time when I used Facebook regularly. The nights in 2014 when I spotted over 200 bot accounts? A lot of them were in these nets, and I made it a mission to report them, since they tended to exist in groups of a few dozen, maybe a hundred at most.
   Last night I saw nets of thousands. Imagine a new account that’s friended thousands of other new accounts, all using a series of names, and all pretending to work for a limited number of workplaces. Surely these are obviously bots, and Facebook’s systems would detect them? I mean, if you’ve been on Facebook for even six months you’d know that these patterns existed, let alone 17 years.
   Um, no.
   I’ve been reporting a whole bunch of these bots and Facebook’s reaction is to tell me, as they do with bot accounts running group-joining scripts, that no community standards have been violated.



   Normally I would see a dozen or so bot accounts each time I pop in (and my friends who moderate on there tell me they can see many per minute). Even as an irregular user it means I see more bots than humans, but now that I’ve seen over 4,000 (just go to one of these bots’ friends’ lists and take a sufficiently large sample) that Facebook allows, then come on, you can’t tell me that this site is still worth giving your money to.
   In 2014 I called seeing 277 bots in one night an ‘epidemic’, on the basis that if a regular Joe like me could, then how many were really on there? Now I see 4,000 in one night. These two have over 4,000 and 3,000, with some overlap:


   And in 2014, I could report them, and some would actually be deleted. Others would need repeated reports. In 2021, none are deleted, based on the ones I reported.
   Therefore, Facebook’s systems neither detect bots nor do a thing about them when a user blatantly points them out.
   And given that this company is worth over US$800 milliard, then you know they exist with their blessing—at the least with their inaction. Because US$800 milliard buys a lot of technology, but apparently not enough to deal with bots or misinformation.
   The scammers know this and the con artists know this. Governments know this. This is a danger zone for consumers, yet the last few years still weren’t sufficient for most western governments to act. It makes you wonder just what it’ll take to wake people up, since folks don’t even seem to mind giving their money to a company that has such a poor track record and no independent certification of its metrics. Would shame work? ‘You dumbass, you gave money to them?!’ Surely this now makes it more obvious than ever just what a terrible waste of money Facebook is?

PS.: Here’s another new account with what appears to be 4,326 bot friends (based on a reasonable sample).—JY

P.PS.: Only 4,326? How about one that’s hit the 5,000 limit filled with bots?

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


From my desk, 1986

24.01.2021

Before this gets recycled, I thought I’d scan it as a memento: a 1986 printout off our Riteman dot matrix printer (which I still have, with spare cartridges), hooked up to a Commodore 64. I forget the printer interface. The image isn’t mine: I only imagine that 14-year-old me was claiming copyright over the layout and text. To me this was all amazing. Dad bought a box of the line-flow paper from the computer store, I believe, a place called Einstein, run by a really nice guy called Raju Badiani (who also sold the computer system). Anything seemed possible, and by the summer of 1986–7 I was hacking the bits and bytes and creating my own bitmap fonts on the 64, trying to make it all look like Eurostile. Nothing as sophisticated as Emigre. The 5¼-inch floppies are still around somewhere!

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Facebook prefers bots

04.12.2020

If I was on Facebook for personal stuff, I’m certain I could repeat those days where I found over 200 bots per day, but these days I’m only reporting the ones that hit groups or client pages.
   However, I’d say over 90 per cent of the applicants to one of the groups are bots or at least accounts running automated scripts to get into groups to hide their other activity, or to bombard those groups with spam. Facebook has improved its ratio of getting rid of them, but it still leaves roughly half untouched. In other words, if you are running Facebook bots, you’ll have a one in two chance that Facebook’s own people will give you a pass because they can’t tell what bot activity looks like. Little has changed since 2014.


Two Facebook accounts using the same software, it seems, getting caught on a group page. Both were reported, only one was taken down, despite them using the same techniques.

   I thought I’d also grab some screenshots on how automated activity is actually preferred on Facebook, too. I’ve mentioned this here before but here’s an illustrated example from Lucire’s page.
   First up, an automated addition that has come via IFTTT, which picks up the Tweets (also automated) and turns them into Facebook posts. This looks pretty good, and there’s even a preview image taken from the page.

   Let’s say I want to tag the company involved and remove the signature line. Facebook now lets me do this without starting a new line for the tagged business, so that’s an improvement on where we were half a year ago, where it was impossible using the new look.


   So far so good—at least till I hit ‘save’ and the preview image vanishes.

   I usually get the logo only when I feed in a post from scratch directly on to Facebook (assuming Facebook doesn’t corrupt the link and turn it into a 404). In other words, automated, or bot, activity gives you a better result than doing things directly on the site.
   I realize I could add some lines into the code to force the Facebook scraper to seek out the biggest image, but then we’re going into territory beyond that of the average user, and frankly I’m not skilled enough to do it in PHP. And why doesn’t Facebook require that of the bot when it picked up the page to begin with?
   That’s enough for today—I only wanted to illustrate that earlier example as I didn’t do it properly earlier in the year, and give a fresh bot warning. They’re still out there, and I’m betting most pages and groups have inflated numbers where non-humans are messing up their reach—and that’s just fine for Facebook knowing that people will have to pay to get around it.

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Payoneer frustrates and sends you round in circles

08.10.2020

I can safely say that I wouldn’t choose Payoneer as a payment service. As I told in their forums today as a last resort, after already spending hours (in the plural!) on this.

This has been deeply frustrating and here I am telling the story for the fifth time, since Payoneer stores none of my requests in the support centre.
   Today I received an email saying a payment was coming from a company that I work with. The problem: the bank account on file is out of date.
   There is no way I can make any changes.
   You may think that I can go to the settings on my account and do the edits there, but this particular account is not recorded there. So how can I remove or correct an account that is not even shown on the Payoneer website?
   No matter which option you select from payoneer.custhelp.com, you’ll get an automated response that is completely useless and irrelevant.
   The emails read, ‘If this response does not resolve your issue, visiting our Support Center is the fastest way to find a resolution,’ which is a complete and utter lie, since you cannot file a single support request. After you’ve typed out your story for the umpteenth time, support never receives a thing. You just get another automated email with useless information. When you look under ‘My requests’, you find that Payoneer never recorded what you wrote. This must be the quietest support centre in the world.
   When clicking on the link when the website’s advice is useless, you get a 404 that reads, ‘This site has been disabled for the time being.’
   They keep sending me to pages that I have already seen and can do nothing with. This has been the worst payment website I have ever had to deal with, as they keep sending you round in circles and nothing ever gets resolved. It’s out of sheer desperation I’m on a public forum in the hope someone knows how to do this.

   I’m not kidding about their website. Here are some fun pages it’s led me to in order to resolve my query.


   I’d like our money, please.

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Reaching the end of Facebook

05.08.2020

With the new season of Alarm für Cobra 11: die Autobahnpolizei nearly upon us, I decided I’d pop into my Facebook group (I’m still an admin) to see what had been happening. I’ve been there a few times this week and I have discovered some of the site’s latest features.
   Groups: these now have three posts. That’s it. Three. It doesn’t matter how long they have been running, Facebook doesn’t want you to be bothered by history or anything so stupid. Therefore, after the third post (fourth if you’ve just posted something), you’ve reached the end. Saves heaps on the server bills, since I guess they’re not as rich as they would have us believe.
   (This bug has been around for years but now it’s the norm, so maybe they eventually figured out it was a cost-saving feature.)


On groups: welcome to the end of Facebook. This is the last post.

   Comments: don’t be silly, you shouldn’t be able to comment. This is a great way for Facebook to cut down on dialogue, because they can then just propagate nonsense before an election. We know where Zuck’s biases are, so they want to be a broadcaster and publisher. You can select the word ‘Reply’ in the reply box, you just can’t type in it. (Again, an old bug, but it looks like it’s a feature. I’m still able to like things, although on many previous occasions over the last decade or more that feature was blocked to me.)


Commenting: they let me have one reply, but replying to someone who has replied to you? Forget it, it’s impossible.


In the reply box, you can highlight ‘Reply’ but you can’t type in there. That would be too much to ask.

   Notifications: these never load, had haven’t done for a long time. Remember the ad preferences’ page? They don’t load, either, so Facebook has now extended the “circle” to notifications. If you don’t see notifications, you won’t need to continue a thread—not that you could, anyway, since they don’t let you comment.


If you knew what your notifications were, you might stay longer and post stuff that makes sense. No, Facebook is for people who want to spread falsehoods among themselves. You have no place here.

   Messages: why not roll out the same spinning circle here, too? They should never load, either, because, frankly, email is far more efficient and everyone should just give up on using Facebook’s messaging service.


Time to go back to email: if you were ever silly enough to rely on Facebook for messaging, then you’re out of luck.

   I once thought that I encountered bugs on Facebook because I was a heavy user, but as I haven’t even touched my wall since 2017, this cannot be the reason. I also used to say their databases were ‘shot to hell’, which could be the case. And I still firmly believe I encounter errors because I’m more observant than most people. Remember, as Zuck’s friend Donald Trump says, if you do more testing, you’ll find more cases.
   I’ve even found the “end” of Instagram, at the point where nothing will show any more.


The end of Instagram: when you can find the limit to the service.


No one’s posting much these days. In the early 2010s, there’d be no way I’d ever get to see the end of my friends’ updates.

   Solution: don’t use Facebook. And definitely don’t entrust them with your personal data, including your photos—even if you trust them, they’ll potentially get lost. From what I can tell, the site’s increasing inability to cope suggests that its own technology might fail them before the US government even gets a chance to regulate! And—the above topics aside—it may be time to regulate Facebook and pull in the reins.

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After you’ve gone through the brands you’ve heard of …

23.05.2020


The mouse quest continues. After going through all of PB’s listings and coming up short—nothing (at least with listed dimensions) matched or came close to the size and shape of the Microsoft Intellimouse 1.1—I returned to Aliexpress for another look.
   This Tecknet mouse might be the right one, but it’s hard to say till I try it out. For around NZ$20 we’ll soon know.
   I’ve bought mice from Guangdong vendors on Aliexpress before, and even have one I regularly take with me when I travel, but it doesn’t have the side buttons, which I’ve become accustomed to. When you’re spoiled, it’s hard to go back—even though I have three mice here without those extra buttons which might be totally adequate size- and shape-wise. I’ll report back when the new mouse arrives. Here’s hoping this will be large enough for my hands—and if it is, Tecknet could well get a lot of business from many of us in the same boat who don’t wish to subscribe to the current trend of tiny computer mice.

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