Going Paperless.

Paperless.

I have a superpower. (Aside from being a sexy geek that is) and that superpower is that whenever I write down a piece of essentially important information on a piece of paper, that slip of bleached wood pulp gets transported to a parallel universe and is never seen again. I have lost countless phone numbers, ideas, concepts, plans and memo’s by writing them down. However, ask me to pull up a piece of digital information (no matter how trivial) from 12 years and 2 days ago? Chances are that I’ll have it for you in under 10 minutes.

So the logical decision for me is of course to go paperless. I have been reading Ebooks for years now and I very very rarely handle a paper book (Because It might not be available digitally). And with writing it’s the same thing. Give me a stylus and let’s go completely paperless. So what do I write on?

Writing on the iPad

I got myself a 5th generation iPad just to be able to have a very compact and light divide to write on. Instead of going for the rather large (and clunky) Apple 1st generation Stylus, I went for the Logitec Crayon. A rechargeable stylus that was designed for the educational department. It handles better then the Apple Pencil but i’ve had some issues with battery life that I need to figure out. The apps I use on the iPad mini are OneNote for taking handwritten notes and Notability for doodling. Annotating Pdf’s is done in the PDF Expert app. The upside of the Ipad Mini is of course the size (its extremely handy to carry around) but that is also its downside. The downside on the Mini is that you don’t have a lot of space to run apps side by side. Having a youtube video open while simultaneously taking notes does cramp your space.

Writing on the Surface Go


The “other” device I write on is my Surface Go. This smaller and lighter 10 inch “cousin” of the Surface Pro line is an excellent little laptop in its own right. The smaller form factor makes it a lot more “natural” to write on then its bigger Pro cousins. Having done annotations and writing on a Surface pro 4 with their 12 inch screen I can say that 2 inches makes a lot of difference. (2 inches SMALLER in this case ladies).

The upside with the Surface Go is that you of course have a “complete pc” with you. The keyboard cover is expensive but extremely handy and does not get in the way of things when you flip it back to start writing. Just like with the iPad you can split your screen and run apps side by side. Book on one end, notepaper on the other. But it is not always practical. The palm rejection acts up when you accidentally touch the ‘other application” with the palm of your hand while writing. The fact that when you are writing in landscape mode also does not help for ergonomics. The Surface go is slightly thicker than the iPad Mini (and a lot thicker) and that also gets in the way.

Flip the Surface Go into landscape mode and it’s a whole new ballgame. The screen is now almost the exact size of an A4 sheet of paper and when you put your note taking app into fullscreen mode it makes for a nice writing experience. The applications I use for Doodling here are “Bamboo Paper” (Because instead of the standard and expensive Microsoft Pen I went for the Bamboo Ink pen) OneNote for writing and Edge for annotating PDF’s.

So what do I write on ?

Which device I pick up generally depends on my mood and on what I want to do. When doing a meeting with a client I find that the iPad mini works great. It’s small enough to carry around and aside from taking notes during the meeting I also use it to walk around, take pictures of their infrastructure and write up some annotations on those. When I want to study from a book I sit down with the Surface GO. Using the Text-to-speech function in Edge I can have the book read out loud to me while taking notes. I’ll put the Surface Go in landscape mode, Open the ePub in Edge, press “play” and the put OneNote fullscreen to write and scribble my way through.

The Picard manoeuvre

But sometimes one tablet is not enough and I go for “The Picard Manoeuvre”. Inspired by the desk of this Starship Captain that was occasionally riddled with tablets, I too go for a multi-tablet approach. The output device (displaying the content I want to examine, a book, video or what have you) might be my Kindle or even a laptop. My annotation device can be the iPad or even the Surface go. The best combo I’ve tried so far when studying from a book is using my Kindle to read and my iPad mini to write on. The end result is a small and light combo I can shove just about anywhere.

Writing 2.0

In the end going Paperless has given me a lot of advantages. I have my notes with me anywhere, can change the order of pages, I can add pictures and even sound files and even put in some typed up text, screenshots, quotes and so forth. It has become so bad that I have a hard time working with “regular” paper because it lacks that functionality. The only downside with my approach is that writing on a screen is not the same as writing on paper. This takes some getting used to and does mess up your handwriting (although i’m not sure this is because of the device or the fact that my handwriting was never that great). I’m not sure.

But gone are the days where I ‘lost’ notes, annotations and the formula for warp drive. (I had it, I swear). Now .. I just “Write 2.0”.

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Mounting remote directories over SSH from Windows, Linux and the mac.

I have a Linux server that I like very much. It’s at the hart of my home network and it houses all the data and projects I’m working on. My music collection, the podcasts I’ve downloaded, textfiles and scripts I’m working on and so forth.

The downside is that I don’t always have access to these files. I work on a variety of operating systems (A Windows laptop for work, A Mac for my creative splurges and a Linux workstation to fool around with). There are several solutions to “dail in” to your home network of course but somewhere I’ve found SSH to be one of the simplest ways to access remote machines, tunnel traffic and … access files.

Sometimes you want remote files to behave like local ones.

The problem is that sometimes you want to have your remote files and folders behave just like your local files and folders, without having to worry about vpn’s, netbios or FQDN names of certain files. You just want the data on your remote machine to act like data on your local one. Enter SSHFS.

SSHFS is based on SSH, a simple elegant and secure protocol that not only lets you connect to a remote server to run commands in a terminal environment, it’s also a pretty good poor-mans VPN you can tunnel all your tcraffic through (via SSHuttle). It’s also good to copy over files via secure ftp (with Filezilla for example). But copying files back and forth isn’t handy. You want real-time access to the juice man. Let’s get you fixed up and mount your remote linux folders, natively into your filesystem on Windows, Mac and Linux.

SSHFS on a Linux client.

SSHFS on Linux
On your Linux client you need to install sshfs
sudo apt instal sshfs

sudo apt instal sshfs

Then you create a directory on your local machine where you want to mound the files
Once installed you connect to your remote machine with the command

sshfs username@remotemachine:/directoryonremotemachine /directoryonlocalmachine

SSHFS from a MacOs client.

SSHFS on Mac
MacOs does not have sshfs capabilities by default but these can easily be installed via Brew
When brew is installed you can install sshfs with the brew command.
To mount your remote directory just use the same command as on Linux/

 brew install sshfs 
sshfs username@remotemachine:/directoryonremotemachine /directoryonlocalmachine

SSHFS from a Windows Machine

That also works but it does require a little more work to get it done AND Windows won’t let you mount to a folder nativey but points you to a driveletter instead.

First off install the following two applications:
sshfs-win
WinFsp

Next all you need to do is open a command line window and enter the following command.
net use .<yourdrive>: \sshfs\yourusename@remotehost….\directorystartingfromroot

 net use x: \sshfs\me@thedeathstar.empire....\deathstarplans R3belsRscumm 

In the end.

At the end of the day using SSHFS is a great way to quickly access files on a remote Linux system while having the files and folders integrated into the filestructure of whatever operating system you use. The additional encryption provided by SSH gives you good security. Both on Linux and on the mac you will be asked to authenticate with your password. If you don’t want to do that you setup ssh key exchange (see here) on how that is done. You can enter the commands in a script that you can just run (like a logon script).


Beware then when you are doing this on Windows your logon script might contain your login and your password for the remote system in clear text. So keep that somewhere safe.

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Helium Linux: When your old machine needs some oxygen.

I have this old iMac lying around that I got off of some guy on Craigslist 2 years ago. It was a little bit of a “pet project” to tinker around with and to see how far I could take this computer from 2009. Swapping out the internal spinning-rust drive with an SSD was a very interesting piece of open-mac surgery and afterwards the machine was a tad faster then before.

Operating system no longer supported.

But the iMac would only upgrade its version of MacOs to a version that was no longer supported (El Capitan I think) so I thought let’s run Linux on it. I’ve had experience in running Linux on Macs for a couple of years now, but the installation of Ubuntu 18.04 was a little disappointing. The system was a little slow (I expected that from a 2009 machine) and got put by the wayside because it just wasn’t up to snuff.

I needed a place to focus.

Lately I’ve been having some issues with productivity. While (trying) to get stuff done (mostly when i’m writing), I’m constantly distracted by eMails, Social Media, Chatmessages and what have you. I had been looking for some ways to block them out (going offline, using apps like Focuswriter) but none of them helped. I needed a computer environment that was simple enough to let me get my writing done while being to slow or simple for anything else. The iMac popped back to mind.

Simplicity is the most complex thing to achieve.

But in order to be realy “functional” the machine needed a lighter and more serene operating system. I remembered a distro called “Crunchbang” from my netbook days. A lightweight and very geeky distro with an Openbox UI. But the distro was disconinued.. or was it?

Get me some Helium

It turns out “Crunchbang” is not dead after all. An organisation called Bunsenlabs has picked up the slack and forked “Helium” as a successor. The distribution is based on Debian 10 (not Ubuntu) and comes with a minimal of applications pre-installed. The graphical installer is sweet and simple and afterwards they run you through a text based post-install script that lets you choose what other options to install.

It’s like ‘less’ with ‘more’

The end result is a super minimalistic destkop interface with the classic openbox bar letting you open some classc apps like Firefox, Libreoffice and more. The developement team has gone out of its way to keep the interface clean and simple and to keep the apps as light as possible. In the end you get a slick, slim and FAST OS for an old machine.

A garden of Zen

I have only been using the OS for a couple of days now but I’ve managed to muddle through some pretty hefty copywriting and getting the stuff I needed done .. done. Aside from using Geany as the default Text editor and Firefox to surf around for research, I’ve resulted to mostly command line apps and scripts to get things done. (For example using MPV to play the “Mission Control” music station on Soma Fm). The end result: A fast system with minimal distractions and the very first time I’ve actually started using one of my ‘resurrected zombies’ in a production environment. If you have an old machine lying around or want to have a distraction free interface? Give it a try.

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The Tegos Tapes: lesser known work by Vangelis.

With the death of Rutger Hauer yesterday, I was reminded of the great work this Dutch actor has done over the years. One of the movies that of course springs to mind immediately with me (and all fellow geeks around me) must be “Blade Runner”. A majestic movie from director Ridley Scott that is an absolute must-see if you have one molecule of Geek Dna in your body.

What makes the movie so fantastic aside from the great cinematography is of course the music. The soundtrack written and composed by Vangelis is probably one of the most memorable and awe -inspiring elements of the movie. If you take away all the actors and even the storyline of Blade Runner (Which is based on the underwhelming novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) and you would be left with JUST the music and the shots of the scenery? It would STILL be a good movie.

Vangelis as a composer has done some amazing things: Ranging from the epic soundtrack of BladeRunner to popular tracks like “Chariots of Fire” and writing the soundtrack to not one but two space missions. (Mithodea and Rosetta). Both fantastic albums.

Created as a soundtrack for the instructional tapes for a surgeon

But I like to dig around for the obscure, so in my quest for some “lesser known” material I found “The Tegos Tapes” A great collection of previously unreleased material. Created as a soundtrack for the instructional tapes for a surgeon (Yes, Good old Vangelis did not shy away from the occasional Schnabble) they have not been released as an album but do contain some amazing tracks. I’ll let you in on track number 1 for you to enjoy.

Links.

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KW1401 – Favourite Retro TV Tunes

Subscribe to the show to get the audiofile or stream it on Youtube.

ER

ER is an American medical drama television series created by novelist and medical doctor Michael Crichton that aired on NBC from September 19, 1994, to April 2, 2009, with a total of 331 episodes spanning over 15 seasons

Track: ER theme Sindrilla remix: ER Main Theme (Sindirilla Remix)

Battle of the Planets

Battle of the Planets is an American adaptation of the Japanese anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman

Track (original): Battle Of The Planets TV theme STEREO

Buck Rogers

In 1979, Buck Rogers was revived and updated for a prime-time television series for NBC Television. The pilot film was released to cinemas on March 30, 1979.

Track (with Lyrics) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BINijYepahA

Captain Future

Captain Future is a science fiction hero – a space-traveling scientist and adventurer – originally published in a namesake pulp magazine from 1940 to 1951.

Track: Full Soundtrack by Christian Bruhn: CAPTAIN FUTURE – 1980 – FULL SOUNDTRACK

Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC since 1963

Track: Doctor who meets pink floyd by Taniloo Doctor Who meets Pink Floyd

Airwolf

Airwolf was an American television series that ran from 1984 until 1987. The program centers on a high-tech military helicopter, code named Airwolf, and its crew as they undertake various exotic missions, many involving espionage, with a Cold War theme

Track: Remix: Synthwave remix by mr Mcnoggin Mr. McNoggin – Airwolf Theme (Synthwave Remix)

Knight Rider

Tv show produced by Glenn Larson featuring David Hasselhoff and a talking car.

Track: Knight Rider Theme Rock Cover – Objectivist Guitarist Knight Rider Theme Rock Cover

M.A.S.K.

M.A.S.K. (an acronym for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand) is an animated television series produced by DIC Audiovisuel and ICC TV Productions, Ltd.

Track: Mask Cover by Vocaliser: M.A.S.K. Opening Theme – Metal Cover (with Cyril)

Thundercats

ThunderCats is an American media franchise, featuring a fictional group of catlike humanoid aliens

Track: Cover Hamaca Musiclab  Thundercats Opening – MultiScreen Video cover

Ulysses31

Ulysses 31  is a French-Japanese animated television series (1981) that updates the Greek mythology of Odysseus (known as “Ulysses” in Latin) to the 31st century.

Track cover  by Video Micro :  Ulysses 31 Theme Song (cover)

Transformers

The Transformers is a half-hour American[3] animated robot superhero television series which originally aired from September 17, 1984 to November 11, 1987

Check out KW505 for the history of Transformers: Full history of transformers KW505 – Jaspio: Kw502 Recording. “The history of Transformers” with @Jaspio.

Track: Cover by Neko Machine : Transformers G1 – Lion – COVER (Neko Machine)

Links

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TLDR: Anyone still reading this? – Should you still ‘write’ your blogs?

TLDR, 4 gruesome letters that are the digital equivalent of a teenager shrugging and walking away in the middle of an epic speech (or regular nag-a-thon) recited by a parental unit. It’s a sign of the time. Whenever we are presented with information that grows beyond a certain volume, our micro sized attention spans switch off and go looking for the next picture of a fluffy cat on the internet.

There, in one paragraph I have completely summarized the problem Bloggers are facing today TLDR: Too long, Didn’t read. Since we have been scrolling vertically through Twitter feeds, Instagram pictures, Facebook posts and Linkedin updates our ability (or should I say ‘interest’) to go through large blocks of text has slowly started to erode away. We want our stuff fast in easy to consume small byte sized blocks. Perferably 140 characters or less.

For writers this is a challenge: Imagine being Marten Luther King, but only getting 30 seconds to deliver your ‘I have a dream’ speech before the crowd wanders off to play Pokemon or scroll Reddit. There just isn’t enough time to get the message across.

Results ? You cut corners. Condense arguments, leave out supporting information or even facts altogether. If that still isn’t enough its time for an provocative headline, or some ye-old click-bait. And if your content just isn’t cut out for this? Tough, they have already scrolled past your post and are looking at cat video’s.

“Well, you will just have to write better material then” That is the general response you get to when you lament the problem. But should we really do that? Some stories or arguments should not be broken up into 140 characters, they should be told with all the facts or with views from both sides of the fence. The constitution wasn’t written on a post-it either. So what to do ?

Write better, snappier sentences, short paragraphs, leave in plenty of whitespace and some interesting funky examples and emphatic visual analogies the reader can relate to. That should do the trick. But what if they still don’t make it to the 3rd paragraph?

I’m thinking of exchanging the written medium for video or audio. If you don’t have the time/interest to ‘read’ something, perhaps you would like to “listen’ to it instead. The “Storytime” podcasts have always been a big favorite of my community, “Reading out” a lengthily blogpost in a gripping audio-recording does make for some interesting reading. Perhaps a video recording using an autocue to read out the text ? Would that help?

I leave you to ponder (if your eyeballs ever make it down here) the question of TLDR. Should we continue to starve our attention spans with small bite sized information? Do we want to live off ever smaller growing pieces of content? Shorter blogposts, video’s, podcasts? Do we nibble our way trough the all-you-can-eat buffet of the blogosphere ? Is it TLDR or TLDC (Too long, don’t Care).

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Back on the Mac.

About two weeks ago I started to notice the issue that the keys on my Macbook Pro (2017 model with the butterfly keys) started to become “slightly unresponsive” (See the article “Death of the butterflies”). After dragging the Mac back to the store and explaining the issue to the tech it apparently got fixed. I’m very happy to report my Macbook is still under warranty, otherwise this little escapade might have cost met over 300 euro’s.

Where on a “normal” machine they just swap out a keyboard (I remember doing this almost blindfolded when working on IBM Thinkpads back in the day) the replacement of the Apple keyboard is close to brain surgery. Along with a new set of keys, I also got a new battery and a new lower half of my body. Basically I got my screen, my logic board and my harddrive back. The rest is new.

After spending more then 10 days constantly on my Dell Xps13, I have to admit that oging “back” to my Mac is something of a mixed blessing. Sure, here is my allround powermachine that does just about anything, from video editing to presentations, from running work-citrix to giving me the Unix command line. But the keyboard? I think the chance of the butterfly keys and me ever going into a long lasting loving relationship are slim. They keys might be slim, cool, thin, made out of fairy farts, but aside from lacking basic symbols ( Backslash, Pipe key, Tilde Key) the lack of travel does not feel right.

Having had “clogged butterflies” where my keytravel was messed up due to microscopuc elements of dust, I will never quite “trust” this keyboard again. Whatever happens I will always have this nagging feeling that somehow it just doesn’t “feel” right. “Was that tap OK ?” “Did that character get registered ?” “Oh ow, is it clogging up again ? “ I don’t know, maybe I’m focused too much on it or maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with Apple’s approach to the design. It’s a little bit of a moot point since i’m stuck with this machine for a while anyways.

That being said, I enjoyed having my XPS13 as a daily driver (YES, Running Windows !) The machine is light, fast, has mat screen and I still love it like the day I got it. It will always be a hard choice packing up in the morning and choosing “What laptop am I going to take with me”. I think that’s the curse of being a cross platform slider.

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Death of the butterflies.

Tap.. tap .. taptaptap.. Grunt, blowing sound, tap tap TAP.. yeah, it sounds like somebody is frustrated behind their keyboard write ? Some Shmo pounding out an angry flame mail to a bunch of co-workers with half the org-chart splattered across to to and bcc field. But .. thats not the case. It”s just me trying to write up a little blogpost on a computer that suffers from dying butterflies.

Downside ? It makes EVERYTHING you type sound like an angry hate-mail to POTUS, even if you are doing a love letter.

‘Chokin the butterfies’
The butterflies I refer to are the keys on my keyboard. In Apple’s grand opus of “Thinking Different”, somebody in the giant glass donut thought it would be a good idea to radically change the way they keyboard worked on their new Macbook Pro’s. So they decided the butterfly key would be a great idea. Superslim keys that have virtually no “keytravel” (How ‘deep’ your key goes when you tap it) and that make the keyboard look like a giant touchpad. Upside ?: Cool and pretty thin (allowing them to thin-down the laptop a few millimeters). Downside ? It makes EVERYTHING you type sound like an angry hate-mail to POTUS, even if you are doing a love letter.

DD I press ‘i’ ?

But the biggest downside is that these keys are NOT dirt resistant. Tiny mote of sand or dust gets underneath your key ? Boom. no more room for travel. If you are lucky the keystrike is still recorded and you get your character on the screen, but it “feels” like you just didn’t strike that key. And that totally throws you out of the zone. If it is worse , the just doesn’t work at all and you end up POUNDING the letter out of the laptop by jamming your finger on it with too much force required.

‘Cupertino is gonna fix it’
Its a known issue with Apple and they promised to fix it in the NEXT generation. But for the current owners ? Well, there is a replacement program. Only you need to bring us your Macbook Pro so we can fix it. Well, Fix it is a big word, they are going to replace my keyboard (AND my Touch bar AND my battery, because the glued it all together) with similar hardware. So the chance that THOSE butterflies are going to “clog up” is still very real.

Well, the only thing I can do is wait for my Mac to be back. In the meantime I’ve ‘Fallen back’ to my Dell XPS 13 laptop (Running Windows 10 Pro) and that is NOT a bad place to be. The machine is slim, light and fast and the keys are .. well, better. Rattling out blogposts like this kinda feels like being a coder pounding out the next killer app. No dead butterflies here 🙂 Keep you posted.

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Why Offline is the new luxury

Fear of the dinosaur
I am really scared of a T-Rex. And when I say that i’m not talking about the 30 foot giant dino that scared the living crap out of those poor kids in the original Jurassic park film, but the little grey one that pops up in Chrome, when you don’t have an internet connection. Because that means that I am “Offline”. And these days “Offline” equals being lost at sea, or stuck in a cave, or stranded on one of the moons of Uranus. Or worse: Being stuck in a cave at the bottom of the sea on one of the moons of Uranus. You catch my drift: Being offline is bad.

Beyond the Blackberry: Offline is bad
Why is this? I vividly remember a time where 95% of my day was spent “offline”. Only when I would need to get “on the internet” would I use a little box that made screechy noises to temporarily connect my wonky PC to the world wide web. These days a computer without an internet connection is about as useful as can of window defroster in the Sahara.

It all changed when we got the first smartphones with a permanent connection. Those “Blackberry’s” in the hands of avidly tapping CEO’s would give them the infinite power to be connected all the time, everywhere. It was cool! That meant you could spam them 24/7 with useless questions like “When do I get a raise” knowing that would help to get a rise of of them (Hah).

But somewhere along the line this all changed and we needed to be connected all the time, first so we could be pinged and dinged 24/7, then because we had a massive case of FOMO (fear of missing out) and next because all of our data and our applications were in the could. No pipe? No Party.

The cloud is a blessing in disguise. Sure: our data was safe from failing hard drives and homework devouring K9’s, but we need a permanent pipe to get to them. That’s ok, bandwidth is cheap and connections are ubiquitous, but not omnipresent. Commuting by Train from Brussels does mean that at times the 4g connectivity on my phone is spotty and at some points cuts out altogether. Very annoying when you are in the middle of a cloud based session and not reliable at all. But instead of fearing those moments I’ve begun to embrace them.

I’ve found out “Offline” is great time to blog, to tinker with video’s. To edit down Audio file or to meticulously murder and decimate any mails that are hanging around in my inbox.

The luxury of begin without a connection
There is an incredible luxury about being offline because all the distractions you might encounter go away. No more pings, dings and doodah’s from Facebook or Whatsapp. No more side-quests to hunt down a life-sized My little pony on amazon. No silly youtube cat video’s that eat hours of your time. No more emails that drop into your inbox right when you are in the middle writing up a killer reply to the previous mails. Just … you, your keyboard and your computer. The virtual doors to your man (or woman) cave a closed, the doorbell is unplugged and you get to soak in the digital bubblebath of your own creativity (or focus) without being disturbed.

I’ve found out “Offline” is great time to blog, to tinker with video’s. To edit down Audio file or to meticulously murder and decimate any mails that are hanging around in my inbox. The sweet 90 minutes of Downtime I get as I zoom through the Belgian spotty cellphone-covered countryside are actually the most productive ones of my day.

Make the tech work
Sure I have to make sure the tech works. That means most of my services and clients need to able to ‘handle’ offline. Syncing to your local drive is a great option. Apps like Onedrive, Onenote, Outlook, Dropbox all have the ability to ‘work offline’ and push/pull incremental changes once the packets from the inter-webs return. Not every app or service support that. But think about it. If you NEED constant connectivity to do that one key thing you need to do, you are very vulnerable should the handy workmen decide to accidentally rip up your internet connection while doing some digging.

Are you a constantly connected cloud-crackwhore that cannot live without a public IP or a 4bar wireless signal ?

Enjoy the silence
So here is my question: How much CAN you still DO offline? Are you a constantly connected cloud-crackwhore that cannot live without a public IP or a 4bar wireless signal ? Are your workflows so tied into the cloud that without them the only think you are good at is grunting like a gorilla as you wave your useless smartphone around ? I’m dying to know. You can tell me all about it, when I get back online.

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