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Travel: Tips, Resources, and a Checklist

01 February 2013

Introduction

This post is an ongoing list of travel tips, resources, and a pre-travel checklist. It was written because a friend asked for some tips and my response turned out to be very long, so long that I felt the effort belonged to a more permanent, more public place, like this blog.

Obligatory disclaimer: somethings written here are subjective and it’s up to you to extract whatever you can from it. Actually, you should just stop researching and just go!

Checklist

I hate packing, but gladly, very little is necessary.

smartphone – It’s nearly everything one needs to travel. It’s a map, (Google maps), a compass, an internet browser, a camera, a video camera, a hotspot, an alarm clock, an e-book reader, and more.
check passport expiration date
check visa
limit bag weight to 20kg check-in and 7kg carry-on
call or use internet to inform debit and credit card companies of travels so that they do not block the card upon foreign transactions
check driver’s license expiration date
check international driver’s license expiration date
download and install everything you need (internet is going to suck)
composition book
notes application
inform embassy of travels through Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP)
– it sends current news through e-mail about the areas you are travelling to
otc stomach medicine (Pepto-Bismal)
mosquito spray
sun screen
become an EU citizen
– able to live and work in 28 countries?

Pro-tips

Pros only.

Don’t reserve accommodation.
Don’t buy ongoing or return flights. Kinda risky? Can buy a “ghost” ticket.
Don’t bring more than one backpack and daypack.

Visas

Oh if only every country handled this the same. Some countries have weird stipulations: Thailand allows 30 days by air, but only 15 by land. Also, make sure the visa is stamped upon entry and exit. Laos duped me; Luckily, I didn’t have any cash to give them and they let me out.

Travel.State.Gov – for U.S. citizens, choose country, check the entry / exit requirements section
Visa requirements for United States citizens Wikipedia article – easy to view, but may not be updated

Country specific:
Taiwan – a post that explains how ARCs, work permits, and visas work

Working holiday visas:
Wikipedia article
– US does not participate in this
– “There are opportunities for US citizens to work in Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea under similar bilateral programs, however.”

Transportation

Air Travel

I used a combination of Kayak and Skyscanner. Skyscanner will find some funky cheap domestic flights that Kayak will miss. If the trip is short you may not need to book in advance to get a good rate. Flights through small airlines can be surprisingly cheap, like $20 flights to the Philippines through Cebu Pacific from nearby countries. I should give Hipmunk another try.

Motorcycle

I’d recommend riding a bike anywhere road conditions are somewhat decent. Motorcycles are the best form of transportation. No need to follow bus and train schedules, not limited to the developed towns public transportation goes; Swerve into random villages; Few things feel better than being on a motorcycle. If you can, buy a bike, make an overland trip, and sell it at the end.

Make sure to get an international driver’s permit with a motorcycle stamp. It could be helpful to just get one without a motorcycle license. I was able to rent motorcycles throughout SE Asia with just a normal vehicle driver’s license, and sometimes just a passport.

Accommodation

I used hostelbookers and hostelworld for more popular places. I never had to reserve a hostel, even during travelling season. Great hostels can make a huge difference. It could mean having helpful and knowledgable staff members, meeting interesting travelers, integrating with local people, having a lower chance of items being stolen. Hostels are an experience of their own. I’ve had really memorable times in them.

hostelbookers – no fee for reservation, more technical user interface
hostelworld – charges fee for reservation, better user interface
tripadvisor – more than just hostels
hostels – just hostels, really

Couchsurfing

Although it can serve as accommodation, it’s about meeting people and culture exchange, therefore it deserves it’s own category.

I couchsurfed a few times in Taiwan and loved it. I usually don’t feel like planning anything and want to wander about. Living through someone else is one the laziest and thus my favorite way to travel. It just requires some time ahead to communicate and set dates. If you have the time to plan, I highly recommend it.

Work

Oh so much to do. Just choose and go!

Volunteering and Work Exchange

I highly recommend this too. Travelling too fast is detrimental to social life, unless you’re able to control yourself and Skype with friends and family at home frequently. Living in one place, developing relationships. It’s just good.

I also didn’t want to tie myself to an ESL gig for 6 months or a year, so instead I found an English teaching position on helpx for two weeks, which turned into two months.

Both sites are about the same. You can see helpx posts without paying. Workaway requires you to pay before seeing.

helpx
workaway

WWOOF – limited to organic farming

English as a Second Language (ESL)

Teaching English is a financially safe and logistically easy way to live in another country. A lot of people do this. Although safe and easy, it’s a real job that takes time and effort, 30-40+ hours a week. I believe you should try to do what you want. Be bold. Never compromise for financial safety.

Wikipedia article

Communication

The cheapest route is to just use an online service. If people need to contact you on demand, get a local or international SIM card, which should have free incoming calls. Of course, a GSM phone is needed.

Google Voice – voice over IP service. I ported my number to it before travelling, but I believe they give out free numbers too. My number is from the US, so I am able to use it to call US to US for free. Costs $20 to port my number. It worked with Verizon. About $0.02/minute to mobile devices in other countries. [todo: can I call my Google Voice number from a foreign phone, and relay a call?]
Talkatone – an iPhone app to make calls through Google Voice
Skype – free voice over IP service including video and instant messaging
Facetime – also free voice over IP service including video?
Prepaid SIM cards – can be really cheap, has free incoming call
Taiwan
– Thailand
– DTAC – $20 per month for unlimited 3G data which I heavily tethered. It was amazing.
International SIM cards – World SIM, OneSimCard, TravelSim. I haven’t tried these, but it seems enticing for an all-in-one solution.
– India
– Airtel – I bought the 3GB then unlimited plan, tethered it a few times, and still haven’t used it up. It’s fast. I don’t know how slow it will become once I use up the 3GB.

Finance

I’m broke. You probably shouldn’t listen to me here.

Purchases

Use a credit card without foreign transaction fees when possible. If not, use cash. Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) — When a merchant asks to convert to your currency, say no, charge in the current currency you’re purchasing from.

Visa and mastercard exchange rates are much lower than banks, and much much lower than airports and hotels. 0.15% to 1.00% according to Visa’s website.

Credit card rewards programs are gibberish. I calculated that a 2% cash-back card trumps most travel cards, and it’s more convenient.

Withdrawals

Check the foreign transaction fee on your debit or ATM cards. Call your company, ask them if they can waive it during your trip. If not, try to get one without a fee. It’s usually 1%, 2%, 3%, or $5. Smaller banks have better rates.

Currency exchange rates:
Google
Visa
MasterCard

Vaccinations

Call your physician and use health insurance. Call your local public health department and use health insurance. Travel clinics should be the last choice, as they are the most expensive and often do not use health insurance.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention country list – contains routine and regional recommended vaccinations

Antimalarials

For long-term, the intake any antimalarials will likely display side effects. Taking none and avoiding mosquito bites seems like the best option. It’s not worth the side effects or money. It’s possibly overblown by overly cautious Westerners and drug companies. Besides, it’s curable.

For short-term, Atovaquone / Proguanil seems like the best option. Can use Cholorquine in areas where mosquitos are not resistant to it.

I’m not sure if it’s okay to change medicine.

Chloroquine:
Cheap. Low side effects, and family uses it without problems. Resisted in many areas.

Atovaquone/Proguanil (Malarone, Malanil):
Expensive ($4/daily pill). Low side effects. Difficult to find in non-industrialized countries.

Doxycycline:
Cheap. Tetracyclines are a general antibiotic which works against several diseases. Might be causing me digestion problems.

Mefloquine:
Kinda scary to me, as it has psychological and neurological side effects. The local doctor prescribed me this, but I’ll likely cancel it.

references:
www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/drugs.html
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimalarial_medication
www.doctortravel.ca/index.php?page=malaria
wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/india.htm

My experience:
I took one before going to North Thailand, and I don’t recommend it. I don’t think it’s worth, in side effects and cost, taking any anti-malarial for long-term travelling.

I started taking Doxycycline once I knew I was going to bike through northwest Thailand. The medicine had few side effects and was noted as a helpful general antibiotic. It was causing indigestion and heartburn by the time I got to India. I think it was also screwing up my taste.

My family take Choloquine, and they say that they never had problems with it. It didn’t make sense to take that medicine either as the mosquitos in India are resistant to it.

Travel Resources

There’s a lot of guides, but remember to use it as just that: a guide. Choose your own path.

Wikitravel – This is an amazing resource, and it’s free
Travel.State.Gov – Important stuff
Triposo – I met someone who travelled with just this. It’s only for iOS and Android. I believe it gathers information from free sources like Wikitravel.
tripadvisor – I never used this
Lonely Planet – I used a book for Laos, it’s extremely convenient. The real book is far more convenient than the PDF versions. I think they’re worth it.
UNESCO World Heritage list
random guide books found at hostel book exchange bookcases
hostel staff
travelers
local people
no one

scraps, don’t look!

– house sitting
– trustedhousesitters (free)
– mindmyhouse ($20 annual)
– housecarers
– US only
– housekeeper’s gazette

– temporary housing and cultural exchange
– Couchsurfing
– BeWelcome
– Servas
– UN supported, oldest
– meh
– GlobalFreeloaders
– Hospitality Network
– Tripping

– Resources:
gizmodo.com/5830251/how-to-couchsurf-and-not-get-killed

– work exchange
– Help Exchange (helpx), Workaway
– help and host
– no results for the countries I’m interested in
www.moreofit.com/similar-to/www.workaway.info/Top_10_Sites_Like_Workaway/
– Caretaker’s Gazzette
– seems US heavy, and tourist parts of the carribean and central america
– work4travel
– seems tourist heavy

– farming
– WWOOF
www.organicvolunteers.com
– Grow Food

– organization list
www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/work/volunteer/index.shtml

– job/organization search engine
– idealist
– great source of organizations
– anyworkanywhere
– weak database

– organizations
– rotary
– a club, very cult personality ish
– interexchange
-http://www.interexchange.org/working-abroad/teaching-program/opportunities-available
– found through idealist
www.nvda-asiapacific.org
– seems nice, mostly rural development
nice1.sakura.ne.jp/e/wc_japan_e/wcj_e.html

– ESL in Asia
tealit – Taiwan
esldewey – Taiwan
eslcafe – mostly Asia
Jet Programme – Japan
a lot more links
– http://www.esljobfeed.com ?
– http://www.eslemployment.com ?

– conclusion:
– Large chain schools have mixed reviews, as expected. It’s best to move first, find locations nearby, check it out yourself, then compare and decide. Don’t plan the whole thing before going.

– resources:
– http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com/2010/01/better-know-language-school-gaba.html
– GABA is bad, try berlitz

comparison of ESL teaching in countries:
– http://eslteacherinkorea.blogspot.com/2010/05/korea-vs-taiwan-vs-japan-vs-hong-kong.html
– http://busyteacher.org/4791-top-5-countries-with-best-esl-salaries.html
– http://www.teflasia.com
– http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/work/esl/articles/bestplacesteachenglishasia.shtml

order: Taiwan == Korea > Japan. HK?

– housing
www.jobmonkey.com/teaching/asia/html/short_stay.html
– cheap places to stay in japan
www.tli.com.tw/EN/student_service/student_service.asp?ID=5

– other sites
– escape artist
– trashy site and content

banking:

– PayPal supports many countries including Taiwan, Korea, and Japan
– need to apply for a Taiwanese bank to store money in
– withdrawing from Taiwanese bank uses a poor exchange rate
– for large amounts, use wire transfer
– visa and mastercard exchange rates are much lower than banks, and much much lower than airports and hotels. .15 to 1% according to Visa’s website.
– be aware of credit card benefits
www.mastercard.us/card-benefits.html
usa.visa.com/personal/visa-signature/benefits/index.jsp

withdraw:
– my Wells Fargo debit card has a $5 flat fee, upto $2000 daily limit on ATM card, and ATM owner/operator may have seperate fee
– use at any visa or or any of the interbank networks on the back of the card — plus (visa), cirrus (mastercard), nyce (u.s. only), start (u.s. only)
– ATM locator, visa.via.infonow.net/locator/global/ResultsDisplayAction.do?uid=X574124-1343592848-ac130103
– ATM card with 1% fee, usually a small limit
– credit unions and small banks, large banks often charge more
– some online banks reimburse the visa/MC fee, or charge nothing

– do not use credit cards for cash advance
– my Capital One card has a “3% of cash advance; not less than $10”, but the 25% interest charge begins immediately, there is no grace period
– okay if you can pay it off the next day, might be good for small amounts

deposit:
– ask employer to pay through paypal, online banking, or direct deposit to US bank
– get Taiwanese bank and use wire transfer

accomodation:
hostel club
– not popular enough

Aggregate websites
www.hostelz.com
– aggregates top four sites
– do not need to book through hostels to write a review
– don’t see all of the reviews…?
Travellerspoint
– aggregates both

volunteering:
www.transitionsabroad.com/
– great articles
www.goworldtravel.com/volunteer-vacations-travel/
– organization list
www.nvda-asiapacific.org/5photoAlbum.html
– seems nice
HandsOn – more for people with jobs that want to fit volunteering during their off-times
Red Cross – medical would be interesting!

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Replacing a Hard Disk Drive with Mac OS X and Boot Camp

13 March 2012

I wanted to install Unity to create a 3D game I thought of for EGP but I can’t because I don’t have enough space on my Boot Camp partition! The feeling of being blocked from the things you want to do is awful.

I have MacBook Pro (13″ early 2011, Model Number: A1278) with 196GB allocated to the Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) partition and 42GB allocated to the Windows 7 partition. Bad idea, as I’ve found I use Windows 95% of the time now. After a searching a little on Google it seems there is no recommended (reliable and popular) way to re-size the partition, instead I must re-install the Boot Camp partition.

While researching I thought this would be a good time to finally upgrade to a solid-state drive and do everything at once.

After little research I’ve decided to choose the Samsung 830 over the Crucial m4 and Intel 510 (all 256GB versions) based on the few MacRumors threads I read. I calculated my Windows install (applications, but no media) takes the full 37.9GB with 4GB virtual memory, and my Mac OS X install takes around 80GB (or was it 60?*). I don’t want to run into this problem of low space again, so I decided on the larger 256GB drives. From what I gather the Samsung 830 controller is newer/better, compatible with Mac OS X, and can update the firmware from within Boot Camp. Normally I’d choose Intel so I don’t have to worry about reliability, but I did not see any price or performance competitive options from Intel. Besides, I loves me some Samsung.

Upon reading the current Best SSDs For The Money article by Tom’s Hardware I stumbled upon a neat solution which allows you to install a second hard disk drive in the optical bay. MacRumor users found a cheap alternative form Amazon. I’m thinking about ordering one and placing my hard disk drive in there.

Just thinking ahead of a good video editing system, I could store the original footage on the hard disk (HFS+) and edit on the SSD. My current external hard drive uses NTFS and I use a NTFS driver (NTFS-3G or Paragon, I don’t remember) to read it from Mac OS X. I remembered reading something about the exFAT file system. That sounded like the perfect file system for external drives, but after a little research it wasn’t. I’ll have to do some more reading.

I’ll update this post early next month with my results. It might even be separated into two posts, resizing and buying a SSD.

UPDATE:
Success. I was able to clone my Mac and Windows installations. For the most part I followed this well-written guide. It was an overall smooth process.

Here’s a tiny list of hurdles I went through:

Before I began I uninstalled NTFS for Mac driver. I’m not sure if this was necessary.

2. Follow the wizard to create a BootCamp partition. This partition does not need to be the same size as your old Boot Camp partition. When Boot Camp Assistant asks you to insert a Windows install disk quit Boot Camp Assistant. Your partition is created.

During this step, when I clicked install in WinClone, it would ask for a Windows disk without creating a partition. I had to insert my Windows 7 disk for it to partition. After that, my PC restarted and booted from the Windows CD. From here I selected the Boot Camp partition and selected format (after clicking advanced options). I don’t think this did anything though. I then quit the setup, restarted the PC, held options to boot into Mac, and continued to recover the image from WinClone.

8. Turn on your Mac holding down the Option key on the keyboard. You should see your Boot Camp partition as a boot option, (it’s probably labeled “Windows”). Select it to boot into Windows.

The first time I tried to boot into Windows the PC displayed a blank black screen with a Windows mouse cursor. I had to hard power off. The next boot worked perfectly.

After I was done I was able to use Samsung Magician software to update the solid-state drive’s firmware within Boot Camp. I used the Windows update option, as opposed to creating a bootable CD or USB.

I also checked to see if disk defragmenter was turned off in Windows as it is not needed for solid-state drives.

Finally, Mac OS X feels as nimble as Window 7. As I had guessed, the hard drive was the bottleneck. The good old Core 2 Duo lives another day. Also, it’s nice not to have to move files around to compensate for the lack of space. So worth the time.

Other Resources:
guides.macrumors.com/Extend/Resize_Boot_Camp_Partition
forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1056464
forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1177020&page=19
www.tomshardware.com/reviews/ssd-review-benchmark,3115-6.html

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Fixing Err-3 on a 1998 Acura Integra Car Stereo

12 March 2012

It’s wonderful what you can do with Google.

My sister told me her car stereo wasn’t working. I checked it and found that it displayed Err-3. After a little Googling I discovered this is part of the anti-theft system and must have triggered after the battery had recently died.

Here are the steps to reset the anti-theft system:

  1. Check if your car has a sticker with a code written on it. Here’s a video that shows possible locations. If you find the code, skip to step 5.
  2. Pull out the stereo to obtain the device serial number and keep it pulled out.
  3. Write down the serial number so that you don’t have to remove the stereo again
  4. Get the code by supplying the serial number, VIN, and other information. Try this website. If that doesn’t work, call a dealership, ask for parts and services, and tell them you need the code. If they don’t give the code or try to charge you, try another dealership.
  5. If you came from step 1, disconnect the car battery, wait 30 seconds, and reconnect. If not, disconnect the power cable from the car stereo, wait 30 seconds, and reconnect.
  6. Enter the code
  7. Celebrate

Other Resources:
honda-tech.com/showpost.php?p=33226689&postcount=5

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Buying a Professional Video Camera

18 February 2012

is a nightmare.

There’s far too many choices. Do I get a consumer camcorder, a prosumer camcorder, a DSLR with video capabilities, or a real professional film camera? Well, the consumer camcorders have the consumer look, prosumer camcorders produce the same quality but have more buttons, DSLRs are missing features to consider it as a video camera, and a real film camera costs $7000.

A “pro” would say. Buy a real film camera. If you don’t have the money but know that film is what you want to do in life, save up for a real film camera.

A smart person will tell you to film with whatever you have. If the camera is limiting your abilities, buy whatever is within your budget.

If I could turn back time I’d buy a $600 TM-900 and start shooting; Then buy things as I need them.

That didn’t happen. I over-researched, spending more time reading when I could have been shooting. I ended up with a $1150 Panasonic DMC-GH2 with the 14-140mm lens. Although I don’t regret my purchase I do regret the time wasted.

Hm, now I’m unsure if I should provide the research I did as it may enable a reader to continue researching.

Might be updated soon!

Update!:
11/28/2014
Even though that Panasonic was the gem of DSLR / mirror-less film-making, it sucked as a film camera. The stabilization made it impossible for any sort of recording while walking. The camera itself was large. The camera would eat up battery and memory cards.

I sold it and bought a Panasonic v750. USB-powered and steadicam-like stabilization. If only I had bought the camcorder two years ago.

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Save your Netflix ratings

11 December 2010

I have a data whoring personality. I have way to many things-to-do lists, and text files with data which can be easily found on the internet. I’m trying to move away from this, yet I still persist.

Previously, to download my Netflix Ratings I used to use a script in Greasemonkey, but that didn’t work this time. After some Googling, I found LikeMinds (SaveMyRatings).

“LikeMinds is a service for sharing your favorites and discovering new stuff; including movies, books, music, people and places, with the help of other like-minded people.

LikeMinds also allows you to share your ratings with friends by quickly copying your ratings from different websites including Netflix, Blockbuster, Amazon, Flixster, Yahoo, IMDB, RottenTomates , iTunes, Winamp, GoodReads, Shelfari and many more websites and applications.”

I signed up and was able to import my Netflix ratings to the LikeMinds server, but I had trouble finding how to import it to a local file. Then I found this link. I had to log into Facebook for some reason, but it worked!

LikeMinds saves your ratings into a CSV file, which can be opened with Excel, then easily manipulated to however you like.

There were some errors. Some foreign movie titles contained weird characters. I even found a movie I can’t find on Netflix–“Wild, Wild West: The Steel Assassin” from 1999! Regardless, my storage greedy personality was satisifed.

I went even further adding friends similar to me, which resulted with a list of “movies new to you that your 19 LikeMinds rated highly”.

This list already seemed far more useful than any recommendations I’ve received from Netflix! Now if only I rated all of my music…

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Overclocking a MSI P6N SLI Platinum with a Core 2 Duo E6420

14 August 2007

These are my overclocking results with a MSI P6N SLI Platinum with a Core 2 Duo E6420 (and a XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 120mm Rifle CPU Cooler).

how to OC:
increment FSB. if that doesn’t work, increment voltage and try again. keep FSB 1:1 to MEM
in my case, FSB/2 = MEM
when done, prime95 blend test, prime95 small FFTs, intel burn test (very intense!)

BIOS settings:
1) cpu feature
execute bit support disabled
set limit CPUID disabled
c1e disabled press f4 in this menu

2) chipset feature
HPET disabled

3) cell menu
D.O.T. disabled
EIST disabled
system clock manual
voltages (see below)
advanced DRAM… 4-4-4-12tRAS-auto tRC-2T @ auto voltage (g.skills were auto’d at 2-3-3-8 @ 375mhz [although i put 4-3-3-8-auto(17)-auto(2t)-auto(1.9)?])
spread spectrum disable CPU
CPU ratio 8

results:
before wall
voltages
FSB 1500
MEM 750
CPU 0.000 (stock)
NB 1.3v (+.05)
SB 1.5v (stock)
FSB VTT 0% (stock)

after wall
advanced DRAM… auto
voltages
FSB 1700
MEM 850
CPU +.750
NB +.2 1.45v
SB stock
FSB VTT 4%

how to flash:
C:
cd\flash
A7350NMS.150
Afud408.exe /P /B /C

GPU temp after 2 mins of ATI tool artifact test
default 513/792 77 (60 idle)
OC 600/900
625/1000 80c
650/1000 83c
675/1000 [fail?]

1 hour ati tool artifact is a good test

using ATI tool
find max core – freezes at 669
find max mem – freezes at 1156

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My Custom Built PC

15 July 2007

This is a list of components of my custom PC and some peripherals. A lot of research went in when buying this, so I thought I’d share it.

motherboard: MSI P6N SLI Platinum LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 650i
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6420 Conroe 2.13GHz 4M shared L2 Cache @ 3ghz
heatsink: XIGMATEK HDT-S1283 120mm Rifle CPU Cooler
DVD burner: SAMSUNG 18X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe SATA SH-S183L
hard drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3320620AS 320GB 7200RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s
video card: EVGA 320-P2-N811-AR GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB 320-bit GDDR3
memory: G.SKILL F2-6400PHU2-2GBHZ 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
PSU: CORSAIR CMPSU-520HX 520W

case: Antec Solo
fan1: Nexus D12SL-12 120mm Case Fan
fan2: Antec 761345-75092-9 92mm Case Fan

monitor: Hanns.G HW-191DPB Black 19″ 5ms Widescreen LCD 300 cd/m2 700:1
speakers: Logitech Z-5500 505 Watts 5.1 Speaker
mouse: Logitech MX518 2-Tone 8 Buttons 1 x Wheel Wired Optical 1800 dpi
keyboard: some old HP

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