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Dec 30, 2011

Too Passive Aggressive? My IT FAQ's Sign

I haven't been in the IT business as long as some of you, but I have been in it long enough to know that users like to do "drive by" walk-up support with their issues. Some people are worse at it than others, and what those people that are guilty of the "drive by" fail to realize is that they are cutting in line in front of people who actually follow the rules and use the proper channels of getting IT support.

Almost every single "drive by" abuser asks the same thing with their walk-up. "Do I need to submit a ticket for this?" or "Do you want me to create a ticket for this?". Guess what Jack? The answer is, and always will be YES!

I think the big misconception is that if they do a walk-up they will get their support faster. If there is a true emergency, this might be true, but if it's a simple Outlook issue, then that isn't the case. These "drive-by" gangstas don't realize that it actually behooves them to submit a ticket. Why? Because if an IT person has a ticket in their queue they have to close it. It's a part of their DNA that keeps their mind thinking about the all powerful queue at all times. If their ticket queue is empty, they can go back to surfing Facebook and Youtube. If their queue is full, they must now work to close tickets to get back to Facebook and Youtube. It's simple really.

If one just walks up and tells the IT guy their issue, chances are the IT guy who is thinking about their queue, Facebook and Youtube will forget their request, and the "drive-by" gangsta's computer problem will ultimately get forgotten, and go unsolved. Well at my work, I came up with a solution for these "drive-by" gangstas so they can remember to submit a Help Desk ticket to ensure they get the support they need. I decided to put up a sign featuring IT's frequently asked questions or FAQ's. Here is a picture of it I took with my smart phone:

IT FAQ

What do you think? Helpful? Too passive aggressive? What's your take on walk-up support? Let us know in the comments.

Troll Face

Dec 29, 2011

Free Remote Support Extension for Chrome

A while back I blogged about a free remote support program called ShowMyPC that allows you to support a user remotely by having you both download and run their program that opened a VNC session so you can control the other user's desktop. It was kind of clunky, just like regular VNC, but it worked well enough. I supported many remote users with ShowMyPC.

Being able to remotely control a user's computer makes life way easier for an IT person. With remote support tools, you no longer have to try to explain to a user where the Start button is located. You can just remote in, and fix their issue without hastle, and without having to dumb anything down so they can understand you easier.

I found a new extension for Chrome that works a lot like ShowMyPC, except it's built into your Chrome browser, and works cross platform. The only requirement is that both computers need to have Chrome. The extension is called Chrome Remote Desktop BETA. From the Chrome store:

Chrome Remote Desktop BETA is the first installment on a capability allowing users to remotely access another computer through the Chrome browser or a Chromebook.

The goal of this beta release is to demonstrate the core Chrome Remoting technology and get feedback from users. This version enables users to share with or get access to another computer by providing a one-time authentication code. Access is given only to the specific person the user identifies for one time only, and the sharing session is fully secured. One potential use of this version is the remote IT helpdesk case. The helpdesk can use the Chrome Remote Desktop BETA to help another user, while conversely a user can receive help by setting up a sharing session without leaving their desk. Additional use cases such as being able to access your own computer remotely are coming soon.

Chrome Remote Desktop BETA is fully cross-platform, so you can connect any two computers that have a Chrome browser, including Windows, Linux, Mac and Chromebooks.

Here are some screen shots:

 

I like how this tool is cross-platformed. At my company we have a few Mac users, so it's nice to have a tool where we can remote in with to fix their issues. In reality, I don't like this any better than other tools like Teamviewer or ShowMyPC, but it is nice to have yet another tool in the bag to remotely support users.

Dec 28, 2011

Awesome Simple Free Embedded FLV Flash Player

I began the search the other day for a good embedded flash player that I could use to play my own custom FLV files over on Tech Chop. Normally I would just embed my video from Youtube, but in my latest episode I got a new sponsor that is paying per download. Awesome! The only problem with that is my videos from sites like Youtube, Blip.tv, Viddler etc. aren't getting counted. No count, no pay!

In order for my video's to be counted, I have to be able to add a custom download tracker redirect from my partners at the Tech Podcast Network. That also means that I have to use a custom player where I can use a custom download URL for my video. I tried a few others like JW Player, and Flowplayer, but I didn't like them too much. Plus they had so many damned files you had to host somewhere, and configuration was just more complicated than it needed to be.

I found one out of Russia that is way easier to use, and you only need to host ONE file! It's called GDD FLV Player. Here are the features from their page:

  • Fully customized control panel
  • Publish your FLV or mp4 video to website with a few clicks
  • Add video to any of your Flash projects in seconds
  • Play commercials or any custom intro
  • Use your own logo in player
  • Use any size you want
  • No tricks, no scams, it is totally free
  • No special programming skills required

True, I still won't get download credit for sites like Youtube, but if you watch my latest Tech Chop here on Bauer-Power, on TechChop.com or anywhere else I guest blog, I can now use my custom player to make sure I get the credit.

Know of any other embedable media players that eare easy to use? How about some you don't have to host yourself? Let us know what you use in the comments!

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Dec 27, 2011

Eaton 5PX R/T Review

Last week over on Tech Chop I posted an early episode. I normally would have waited to post it until January but Technorati Media, the ones who hooked me up with the Eaton 5PX review model, requested that I publish my episode a little sooner. They were working on behalf of Eaton to find small blogs like mine to do a review. When I filled out the questionaire to let them know I was interested, I mentioned that I also do a monthly video show on Tech Chop, and that is what peaked Eaton's interest.

Any way, I finally got the episode done, and posted by the 20th. At the time of this writing, I haven't heard back on if the guys at Eaton liked it or not, but it's done. Even though they gave me the Eaton 5PX to review and keep, I still wanted to make sure I gave an honest review of the product. Long story short, it's pretty awesome for a UPS unit. I mean, you would be hard pressed to find a fancier piece of equipment that provides battery backup for your servers.

Anyway, here is the video review from Tech Chop:

If you have any questions about the 5PX that you didn't feel I covered in the video, hit me up in the comments.

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Dec 26, 2011

Join The Fight Against Phishing

The Internet is a wonderful thing. When I was a kid my dad use to tell me that anything I wanted to know can be found in a book. While this still holds true, I find that anything I want to know can be found quicker on the Internet.

Even though the Internet is a great resource for improving one's knowledge about pretty much everything, it can also be a dangerous place for those that are not very computer savvy. Hell, even really savvy computer people can sometimes fall victim to cyber crime. One of the biggest, and easiest methods of cyber crime is Phishing.

For those of you living under a rock, according to Wikipedia:

Phishing is a way of attempting to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Communications purporting to be from popular social web sites, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators are commonly used to lure the unsuspecting public. Phishing is typically carried out by e-mail spoofing or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one. Phishing is an example of social engineering techniques used to deceive users, and exploits the poor usability of current web security technologies. Attempts to deal with the growing number of reported phishing incidents include legislation, user training, public awareness, and technical security measures.

Basically an attacker will create a web page that looks almost just like a real website for a bank, or credit card company and lure you in to visit the fake page by sending you an email or something. A lot of time the emails look pretty real, and they will say something like they need to verify your account info, click the link and enter your account information. Bam! Now they have your bank information, credit card information, etc.

I found a site called the PhishTank that allows you to report known Phishing sites, and they put these sites into a database. Software vendors can then use their API to develop software to protect you from going to known phishing sites. Pretty cool huh? It's like a Spam Haus for Phishing!

From their page:

PhishTank is a collaborative clearing house for data and information about phishing on the Internet. Also, PhishTank provides an open API for developers and researchers to integrate anti-phishing data into their applications at no charge.

Here is a screen shot of a PayPal phishing page I found in the PhishTank:

Notice that not only the URL has nothing to do with PayPal really, but it is also not encrypted with SSL. Here is a screen shot of the real PayPal site, and you will notice that not only is their URL correct (www.paypal.com) but it also has an extended validation SSL certificate.

 

Even though to me, and you most likely, the above example site seems like it would be easy to spot by the fake address, the truth is most users don't pay enough attention. The site in the above example looks legit enough, so the user might not think twice about entering in their information. That's where a service like PhishTank shines! Companies can tie into their API, and automatically protect users like your Grandma from Phishing attacks. They can't do it alone though, they need your help.

The next time someone at your company sends you a suspicious email and asks if you think it's Phishing, check it out. If it is a Phishing site, report it to the PhishTank and help them, help the community. Join the fight, and together we'll put the phish back in the tank!

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Dec 23, 2011

The First Google Storage Was Built With Legos

It's been a few months since I wrote about my redundant storage solution that I dubbed the Bauer-Power SAN. If you didn't read that post, I give you instructions on how I made a 20TB SAN using Ubuntu, IET, ZFS, and GlusterFS. Without tooting my own horn, I thought that solution was pretty bad ass. That is until I saw the following.

Now, what we have here is not 20TB of storage. In fact, it's way less than that. It's only 40GB of storage made up of 10 4GB hard drives. It's not the size of the storage that makes it cool though. It's not even the fact that it's made with friggin' Legos (Although that is on a whole other level of bad-assness)! The cool thing about it is this is the original back end storage for Google. As in, rules the entire world, and has information on everybody Google.

If you have a hard time reading the picture, it says this about the Lego cabinet built in 1996:

In 1996 Larry Page and Sergey Brin, then PhD students in Standford CSD, working on the Digital Library Project, needed a large amount of diskspace to test their Pagerank algorythm on actual world-wide-web data. At that time 4 GigaByte hard disk were the largest available, so they assembed 10 of these drives into a low cost cabinet.

Check it out:

Google Lego Cabinet

 

Google Lego Cabinet

Google Lego Cabinet

Google Lego Cabinet

To me it's absolutely amazing that they went from 40GB of storage using Legos to huge warehouses full of conex containers filled with servers. If you haven't seen what their storage and server facilities look like now, here is a video from Youtube of their container data center:

What do you think of the Lego storage server? Awesome? Meh? Let me know in the comments! Oh, and don't forget to pick up your "Have you tried Googling it?" t-shirt from Bauer-Power Gear!

Have you tried googling it t-shirt

[Via Stanford Infolab]

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Dec 22, 2011

Am I The Only One Who Hates The New Google Analytics?

If you are a Google Analytics user, you no doubt have noticed how Google has gone and revamped the way you experience this once awesome free tool. As soon as you log in now you are greeted with a list of your websites that you have to then drill down to click on them to get to the dashboard of said site. Once in there your new dashboard defaults with useless demographic information.

I'm sorry Google, but I prefer the old way. The stuff I want to see when I go into Google Analytics is where my traffic is coming from, and what pages people are hitting. I don't particularly care about what language they speak. For one thing, I only speak English, so my site is going to be written in English no matter what. I do place translate buttons on the right for International folks, but I just don't have the time, not the talent to blog in more than one language.

Now I know I can drill down to traffic sources, and it now shows in sub-categories like Direct, Referrals and Search. The information that shows up from there sucks! Sure it shows you stuff like websites where your traffic is referred from, and keywords, but everything is generalized. If I get a referal from The Ubuntu Forums, I can no longer see what thread referred me. All I see is that people came from somewhere in that site. Same with the search results. I can see lists of keywords people used but I don't see how to link those keywords back to the pages people landed on for those keywords. 

google analytics old version

I fully realize that you can click on the link on the top right corner to switch back to the "Old Version" but what scares me is that eventually that link is going to go away. I mean that is how all of these things work right? Facebook decides to make a heap of changes, and everyone bitches about it, but they don't roll those changes back do they? I have yet to see a Google make a change that they have rolled back either.

How to you feel about the new Google Analytics? Like it? Hate it? I want to know if I'm the only one here! Am I all alone in this? In the mean time, if you hate it like me make sure you tell Google! At the bottom of Google Analytics, there is a "Send Feedback" link. Please use it, and let them know how you feel!

Send Google Feedback

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Dec 21, 2011

Free Open Source Quote and Invoice Software

In the IT world we deal with a lot of different VARs (Value Added Resellers) to provide us with quotes for purchasing hardware and software. A couple of my vendors use an online quote and invoice management service called Autotask. It's pretty handy, when I ask for a quote on a product, they load it into Autotask and it emails me a link that is good for 30 days or something. If I decide to buy, they can turn around and use that same quote to invoice me, and provide me with a receipt.

Now I'm not sure how much Autotask runs, but I'm sure it isn't cheap. At the beginning of the month I wrote a post on why new business start-ups should use open source instead of paying for expensive software and services like Autotask. I mentioned a few types of products one can find an open source alternative for, and I found another one to add to the list. It's an open source Invoice, and quote management system called Simple Invoices.

From their page:
Simple Invoices is a free, open source, web based invoicing system that you can install on your server/pc or have hosted by one of our services providers.
Why should I use Simple Invoices?
  • Absolutely free, no monthly subscription
  • Browser based application you can use from anywhere
  • It's open source, developed by the community and it's yours
  • Easily track your finances, send invoices as PDF's and hundreds of other great features
If you don't have a web server you can run the software on, they also have a simple desktop application that runs on Windows that you can use instead. It's a self running executable so there is nothing to install. In fact, you can run it off a USB if you wanted to! Here are a couple of screen shots:


If you want to try out Simple Invoices without installing it, they have a web-based demo setup for you to try out here: (Simple Invoices Demo)

Are you a Simple Invoices user? Like it? Dislike it? Do you use Autotask? Can you give us an idea on how much it costs? Think you will switch up now you know about this free alternative? Let us know in the comments!

Dec 20, 2011

Why You Can't Name a Folder ‘CON’ in Windows

There is an interesting thing I learned today while browsing the Internet. I found out that if you create a folder in Windows, right click it and try to rename it to CON it won't work. In fact, in Windows 7 if you try you get an error message that says "The Specified Device Name is Invalid." Some reports say that it will just rename it to "New Folder." I guess it depends on what version of Windows it's running on.

Go ahead, and try it. I'll give you a minute...

Right, so you see what I'm talking about huh? I thought I would do a Google search to see why that happens. Some people are claiming that even Bill Gates himself doesn't know why! That may or may not be true, but it is documented as to why you can't do it. In fact, I easily found out why on Wikipedia.

The reason is because Con is one of a few device files or keywords Windows uses to allow access to certain ports and devices. Here is a list from Wikipedia of all the Device File words.

Device keyword

Use as input

Use as output

CON Receives typed data until ^Z (Ctrl-Z) is pressed. Prints data to the console.
PRN N/A Prints text to the printer.
AUX Reads data from an auxiliary device, usually a serial port Sends data to an auxiliary device, usually a serial port.
NUL Returns null or no data. Discards received data.
CLOCK$ Returns system real-time clock. N/A
LPT1 (also 2-9) Reads data from the selected parallel port Sends data to the selected parallel port
COM1 (also 2-9) Reads data from the selected serial port Sends data to the selected serial port

So yes, although it is interesting that this happens, there is a reason for it. The next time a user comes to you asking why they can’t rename a folder to ‘Con’ you can send them this article.

Know of any other weird hidden quirks like this in Windows? Let us know in the comments.

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Dec 19, 2011

Free Your iPod With SharePod

I used to work at a company where one of the senior systems engineers had a massive music collection saved in his iTunes Library. To protect the iTunes database he saved it on the company network share that was backed up to tape nightly. One of the biggest things that he was preparing for was the limit of iTunes instances one can use with their iPod. You know, because Apple is so DRM happy and proprietarily anal.

If my former colleague had heard of SharePod, he may have not needed to be so paranoid about his iTunes Library. That is because SharePod doesn't need iTunes, and will allow him to backup his music safely to a regular file folder that can be used anywhere! In fact, one can use this as an alternative to iTunes for managing their pictures and music on their iPod's and iPod Touch devices.

From their about page, here is a list of features:

  • Add & remove music and videos from your iPod
  • Add, remove and edit playlists
  • Add & remove album art
  • View and backup photos
  • Copy music, videos and playlists from your iPod to PC
  • Import music/videos into your iTunes library, including playlists and ratings
  • Tag editing
  • Drag n' drop to and from Explorer
  • Simple, clean interface
  • Quick to load and use with no unnessary complicated features
  • Support for iPhone and iTouch (Thanks to Nikias Bassen, Paul Sladen, Jonathan Beck, and Christophe Fergeau for making this possible)

They go on to say:

SharePod was designed from the start to be lightweight, quick and responsive, it has all (well hopefully most...!) of the features you need and none of the features you dont.

If you've been looking for a viable alternative to iTunes to manage your music lists on your iPod, then you may have found it. Know of any other similar software? Know of something better? Let us know in the  comments.

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Dec 16, 2011

Free Motion Detection Video Surveillance Software

Those who know me personally know that I'm a huge James Bond fan. One of the most memorable seens in a James Bond film for me comes from Dr. No where James is getting ready to leave his hotel room, but wants to know if someone breaks in. He does stuff like spreads some talcum powder on his brief case latches, and pulls out a single hair and places it over the crack in his closet doors. When he comes back there are finger prints in the talcum powder, and his hair on the closet door has been removed. Obviously someone was there.

Imagine it the Sean Connery Bond had access to today's technology. Too bad he doesn't, but you certainly do. Imagine you are on a business trip like 007 and you are getting ready to go out for a night of Baccarat, and wooing the ladies, and you want to know if someone has been in your room. All you need is your trusty laptop, a webcam and this really cool free software that will activate your webcam if it detects motion in the room.

Not only that the software can be configured to email you if it detects motion. That means that while you are yelling "banco" you can also check your email on your smart phone and know right away that someone is in your room looking for the "secret codes" or whatever it is you do.

The software is called TeboCam. Here are a couple of screen shots:

 

From Usman Javaid on Addictive Tips:

The usage [of TeboCam] is a bit complex but interface is quite self-explanatory. Diving deep into working mechanism, it actually looks for movements in focused window and on detecting a motion it will instantly send/upload the notification along with captured images to specified email and web page respectively. You also have an option for confining the focus further by drawing the focus window yourself. It also saves history of former events so you can access them easily. 

The best thing about this software is that unlike Bond's method above, not only do you know someone was in your room, but now you also have a picture of the person in your room. That means you know who it was, and you can track them down to exact your revenge... Or turn them over to the Police. Whatever...

Know of some other cool free security software like this? Is it something you think James Bond could use? Let us know about it in the comments!

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Dec 15, 2011

The Evolution of The Geek [Infographic]

Funny, but when I was growning up the term geek was not something one would label themself normally. It was a derogatory word that those who were classified as being popular would call those around them that did well academically. Hell, it was something you called a kid just for wearing glasses, or because his parents couldn't afford higher end clothes. It's funny now how things have changed. They have changed for the better in my opinion.

These days geeks rule supreme. People are embracing their quirky behavior that makes them a 'geek' and are proudly waving the geek flag, and wearing the geek label like it's a badge of honor. Geeks are finally mainstream even in the media with very popular TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, Chuck, and The IT Crowd. It all started somewhere though didn't it? Take a look at this infographic I found that illustrates the evolution of the modern day geek!

The Evolution of the Geek
[Via Flowtown]

 

Dec 14, 2011

Cheat at Sending Holiday Cards

I hear about it every year. From my co-workers, from Facebook and Twitter, and from my family members. One of the most difficult customs to do during the holiday season is sending out Christmas cards to all your friends and family. For many people, it's an annual tradition, and they are happy to do it. For others, it's an annual obligation. Not to mention that if someone sends you are card, you now feel like you have to send them a card, and your mailing list doubles.

A few years ago my wife's cousin Tess started sending us cards in the mail that she would order online and have it send directly to us from the printer. When I got the card I immediately thought it was a great idea! It totally takes the burden away of writing out hundreds of cards, and licking and stamping hundreds of envelopes. It's sort of like Amazon that way, where you can find a gift someone wants, have it giftwrapped and mailed directly to them just by clicking a few buttons!

The problem with Tess's site is it's one of those multi-level marketing programs that you have to enroll in just to use. What if you don't have any interest in selling cards to people? What if you just want to buy cards, have them printed and mailed for you? I found a site that will do it. Just design your card, enter in all your recipients, and check out. No selling required!

The site is called Cardvio. This is not a paid review either, it's just a little piece of online technology I thought I would share with you to help you get through the holidays easier. How does it work? From their page:

Follow these 4 Easy Stepsdad tied up for christmas by mary bauer

1. Select a card.
2. Personalize your card by adding photos, pictures, and text.
3. Address the card to your recipient(s).
4. Submit it for printing and mailing.

Your card is immediately queued for printing, and will be sent in the mail shipment early next morning.

This is genius if you ask me! Anything that saves me some time and work is totally worth it! Know of any other services like this? How do you feel about bulk card buying online? Awesome idea or what? Let us know in the comments.

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Dec 13, 2011

HP Makes WebOS Open Platform

You may still be ecstatic that you got a great deal on that TouchPad with an extra discount from HP coupons, but HP may be at a low point. Headlines around the nation are delivering the news: HP is planning to open-source its WebOS mobile platform. The announcement was made Friday by HP CEO Meg Whitman. For the past year, Whitman had tried to sell the software, acquired by Palm Inc. for approximately $1.2 billion, but no one expressed interest in WebOS. Now, in making WebOS an open-source platform, HP has allowed any individual or company to use or alter the software.

This means that WebOS can be put to use in other arenas. For example, theoretically speaking, HTC could step in and produce a new phone using WebOS software. Similarly, HP, or another company, could bring this software into a lightweight, battery-friendly tool for pursuing the web or checking emails.

So what are critics saying about this change? Mike Isaac of Wired.com states his opinion loud and clear: “[Whitman’s] message sounds rosy, but open-sourcing the platform is like putting a horse out to pasture. Instead of maintaining its proprietary hold on the private software code, the company is giving it away to the masses, a signal that HP will be ramping down platform development.” Ouch.

As for the fate of the HP WebOS teams (some 600 employees), Whitman claims that they will remain at HP. Needless to say, we’re a little skeptical. So was making WebOS an open platform a “great answer,” as Whitman put it, or the death of WebOS? You decide.

By Sean K.

Bio: Sean is a guest writer on technology, consumer electronics, and lifestyles.

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Dec 12, 2011

Paranoid Much? Spell Illuminati Backwards in Google

About a week ago my brother in Colorado posted something funny on my Facebook wall. He told me to go to Google and type in Illuminati backwards. For those of you that have a hard time writing words in reverse Illuminate backwards is Itanimulli. I think he posted it because I have been writing a lot of Facebook updates about freaky government stuff like SOPA and NDAA (Which by the way scare the crap out me!)

Most of you have probably seen the Da Vinci Code, so you probably already have at least heard of The Illuminati. Some of you haven’t though. So first let’s answer the question for you non-conspiracy theorist types. What is, or who is The Illuminati? According to Wikipedia:

The Illuminati is a name given to several groups, both real (historical) and fictitious. Historically the name refers to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment-era secret society founded on May 1, 1776. In more modern contexts the name refers to a purported conspiratorial organization which is alleged to mastermind events and control world affairs through governments and corporations to establish a New World Order. In this context the Illuminati are usually represented as a modern version or continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati.

Oooh, scary! A Secret society! A group of unknown, super powerful elite that control the puppet strings of the world. Many a paranoid conspiracy theorist talks about these guys a lot! So what happens if you look them up on Google with their name reversed? Why you get this:

itanimulli - Google Search - Google Chrome_2011-12-08_14-13-29

That’s right, the top search result for Itanimulli is the home page for the National Security Agency (NSA)! Coincidence? You decide!

Edit: According to a post that Bauer-Power reader @dantecl sent me from Arthur Goldwag's blog, the reason Google's top search result for Itanimulli is because a man named John Fenley bought itanimmuli.com and set it up as a 301 redirect to www.nsa.gov as a practical joke.



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