Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

May 2007 - Posts

  • Review: Verizon Wireless USB720 Broadband Modem

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    NOTE: This review was not solicited by anyone; the device was purchased with my own money.

    A while back, I decided to purchase the Samsung i730 cell phone, in the hopes that I'd be able to use it's tethering ability to get on the Internet with my laptop. Little did I know that the i730 had a problem with the internal dialer that prevents it from staying connected for very long. I got around the connectivity issues with T-Mobile's Vista promotion, but since that expired at the end of April, I needed to find an alternate solution.

    So I shlepped my way over to the local Verizon store to check out my options. I basically had to choose between three interfaces: PC Card, ExpressCard, or USB. Even though I really wanted an ExpressCard EVDO modem, I was told that the USB version was the most popular. The salesperson also suggested that only the USB version could be plugged into a desktop, which would come in really handy when my Internet goes out at the house.

    Fortunately for me, Verizon just rolled out EVDO Rev. A here in Phoenix, so my speeds are lightening fast. And the USB modem comes with a dual-plug extension cable. Why dual plugs? Because if you're in an area with poor reception, you can plug both plugs into separate USB ports, and give the modem twice the power. It's pretty sweet.

    The CD included with the modem did not work with Vista, but fortunately the box points you to a website to download updated drivers and connection software. It was a little difficult to get it working on my 64-bit Vista install, but I just bypassed one of the drivers that wasn't loading, and it worked fine.

    So far, the performance has been fantastic. I consistently get 1MB down *and* up, which really shocked me. My upload speed is actually faster than my cable Internet at home, which totally floored me. It means I can be just as productive on the road, without having to deal with the insecurity of T-Mobile hotspots.

    So while the device itself performs better than I expected, Verizon's service plan leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, I'm already paying for the unlimited data plan on my phone... but that doesn't prevent me from having to pay $59 a month for their "unlimited" plan for this device as well. I say "unlimited" because the service is really capped at 5GB worth of transfer. Any more than that, and you're obviously pirating music or something and you can be terminated without notice. Hopefully Cox's WiMAX rollout in the next 9-12 months will force Verizon to re-think double-charging customers for its data services.

    Even though the service is expensive, the device itself is well worth it. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to free themselves from being chained to their desk, or for that matter, their local Starbucks.

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  • Think Google Respects Your Privacy? Think Again

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    Google just got a whole lot more Big Brother-y. The big news this week was that Google introduced street-level maps in certain markets. For the record, Microsoft was in this market first, and at least they respect people's privacy. Microsoft has gone out of their way to obfuscate people's faces, license plates, etc from their street-level photography (which is why their rollout was so slow). Google has no such respect, so they show people in their houses, outside strip clubs, outside adult bookstores, and vehicle license plates. Oh yeah, and a crapload of other ones, courtesy of BoingBoing.

    I'm just glad Google's not in Phoenix yet. Maybe those license plate anti-photo covers will be legal soon after all. Now if you'll please excuse me, I have to go close my blinds.

    [via DrudgeReport]

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  • Microsoft Surface: The Computer Is Personal Again

    What is Microsoft Surface? No, it's not last year's cancelled hit on NBC (Though it will be on the Today show later this morning). It's the next wave of computing. Mary Jo broke the story a week ago, and then again yesterday morning. Popular Mechanics got an inside look earlier this year, and posted this video earlier today. Robert Scoble got some behind-the-scenes information on how Microsoft Surface works using WPF, and how the system can display video on those glass tiles, like in the demo.

    You've seen this technology before. It started as "TouchLight". Andy Wilson was on Channel 9 demoing TouchLight in August 2005. Bill Gates did a public demo of this technology at my first CES in 2006. (Demo starts at about 15:40). Todd Bishop did a feature on it in March 2006, and I got to try it out for myself in the Microsoft Museum later that year.

    Then came PlayAnywhere. On10's Laura Foy got to play with it at MSR, and then later saw it combined with PlayTogether to show how video games might interact with the real world. Popular Mechanics got a look at PlayTogether this past March, which also has video.

    If you want to learn more about how this works under the hood, Andy Wilson posted a research paper on TouchLight that really gets into the nitty-gritty of how the early prototypes worked. There is also a paper on PlayAnywhere, which was the next incarnation of this project. Finally, you can see how today's third evolution in the design works with an in-depth look from Popular Mechanics.

    Be sure to play around with the Microsoft Surface website. There are some really cool demos there of new ways to interact with phones, digital cameras, Zunes... even your next martini.

    Other Links: Press Release #1 | Press Release #2 | Microsoft Surface Virtual Press Room

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  • Bitten by the Red Ring of Death

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    Well, my Memorial Day Halo 3 Fragfest plans just bit the dust. I just went to sit down and play an hour of the world's most awesomest game beta before heading over to my girlfriend's parents house for dinner, and I just got the 3-light "F-You!" from my Xbox 360. Now I am wishing that I had traded my console up to an Elite sooner, or at the very least ponied up for the extended warranty. It's gonna cost $140 to get it fixed. And based on the experience of TeamXbox on the matter, I won't get my console back till after the Halo 3 Beta is over.

    To use the word "bummer" is a massive understatement. <sigh />

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  • To All American Troops, Past and Future: Thank You!

    Just wanted to take a minute and say "thanks" to all the individuals who have given their lives in the service of the United States military. Their sacrifices enable the freedoms that I enjoy, including the ability to say whatever I want on my blog. For that, I am most grateful. I'm off to spend time with my family today, so everyone have a safe and happy holiday!

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  • Win an Acer Ferrari 5000 from Chris Pirillo

    Chris Pirillo is giving away the Acer Ferrari 5000 he got from Microsoft & AMD late last year. To win, you have to write a review of his podcast in iTunes, or post a video on YouTube of yourself listening to the podcast on your DAP. Visit his website for more details.

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  • Review: Invirtus Enterprise VM Converter

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    NOTE: This review was of my own volition and not solicited in any way by Invirtus or anyone else.

    A little while back, I was asked to jump in and write the closing chapter of a book on IIS7. Unfortunately, there was not as much information on the subjects I was supposed to cover as I needed, so my contribution was shorter than they would have liked. I don't know if what I wrote will make it into the book or not (that's what I get for trying to be a hero), but during the course of my investigation into migration strategies, I came across an interesting tool: The Invirtus Enterprise VM Converter.

    IMO virtualization is the best way to test your upgrade strategies to Windows Server 2008, because if something doesn't work, you can always roll the image back to a previous state and try again. It's also the best way to deploy Windows Server 2008, especially in situations where you're deploying several machines with identical configurations. But the problem is, how do you get your existing machine quickly converted to a virtual environment?

    Invirtus Enterprise VM Converter is the answer. It's an incredibly straightforward tool that you can install on any workstation inside the network, and (with the proper credentials, of course) convert any live and running machine on the network into a virtual machine. That means you complete a Physical-to-Virtual (P2V) migration without modifying a live and running machine, which is REALLY cool. You can do one-off conversions, or run a massive batch process to convert your entire server farm in one fell swoop.


    (click to enlarge)

    Converting my Web/DNS server took very little time to set up, and took a little over 2 hours to create a 20GB VHD (although it supports VMWare drives too). If you're network has a dedicated file server or SAN, you're in even more luck, because EVMC copies the finished VMs to a network share. This enables a really neat scenario where all your VMs are on a fiber channel SAN, in one organized directory structure, and your farm of Virtual Server hosts execute those VMs, even though they reside on the SAN.

    I only wish that upgrading to Windows Server 2008 Beta 3 had been as easy. There is a bug in the IIS7 upgrade process that prevented over half of my running websites from being upgraded. When I booted up my upgraded VM, almost 15 websites were not even listed in the IIS7 configuration. It was a known issue that they didn't have time to fix before Beta 3, so the next CTP will have it.

    My only real gripe with the product is that there isn't a clearer separation between their "basic" and "advanced" modes. In their next version, I hope they make the UI easier for people looking to do one-off migrations.

    Their pricing strategy is based off of the number of VMs you need to convert, and whether you're converting live machines or doing disaster recovery. What's really neat is that they have a fully functional 14-day free trial that lets you convert 3 machines, so it was perfect for my purposes. I basically converted my small web farm for free... can't beat that!

    If you're looking to get on the virtualization bandwagon, this tool is a great way to jumpstart your next server consolidation project. And with live migration no longer shipping in Windows Server Virtualization, this tool is a must-have when Windows Server 2008 RTMs later this year. And don't forget to check out their VM Optimizer as well, another must have if you're a moderate-to-heavy VM user, like me.

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  • Why The 'Steve Jobs Reveal' Should Be Dead

    I took a walk down memory lane today, in the form of test driving the "Longhorn Reloaded" project. There are some people out there that really miss the "Pillars of Longhorn", and want to see the original concept completed. So they're risking being castrated by MSLegal to stabilize and release the Longhorn build that was put out at WinHEC 2004. It allowed me the opportunity to look at what Longhorn could have been, and what actually came to be, all on the same machine. (For the record, I think the project is a waste of time, but it was fun to poke around for 30 minutes or so.)

    It reminded me of the way things were before Vista. There was a time not so long ago, where regular people didn't have a say in the way that software was developed. Microsoft (in particular) developers assumed that they knew more than you did about the way Windows should work. They went underground, building whatever they felt you wanted, never seeing the light of day. Then one day, they would reappear to show the world what they had built. And you were going to LIKE IT, DAMNIT! Cause you didn't have a choice in the matter.

    Then PDC 2003 came around, and Microsoft shared more about Windows earlier than they ever had before. And people got really excited about the vision. Over the course of the ensuing three years, as software often does, the plan changed a couple times. The tech press lambasted Microsoft for not being able to accomplish their vision, and Longhorn was maligned ad nauseam. Most of this was simply disappointment that the vision was being built on a foundation of sand, and it wasn't possible to align development schedules on the massive scale Microsoft was attempting.

    The problem with having something completely finished when it is announced (AKA the "Steve Jobs 'Reveal'") is that it doesn't allow people to get their feedback into the product. I can't tell you how many times during the process of testing "Whistler" (Windows XP) when my feedback was closed as "By Design", and no changes were made. If you didn't like the way things were... tough crap, deal with it.

    The Vista beta process was a totally different beast. Sure, I still had my share of bugs closed as "not reproducible" in 30 seconds without any tester notes whatsoever. But there are plenty of places where my feedback made a difference (Remember the Network Center in Longhorn Beta 2? It was BAD). Sure, it took a little longer, but the result was an outstanding user experience that is centered around user-driven feedback.

    So in looking at the Longhorn Reloaded project today, it made me realize that for all the eye candy that disappeared when Avalon was yanked from the Longhorn core, Vista is much better that the original Longhorn vision. I mean, can the "return" of WinFS really compensate for the lack of SideShow, Web Services for Devices, the networking improvements, DirectX 10, Windows Media Center, Aero, Flip3D, ASLR, the Games Center, the speech improvements, Digital Cable Tuners... I mean the list goes on and on. After about 15 minutes, Longhorn reloaded is worthless. An animated login screen is cool, but compared to Vista... there's no comparison.

    So here is my point. Microsoft's cancellation of PDC 2007 today is just more evidence that Microsoft is using the "Steve Jobs Circle Jerk" as proof that Microsoft shouldn't talk about products until they have a concrete execution plan, and tangible results. That strategy is just wrong. Concrete usually equals unchangeable, and I don't want to have to fight tooth and nail to get

    Some people argue that the strategy works for Office, and it's true that Sinofsky has stuck to a solid ship schedule. But before Office 2007, the Office platform hasn't been compelling since Office XP... as evidenced by the fact that Office 2003 adoption was relatively nowhere near as strong as it should have been. Compare that to Office 2007, the most compelling release to date whose sales have been fantastic. So the 18 month ship schedule is not all it's cracked up to be.

    Microsoft answer to completely open source development was to keep the source, but open the development process up to the people. They had a bunch of kinks to work out, but it was a good answer. The new management regime at Microsoft wants to go back to the old way, because it caught them less flak in the press. But if they stay this course, the result could be far worse: people who are dissatisfied with their products, and have no recourse (because their feedback arrives too late in the dev cycle to change anything). It's an idea that is just as bad as this press release. I remember that time. It sucked. I don't want to go back there... do you?

    Instead of being silent, Microsoft should be involving us from day one, showing a select group of beta testers what they want to focus on, and letting us give feedback, before they even start coding. That would allow them to ensure that they don't waste time on stuff that could get pulled later (WinFS, I'm talking to you). Screw the talking heads, and screw the tech press. 90% of Microsoft's customers don't read the rags that bashed Longhorn anyways. Keep the process open.. you'll save money, and your users will thank you.

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  • Google: The New Big Brother

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    In the 21st Century, information is power. So if one company has all the information, is it more powerful than our planet's governments?

    Folks, there is a reason Google dropped their "Don't be evil" mantra for "Search, Ads, and Apps". Because their management has seen incredible amounts of money in the last few years, and we all know that money and power has the ability to corrupt people. And now that their old mantra is gone, there is little to stand in the way of their utter domination over the world's data.

    Think I'm being extreme? Not according to today's Financial Times:

    Asked how Google might look in five years’ time, Mr Schmidt said: “We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalization.

    “The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ ”

    I hate to sound alarmist here, but this sounds like stuff straight out of The Matrix. We're all addicted to our computers enough as it is... do we really want to see the day when people need to ask their computer where they should work and what they should do? Yeah, THAT sounds like fun. But why not? We already have advertisers telling us what to buy, magazines telling us what to wear, and eHarmony.com telling us who we should marry. What makes this any different?

    The reason why the American system of democracy works (well, I use the term loosely) is because power is distributed throughout the various levels of government, all the way down to the people. But for all the digi-rati intellectuals that say that information is the property of the people, those same people are off daydreaming an a utopian la-la land while Google executes their "stated mission to organize the world's information". These are the same people, by the way, who wouldn't give information to the government even if it stopped innocent people from being killed. Quite a mighty double-standard, don'cha think?

    Speaking of double-standards, this is the same stuff that got Microsoft in so much trouble back in the day. You guys didn't allow it then, so why all of a sudden is it OK now? Mary Jo Foley's litmus test is the best: When looking at any new Google venture, swap out the word "Google" with "Microsoft" and ask yourself if you're still OK with what's happening. If you're no longer OK with it, then you have a problem.

    I'm not just saying all of this because I am a "Microsoft fanboy". I think companies like Google, Apple, and others, while I dislike them personally, are necessary for a thriving and robust capitalist ecosystem of free market dynamics. As long as they play by the rules. But if they want to be able to suggest to me what I should do and where I should work, what stops them from using the same methodologies to determine if I'm a potential thief, murderer, sex offender, or terrorist, and automatically alert the authorities? Would you want Google putting you up on a watchlist just because you visit porn sites?

    Blindness to the true goals of the people in power is what got Europe into hot water 60 years ago.  It's time to start putting some checks and balances into this system. Otherwise one day, you won't need Uncle Sam looking over your shoulder, cause Google will already have it covered.

    UPDATE: I was just lamenting over the announcement that Google bought my favorite service FeedBurner (in line with their "ads and stats" acquisition strategy, being well on their way to total domination over my website's operation... and I discovered why Google does indeed have a double standard. It lies in this comment:

    As long Google is sharing some money, I don’t bother about others.

    So, it would be OK if the Microsoft monopoly controlled nearly every aspect of your personal information and habits, as long as they paid you for it. Gotcha.

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  • I Was Duped By Long Zheng

    Dang it, I fell for his evil plot. Oh well, at least he spelled my last name right.

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  • aQuantive Acquisition Talking Points

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    These talking points on the aQuantive deal hit Microsoft employee mailboxes this morning.

    The deal is an extension of Microsoft’s big bet on the online advertising space.  With a total value of over $500 billion, $40 billion of which is online, there is tremendous opportunity to not only drive future growth for the company, but also to provide this industry with tools and services that will help advertisers generate the highest possible return on their ad investments and will help publishers maximize their revenue.

    Our merger with aQuantive will enable the new team to strengthen our relationships with advertisers, agencies and publishers by enhancing our current advertising platform with complementary technologies.  For the first time, we’ll be offering display advertising solutions for all ad agencies and publishers on any websites; providing a choice while, growing the addressable market for Microsoft products and services. 

    With these new assets, we also increase our capabilities to build and support next generation advertising solutions and platforms such as cross media planning, video-on-demand and IPTV.

    While the talking heads will go on and on about how the deal was way to expensive, consider this: by purchasing a company with existing clientele and an extensive offline presence, Microsoft gains significant competitive marketshare without having to build it. This is in line with Microsoft's usual acquisition strategy. Between hiring, infrastructure, new offices, advertising their services, shuttling around sales people, etc... Microsoft could have easily spent $6B building out an offline ad network themselves, and wasted 5 years doing it. $6B may be a premium against aQuantive's current stock price, but it's not against what it would have cost to compete in the space.

    I've seen GigaOm's Kevin Kelleher try to reason it out through an HR perspective. I find it funny, because Microsoft didn't pay a premium for the employees, although I hear they are very good. No, Microsoft bought the portfolio, which at $500B worth of advertising, sounds like it was well worth it. With less than 10% of it's advertising value in the online space, the aQuantive acquisition was not about online ads. It was about expanding the adCenter and Massive properties by adding an offline component to the mix.

    For an outstanding breakdown of the deal, Sanjay Dalal's extensive analysis is well worth a read (thanks for the charts!)

    [via Kevin Sanger]

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  • Dell Entering TabletPC Arena This Year

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    From the "it's about damn time" files, Dell posted a video on their Direct2Dell website this afternoon from VP Jeff Clarkeannouncing a Dell Latitude Tablet by the end of the year. It took five years and "a LOT of engineering" to end up with a tablet that looks remarkably similar to Gateway's, right down to the button placements in the top corner. Hope you guys didn't blow the R&D budget on that one.

    When asked how it felt to be the last major OEM to enter the Tablet market, Clarke said "I'm going to Disneyland!*"

    In June 2005, I wondered if Dell would have a Tablet by the time Vista (Longhorn) was finished. Apparently that wasn't enough time. Does this mean we can finally say that the convertible notebook is a successful form factor?

    *No, Clarke did not really say that, it was a joke. Engadget doesn't have the market cornered on "snarky" :).

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  • NVIDIA + Chutzpah = WTF?

    It sure took some chutzpa for NVIDIA to do this after all the crap about their Vista drivers that have STILL gone unresolved.

    Wow Now? Ummm... sure. I wanted to play around with this in Photoshop, but couldn't come up with anything funnier. Anyone else think this shirt is not representative of the real NVIDIA experience on Windows Vista?

    [via pro-networks.org]

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  • Microsoft Is Not Suing OSS, So Relax

    So ya, Microsoft made a statement in Fortune magazine that Linux infringes on 235 of Microsoft's patents. And now the web is aflame with people raining fire down on Microsoft, assuming that they are gearing up for war. While I'm sure most of these people wrote their stories on this a long time ago, and pushed the "draft" button to publish at a later date. But the sky is not falling, and the world isn't coming to an end. People need to put their "big girl panties" back on for a second, and chill out. Here's why:

    1. Microsoft doesn't have the manpower or the reason to sue every organization that created the infringing code, or every company that uses it.
    2. Even if it did, I don't believe that its shareholders (or board members, for that matter) would allow that kind of expense to be expended when there is little guarantee of an equal or greater return (which is the purpose of doing business in the first place).
    3. Microsoft has made great effort in the last few years to be inclusive when it comes to dealing with the OSS community. They would not destroy that shareholder investment by filing a couple hundred lawsuits.
    4. Even if Microsoft were to take infringers to court, and won, the likelihood that the infringing software could be completely disentangled from the OS (which is the other result Microsoft would be looking for, besides cash) is low.
    5. MOST IMPORTANT: Microsoft even said specifically that suing companies "was a non-starter".

    Let's face it. In the world of software development, everyone copies everyone. And Linux is, at it's heart, a decentralized operation to build software that competes against Windows by mimicking it, directly or indirectly. It may even have been done accidentally, which isn't terribly farfetched. Accident or not, it happened, and that's all well and good. But if you're an open source developer, and you think that duplicating someone else's technology doesn't open you or your organization up to liability, then you're an idiot.

    Having said all that, here's what I think is going to happen. I don't know anything about Microsoft's plans on the situation, so my prediction is only based on my understanding of how Microsoft operates today. So anyway, Linux isn't going anywhere. I think this is part of a VERY highly coordinated operation to create an "amnesty blanket" for any current infringement, and work to prevent infringement in the future. Microsoft may very well get money out of whatever arrangement comes to pass, but I don't think that is the goal.

    I think Microsoft's true goal here is to get FOSS developers to admit that knowingly duplicating Microsoft investments is wrong, just the same as piracy is wrong. Getting FOSS companies to enforce non-infringement with the FOSS developers their associated with is a good investment for Microsoft, because their technology is not duplicated, driving sales; and they don't have costly enforcement litigation.

    Take a look at it another way: What if Microsoft stole technology that an FOSS developer had patented. What do you think would happen? The Slashdot crowd would scream bloody murder, that's what would happen. The same crowd, by the way, that is freaking out now.

    So I can't stop the pundits of the web from punditizing over what is going to happen. But I do highly urge everyone involved to avoid a knee-jerk reaction and think this through logically. Maybe if we all have a civil and frank discussion over the state of the current patent situation, and come up with concrete solutions, maybe we can keep a crapload of lawyers without work. And that's a cause we can all get behind, right?

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  • Some Reactions to an Apple Article

    I was reading an article about Apple today, and I was left with some interesting questions and comments... thought maybe I'd put them out there for people to get feedback.

    Steve Jobs was quoted in the article as saying: "I wish developing great products was as easy as writing a check. If so, then Microsoft would have great products." WTF??!?! And you guys wonder why I dislike Apple? How could Microsoft make as much money as it does if it didn't make great products?

    Look at it from another perspective: The whole time Microsoft has competed against Sony's Playstation 2, I've never once heard Microsoft say that the Playstation 2 was a bad product. They just talked about wanting to make a better one. Why can't Apple compete that way? Why does it have to be a mud-slinging contest? It just makes Jobs and Apple look arrogant and ignorant for not recognizing the merits of their competitor's solutions, and competing on that basis.

    I'm not trying to disparage Apple per-se, I'm just trying to understand why it's ok for Apple to do this, but everyone would scream bloody murder if Microsoft did it. And here's another question:

    There has been a lot of talk about the patent for "Back-Side Interface for Handheld Device" as hinting towards a newer, smaller iPhone. But how come I haven't seen anyone compare it to the Sprint UpStage, which at least keeps the controls on the same side as the UI? And what about usability? How easy would it be to use a device when you can't directly see the buttons you're touching?

    Just trying to start an intelligent discussion about things I don't understand. I hope the comments I receive are in the same vein.

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