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Reviews, Technology

The Roost Laptop Stand and an iPad Pro at CES

Last year, I supported the Roost Laptop Stand on Kickstarter. The Roost is a portable, height-adjustable stand for laptops. At home, I use a Rain Design mStand with my MacBook Pro. It’s a nice stand, but it does not travel well. The Roost appealed to me because it was lightweight, foldable, and could adjust its height, features the aluminum mStand lacks.

I’ve been at CES 2016 the entire week, and I had the opportunity to walk the showroom floor on opening day. There is a large section, sponsored by iLounge, devoted to mobile gadgets and accessories. When I turned the corner at the end of the exhibit hall, I immediately saw and recognized the Roost and its inventor, James Olander. I introduced myself as a backer and told him how eager I was to receive the Roost later this month. He graciously fulfilled my Kickstarter pledge right there on the show floor!

On this trip, I left the laptop at home and brought only my iPhone and iPad Pro. Using the iPad Pro as a drawing tablet has been a revelation, but I do notice increased neck and shoulder fatigue while illustrating because I am constantly hunched over. And, while it doesn’t replace the MacBook Pro for all my use cases, the iPad Pro can certainly function as a laptop replacement for many of my needs. If I paired it with an external Bluetooth keyboard (I am still waiting for the TextBlade to ship), the height of the iPad propped up with the Smart Cover) is still lower than I would like. The dynamic design of the Roost allows me to use the iPad Pro for both purposes, and my initial ergonomic impressions are positive.

For drawing, I place the iPad Pro, sans cover and with the volume buttons facing up, onto the Roost. When working in this position, I am more upright, and my neck and shoulders feel much better. Increased arm strain is a possibility, since my hand is now angled upwards instead of resting on the display and table.

To make the iPad Pro more suitable for use as a laptop replacement, I attach the iPad Pro’s Smart Cover and rest the folded triangle on top of the Roost’s two vertical arms.

It’s not as precarious as it sounds and might look, and I am able to tilt the Roost + iPad Pro side to side. See this animated GIF below:

The Roost has medical-grade silicone around the pivoting grips, which provide friction to keep a laptop from slipping. Two reminders when using it with the iPad Pro: first, don’t tilt the Roost towards you, as the iPad will fall out. Second, be sure not to place the Pro in the Roost such that the volume buttons get pressed accidentally in the right pivoting grip.

I’m happy that I ran into James and the Roost booth today at CES. I got my Roost early and was able to chat with the inventor. The product looks and operates exactly as it has been described. And, although it wasn’t designed with the iPad Pro in mind, it works well with it.

If you’re at CES, be sure to visit Roost at the Las Vegas Convention Center, North Hall, Booth 6635. James is sharing the space with Steve King at California Pacific Designs, who is demoing several well-designed Apple accessories. Steve showed me his BASE Apple Pencil charging stand, the FLOAT, an elegant shelf for the iMac or Cinema Displays, and a series of nice aluminum headphone (and Oculus Rift) stands. Check them out!

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Twelve months of waiting for the TextBlade in one calendar for 2016.
Comics, Technology

Waiting for TextBlade 2016 Calendar

One year ago, an early press release arrived in my inbox from a company called WayTools. It was poised to announce a revolutionary keyboard called the TextBlade. There was scant additional information on the keyboard, and it wasn’t until one month later on January 13, 2015, that the company unveiled its product website. The TextBlade is a multitouch keyboard that collapses into a pocketable form factor. The keyboard looked to be a great accessory for those that travel frequently who want the feel of a full-size keyboard in a tiny package.

textblade-product-shot

In both the original press releases, WayTools said that TextBlades were entering mass production and would be available in February. Nearly a year later, however, no production TextBlades have reached customers’ hands. Every month, I went to look for a status update at the end of the month, only to see the date for shipping pushed back another month. February became March, which became April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and now December. As of today, the company has not provided a status update on its blog or on its forum in weeks.

What’s the cause for the delays? There’s a litany of hardware and firmware problems on WayTool’s self-described punch list, ranging from the molds for the keycaps being too stiff, over-the-air firmware update bugs, and the occasional (and hard to reproduce) key repeating phenomenon. On WayTool’s forum, two camps have formed, one continuing to encourage WayTools to release a (near) perfect product, and another that just wants the company to ship the d*mn keyboard already. The latter group is also disappointed that WayTools charged their credit cards on order, even though no product has shipped for months. There are examples of people who complained loudly, only to have WayTools cancel their orders for them. In my opinion, customer service at WayTools — at least on the forum — has been especially lacking in tact and manners.

I’ve taken my Logitech K760 Solar Powered Keyboard with me on trips before and wished for something more portable. The TextBlade looked like an intriguing solution, and I was happy to give them $100 for the keyboard. As the year anniversary of the product’s announcement comes up in less than a month, I find my fingers hovering over the cancellation/refund button. What has kept me from cancelling thus far is that I was one of the first people to pony up money for the TextBlade. WayTools has said the earliest orders would get a “substantial” gift. But, I have to draw a line in the sand at some point. So, if WayTools doesn’t ship the TextBlade by the middle of January, I’m out.

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In the meantime, I drew the following illustrations using my new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. This 2016 Calendar take a sometimes humorous, sometimes sad look at the tardiness of the TextBlade product. Which one is your favorite? Tell me by leaving a comment below!

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Comics, Technology

Illustration of the Day – Iron Man

Today’s illustration features Iron Man protecting a child from an unseen threat. Two cars, one overturned, are damaged in the street behind Iron Man. 

Drawn with an Apple Pencil and an iPad Pro using Savage Interactive’s Procreate. I found a nice tip in Procreate’s settings where you can configure different tools to use with your fingers and the Apple Pencil.

  

For those who lament the fact that the Pencil doesn’t feature an eraser, you can configure your finger to be the eraser in Procreate. Since the palm rejection is very good, there will be few times when you will erase things accidentally. Personally, I am fine tapping the erase tool manually so I have set my finger to do gestures only. This way, only the Apple Pencil will draw within Procreate. 

Here is the video showing each step of the drawing’s creation:

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Apple, Comics, Journal, Musings, Technology

The Apple Pencil has Reignited my Love of Drawing

The Spider-Man drawing above was created entirely on the iPad Pro using Procreate and the Apple Pencil. After many years, my love of drawing has been reignited and transported to the digital age.

Friends of mine from childhood, high school and college remember me as someone who loved to draw. Armed with reams of continuous pin fed dot matrix computer paper from my father’s workplace, my elementary school friends and I would draw battleships and castles. Our fortresses featured various dungeons, moats and parapets to defend the inhabitants from the invading hordes. Our vessels would have multiple 16-inch cannons, missile launchers, and enough anti-aircraft, anti-missile, and anti-submarine weaponry to repel any assault on our naval fleet. As I entered middle and high school, I began reading comic books and drawing Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Batman in my sketchbooks.

Yet, as much as I loved computers, I never took a liking to drawing digitally. Tools like Illustrator still confound me to this day for anything but the most simplistic projects. I remember buying one of the first Wacon Intuos tablets, but I could never get used to the experience of looking at the screen while drawing on the tablet. It felt unnatural and I yearned for that 1:1 experience. I realize that many people have no problem with this approach, but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve tried numerous styluses, both dumb ones and those with Bluetooth for my iPhone and iPad, but none could replicate the feeling of drawing on paper.

Today, Wacom has its Cintiq line, Samsung has the Galaxy Note 5 which features a halfway decent stylus in the S-Pen (though the screen is too small for the type of drawing I would like to do) and Microsoft has Surface tablets which come with high-precision styluses. As a longtime Apple user, however, I could not bear myself to switch platforms.

With all that said, one can imagine my excitement with the announcement of the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. The videos depicting the Pencil in action were impressive, and I waited with great anticipation at midnight of launch day to order the Pro and Pencil. While I was able to pick up my iPad Pro on day one, my Pencil was backordered for three to four additional weeks. In some ways, this was good, because it gave me the chance to become more familiar with the differences in the iPad Pro compared with my other iPads. It features the best software keyboard that I have used to date, one that I can conceivably use for typing long form text and editing HTML documents.

I didn’t buy the iPad Pro for typing; I bought it to draw! So last week, I began calling Apple Retail stores around the peninsula, asking if they had any Pencils in stock. I was initially told that all Pencils were backordered, and that they wouldn’t be arriving for weeks. Then, I read reports that small batches were indeed arriving at retail stores, including the one nearest to my house. I went to that store on the morning of the 19th. The specialist informed me that while none were in stock at the moment, more were coming later in the day. So, back home I went and waited until after lunch. As I entered the Apple Store, my eyes went directly to the shelf  where the Pencils should have been. My heart sank when I saw an empty shelf. Fortunately, my prayers were answered; they had 10 more in the back!

Up until now, I have been using an Adonit Jot Touch Bluetooth Stylus1 and Procreate on an original iPad mini for my digital illustrations. Shown above is a page from a children’s book that I am making for my son. While the Jot Touch was certainly better than using my fingers, I have not been entirely satisfied with it. The lag, the weird plastic disc at the tip, and the buttons that I kept pressing by accident were annoying. The lack of good palm rejection in all of the iOS apps I’ve tried to date made drawing an awkward experience.

The Apple Pencil resolves all of these problems to my satisfaction. It has the least lag or latency of any stylus I’ve ever used due to the high sampling rate between the Pencil’s movements on the iPad Pro’s display. The tip of the Pencil is small and precise; where I place it is where the digital ink appears. I know Wacon tablet users love their buttons, but I like the fact that there are no buttons on the Apple Pencil; there’s nothing to accidentally press. Finally, palm rejection is extremely good across several applications like Paper, Procreate, and Notes. I am so glad to be able to place the side of my hand right on the screen without worrying that a big splotch would appear! And while there remain times when I see a stray ink mark, it happens so infrequently that it’s not a problem for me.

Procreate from Savage Interactive is an excellent painting application that offers multiple layer support, perspective tools, dozens of pre-set brushes, and an easy-to-use interface. It also records everything you do in the app, making it easy to see how I went from a blank canvas to the finished Spider-Man drawing.

It’s only been a few days, but to say that I am satisfied with the Apple Pencil is an understatement. For artists like me who never got accustomed to drawing on graphics tablets like the Wacom Intuos, didn’t want to plunk down the cash for a Cintiq, nor felt the need to switch platforms, the Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro is a game changer. And the great thing is that this technology is only going to get better. I’d welcome using the Apple Pencil on a smaller iPad for those times when I want a more portable drawing system. I’d also like to see better iCloud support in Procreate so that I can easily switch between art projects on all of my devices. I fully expect to do much more drawing in the future, now that the technology has matched my expectations.

Lastly, I pulled the old Apple Bluetooth headset dock to function as a charging stand for the Apple Pencil. I connected a 30-pin to Lightning adapter to the Pencil’s female-to-female Lightning adapter to complete the system. The port for the headset is magnetized, so the Pencil’s cap won’t roll off the table.

Here are some more articles and reviews of the Apple Pencil that are worth reading:


1 I originally wrote that I had a Jot Pro, but it’s really a Jot Touch. Mine is an older version of the one Adonit sells today, and it features a plastic disc instead of a normal looking plastic nib at the pen’s tip.

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Using the iPad Pro software keyboard is remarkably  fast and accurate, as long as you can master the Shift key.
Apple, Technology

Thoughts on the iPad Pro’s Software Keyboard

A week into the release of the iPad Pro, much has been written about its use as a laptop replacement. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said that he travels with just an iPad Pro and an iPhone. Day one iPad Pro reviewers were given two hardware keyboards to evaluate: the Apple Smart Keyboard and the Logitech Create. The media was generally positive towards the feel of the two keyboards, with most preferring the Create’s plastic keys over the Smart Keyboard’s fabric keys. They were less impressed by the extra bulk the keyboards added and the incomplete integration of external keyboards in iOS 9. For instance, there is a keyboard shortcut to initiate a Spotlight search, but there is no way (yet) to select one of the search results. As a result, one still needs to reach up and touch the screen frequently, and this can get tiring over time. When paired with the Smart Keyboard or the Create, the iPad Pro becomes larger and heavier than the 12-inch MacBook with Retina Display or the 11-inch MacBook Air it aspires to replace in the eyes of some users.

Less emphasis has been given to the iPad Pro’s software keyboard in the reviews, which is a shame because I think it’s the best software keyboard implementation I’ve used yet. Thanks to the large 12.9″ display, the Pro’s virtual keyboard is almost the same size as Apple’s Wireless Keyboard. The width of the keyboard is almost a perfect match, and the height of the soft keys is a few millimeters shorter than the physical keys.

The iPad Pro's software keyboard, shown here next to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, is nearly full-sized.

The iPad Pro’s software keyboard, shown here next to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, is nearly full-sized.

The keyboard layout is nearly the same as the physical keyboard shown above. Instead of the Fn, Control, Option and Command keys, we have the Keyboard Layout, Alternate Key, and Dictation buttons. Also missing is the Esc key and the various function keys adorning the top row of the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The Pro’s soft keyboard even features a tab and caps lock key. It is worth noting that the number and delete keys are half the height of the alpha keys; they do take some time getting used to, as you have to be careful not to accidentally hit the Undo, Redo, Paste, Predictive suggestions or Editing buttons above them.

All this makes typing on the iPad Pro familiar and satisfying compared with the software keyboards on previous iPads. And, with a few tweaks, I was able to make the Pro’s soft keyboard function nearly identically to a physical QWERTY keyboard.

Inputing HTML on the iPad Pro

Anyone who has ever tried inputting HTML1 on iOS devices knows how maddening and time-consuming that task can be. For instance, entering the left angled bracket character takes three taps on the iOS software keyboard: 123 button, #+= button, and the < key. Editing a blog post in WordPress through Mobile Safari is an exercise in patience and not for the faint of heart2. And, while there are apps that add HTML formatting keys above the standard software keyboard (i.e. Panic’s Coda), their keyboards normally don’t transfer to other applications3.

Two frustrating things when inputting HTML, JavaScript, PHP, or any non-English terms are Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct. Both of these features are great when you’re typing things like emails, texts, and Facebook updates, but all bets are off if you want to write code.

Since the iPad Pro’s software keyboard looks like a real keyboard, how about configuring it as close as possible to a real keyboard? Turning off the Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correction in Settings > General > Keyboards does exactly that.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Capitalization to make your iPad Pro's keyboard work more like a physical keyboard.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Capitalization to make your iPad Pro’s keyboard work more like a physical keyboard.

Check out the following 2-minute video that shows entering some basic HTML in the iPad Pro’s Notes app, with and without Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct.

  • Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct ON: 1 minute and 20 seconds
  • Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct OFF: 30 seconds

That’s nearly three times faster, with far fewer finger gymnastics and headaches. I’ll take it!

Don’t get me wrong, both Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct are great in most cases. Being able to turn these off and use the software keyboard like a regular keyboard, however, means I won’t dread using the iPad to make changes to webpages or to type longer passages of text. And, it lessens the need to have a physical keyboard with you in order to effectively use the iPad Pro. I do wish that long-pressing on the keyboard layout button would display additional options to toggle Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct. Switch modes from the keyboard is way faster than going into Settings > General > Keyboard to change the settings.

Wish there were settings to toggle Auto-Correction and Auto-Capitalization here.

Wish there were settings to toggle Auto-Correction and Auto-Capitalization here.

Update December 1, 2015: One can tell Siri to, “Open Keyboard Preferences” to quickly go to the settings page. From there, it’s a quick tap or two to turn off Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct for those times when you want to use the iPad Pro’s keyboard like a regular keyboard.

Swipe Up Tip

Update: November 19, 2015: On previous iPad devices, one could swipe up on two characters on the software keyboard, the period and comma keys to output the quote and double quote characters. On the iPad Pro, this feature has been extended to all of the number and symbol keys. Swiping up from the one key will output exclamation point and swiping up on semi-colon key will output the colon character. This makes even faster to input alternate characters since one doesn’t have to press (and/or hold) the shift key.

One can also press and hold on the keys to display alternate letters, but I find swiping up to be faster in practice. Pressing and holding is required for certain alpha keys since they feature more  alternate letters.

Ergonomics Revisited

On the flipside, I recognize that typing on the iPad Pro’s keyboard in slate orientation with the Smart Cover comes with some downsides in the ergonomics department. In this setup, my neck is angled down and my back is hunched over the iPad. Prolonged typing sessions like these will make those muscles very uncomfortable.

Thus, is the best way to use an iPad Pro at the desk similar to what we do today with laptops? Hook up the iPad Pro to an external display or elevate the iPad Pro so it’s more in line with our eyes? In the first scenario, one could touch type on the iPad Pro’s while looking at the external display, looking down only to tap or swipe. Alternatively, one could use an external Bluetooth keyboard while looking at the elevated iPad or the monitor.

These two scenarios are illustrated below with the iPad Pro’s screen mirrored on an Apple Thunderbolt Display. How this is possible, one might ask, given that the iPad doesn’t have a Lightning-to-Thunderbolt adapter. It turns out that one can use Quicktime Player’s Movie Recording feature to mirror an iOS device connected via a regular USB-to-Lightning cable.

Display your iPad screen on your Mac with QuickTime Player.

Display your iPad screen on your Mac with QuickTime Player.


Use Quicktime Player's Movie Recording feature to mirror your iPad Pro's screen onto your Mac.

Use Quicktime Player’s Movie Recording feature to mirror your iPad Pro’s screen onto your Mac.


Using an external keyboard with the iPad Pro connected to my Apple Thunderbolt Display.

Using an external keyboard with the iPad Pro connected to my Apple Thunderbolt Display.

One can also use OS X El Capitan’s Split Screen feature to have both iOS and OS X operating side-by-side in fullscreen mode! I admit to some confusion when using this setup; I half expected the cursor on the iPad to move when I used the mouse to click in the iOS window on my Mac! Microsoft would beg to differ with its Windows 10 operating system and device lineup, but I agree with Cook that in the case of OS X and iOS, the two operating systems shouldn’t be merged into one.

Who says a Mac and an iPad can't share the same screen?

Who says a Mac and an iPad can’t share the same screen?

Future Improvements

For me, an external keyboard has always been faster at inputting data than the iPad’s software keyboard. The iPad Pro’s, however, comes closest to emulating a physical keyboard. If Apple adds the Taptic Engine and 3D Touch hardware to the iPad Pro, the software keyboard could get even better. One could imagine being able to tune the amount of force needed to signal a keypress. I’d imagine it would be a power hog, so maybe it would only work when plugged into the mains. And, it’s at least one or two generations away, but I am excited about the prospects!

27-inch iPad Ultra Pro?

I’ll end this article on a fun note. Here’s a photo of my iPad Pro’s home screen displayed on my 27-inch Thunderbolt Display in fullscreen mode. Can you imagine this is what a 27-inch iPad Ultra Pro might look like?

No, Apple is not planning to create a 27-inch iPad Pro, but we can see what it would be like!

No, Apple is not planning to create a 27-inch iPad Pro, but we can see what it would be like!


1 Old habits die hard. I’m not ashamed to admit that I normally eschew the visual, WYSIWYG editors and prefer to edit webpages in HTML.

2 The WordPress app hasn’t been optimized for the iPad Pro’s software keyboard. The app works better for stock WordPress sites, but is not optimal for those who run heavily customized WordPress installations.

3 Is there a Custom Keyboard for HTML editing on iOS? A quick search on the iOS App Store didn’t reveal much.

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Glowforge 3D Laser Printer
Technology

Glowforge 3D Laser Printer Pre-ordered

Came across this intriguing 3D Laser Printer from Glowforge. It can cut a piece of wood, leather, acrylic, fabric, cardboard and paper up to a quarter-inch thick. It can engrave on metal like the back of an iPhone or MacBook laptop. I have been working on some craft ideas lately, and the Glowforge might be just the thing that can turn my crude prototypes into reality.

The company is having a 50% pre-order discount for the next twenty days. The printer is not inexpensive — the discounted prices range from $2000 to $4000 — but I would imagine making the things it can create by hand or via outsourcing would cost much more. Use the referral code http://glowforge.com/referred/?kid=EevOCw to get $100 your own Glowforge; I’ll get $100 off mine as well.

Shipments are expected to start in December, 2015 to early 2016. They’ve already amassed $6 million dollars in pre-orders. The team behind the Glowforge seem more experienced when it comes to shipping products, so I’m hopeful that they will ship on-time.

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New LaserJet M252dw says goodbye to the old LaserJet 6MP
Technology

The HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw – Successor to the Venerable HP LaserJet 6MP Printer

I’m finally retiring the HP LaserJet 6MP printer that I’ve had since graduating from college and replacing it with an HP Color LaserJet M252dw. Released in October, 1996, LaserJet 6MP was designed to work best with Macintosh computers. It featured a Postscript compatibility, a LocalTalk port, two Parallel Ports, and an Infrared port.

One of the earliest photos I could find of the HP LaserJet 6MP that I have used for over 16 years. Yes, that's a Ricochet wireless modem attached to my PowerBook G3 laptop.

One of the earliest photos I could find of the HP LaserJet 6MP that I have used for over 16 years. Attached to my PowerBook G3 is a Ricochet wireless modem that allowed me to get on the Internet wirelessly in the late 90s.

Now a vestige from the days of computing long past, my 6MP was kept operational over the years even as those printing interfaces became obsolete. When the LocalTalk/AppleTalk port disappeared on later Macintosh computers, I bought a Farallon EtherMac iPrint Adapter to bridge the printer to my Ethernet network. When that stopped working, I connected a Parallel port-to-USB cable to my Airport Wi-Fi base station. Out of all the technology that I still use today, it’s by far the longest serving device I’ve had. How many tech gadgets or computers do you still use that are nearly two decades old?

I was able to connect my HP LaserJet 6MP to my network using a Parallel Port-to-USB cable.

I was able to connect my HP LaserJet 6MP to my network using a Parallel Port-to-USB cable.

As the years went by, the 6MP started printing documents, especially more complex PDFs — slower. It didn’t help that the printer only has 3 Megabytes of RAM! More recently, the toner cartridge was running low, and the paper rollers had developed a nasty habit of leaving black streak marks all over the printouts. It was time to start looking in earnest for a replacement to the venerable workhorse.

Last month, I bought an HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw Printer for my parents and was impressed with the ease of setup and automatic duplex features of this multi-function printer. Because I did not require the M277dw’s scanner/copy/fax capabilities, I ordered the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw Printer — that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like the LaserJet 6MP — from Amazon. The printer supports color and duplex printing and comes with Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and AirPrint communication interfaces. In a case of three steps forward and one step back, the paper tray is measly at only 150 sheets and the multi-purpose tray only supports one sheet or a single envelope — compared to the 6MP’s 250 sheet capacity paper tray and 100 sheet or 10 envelope multi-purpose tray.

The LaserJet M252dw is connected to my network via Wi-Fi, so that's one less cable to worry about.

The LaserJet M252dw is connected to my network via Wi-Fi, so that’s one less cable to worry about.

For the most part, I expect to be printing in black and white, but having the ability to print in color will come in handy from time to time and saves me from having to buy a color inkjet (I’ve been down that road before and won’t go there again). One thing that I’m not looking forward to is paying $400 for a set of four high-capacity toner cartridges (black, cyan, magenta and yellow). That’s nearly twice as much as the printer itself! So, I’m looking forward to the day when more affordable third-party toner cartridges are available. Finally, I don’t know if they make them like they used to, but I’m hoping to get at least five to ten years out of this printer. We’ll see!

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