Archive for PEBKAC

Worst WiFi ever

Despite all her rage, she is still just a rat in a cage:

The shonky structure of London’s tube WiFi is actually a perfect mirror for a famous Psychology experiment: the Skinner Box (or Operant Conditioning Chamber if you’re feeling fancy). The experiment involved putting a rat in a box with a lever. If the lever dispensed a food pellet every time it was pressed, the rats would press it often … obviously. If it stopped dispensing food, they’d stop pressing it pretty quickly (rats are clever).

BUT, if the lever only dispensed food sometimes, and in a completely random pattern, the rats would basically go on pressing it forever, even when it had stopped giving out treats. They’d wear their paws down to nubbins pressing that hopeless, disconnected lever because the next press could be the lucky one, right guys? Right?!

Tube WiFi is exactly like this. Sometimes you can get connected as soon as you pull into the station, see something good on Twitter, click through, it loads and you get to read it. And sometimes you’re still trying to get a connection as the train sails back into the darkness, Twitter stubbornly refusing to update, and your phone tantalisingly telling you there are “open networks available.” Hrngh. It’s an internet Skinner Box, and I can’t stop pressing the lever.

So what’s the problem? The signal reaches the stations perfectly well, but doesn’t make it into the tunnels. (“There isn’t a whole lot of space inside the tunnels for repeater units,” she says.) If you’re expecting a long ride underneath London, you probably shouldn’t count on getting any work done.

And I do like that word “shonky,” apparently a Briticism that to me is somewhat more pejorative-sounding than merely “unreliable” or “untrustworthy.”

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Must have a death wish

Certainly for his site, and possibly for himself:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Is there an HTML/CSS code that prevents a user from navigating away from a web page until after 1 minute?

“Preferably no alerts,” he says.

On the upside, all his visitors will be unique and new: he’s never going to get a repeat visitor. (Well, okay, he might, in the specific context of “Hey, look what this asshole did!”)

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A loopy request

Nothing unusual about DMCA takedown requests. Universal Pictures France sent one to Google last week regarding several of the films it owns, and as always, it included the offending URLs. Not even mighty Google, alas, can take down this “site” allegedly infringing on Jurassic World:

Where, oh where, does one even begin?

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Which is where it bytes you

There might be more software in a new car than there is in a cheap commodity PC. (Brand-name makers tend to lard the machines up with crapware.) Given the slightest bit of connectivity, this was inevitable:

Though I hadn’t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system. Next the radio switched to the local hip hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass.

And then things got worse:

As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.

Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun.

Yes, there were two. He knew this because he’d arranged this test with them, to look for vulnerabilities in Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect system. Used to be, someone had to tap a physical port in the car to hack it. Not anymore.

As it happens, Fiat Chrysler (1) is not amused and (2) has issued a patch:

Under no circumstances does FCA condone or believe it’s appropriate to disclose “how-to information” that would potentially encourage, or help enable hackers to gain unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems.

FCA has a dedicated team from System Quality Engineering focused on identifying and implementing software best practices across FCA globally. The team’s responsibilities include development and implementation of cybersecurity standards for all vehicle content, including on-board and remote services.

As such, FCA released a software update that offers customers improved vehicle electronic security and communications system enhancements. The Company monitors and tests the information systems of all of its products to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities in the ordinary course of business.

Still, all software has holes. Just ask Microsoft.

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Meanwhile, phish are dying

This may seem impossible, but apparently it’s true:

For the first time in 12 years, spam made up less than 50 percent of all email.

According to Symantec’s latest monthly threat report, only 49.7 percent of email sent this June was spam. While still a pretty dang high percentage, it’s the lowest since September 2003.

Better tools like enhanced spam filters and more frequent prosecution of spam producers have helped cut down on spam. But for those of us who grew up with the internet and got the occasional laugh out of spam’s unintentional and bizarre poetry, this is a mildly bittersweet fadeout.

One data point doth not a trend make. Call me in thirty days and we’ll talk.

(Via Fark.)

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PET reset

In 1977, Commodore produced its first PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) computer, a 6502-based box running at a startling 1 MHz. It sold well enough to justify follow-on products — surely you remember the legendary Commodore 64? — but Commodore was extinct by 1994, and ownership of the trademark has been floating around almost randomly ever since.

Now comes a new PET, but it’s a cell phone:

[W]hile there’s no real connection with the famous 8-bit home computer, Massimo Canigiani and Carlo Scattolini have designed the new Commodore PET with a focus on gaming. The handset will run Android 5.0 Lollipop and will ship with two built-in emulators (VICE C64 and Uae4All2-SDL Amiga, as noted by Wired).

And if you’re gonna run Commodore emulators, those are the ones to run.

It’s a pricey little handset, starting at $300, and one might reasonably question its potential marketplace longevity. Still, seeing the chickenhead on a phone is bound to jolt those of us of a Certain Age.

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Hey, seize this, pal

Taste considerations obviously don’t enter into it:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Wording a warning message for people with Epilepsy on a Tumblr blog with a rainbow-colored flashing background?

And apparently it’s just this short of a done deal:

I already have the Java Script and everything, I just don’t know how to write the warning in a professional way.

Like there’s anything “professional” about a rainbow-colored flashing background to begin with. How about an autostart audio file to make it worse?

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Not that we would need it here

Echochamber.js bills itself as “All off [sic] the commenting, none of the comments.” This is what they mean:

Echochamber.js is a third-party script you can install to add a simple comment form to your blog post or website.

why not just use disqus?

Because then there’d be a chance that someone would read the comments. You might have to read those comments. You don’t want that.

When a user submits a comment, echochamber.js will save the comment to the user’s LocalStorage, so when they return to the page, they can be confident that their voice is being heard, and feel engaged with your very engaging content. It does not make any HTTP requests. Since LocalStorage is only local, you and your database need not be burdened with other people’s opinions.

The script is simple, and is fed from a reliable source: Amazon Web Services.

(Via Brianna Wu. Don’t say it.)

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So far, so correct

Keep in mind, I haven’t seen version 10 yet.

Evolution of Windows


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Utility zero

Perhaps the single most useless site on the entire Web is now live, for limited values of “live”:

The Internet is supposed to be the world’s most inclusive medium: A miraculous tech utopia anyone can access. Which is why Justin Foley thought it might be funny to make a Web site that was, well — exactly the opposite.

Foley is the man behind, a site that — true to its name — only one person can visit at a time. You access the site by requesting a “ticket” for your 60-second window and then waiting in line; as of Tuesday night, there were only 40,204 other people you needed to get behind.

Of course, if you close your browser tab, you lose your place, so the line moves more quickly than you might think.


Dot nothing

There is now a waiting list for IPv4 addresses in this part of the world:

Noting an important development for the Internet community, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), a nonprofit association that manages the distribution of Internet number resources within its region, announced today that it has activated its Unmet Request Policy with the approval of an address request that was larger than the available inventory in the regional IPv4 free pool.

Activation of this policy is another sign of the impending depletion of unassigned IPv4 resources in the ARIN region, reminding businesses of the need to deploy the next generation Internet Protocol, IPv6, and usher in the next stage of the Internet’s evolution. Qualifying organizations now have the choice of accepting the next largest available block of IPv4 addresses or being placed on the Waiting List for Unmet IPv4 Requests.

If anyone cares, we’ve had an IPv6 address here for a couple of years:


Or so I’m told. I’ve never actually tried it, being generally a generation and a half behind on most technical matters.


We asked you not to

So you settle down to use the Wi-Fi at the International House of Pancakes, when this happens:

Wi-Fi connections near IHOP

Maybe they should have said “Please”?

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You need this phone

And by “you,” they mean me. I got a text message with the basics of this over the weekend, and a full-fledged letter, with postage and everything, Monday:

T-Mobile is continuing to invest in our network. As we make network upgrades in Oklahoma City on 7/27, your current phone will no longer receive 4G high speed data.

I almost hate to tell them that my current phone, a Samsung flipper, has never received 4G high-speed data: it’s either 3G or EDGE, which seems to be a sort of 2.5G.

To continue to experience 4G high speed data, we are pleased to offer you a free smartphone, the Alcatel Astro. This phone will allow you to experience the best of the T-Mobile network. The Alcatel Astro features a beautiful 4.5″ screen and 5MP camera to capture and share life’s moments.

Truth be told, I’d be happy to get a consistent bar and a half from my desk at work, and speed be damned.

This is the phone in question. I know nothing from smartphones except that this one is a smidgen behind in operating systems (Android KitKat has been largely supplanted by Lollipop) and the numbers sound fairly mediocre. The price, at zip, is right; of course, the real money comes from the data plan I don’t have yet.

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A selling point, perhaps

Here’s a personal email service designed with your privacy in mind:

Own-Mailbox is a home-plugged personal email server, with strong privacy protection measures integrated at its core. It provides self-hosted email addresses, or connects with your existing email address. In both cases you can seamlessly send and receive encrypted emails from anywhere in the world, through Own-Mailbox webmail, Smartphone app, or through an external email software (Thunderbird, Outlook, …).

Which seems pretty swell. I wonder, though, if this is the right pitch:

Own-mailbox automatically encrypts your emails with Gnu Privacy Guard, a strong encryption software, the same software as used by Edward Snowden (as in the movie citizenfour).

I await an endorsement from Glenn Greenwald and his invisible friends.

(Via Ellie Kesselman.)

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Now with deBlartification

Ezra Dyer grumbles in Car and Driver (August) that cars have too many dysfunctional functions:

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that carmakers indulge the temptation to cram in every feature that might theoretically have a moment of utility over a car’s life span. For example, I just tried Infiniti’s new InTouch system in the Q50S. Several menus down the infotainment rabbit hole, I had the car giving me movie times for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. A disclaimer at the bottom of the screen read, “Screening times displayed are not always up to date.” I suppose this function would be useful, if something happened to your phone — maybe you ran it over? — and you then had to use your car to find uncertain movie times. But in all likelihood, you would never miss this feature if you never had it, leaving your car and your life just a little bit simpler.

I’d take a different approach. The Q50S is already smart enough to detect when you’re drifting out of your lane and nudge the car back into position. With this much brainpower, surely it’s possible to arrange for the car never to even mention stuff like Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.


No computer left behind

The idea of the “user port” on the Commodore 64 was simply this: if you can program it, we’ll give you lines and a little bit of memory to support it. And now, 802.11 has arrived:

Schema is developing a Wi-Fi cartridge for the Commodore 64. At this moment he has a working prototype that is communicating on 2400 Baud. You can use a standard terminal program for the communication and all the RS-232 signals are supported.

Old C-64 hands will remember that the user port was forever limited to 2400 bps — until, of course, it wasn’t.


Still they persist

Looking through the accumulated StatCounter stuff, which has been piling up for a month now, I’m finding that there are some serious diehards out there:

  • 5.2 percent of visitors are running Windows XP. Still.
  • About 21 percent of visitors are using the Firefox browser, and while the vast majority of them are using version 38, I’ve had two hits from someone still on 3.5.
  • Most of the Internet Explorer users are running version 11, with 8 a distant second and 9 and 10 hardly showing up — but 6 and 7 are still in the log.
  • Almost all the Chrome users are using 43, but there are apparently some hard-core individuals on 10.
  • Google dominates the searchers, of course; but, all by itself, outdraws Yahoo!

Traffic is ostensibly up by about 15 percent, though this may simply be greater efficiency than was afforded me by my previous tracking service.


We’ll make that decision for you

After this colossal stunt, what could Samsung possibly do to make matters worse? How about this?

On my home forum Sysnative, a user (wavly) was being assisted with a [Windows Update] issue, which was going well, aside from the fact that wavly’s WU kept getting disabled randomly. It was figured out eventually after using auditpol.exe and registry security auditing that the program that was responsible for disabling WU was Disable_Windowsupdate.exe, which is part of Samsung’s SW Update software.

SW Update is your typical OEM updating software that will update your Samsung drivers, the bloatware that came on your Samsung machine, etc. The only difference between other OEM updating software is, Samsung’s disables WU.

So he caught a Samsung tech in chat, and after a couple of pages of the Prescribed Script, the tech came clean:

When you enable Windows updates, it will install the Default Drivers for all the hardware [on] laptop which may or may not work. For example if there is USB 3.0 on laptop, the ports may not work with the installation of updates. So to prevent this, SW Update tool will prevent the Windows updates.

@SwiftOnSecurity, when she read this, commented:

She was being kind. I do like my little Samsung flip-phone, but then it doesn’t require anything as complicated as Windows Update.

Update, 26 June: Samsung says it will stop doing that “in a few days.” Quipped @SwiftOnSecurity: “I hope Microsoft threatened them with the banhammer.”

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Fark blurb of the week

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Fulfilling time

A lot got done at Happy Acres this past week:

Gave daughter her first driving lesson. Consoled son after first serious heartbreak. Went to the gym everyday, and a 4 mile walk every evening. Worked on genealogy and uncle’s ebook. Hardened my passwords on two dozen sites. Made a will. Sprayed star thistle infestation. Had carpets cleaned. Building a pile of junk to take to the dump. Timing belts replaced on 2 cars. Pruned & weeded. Ordered gravel to line driveway.

Goodness, that’s quite a set of accomplishments. How in the world was this even possible?

The past week I went internet-dark.


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Not ready for fringe time

Bill Quick has been dealing with the pre-release versions of Windows 10, and if you ask him, they aren’t ready for mass distribution yet:

Currently, on the [MS Surface Pro 3], I’ve got a “hardware update” that constantly installs itself “successfully,” then forgets that it has done so, and reinstalls itself, requiring a reboot each time. This is a bug known for more than three weeks, but it remains unfixed.

Several Metro Apps (apps designed for Windows tablets in the same way that iOS apps are designed to run on Apple tablets) either don’t run at all, or open in broken condition — including the People app, which is home base for contacts, and linkage to various address books, and messages from Twitter, FB, and so on.

The current build, released several weeks ago, wouldn’t install on SP3 at all until they fixed a bug it took them two more weeks to exterminate.

And the list goes on and on. Quick remains undaunted, though:

I’m able to use both machines as production machines, and I’ve been doing so. And I do really like Windows 10 overall, especially the Continuum feature, and the consistency across all platforms from phones to desktop machines.

But is it going to be ready for release to people who want an OS that “just works?”

Not a hope in hell, is what I think.

It’s not like Microsoft has never, ever missed a ship date. If it takes longer than six weeks more to swat the known bugs, then it takes longer. The world will go on turning.

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Defending the dumbphone

In my new post-austerity budget, I could very likely afford one of those fancy plastic slabs with a more-than-minimal data plan, maybe, but it’s not happening. I hasten to note that this non-event is hardly specific to me. Consider the case of Elisson’s dad:

It was difficult enough to convince him to get a cellphone for emergencies. He and his wife would make the round-trip drive to Florida every year, and eventually they allowed that yes, it would be prudent to be able to get in touch with someone just in case THEIR CAR, GAWD FORBID, WERE TO BREAK DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING OKEFENOKEE SWAMP. So there was that.

But a smartphone? You know, like all the Kool Kidz are carrying around these days?

No Frickin’ Way.

Motivation for my first cell phone: emergency comms, if needed, along World Tour ’01.

But I haven’t gotten much beyond that yet:

What was it that made smartphones and computers such objects of Fear and Loathing?

I mean, aside from the fact that they suck all the data out of your house and bank account and feed it into giant enterprises run by the government, the Russian Mafia, and Amazon?

And if you work for the feds, add “and Chinese hackers” to the list.

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Well, it wasn’t ME

If you’ve ever suspected that “infotainment” systems for your car were lagging a bit behind the stuff on your desktop or on your phone, your suspicions have just been justified:

This would be amusing if (1) Oldsmobile still existed and (2) they were still building Vista Cruiser wagons.

Now: is this a reflection of how the actual hardware works, or did this guy format that USB stick on a Vista machine back in the Pleistocene era?


Endured, the browser wars have

And there is no peace on the horizon:

I just encountered my second major piece of software used by Bank of America for my business accounts that will only work with Internet Explorer and most definitely will not work with Chrome. Their ACH/Treasury/Direct Payments system has to run on Internet Explorer (only) and now I find their secure email system that sends me all my merchant account notices does not work on Chrome and only works on IE.

To say nothing of Firefox. (Come to think of it, he did say nothing of Firefox.)

Then again, it could be worse:

I am just waiting for the moment that a Bank of America tech support person tells me I have to use Netscape.

The most recent stable release of Netscape was 4.8, appearing in the summer of 2002. Probably too cutting-edge for the likes of BofA.

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Common jerks

In the standard version of the Tragedy of the Commons, there are more takers than givers, and eventually the system breaks down. If this sounds like a bunch of jerks to you, the Z Man can show you more of them:

Blogs and news stories invite comments. Jerks come along and fill the comments with work at home scams and penis pill ads. That means we have to have spam filters and police the comments sections. A good chunk of the code in a WordPress site is to fend off jerks trying to mess up a blog for no other reason than they are an asshole.

Anyway, the jerks are ruining the interwebs in a different way and that’s with ads. There are some sites I don’t bother to visit because they are so bogged down with popups, scripts and the worst thing of all, auto-playing videos. The guy who came up with that idea should be burned at the stake. There’s nothing worse than having some nonsense come blaring through your PC speakers as you feverishly look for the source.

Hence: ad blockers and such. (I’ve recently had to dispose of a script I had found useful for many years because it had mutated into a tool of the jerks.)

I don’t block every ad, of course. For example: I block nothing on Equestria Daily, since (1) I really, really need the content and (2) Sethisto has gone after rogue advertisers with jerk in their genome. But there are plenty of sites pushing on my last nerve.

I don’t solicit Breitbart because it is infested with ads created by the nation’s dickhead community. Loads of viruses are spread through embedded ads as well. If a site has no choice but to go the jerk route with their ads, then they should go out of business. The world has plenty of jerks. We’re full.

Between that and clickbait — well, I’ve been to a Turkish bazaar, and it’s run with a hell of a lot more respect for its customers.


U can’t watch this

‘Cause I said so:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Hacking your own home tv show?

Since this makes no sense by itself, the follow-up:

I want to learn to hack my home tv satellite and tv so that people cannot watch certain show or program and will change the show or program based on the data that I input

There are, I suspect, exactly two possibilities here:

  • Guy’s never heard of parental controls;
  • Guy’s heard of parental controls, but the Younger Folk know more about them than he does.

The question of whether this would be a violation of the agreement with the satellite company is left as an exercise for the student.

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Winning blind

The switch to StatCounter has required me to adjust to new statistics in new forms, and this is one of those forms:

StatCounter screenshot

That #1 in the oval means that for this particular search, I was #1 in Google; however, Google now encrypts its search strings, so #1 on what? SiteMeter would have given me the Google URL, but no clues otherwise.

Fortunately, StatCounter imports actual Google Webmaster Tools search data, albeit a week and a half behind, so eventually I will know what the search string was. (Then again, Google’s own display is half a week behind; as of Sunday night they were still serving up stuff from the 28th of May.)

The article in question had to do with the proposed .eq domain for Equestria, for which the proponents had announced they would be seeking OpenNIC approval. I don’t know whatever happened to that scheme, and the exit link has apparently been wiped; nopony I know would have done such a thing.


Convergence ensues

“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria!” said Dr. Venkman. But he never envisioned anything like this:

In a memo to employees, IBM notes that starting today all employees (not just some select developers like in the past) can pick from a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, or a PC when setting up a new or refreshed workstation. The machines will include new software for security, Wi-Fi, and VPN out of the box so employees just have to connect to the internet to get started, according to the memo. IBM notes that it currently has around 15,000 Macs deployed through its BYOD program, but plans to deploy around 50,000 Macbooks by the end of the year. That, according to the memo, would make IBM the biggest “Mac shop” around, and the company said it’s sharing what it learns through the new deployment with Apple as Apple assists through its device enrollment program.

Remember “IBM-compatible”? Me neither.

(Via Jeff Faria.)

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Packets gone awry

The cable company has been pushing me to dump my old DOCSIS 2.0 modem, and by “pushing” I mean “opening a window in the goddamn browser.” Okay, fine. But I’m not buying theirs: I’ll find one — on their approved list, of course — and go through whatever digital equivalent of the Bataan Death March it takes to get it installed.

Now “installed,” in the hardware sense, took all of two minutes Wednesday evening. Getting the company to talk to it took twenty more, and getting it to talk to them took half an hour. Not all of this time was eaten up by the robovoice, either: I got it to hand me off to an actual person fairly early in the proceedings. But for some reason, it took several attempts to get everything changed over from old box to new. Speed difference is about 30 percent; it’s noticeable, but not eye-poppingly so.

Then Thursday it failed to respond at the initial bootup, but came around after a reset. More annoying was the “This site is blocked” screen at OpenDNS, on such anodyne sites as Bing. Something about filtering in use, or some such foolishness. This was easier to deal with: delete their IP addresses from the router and reboot. (In this household, I do the damn filtering.)

If things become sporadic over the weekend, you may presume that I’m being paid back for my wrath.

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Two for Column B

Today, a tab is an open page on a browser. It wasn’t always so:

Does anyone else remember when tabs used to be arbitrary? Back in the good old days, back when we had typewriters, tabs were set individually. There was no automatic every-so-many-spaces tab setting. If you wanted a tab at the 4th position, you spaced over 4 spaces and pressed the tab set key. If you wanted a tab at the 47 position, you spaced over 43 more spaces and pressed the tab set key. Now the first time you press the tab key you go to column 4, and the second time you press it you go all the way to column 47, which means the carriage picks up some speed on the way and arrives with a typewriter shaking thump. Which is how God intended for you to arrive at column 47.

My first typewriter, a Royal Safari rebadged as a Singer, didn’t even use the word “tab”: there were two rectangular buttons on the backsplash above the keyboard, labeled “COLUMN CLEAR” and “COLUMN SET,” though they were tabs in everything but name.

Now that I think about it, I don’t believe I’ve ever even set a tab on my current typewriter (one of those Brother electronics). Then again, it gets used mostly for filling out forms and such.

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