Category Archives: Reviews

Life in Chennai is Now Uber

Taxi services. Little has changed in the last 50 years. You call up the taxi company, ask for a taxi to pick you up and you wait patiently for them to arrive.

Only it’s not always that simple in Chennai, especially for a foreigner (although I consider myself more of an almost-PIO nowadays).

You call up the call-centre, wait patiently to be connected to an operator, explain where you want to be picked up from, explain where you want to go, request the car type, listen to stupid special offers and finally, the taxi is booked. Then the fun really begins. Under normal circumstances, the driver calls you up 30 – 60 minutes before hand to know from where he needs to pick you up.

This will forever be a mystery to me because you’ve just told the call-centre where you want to be picked up from so how hard can it be to pass this on to the driver? Based on experience, it’s apparently impossible to do.

Taking the time to be the wingman to the hapless driver as you guide him in can be a mild inconvenience in the evening, but if you’ve got a 7am flight to catch, getting a 4:30am phonecall isn’t really what you need – unless you’re the type of person who takes an hour to get ready.

The biggest problem is that explaining the directions to a local driver is nigh on impossible for a foreigner in Chennai. Locals barely see more success. It doesn’t matter if the conversation is in English or Tamil, it always goes a little something like this…

We are in T-Nagar, no tee, tuh, not dee. No T-Nagar, like Pothys and Saravana stores. Yes, Pothys, no no, wait I don’t want you to come to Pothys. T-Nagar, yes, near to Gardenia Hotel…Gar-den-ia, err, oh, the old name is Empire Residency, ok? Good. After Gardenia Hotel…what? Yes Empire Residency, take the third right next to the bike garage, then keep going until you reach the chicken shop and take the next left after that and find the Homely Nest apartment block which is opposite the flower lady. How much time?

It’s always five minutes, so there’s no point in asking. There will be an exchange of three or four more calls as the driver iterates his way ever closer until finally you get the call that he is there and would you mind awfully hurrying up.

Even when you are not the one trying to give the directions, it’s still utterly exhausting just listening in on someone being the wingman. This is why I’m so happy that Chennai has gone Uber over the last month.

Uber is an American company looking to radically change the way we book taxis and give you awesome rides in Mercs, Jags and Beemers for a fraction of the price. Having ubered (yes, I’m verbalizing Uber, move on) to the office a few times and used the service to get around the city, let me tell you: it rocks!

Instead of spending countless phonecalls explaining your location, Uber uses this amazing piece of technology called GPS, which everyone in the world knows about except Chennai taxi companies.

You fire up the Uber app (available on Android and also some fruity phone) and GPS (or cell phone tower triangulation if you are inside) locates your exact position in the city.

Uber Pick Up Location

Of course, if you want to have a different pick up point, you just move the pin to location you want. The process does assume some degree of map reading ability, but I’m not here to point fingers.

Once the pin is set, you can then see the location of all the available Uber cars in the city (err, zoom out if you see no cars) and it tells you how long you need to wait to get your driver (Uber doesn’t call them cabs). If you are happy with everything you tap the confirm button and the driver is alerted.

Now here’s the clever part, Uber drivers are not given fare meters. Wait? What? Shock! Horror! Instead they are given an iPhone with – wait for it – GPS! Hhomygod. Srsly? The innovation we can do nowadays with 40 year old technology, it clearly baffles the minds of Chennai’s current crop of taxi companies.

The location of the pick up (ie. you) is marked on the driver’s map so they simply drive to the pin and you are told exactly how many minutes away the car is on your phone.

uber driver coming

Once picked up, a quick tap on the driver’s phone app tells Uber that the meter has started and GPS tracks the route along with the time.

Now after the base fare of Rs 50 (with a Rs 100 minimum fare), Uber charges just 15 rupees per km which is really cheap compared to the other taxis in the city, even compared to autos! There is a small catch though, they charge 2 rupees per minute so if you are gridlocked at Gemini Flyover or at the Tidel Park junction, you might feel the pinch, but hey, you’re in a frickking Jag so quit your whining already.

The pricing structure means I can take a Mercedes car home from office and pay less than what I would for an Indigo from NTL. Clearly there are massive cost savings from not having a call centre and all the staff that are required to run it 24 hours a day. If I was any of the traditional taxi companies I would be petrified of my business becoming irrelevant like, right now.

At the end of the journey, the driver taps his app again and the meter is stopped. There is no exchange of money, your credit card (which you entered earlier) is charged automatically and off you go on your happy little way.

For corporates, a full email invoice is sent with the route shown on a map, the number of minutes used and the distance travelled. For data nerds like myself it’s a little bit of nirvana from your ride home.

Uber Receipt

Uber Chennai is finally a taxi service that any expat can use and at a price point that beats regular taxis.

Hello Uber, good bye NTL, Milliondots, Fastrack (and Calltrack, and Taxitrack, and Metrotrack, and every other taxi service in Chennai that thinks ‘track’ means taxi or something).

There are of course a few limitations with the service. Uber is an on-demand service. You can’t pre-book a taxi to pick you up at a specific time and there are no package deals available. In addition, during times of great demand, like after Dublin or Pasha kicks out on a Saturday night, Uber employs what’s known as price surging where the fare can be double or triple the normal cost (you are informed about this before hand though).

Shameless plug: Listen in, if you want to try out Uber for yourself, use this promo code when you book your first Uber and you’ll get Rs 300 credited to your account: 4sk9w (I also get Rs 300 credited to my account if you use it, just so you know!).

The Attraction of the Netbook

About a year ago I followed all the other geeks and nerds in this world and bought myself a netbook. I’d seen the hype and exposure they got over on Engadget throughout 2008 and made up my mind that I wanted one :)

Incase you are still not sure what a netbook is, it’s like a mini laptop, reduced keyboard size, very low technical specifications and very, very cheap for what it is. As you might infer from the name, a netbook is designed specifically for browsing the Internet and not too much else.

NetBook Vs Laptop

The black machine in the picture below is my work Laptop, a 15.3″ screen and since the company gave me an unlimited budget, I set it up like a gaming rig which makes it insanely quick (even two years later) but unfortunately it’s bloody heavy and not convenient to cart around. The cute white thing is my netbook, grossly underpowered but I probably use it more than my laptop.

dell xps 1530 vs asus eeepc 901

eeepc vs dell

my work and play laptops

In the photo below you can see some deformation in the top left of the underside of my netbook. I’m not entirely sure what happened but I assume the battery was charging and resting on something circular, which somehow melted it – although I don’t even know how that’s possible….

A deformed eeepc

The reason I wanted one was because they looked really cool and my work laptop is the size and weight of a fridge so it’s not convenient for lugging about except to the office and back.

The thing with netbooks is that they are pretty much all the same in terms of technical spec. They all have the same processor and same amount of memory. The reason for this is that they nearly all run Windows XP and Microsoft, being desperate to get rid of the thing (although not quite as desperate as getting rid of Vista), imposed technical limits on the type of machine XP could be installed on.

For that reason, even now, with Windows 7 out, netbooks are still run on Atom processors with 1 GB of RAM and an Intel Integrated Graphics Accelerator (which is a fancy name for something that doesn’t do too much).

The chief selling point of netbooks are that they are small, light, extremely portable and have a very long battery life – and what traveling businessman or self confessed nerd could say “no” to such a thing!

Back in December 2008, I bought the Asus EeePC 901 (the Eee stands for education because these things were originally designed for kids in poor countries to use) for £250. It had all the usual specs with a 9″ screen and a fantastic 7 hour battery life – that’s about 85% of the time it takes me to get to India!

After a year of using this netbook, I have to say it’s probably my best purchase ever. I knew that it was going to be useful, but bloody hell, I didn’t think it would become like an extension of me.

Even now, after a year, there isn’t one single thing that I would change about it and I use it virtually everyday for several hours. Whether it’s sitting in bed (and writing this blog post), crashed infront of the TV, on an airplane or train, not only does it still have the ability to turn heads, but it’s so damn convenient.

Sidenote: I was coming back from India in October and I had this netbook out, watching movies on it and no fewer than 3 people stopped and asked me about it – it’s that good :D

The small form factor might put a few people off given that the keys are about 2/3rds the size of a normal keyboard, but unless you have ham fists and podgy fingers you’ll be touchtyping away within hours of using it. To me, the smaller keyboard makes no difference whatso ever – but I have been informed that I have girls hands, a fact that I strenuously deny and put down to unbridled jealousy :D

I’ve used my netbook to write reports, articles, blog posts, budget reports and keep track of my finances, literally, when it comes to light admin and “office” related tasks, there’s nothing it cant handle.

Watching movies on it is awesome aswell, the Asus EeePC range produces an incredible sound from such a tiny box, I remember a friend conceding that the speakers were louder than their full sized Dell laptop!

However, there are things you can’t do on a netbook that you can on a full sized laptop, chief amongst them are multi-tasking. You definitely can’t have dozens of different applications open and expect to be able to work efficiently. At the most, you will be able to have 2 or 3 different applications open, for example I have Opera (the best browser) and StarOffice (awesome free alternative to MS Office and doesn’t require half the amount of power to run) open right now, but if I opened another app, then I’d start to see some lag.

Naturally, you can’t do photo editing (I can crop photos, like the ones above using GIMP) or play the latest games on it either, although I installed DOS-BOX and got loads of late 90′s / early 2000′s games to run decently enough.

If you are literally going to:

  • Browse the Internet
  • Chat on Skype / Use IM
  • Write documents
  • Do things in a spreadsheet
  • Watch movies (non-HD)
  • Listen / Manage your music
  • Manage your photos

Then you seriously wouldn’t go wrong with a Netbook. I can’t imagine how I would cope without it now as it goes with me everywhere! Not only that, but laptop batteries generally get weaker over time, but amazingly, my Asus EeePC 901 has kept going well and I still get 6 1/2 to 7 hours battery life out of it. With WiFi turned on and Internet browsing that does reduce to around 3 to 3 1/2 hours though.

I’ve got an SSD drive which is way more power efficient and quicker than a standard hard drive – XP boot up time is just seconds. The down side is that you have a smaller storage capacity (about 15% compared to a HDD) but the upside is a faster and longer lasting machine.

Even if you need to do more taxing things, then obviously a more powerful laptop is required, but you can’t rule out a netbook, simply because it is so portable.

I love it when I’m on a plane or train and people get out ridiculously large laptops (like my work one) that weigh a tonne, and simply use it to watch a film or write a Word document. I get out this tiny little thing (the netbook!), which can be shoved in the top of your rucksack and proceed to do everything that people with laptops are doing – and I can’t help but stifle a smirk when their battery gives up after a couple of hours and I still have another 4 hours left!

I can get a train to the airport, and use my netbook, sit in the departure lounge, using the netbook, get on the plane and use the netbook and there will still be a couple of hours of battery left at the end of the journey!

Beware of Cheap Laptops

Some people I know have said they don’t see the point of buying a small netbook for £300 when you can get a full sized ‘proper’ laptop from just £399 now.

This is something that catches most tech illiterates out, the cheap computers are going to be not much better than a netbook. For a start, they run Windows 7 now, which is very resource intensive, and the cheap laptops provide you with just enough power to run Windows 7 and very little else.

Cheap £399 laptops is why Windows gets a bad name for being slow, clunky and unstable – the hardware it runs on is barely enough to support it…but I feel that is a rant for another day :D

Don’t buy a cheap laptop, especially not from a supermarket!

Future of Netbooks

I got the Asus EeePC 901 from my current favourite online retailer, eBuyer. I’ve generally found them to be cheaper than elsewhere, especially the ripoff merchants also known as supermarkets. It has a 9″ screen which has a resolution up to 1024×768 which I’ve found to be perfect for everything and have never wished that it could have a bigger one (steady!).

Unfortunately, it seems that that the trend is leaning towards larger screens and I’m not sure if you can even get a 9″ one anymore. The smallest that Asus do are now 10″, I’m not too sure how much that affects the size of the netbook though as I haven’t seen one, but if I find a 9″ one to be perfect, I’m sure 10″ is going to be fine.

With the onset of Windows 7 which has a version specifically built for low powered computers, the technical restraints have largely been removed, meaning that netbooks can become more powerful, while retaining their portability and convenience. However, a more powerful system is likely to come at the expense of a reduced battery life, and how can you smirk at people when your netbook only lasts for one hour more than their laptops?!

The next logical evolution in netbooks is to take their portability to the next level and bring in 3G cards where you can pop in a sim and access the Internet just like you do on your phone, and with the introduction of the new Nokia Booklet (I think it will be next on my list of things to buy – once they’ve upped the power and specs of course!), this will just be around the corner.

I’m sure they could make netbooks a whole lot more powerful than they currently are, but to be honest, there is absolutely no need, it already does everything 90% of computer users will require anyway.

Netbook Buying Tips

If you are going to buy a netbook, here’s some things to consider:

  • Virtually all netbooks have the same hardware meaning there is very little difference in terms of performance
  • The cheaper netbooks have smaller batteries, so one of the deciding factors should be the battery life – do your research!
  • If you go for a setup that’s different to the Atom N270 / 1GB RAM / WinXP be aware that the battery life will be significantly reduced
  • I’m more than pleased with my 9″ netbook, if you go for anything larger, you may lose some of that portability
  • Storage space or performance and long life. If you need storage, get one with a traditional hard drive. If you want performance and long life, choose an SSD. I put backup everything on an external hard drive anyway.
  • Shop online rather than offline, it’s always cheaper :D

Well, I hope you found that informative and helps you decide whether a netbook might be for you. Thanks to Tom and William for inspiring me to write this thoroughly nerdy post!

Chicago Comes To Chennai

I do like musicals. See. There, I said it. And I don’t care :) (actually, I do care a little bit, so please don’t judge me!). There was a time when I could recite every word from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (except the boring love song in the middle of course). I think one of the first musicals I was taken to see was Star Light Express down in London.

I remember how myself and my younger brother and sister were decidely unimpressed with our parents for forcing us to go and watch such a thing. A trip to London was supposed to be a fun thing, we could have done something really exciting and gone to the science museum! But no, we went to see people on roller skates and boy did we let our displeasure be known!

Since that time (last year ;) ), I’m pleased to say I’ve grown up a little and do love a good musical. Having lived in London for close to six years, I got to see quite a few, but not as many as I probably would have liked.

I’m scratching around my head to try and recall all the shows I’ve been too, which is no easy feat when your head is so fuzzy from a hangover and complete lack of sleep.

So here goes…Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Blues Brothers, We Will Rock You, Chicago, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (I still knew all the words), Mama Mia, oh, and let us not forget the magic of Star Light Express :)

Chicago is the story of illicit affairs, murder, booze, corruption and violence. It’s sexy, raunchy and suggestive.

Chennai is a city of strong morals, family values and could be considered one of the most conservative cities in and already conservative country. With the obvious exception of corruption, it’s worlds away from the Chicago musical, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard that they were going to stage the play here – there was no way I could miss it!

In the West End, the characters are clad in revealing lingerie throughout the entire show, I was really keen to find out how they were going to handle it in front of a more conservative audience.

First off, this was an Am-Dram production, people, mostly college students, giving up their free time to practice for three months, so I really can’t compare it to the West End version.

Naturally they cut a lot of the more raunchy stuff from the story line, although I was a little bit surprised when a bed appeared on the stage!

The cast started off pretty nervously, hardly surprising considering there were probably around 1,000 people in the auditorium (which was really nice and even had reclining seats!). A friend who was with me felt that they didn’t quite have the stage presence, but I think that was also combined with poor acoustics towards the back of the theatre – it was sometimes quite hard to hear what the actors were saying.

The director swapped suggestive lingerie for more appropriate dresses and skirts. The actors swapped Indian accents for a mixture of Indian and American – some actors did fairly well, some should have stuck with their Indian accents :-)

After the interval, I think the cast really settled in to the show, because the performances were markedly improved, there seemed to be a lot more confidence, although they still looked a little bit uncomfortable dancing along to the jazz songs.

One area which I felt let the show down a bit was the stage. They had built up a multi-level wooden stage and it creaked and groaned as actors walked across it and it was fairly distracting hearing all the foot scuffing noises as the cast danced and sung their way through the numbers.

All in all, it was a fairly good amateur production, if they had some commanding leads it could have been improved, and I’m sure if the budget allowed they would have improved the stage area. But the singing was good, the dancing was enjoyable to watch and the acting was reasonable. It was £4 very well spent :D

I Haz The Culture

An old staff member was putting on a bit of an Am-Dram production at her college. She asked if I wanted to come along, so how could I refuse? Armed with my fellow culture vulture (also a Brit) we got tickets and waited with intrepidation.

That’s until I found out the play was about women empowerment.

I then looked forward to it with a certain amount of dread, convinced I would come out at the end of it hating myself for being a guy.

I’ve never seen any amateur productions before, so didn’t really know what to expect. The play itself was being done on an all girls campus, and I want to put these vicious rumours to rest right now that the only reason I went was to go and pick up girls from the all girls college. It wasn’t. Honest.

The play was called Black, Blue and Other Hues (an ominous title for a womens empowerment play!). It was split in to 6 mini plays which tell different stories about different women.

When it started, an old lady gave an introduction. There were all kinds of technical problems, and we even had the old classic:

“hello? hello? HELLO? Is this thing on? Can you hear me? Hello”

So once the microphones were sorted out, the lights turned off (and on, and off again) she proceeded to speak a lot, without (I felt) saying very much.

I have to say at this point, I enjoyed the play more than I thought I would. It wasn’t as feminist and ‘girl power’ as I thought it was going to be. They’d put a lot of effort in to the script and learning the lines.

Apparently they had been rehearsing for the last 3 months, and I think it paid off.

Of the 6 plays, the one I enjoyed the most was about an old Indian Mum going to visit her son in London. It was played out by a single actor and lasted about 30 minutes – I have no idea how she remembered all those lines! It was fairly funny in places and really well acted.

Some of the other plays went right over my head. I think it was mostly because some of the actors had very strong Indian accents (year is pronounced yer, wallet is prounced walelet) and spoke pretty quickly so I couldn’t figure out what was going on.

There was one play where I had no idea what was going on and seemed to go on for a lifetime. A lady saw invisible snakes (or something), a guy blows himself up with a bomb, a suicide and a person reflecting on her life. Apparently that was the play that got the best reviews. oops!

By the end of the play I was clock watching a little bit. My concentration levels couldn’t cut through the accent and I was a little bit relieved when it finally ended.

In all, I didn’t quite get how it was about women empowerment, but rather women in different situations.

The best part was, I didn’t come out hating myself for being a guy!

What ever will I do next on my cultured journey?

Slumdog Millionaire…Review

Well, this is not exactly a review, more my thoughts on the movie which I saw the other day. Crammed around a little laptop.

In the west, the movie seems to have had an overwhelming response. Loads of awards, nominated for oscars…all sorts. In India, the reception has been, umm, a little different and possibly less than positive.

About the movie, it’s a good film, well made. It’s not a hollywood meets bollywood film. It’s a hollywood (or is it British) film set in India. The production value is western and the editing is western.

In some places the film is completely unrealistic. For example at one point the two kids are on a train and they get knocked off…rather conveniently just outside the Taj Mahal. A western film in India without showing the Taj Mahal is like a scene in Paris without the Eiffel Tower or a scene in New York without the statue of liberty.

So anyway, yeah, the Taj Mahal makes a guest appearance.

The next unrealistic part is the little kid, who skipped school and never made any indication before that he could speak English, suddenly develops a well spoken middle class English accent.

The film is a bit gruesome in places, just like much of Danny Boyles’ work. Who can forget the baby scene in Trainspotting or the thumbs in the eye sockets in 28 Days Later.

In India, the film has been criticised because it shows ‘poor people’ – and if you hadn’t heard already, there are no poor people in India – especially if you are from the wealthy or upper middle classes! You can drive around all day and not see any poor people ;-) (I could write at length on this topic!)

There is a little dance at the end of the film which is a nod to bollywood, but let’s be fair, the dance scene isn’t a tiny little patch on any bollywood film.

Overall, the movie gets about 7/10.

I’m A Winner!

I never win anything. Even if I enter a competition where everyone’s a winner. I’d come last. It’s something I’ve learned to accept and get on with.

However, that all changed this morning when I received a text message from GameMobile.co.uk informing me that my recent review of the Lemmings Return game for mobile phones had won the monthly contest and my prize was a free game. Yeah, ok, the games are only worth £3.99 each, but it’s a start. Maybe I can review the free game I get and win the July review contest and get another free mobile game. I’m thinking the new monopoly game.

If you like playing games on your mobile (or if you are so bored on your daily commute to and from work) then check out GameMobile.co.uk for hundreds of games for your phone. They even have some freebie games like Snake and Doom.

So I guess you are probably wondering what amazing piece of literally I penned to win the monthly review competition. Well wonder no more, I’ve added it below:

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Blogging To The Bank Review

I’ve never been a good blogger, I always find it difficult to consistantly post new blogs, no matter how trivial or small blogs can be these days. However, recently I’ve been taking an increased interest in blogs and how they can drive traffic to my sites and earn money.

I am developing my own ideas and have just had a project done for me on Scriptlance which aims to further these ideas. They basically revolve around blogs, forums and Web 2.0 sites like Technorati, Delicious and Squidoo.

So, this morning when an email arrived in my inbox from Gary Ambrose (a self confessed non-blogger) announcing a new product by Rob Benwell called Blogging To The Bank it naturally piqued my interest. Any other time I probably would have past, but since I was actively looking into blogs and making money from them the timing couldn’t have been better!

I scanned through the sales page as most people do (check the headline, what does the product do, check the benefits, check the bonuses and finally check the price) and decided that it was probably worth the $47 asking price – he probably could have easily have sold it for $67, but that would have put me off).

So I paid up and downloaded it, and this is what I thought of Blogging To The Bank 2.0…

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Windows Vista & The Memory Monster

My friend bought a new laptop the other day after his old died on him (shows a blank white screen on startup – anyone have any ideas?). So he toddled off to the local PC World to have a look at the laptops. I seem to remember a time a few years ago where desktop PC’s took up the floor space and laptops were confined to one or two rows. Now laptops dominate the floorspace.

While browsing the laptops, I came across a Compaq Presario with the following spec:

1. 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo Processor
2. 2 GB RAM
3. 120 GB HDD
4. 256 MB Shared Graphics
5. 15.4″ Widescreen LCD
6. Dual Layer DVD +/- ReWriter
7. Vista Home Premium

All that for just £599 – an absolute bargain. Since I’m still using a beat up old Compaq with a PIII & 256MB RAM I knew that they make good sturdy laptops; which is more than can be said for the Toshiba my friend was using. So eventually after a bit of umming and ahing he took the plunge and bought the new Compaq (and I don’t know how I walked out without one, I was this close | | to getting one myself). He got a right touch on it too, getting £20 knocked off for signing up to their ‘care’ plan – which was free and can be cancelled at any time.

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The Problems With GoDaddy: Part 2

This is a continuation of the post I made on 26th June which you can read about here. I’m carrying on by explaining what I think is wrong with the GoDaddy website, interface and ordering process.

Messy & Confused Website

In an attempt to offer every internet service under the sun, the GoDaddy website is mishmash of information. Assume you want to purchase a domain name. You assume they are all $8.95 or lower because that’s what the pretty image above the search box says. You notice some * marks above the prices which usually means there are some terms and conditions involved. After searching on the page you find that the * mark could mean that the domain costs $0.99 or $6.99 or maybe $5.99. It could even mean that there is a $0.22 ICANN fee added to the final cost. Who knows?!

So you type in the domain you want (and maybe get a little confused by the plethora of domain extentions that are available) and choose the .tv extension because your site will be about a TV show.

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The Problems With GoDaddy

GoDaddy is the largest registrar of domains according to WebHosting.info with over 18m domains registered and nearly 21% market share (Disclaimer: I couldn’t find another source to back up this data or when it was valid from so take it with a pinch of salt).

Given that they have such a massive market share and are the dominant force in domain names, why can’t they provide a half decent service? The website interface is the worst I’ve ever used, the domain managing platform doesn’t work in Opera browser, the usability of their software falls woefully short and that’s all topped off with the worst online shopping cart experience in the world.

If you have any experience with domains and hosting in the past 6 months, you can’t have failed to hear about the astonishing story about RegisterFly.com – at one time claiming to be the 3rd largest domain registrar on the internet. If you haven’t had the misfortune to read about the RegisterFly fiasco, then take 30 minutes to read through some articles on RegisterFlies.com – an unofficial customer complaints site.

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