Microsoft issues emergency Windows patch to disable Intel’s buggy Spectre fix

If you’ve noticed any unexpected reboots or PC instability as a result of the recent Spectre patches, there’s a solution: Microsoft has issued an emergency Windows patch that rolls back the recent Spectre mitigations.

Confused? It’s a bit complicated. After the intial Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilites were disclosed, both Intel and Microsoft hustled out patches to mitigate the problem. Unfortunately, Intel’s latest microcode updates—and the BIOS updates from PC makers based upon them—were themselves buggy, causing instability, reboots, and data loss in some PCs.

Microsoft’s latest patch (KB4078130) allows people with affected systems to download the patch via the Microsoft Update Catalog, which disables the mitigations for the “Spectre variant 2.”

Note that the patch notes specifically state that you should run this patch “if you are running an impacted device” (emphasis ours). In other words, if your system is working normally, don’t bother downloading this patch. This is what Microsoft calls an “out of band” patch, and it doesn’t appear that it will be made available via Windows Update, either.

Why should you consider it? Intel has warned previously that the faulty patch can sometimes cause data loss and corruption, and Microsoft is saying the same: “Our own experience is that system instability can in some circumstances cause data loss or corruption,” the patch notes state.

There’s another wrinkle, though. As part of the patch, Microsoft is allowing users to edit the Windows registry to toggle the mitigations on or off. (Instructions are here.) It’s possible to toggle Microsoft’s patch off, and then, when Intel solves its own patching problem, re-enable it. That scenario is actually what Microsoft recommends—again, only if you’ve noticed system instability and want to take action against it.

Toggling the mitigations on and off is also a feature of the latest InSpectre utility.

What should you do? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But we can tell you what we’re doing: if a PC is working as expected, we’re leaving it patched and in place. If you’re backing up your data (to the cloud or an external drive) chances are your most crucial data will be saved in case your system goes down unexpectedly. Obviously, install Microsoft’s emergency Windows patch if you’re running into system issues. There’s no perfect solution—if you’re more paranoid than we are, feel free to deploy the patch even if your PC hasn’t hiccuped.

Good luck, and be sure to check out PCWorld’s guide on how to protect your PC against Meltdown and Spectre. Operating system updates are just one part of it.

As Bleeping Computer noted, system makers such as Dell and HP also advise rolling back their own BIOS patches to an earlier version, which they’re redeployed. It’s all horrendously confusing for consumers and IT organizations alike. Fortunately, at least, there haven’t been any public cases of these vulnerabilities being exploited, Microsoft says.

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Your iPhone Is About to Get a Bunch of New Features

Apple revealed Wednesday a plethora of new features and upgrades coming to the iPhone and iPad with the iOS 11.3 upgrade due out in the spring.

Most notably, Apple is adding setting allowing iPhone owners to disable a performance downgrade meant to prevent unexpected shutdowns in older iPhone models with aging batteries. The features comes after Apple was criticized for meddling with iPhone performance without customer consent; a pair of California residents even filed a class action lawsuit against the company over the issue. Apple has since apologized, lowering the price of iPhone battery replacements from $79 to $29. The ability to turn off this performance-altering feature will be found in the Battery section in the iPhone’s Settings menu.

Apple’s iOS 11.3 upgrade will also have a feature called Health Records, a one-stop-shop for iPhone owners to view their collective health data from participating medical providers. As its name implies, the app keeps track of a user’s health records so that they can see information like allergies, recent or upcoming procedures, medications, and lab results all in one place. Apple says this information is protected by encryption and requires a passcode to view.

Apple is making some improvements to its ARKit augmented reality platform as well, which it launched in the fall with iOS 11. The augmented reality software will now be able to recognize vertical surfaces like walls and doors, whereas it previously could only identify horizontal objects such as tables and floors. It will also be able to learn the position of two-dimensional objects hanging on a wall, like posters and signs, which Apple says developers could use to add interactive augmented reality elements to movie posters or museum exhibits.

iOS 11.3 will also bring changes to Messages, which will allow users to chat with businesses to schedule appointments, make purchases with Apple Pay, or ask other questions. This feature will be launching in beta in iOS 11.3 with support for companies like Hilton, Discover, Lowe’s, and Wells Fargo. Facebook has made a similar push with its Messenger app, particularly by adding a new feature that makes it easier for Messenger users to discover businesses that are active on Facebook’s messaging platform.

Other new features in iOS 11.3 include four new Animoji characters — a dragon, a bear, a skull, and a lion — and updates to Apple Music and Apple News.

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What’s the Difference Between Optical and Laser Mice?

A computer mouse translates the movement you make with the mouse over a surface into actions of the cursor on the computer screen. The original mechanical mouse has given way to optical mice and laser mice. What is the difference between them? For the average user, the answer is there isn’t much of a difference in how it will work for most purposes. It may come down to cost, as an optical mouse is usually less expensive than a laser mouse.

Illumination Source Is the Difference Between Optical and Laser Mice

Optical and laser mice differ by the types of technology they use to track movement. The optical mouse uses an LED light as an illumination source, while the laser mouse, as its moniker indicates, uses a laser for illumination. Both use CMOS sensors, a tiny, low-resolution video camera such as in our smartphones, to take photos of the surface it’s on and to use those to determine movement.

Higher DPI With Laser Mouse

Laser mice have a higher dpi, which means that they can track more dots per inch, which in turn means that they’re more sensitive. But while this may have been an issue in the past, both optical and laser mice are now able to hit high dpi marks, and your average user will never notice the difference. Gamers and graphic designers may still perceive one and have personal preferences for a device. Optical mice have a resolution around 3000 dpi, while laser mice have a resolution around 6000 dpi.

Surface Vs. Deeper Illumination

Meanwhile, optical mice mostly sense only the top of the surface they are on, such as a fabric mouse pad. But the laser light looks more deeply, so it is more likely to sense peaks and valleys in a surface, giving it a jittery movement at slow speeds. It’s picking up too much useless information.

Optical sensors have less than a one percent variation in tracking at different speeds, while laser mice can have five percent or more variation. An optical mouse works well on a mouse pad or any non-glossy surface. A laser mouse will work on any surface. If you plan to use the mouse on glossy surfaces, you may want a laser mouse.

The different performance of a laser mouse at different speeds is noted as acceleration. Your hand movement translates into a different distance of movement by the cursor if you move it at a slower or faster speed. It is the resolution error versus speed as the laser mouse picks up more noise or less noise in the image of the mousing surface at different speeds. This can be annoying for someone who is gaming or trying to draw graphics.

Which Mouse Should You Use?

If you are trying to decide which mouse to buy, an optical mouse is likely to be less expensive. A laser mouse might be preferred if you are going to use it on a variety of surfaces.

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An Explanation of Read and Write Speeds

Read/write speeds are a measure of performance on a storage device. Tests can be performed on all sorts of them, such as internal and external hard disk drives, solid-state drives, storage area networks and USB flash drives.

When checking the read speed, you’re determining how long it takes to open (read) something from the device. The write speed is the opposite – how long it takes to save (write) something to the device.

How to Test Read/Write Speeds

CrystalDiskMark is one free program for Windows that tests the read and write speed of internal and external drives. You can choose a custom size between 500 MB and 4 GB, to use random data or ones or zeros, as well as the drive to test and the number of passes that should be performed (more than one provides more realistic results).

ATTO Disk Benchmark and HD Tune are a couple others.

Read and write speeds are typically recorded with the letters “ps” at the end of the measurement. For example, a device that has a write speed of 32 MBps means that it can record 32 MB (megabytes) of data every second.

If you need to convert MB to KB or some other unit, you can enter the equation into Google like this: 15.8 megabytes per second to kilobytes per second.

SSD vs HDD

In short, solid state drives have the fastest read and write speeds, outpacing hard disk drives.

Here are a few of the fastest SSDs and their read and write scores:

Samsung 850 Pro:

  • Available Capacities: 128 GB – 1 TB
  • Interface: SATA III 6 Gbps
  • 550 MB/s read (256 GB)
  • 520 MB/s write (256 GB)

SanDisk Extreme Pro:

  • Available Capacities: 240 GB – 960 GB
  • Interface: SATA 3-6 Gbps
  • 550 MB/s read
  • 520 MB/s write

Mushkin Striker:

  • Available Capacities: 240 GB – 960 GB
  • 565 MB/s read
  • 550 MB/s write

Corsair Neutron XT:

  • Available Capacities: 240 GB – 960 GB
  • 560 MB/s read
  • 540 MB/s write

Hard disk drives were first introduced by IBM in 1956. An HDD uses magnetism to store data on a rotating platter. A read/write head floats above the spinning platter reading and writing data. The faster the platter spins, the faster an HDD can perform.

HDDs are slower than SDDs, with an average read speed of 128 MB/s and a write speed of 120 MB/s. However, while HDDs are slower, they are cheaper too. The cost is about $.03 per gigabyte versus an average $.20 per gigabyte for SSDs.

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Internet Streaming: What It Is and How It Works

Streaming is a technology used to deliver content to computers and mobile devices over the internet. Streaming transmits data – usually audio and video, but increasingly other kinds as well – as a continuous flow, which allows the recipients to begin to watch or listen almost immediately.

The Two Kinds of Downloads

There are two ways to download content over the internet:

  1. Progressive downloads
  2. Streaming

Streaming is the quickest way to access internet-based content, but it’s not the only way. Progressive download is another option that was used for years before streaming was possible. In order to understand what streaming is, where you use it, and why it’s so helpful, you need to understand these two options.

The key differences between progressive download and streaming are when you can start using the content and what happens to the content after you’re done with it.

Progressive downloads are the traditional kind of download that anyone who’s used the internet is familiar with. When you download an app or game or buy music from the iTunes Store, you need to download the entire thing before you can use it. That’s a progressive download.

Streaming is different. Streaming allows you to start using the content before the entire file is downloaded. Take music: When you stream a song from Apple Music or Spotify, you can click play and start listening almost immediately.

You don’t have to wait for the song to download before the music starts. This is one of the major advantages of streaming. It delivers data to you as you need it.

The other major difference between streaming and downloads is what happens to the data after you use it. For downloads, the data is permanently stored on your device until you delete it.

For streams, the data is automatically deleted after you use it. A song you stream from Spotify isn’t saved to your computer (unless you save it for offline listening, which is a download).

Requirements for Streaming Content

Streaming requires a relatively fast internet connection – just how fast depends on the type of media you are streaming. A speed of 2 megabits per second or more is necessary for streaming standard definition video without skips or buffering delays. HD and 4K content requires higher speeds for flawless delivery: at least 5Mbps for HD content and 9Mbps for 4K content.

Live Streaming

Live streaming is the same as the streaming discussed above, it’s specifically used for internet content delivered in real time as it happens. Live streaming is popular with live television shows and special one-time events.

Streaming Games and Apps

Streaming has traditionally been used to deliver audio and video, but Apple has recently implemented technology that allows streaming to work with games and apps too.

This technique, called on-demand resources, allows games and apps to include a core set of features and functions when the user first downloads them and then to stream new content as the user needs it.

For example, a game might include its first four levels in the initial download and then automatically download levels five and six when you start playing level four.

This approach is useful because it means downloads are quicker and use less data, which is especially important if you have a data limit on your phone plan. It also means that apps take up less space on the device they’re installed on.

Problems With Streaming

Because streaming delivers data as you need it, slow or interrupted internet connections can cause problems. For example, if you have streamed only the first 30 seconds of a song and your internet connection drops bfore any more of the song has streamed to your device, the song stops playing.

The most common streaming error that crops up has to do with buffering. The buffer is a program’s temporary memory for streamed content. The buffer is always filling up with the content you need next. For example, if you watch a movie, the buffer stores the next few minutes of video while you’re watching the current content. If your internet connection is slow, the buffer won’t fill up quickly enough, and the stream either stops or the quality of the audio or video is reduced to compensate.

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What is a Battery Backup?

Do you need a UPS? How much will a battery backup protect your computer?

A battery backup, or uninterruptible power supply (UPS), is primarily used to provide a backup power source to important desktop computer hardware components.

In most cases, those pieces of hardware include the main computer housing and the monitor, but other devices can be plugged into a UPS for backup power as well, depending on the size of the UPS.

In addition to acting as a backup when the power goes out, most battery backup devices also act as power “conditioners” by ensuring that the electricity flowing to your computer and accessories is free from drops or surges.

If a computer is not receiving a consistent flow of electricity, damage can and often does occur.

While a UPS system is not a required piece of a complete computer system, including one as part of yours is always recommended. The need for a reliable supply of electricity is often overlooked.

Uninterruptible power supply, uninterruptible power source, on-line UPS, standby UPS, and UPS are the different names for a battery backup.

Popular UPS manufacturers include APC, Belkin, CyberPower, Tripp Lite, and Ultra, among many others.

Battery Backups: What They Look Like & Where They Go

The battery backup sits between the utility power (power from the wall outlet) and the parts of the computer. In other words, the computer and accessories plug into the battery backup and the battery backup plugs into the wall.

UPS devices come in many shapes and sizes but are most commonly rectangular and freestanding, intended to sit on the floor near the computer.

All battery backups are very heavy due to the batteries located inside.

One or more batteries inside the UPS provide power to the devices plugged into it when power from the wall outlet is no longer available. The batteries are rechargeable and often replaceable, providing a long-term solution to keeping your computer system running.

The front of the battery backup will usually have a power switch to turn the device on and off and will also sometimes have one or more additional buttons that perform various functions. Higher-end battery backup units will also often feature LCD screens that show information about how charged the batteries are, how much power is being used, etc.

The rear of the UPS will feature one or more outlets that provide battery backup. In addition, many battery backup devices will also feature surge protection on additional outlets and sometimes even protection for network connections, as well as phone and cable lines.

Battery backup devices are manufactured with varying degrees of backup ability. To determine how powerful of a UPS you need, first, use the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator to calculate your computer’s wattage requirements. Take this number and add it to the wattage requirements for other devices you would plug into the battery backup. Take this totaled number and check with the UPS manufacturer to find your estimated battery runtime when you lose power from the wall.

On-Line UPS vs Standby UPS

There are two different types of UPSs: A standby UPS is a type of battery backup that’s similar to an on-line uninterrupted power supply but doesn’t go into action as quickly.

The way a standby UPS works is by monitoring the power that’s coming into the battery backup supply and not switching over to the battery until it detects a problem (which can take up to 10-12 milliseconds). An on-line UPS, on the other hand, is always providing power to the computer, which means whether a problem is detected or not, the battery is always the computer’s source of power.

You can think of an on-line UPS as if it were a battery in a laptop. While a laptop is plugged into a wall outlet, it’s getting constant power through the battery which is getting a constant supply of power through the wall.

If the wall power is removed (like during a power outage), the laptop is able to remain powered on because of the built-in battery.

The most obvious real-world difference between the two types of battery backup systems is that, given the battery has enough power, a computer won’t shutdown from a power outage if it’s plugged into an on-line UPS, but it might lose power (even if just for a few seconds) if it’s attached to a standby UPS that didn’t respond to the outage quick enough… although newer systems can detect a power issue as soon as 2 ms.

Given the benefit just described, an on-line UPS is normally more expensive than a line-interactive UPS.

More Information on Battery Backups

Some battery backup systems you find may seem pointless because they only supply a few minutes of power. But something to consider is that with even 5 minutes of extra power, you can safely save any open files and shut off the computer to prevent hardware or software damage.

Something else to remember is how frustrating it is for your computer to immediately shut off when the power turns off for even a few seconds. With the computer attached to an on-line UPS, such an event may even go unnoticed because the battery will have been providing the power before, during, and after the power break.

If your laptop has ever gone to sleep or shut down on you after you’ve stopped using it for awhile, but only when it’s not plugged in, you’re familiar with the fact that battery-powered devices can behave differently than desktops.

This is due to built-in power options in the operating system.

You can set up something similar on a desktop computer that uses a UPS (if the UPS is able to connect via USB) so that the computer will go into hibernation mode or safely shut off if it switches over to battery power during an outage.

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3 ways you’re killing your battery while it charges

There are a few things you should not do with your battery. The limited two-year lifespan of lithium-ion batteries can be reduced even further if you don’t avoid certain behaviors. We’ll tell you which ones they are in this article.

The battery is the most sensitive part of our smartphones and their usable lifespans can be affected by our behavior. Several series of measurements by the Battery University have produced significant results. Now, get ready for the shocking findings.

Don’t charge your smartphone at a computer

Charging via the USB port of your PC not only takes longer, it is also harmful. Tensions of USB ports often vary and create greater heat generation. This has an affect on the service life of batteries. The materials used for electrodes and electrolytes are really stable only in a small temperature spectrum and they dislike when you rip them from their comfort zone.

If your charge your battery hard, especially in connection with high voltages, it can lose capacity within a few months. The Battery University notes a fall to 65 percent of its original capacity when the battery is warmed to 40 degrees Celsius.

So, ideally, use the original charger and connect it to an electrical outlet. The supplied transformer provides a direct current, which should not heat a battery – thus maximizing its service life.

Don’t completely drain your battery

If your battery level drops to 2 percent, it is already too late to find a charging socket. Be aware that if your battery discharges too deeply, it may cause damage and premature aging.

In its long-term test, the Battery University found that regular, to-the-limit discharging led to an overall lifespan of only 300 to 500 charge cycles, while batteries which had been discharged to only 25 to 50 percent could reach 1,000 to 2,500 cycles.

So don’t shy away from charging the battery even if there’s another 30 or 50 percent charge left.

Don’t charge the battery overnight

The structure of the battery is so composed that, during charging, the lithium ions are pressed into a graphite lattice. The problem here is that the lithium ions react nastily with crystals when they meet and connect. And the greater the battery is charged, the more likely these connections are.

These crystals are sharp, big and destructive. They are so large that the graphite lattice, which should be confined, actually break up little by little. And with fewer of these individual cells remaining, there is logically less space for lithium-ion…ergo less battery capacity.

So don’t charge your battery to 100 percent. Unfortunately, there is no app that stops charging at, say, 80 percent so you must make sure yourself that your smartphone is not overcharged. Battery University even found that when you regularly charge your battery to only 70 percent, you can still get more than 1000 cycles from it.

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5 reasons your Android battery is charging slowly

Your cable sucks

The first offender in any case of slow-charging should always be your USB cable. Just take a look at it: guilty as hell. Considering the awful treatment my USB cables undergo, it’s no wonder that it is usually why my phone won’t charge faster.

USB cables get bent, twisted, coiled, run over with chair wheels and generally abused: all of these are not very good for maintaining a solid connection and flow-through of power. Be sure to check the ends too: they can very easily get full of fluff.

Your power source sucks

The next obvious question is where are you getting your power from? If you have a USB cable plugged into your laptop then your phone is going to charge insanely slowly and you’ll deserve it. Likewise Qi wireless charging. While Qi is brilliant technology, that brilliance comes at the cost of speed.

Your best bet is to have your phone plugged direct into mains power at the wall socket. But even this can be problematic, especially if you’re in an old building where the wiring might be a little sketchy. If you think this could be the problem, move to another outlet (and then call an electrician).

Your charger sucks

To complete the trifecta, if it’s not your power source or your cable, chances are that it’s the actual adaptor you’re using that is causing your battery to charge slowly. There’s a reason every manufacturer provides a specific USB adaptor for each phone they ship.

Switching adaptors between phones can mix-match voltage, wattage, ampage and general powerage. So stick with the adaptor that came with your phone or at the very least take a look at the fine print on it and replace it with another adaptor of the same type.

Your phone sucks

Sorry, but it’s true. If you’re sitting there wondering why your Galaxy S2 takes so long to charge it’s because your phone sucks. Newer processors not only support fast charging, but newer phones even come with turbo charging chargers. The Galaxy S6, for example, can get your four hours’ worth of usage after just ten minutes plugged in.

Other phones that support fast charging will have a lightning bolt icon on the charger itself), possibly along with turbo charging output figures. Your phone can also become a pocket lint cave too, so check your microUSB port and make sure the little flap in the port isn’t bent while you’re looking in there. Your battery might just be kaput too, so ask yourself how old it is.

You suck

It’s true – you’re the worst thing preventing your phone charging quickly when you can’t keep your hands off it. Seriously, if time is of the essence, your best bet is to leave it alone. Mindlessly scrolling through your Insta feed while watching your battery percentage go nowhere is no one’s fault but your own.

So leave your phone alone when you charge it, or better yet, turn it off entirely. That’s actually the absolute best way to charge a phone quickly: turn it off, plug it into a wall with the original charger and have your socks off when you come back to it. Even after as little as 15 minutes. Now put a nice outfit on – your hot date awaits.

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Tim Cook Promises to Let iPhone Users Turn Off Throttling Soon

It only took a scandal blowing up in its face and getting hit with more than 20 different lawsuits, but it seems at long last, Apple will finally give people the option to disable the performance throttling that was slowing down older iPhones.

This news was revealed in an interview between Apple CEO Tim Cook and ABC News, during which Cook said that in addition to being able to disable the throttling, Apple will also for the first time provide stats and info about the current health of a user’s iPhone battery.

While there isn’t a specific timetable for when the new features will be released, Cook said they will be available for testing in a developer release of iOS next month, before going public sometime after that.

For those who choose to disable the performance throttling, Cook was quick to mention that it’s not something Apple recommends, as old, degraded batteries can cause the phone to suddenly shutdown. Though after these changes, at least that decision will be up to you. And if you really want to address the problem, it would probably be wise to take Apple up on its reduced battery replacement service, the price of which has been cut from $79 to $29 for the rest of 2018.

The rest of the interview focused on Apple’s repatriation of foreign revenue, which Cook claims will bring $38 billion back to the US and is part of the company’s plans to spend $350 billion in the US over the next five years. Cook also mentioned that Apple is currently searching for the site Apple will build its third campus, which will be located in a different state than its current California and Texas locations.

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Sony Xperia XZ Pro could be among first phones with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845

Sony has had a whirlwind few months due mainly to the launch of several new phones, but it looks like it’s not slowing down anytime soon. According to recent rumors, the company is readying a new flagship to serve as a follow-up to the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, and it’s called the Sony Xperia XZ Pro. The phone is rumored to debut at Mobile World Congress 2018., which kicks off February 26.

We don’t know all that much about the new phones just yet, but there are a few rumors that give us hints at what the new phone may look like. Here’s everything we know about the Sony Xperia XZ Pro so far.

Specs

Perhaps the most notable thing about this device is what’s under the hood. According to a leak from MyDrivers, the phone will be among the first to feature the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, which is Qualcomm‘s most powerful mobile chip yet. It will also boast 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage — though there could be options for how much RAM or storage are available on the phone.

MyDrivers notes that the phone may feature a 5.7-inch OLED display with a 4K resolution, which would be one of the highest-quality displays so far. Sure, it’s not the first phone to feature a 4K display, but hopefully this device will be among a new generation of devices with ultra-high-resolution displays, which should make for far better mobile virtual reality experiences.

Sony has traditionally placed an emphasis on cameras, and it’s likely the Xperia XZ Pro will be no different. The phone will apparently feature a dual rear-facing camera with one 18-megapixel sensor and one 12-megapixel sensor.

To power all of this, the phone is rumored to feature a 3,420mAh battery. It will boast an IP68 water-resistance rating.

Design

Sony hasn’t exactly had a great track record with design, but all signs point to the company attempting to turn that around in 2018. Rumors indicate Sony will embrace bezel-less designs this year. We’ll update this article if we hear any more about the phone’s design or if any leaked images pop up.

Price and availability

According to MyDrivers, the phone will come with a price tag of 6,000 Chinese yuan, which equates to $930. That’s no small price for a phone — even if it’s a premium one. While it will reportedly be announced at Mobile World Congress at the end of February, that doesn’t mean it’ll be available then. Sony could wait a few months to launch the phone, depending on factors like availability of the Snapdragon 845. Last year, because Samsung manufactured the Snapdragon 835, it got first dibs. That may also be the case this time around.

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