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Rugged Laptops

CmdrTaco posted more than 15 years ago | from the stuff-to-drop dept.

Hardware 58

redbeard writes "The NYTimes (requires free login) has an interesting write up on "ruggedized" laptops, these things can withstand tornados, being run over by trucks and being submerged in water, among other things. Panasonic is planing on a scaled-down line for consumer use, kind of like the Hummer vs. HUMVEE." If it lasts more than 6 mos in my hands, I consider it rugged...

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For those who dont like to be registred (3)

Alphix (33559) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885348)

Topic says it all.....
L/P: cypherpunk

Re:What about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885349)

Panasonic nests the hard drive in gel, the casing is magnesium. pretty slick

as far as a forty pound monster, try lugging that through an airport

Re:Above comment should not have been scored down (2)

Christopher Thomas (11717) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885350)

Where's the accontability in the moderation system here?

It's here in the form of rule-of-the-masses; if a moderator unjustly scores something, then other moderators will reverse it. This only applies if most moderators are fair, but it seems to have worked fairly well so far IMO.

Re:Ruggedized Laptops (1)

slashdot-me (40891) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885351)

> Tough laptops are cool, but this line: "A belly
> flop off a desk, however, would mean a force of
> 1,000 to 3,000 G's at impact." is a howler.

I dunno. Metal block, concrete floor, it could happen. Division by really little numbers.

heres hoping... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885352)

i've always wanted a computer i could kick down the stairs without having to worry about it rebooting.

Re:AST and Rugged? (0)

Ellis-D (19919) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885353)

I did support for compaq also.. Why would someone want the bios on the MBR.. That's bad!!!! I never got to play w/ the grid, I did get see some old ones at the Radio Shack warehouse in Bluemound, but they still wanted a pretty penny for them..
"Windows 98 Second Edition works and players better than ever." -Microsoft's Home page on Win98SE.

Panasonic Toughbook 71 (1)

The Fat Guy (12582) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885354)

I have recently gotten a Panasonic ToughBook 71 (300 Mhz PII, 64 MB Ram, 6GB Hd, 13" display, CD, USB) and am very pleased with it.

It is not fully ruggedized, it has the magnesium shell and gel-padded HD/display, but is not a sealed unit (it has an air vent for the CPU). I don't think I'll try standing on it (300lbs), but it has taken some rough handling already.

I'm running Debian 2.1 and Win 95. Linux compatibility is great, but I'm still working on sound (The 2.2 kernel has the an OPL3-SAx driver, but I haven't played with it much).

Word of advice, go ahead and order the "optional" cable that lets you use the floppy and the CD-ROM at the same time (this SHOULD be standard...).

What about... (3)

Graymalkin (13732) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885355)

a gel or foam insulation between the outer casing and interior casing. This would distribute and dissipate the kinetic energy from a fall or impact. If you used an insulating foam or gel it would also help the interior survive heat and cold much better. If I were gonna build one of these I would use a magnesium alloy case with gel insulation between the case and the interior case and I would also put a large guage plastic sheet behind and in front of the LCD display. This would prevent one of the worst forms of damage to your laptop, death of the LCD. The thick plastic would been the LCD mechanism secure between the sheets-the damage occurs when the LCD is bent-and would also keep people from pushing too hard on the screen and making you slap their hands. BTW, the being run over with a HUMVEE isnt THAT spectacular, the weight is distributed over most of the area of the case. I'm more impressed when they drop it onto concrete with no damage.

You want rugged? How about a 40 pound steel monster made by our friends at Northgate. Yeaaaaaaaaaah.

Re:Panasonic Toughbook 71 (1)

mIRCsloth (16672) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885356)

I have had toughbooks for work. I find they are quite rugged, (infact our panasonic rep dropped one from eye level onto the floor of our tech area, and picked it up, brushed it off and booted it!) but i find the floppy/cdrom swapping to be extreamly annoying, and i also like the Thinkpad trackpoint system better.
The screen is quite nice and the keyboard, as far as laptop ones go, it quite good. They are definatly my fav laptop!

Humvee Laptops (1)

Gary Franczyk (7387) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885357)

I have seen ruggedized laptops for some time in the back of some trade papers.. But previously, they were more specialized... as for people who have to work in harsh environments... Geologists, land surveyors...etc. They were usually much bigger and bulkier too... Its nice to see that they are making the regular laptops more durable... They have always been too delicate in my opinion.

I've worked with one... (5)

InThane (2300) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885358)

...back when I was in IS at a local public utility company. The survey engineers would take the things out with them, run over them with trucks, drop them from telephone poles, and just generally pound the crap out of them.

We only ever had one fail, and that was because it got hit straight on by a pickaxe. Went right through one side of the case and out the other. The casing does great against distributed pressure, but it don't do to good against impaling attacks...

Re:How Hot Do They Burn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885359)

Recall that the NeXT machines (in particular, the original "black cube" model) are also made of Magnesium.
Simson Garfinkel (photographer, currently an O'Reilly author - yes that one) attempted to burn one for a photo shoot.
As I heard the story, he took it to a nearby lab (livermore probably, he was on the left coast then) and explained what he wanted to try, and that he'd heard that they had a ceramics furnace that would be useful.
They agreed to try it. After raising it to some enormous temperature, it was a glowing mass, but no flames...
Finally, they said they had another broken next cube that they were frustrated with, brought it in and added it to the pile. *That* one burst into flames, leading to the desired picture.
I don't believe that they did the "obvious" thing in either case, which would be to scrape shavings/curlings off the edges...
Thus I'd suspect that, for example, the battery blowing up is a greater risk :-)

observations on rugged laptops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885360)

My secondhand DEC HiNote 450cs is finally just about dead, so I'm looking for something new and rugged. Some interesting observations:
pen systems (like the Genesys p133) have a major advantage: half the leverage on a corner impact, and no fragile hinge. Couple this with cheap keyboards at your normal docking stations and QuikWrite for on the road, and you've got a nice system that can beat you up.
(The Genesys still seems to be vapor, though.) Also, the drive itself has some basic ruggedness limits - the compaq armada, the dolch FieldPac, and the genesys
all list 10G/11ms shock limits.
A web search on the Panasonic Toughbook gives some interesting testimonials from fire departments, which says a lot about practical use.
All I really want is a machine that is solid enough for someone clumsy enough to *need* a g-shock watch (having destroyed everything else, even a timex analog ["keeps on ticking", sure - in 6mo it was running *backwards* half the time])
I've used motorola radios too - if that group made laptops, wow :-)

AST and Rugged? (0)

Ellis-D (19919) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885361)

*roflhao* I used to work for them and they built the worst computers for personal use. Dust has known to kill them off! I'm not kidding about that. But they are almost out of business..
"Windows 98 Second Edition works and players better than ever." -Microsoft's Home page on Win98SE.

Greatness of Motorola Radios (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885362)

Amen on the Motorolas, brother! When I was in college, I worked security at an amusement park in the summer. We used Motorola hand units.

I have seen (and occasionally been responsible for) those things coming off the belt of a running officer and landing hard on the concrete. They always worked.

The worst one happened when I dropped a Motorola Expo while running. The thing hit the concrete at full speed in front of my feet. I kicked it (running, remember?). It slid about 20 feet, ricocheted off of the security office (I'm talking hockey puck here), slid another ten feet, bounced off another building, and came to a rest.

(Me on aforementioned radio, knowing I was probably in big trouble): "773 to 700 10-1? (radio check)"
(Security dispatch): "10-2 (receiving ok) 10-1?"
(Me, VERY relieved): "10-2"

I had a new respect for Motorola's engineers after that.

Other accountability... (1)

TheDullBlade (28998) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885363)

Remember too that Cmdr. Taco is ever-vigilant listening for and booting moderation abusers.

Quality Assurance Tester (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885364)

"It's an adrenaline rush anytime you see a notebook fall from that height even if you know it's supposed to survive," said Wally Starr, the company's senior product manager, who never tires of the experience.

Beating the fsck out of laptops all day? Dude, I want THAT job! Get some revenge on these stupid plastic slavedrivers that chew up most of my day....

Those are cool (2)

magister (9423) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885365)

Thiers a company near me (like a 5 min drive) that makes rugged laptops. Arbor Systems [] , they have pictures of coustomers driving trucks on to the laptops. I was going to check them out when i get some money for a new laptop, maby being weather restistant it might last.

Re:Quality Assurance Tester (1)

dierdorf (37660) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885366)

This reminds me of a comment made ten or twenty years ago by a photographer on the definition of a perfect "professional" camera: One which he could use to take pictures Monday through Friday, and as a hockey puck on the weekends. It was funny when he said it, but these days I suppose one could easily produce a ruggedized CCD camera that would survive a slap shot.

Everything old is new again... (3)

UncleRoger (9456) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885367)

The first ever clamshell type portable computer was the GRiD Compass [] , a ruggedized computer with an alloy case and bubble memory (no moving parts.)

Since then, GRiD [] has continued making ruggedized laptops, including Tempest models for the military. There are other manufacturers out there as well, including the Rocky [] and Terradat [] laptops.

Personally, I plan to put a GRiD Convertible (identical to the AST PenExec [] ) to work as the navigation and journal-keeping system in my 1959 Land Rover 109" [] . It's not ultra-rugged, but it will do until I can afford a truly rugged machine.

P.S., that trick of driving over something isn't as impressive as it looks -- you get about 1/4 the vehicle's weight, which is evenly distributed over the entire area of the tire meeting the ground -- say 40 or so square inches (6" x 7"), so even my Rover, fully loaded, would only put about 25 pounds per square inch of pressure on the laptop.

Re:This Powerbook DID survive a tornado, indeed. (1)

webslacker (15723) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885368)

Well, the interesting thing was that the Powerbook in question is a PB 1400, a very common mid-range model. All durability features that allowed it to operate while were/are standard across the board. The Itronix laptop is a peculiarity among PC laptops, available through special channels.

And BTW, the Itronix laptop was moved 20 feet, not 20 miles. And it was inside a Ford van, not flying around on its own.

Computers on Expiditions (1)

sluke (26350) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885369)

Even with a rugged laptop, how do people use these things in the field? Can they be hooked up with a modem via cellular or satallite networks? That combined with a GPS unit could be a really, really big help to people like park rangers and rescue workers who sometimes have difficulty with finding trekkers.

GRiD laptops (1)

DHartung (13689) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885370)

Yeah, the GRiDs used to be quite nice and widely available. I was on a help desk years ago when the GRiD sales droids came by to deliver about 25 laptops for our sales force. They impressed me with the confidence they had, telling me stories about them dropping off file cabinets onto concrete and so on.

What really got my attention was when one guy grabbed a GRiD by the screen -- the screen, mind you, which was open and vertical -- and slammed the computer down on the workbench. Wham!

Didn't even blink.

Then Tandy bought them, there was a giddy few months when they were sellling them in their storefronts, then bam! Tandy gets out of the computer business. And for another ten years it was nigh impossible to find ruggedized laptops for a reasonable price.

Re:THE POINT: Technology will filter down! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885371)

i dropped my motorola cellphone from a 2nd floor
window and it survived. would i have liked it
if it shattered ? nope. similarly for the
laptops. Although i admit such occurances are rare..ive only dropped it once in 4 years. and it didnt even get scratched. yep..the general public needs this stuff alright.

Re:AST and Rugged? (1)

UncleRoger (9456) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885372)

The AST PenExec [] was made by GRiD -- it was the GRiD 2260 "Convertible" [] with AST's name on it. I put the link to the AST Page because I don't have one ready yet for the GRiD version.

While not truly ruggedized, like some of the other models, the Convertible is fairly robust, and its design makes it ideal for the dual purposes for which I plan to use it. In slate mode, I will have it mounted near the dashboard to display maps and directions; in notebook mode, I'll use it in bed, under a tree, or whereever convenient for recording the days events [] .

In general, however, I agree -- I have not been impressed with AST laptops (or Compaq, for that matter, who knows nothing of their computers more than a year or two old, so don't lose those driver disks!)

Re:For those who dont like to be registred (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885373)

There are two ways of looking at registration:

The article is free reading so you pay by registering and being added to their records and customer surveys

You want to keep your privacy and fear that this is just another violation of it

My personal view upon it is that people that refuse to be added to such databases would have made up totally bogus usernames anyhow (if this is right or wrong is a totally different discussion, I'm just saying what WOULD happen) so the original poster did NY Times a favour since alot of users dont have to make one bagus account each, thereby cluttering their database with false accounts.

To conclude: give the man some points...


Re:Quality Assurance Tester (1)

dattaway (3088) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885374)

I'm glad these are available. The NEC notebook at work is outdated and is in need of replacement. Its case is falling apart due to being dropped, kicked, and dragged behind the electric cars.

Speaking of destroying things, we once had a 15,000 lb forklift drive over a Motorola pager and it survived. Our radios; however, suffer from routine abuse as they are heavier and break away from the belt clips. They have been dropped from 40 feet to a concrete floor. They also sometimes take a swim in oil. The rubber antennas are often disfigured. They usually survive.

Rugged laptop (1)

Alphix (33559) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885375)

I'll have to say...they should have sent one to me, if it lasts one month under the "care" of my younger brothers it's really tornado safe =)

THE POINT: Technology will filter down! (3)

ghibli (38720) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885376)

Several posts mention the "old" rugged laptops which have been used by certain military servicemen for years. But they were usually off-the-shelf laptops retrofitted to meet various durability standards and resold to the military. However, this article points to a relatively new trend: a MAJOR VENDOR has a line of laptops specifically designed for harsh environments that is available to the general public.

The technology, materials and manufacturing processes used by these laptops will eventually filter through the channel to other vendors (who will copy them once they see the demand --- and smell money to be made) and then down to slightly less expensive models.

Of course, I don't really think that these rugged electronic lunchboxes will ever be needed by the "general public." If you are stupid enough to drive your Hummer over your laptop (warranty or not), you should not be allowed to roam around in public. And if you can afford a Hummer, you probably won't be worried about a notebook's price or the loss of data!

What's the going rate: 3 heavy-duty laptops = 2 Hummer wiper blades = 1/2 tank of Hummer-grade gas?
But I must admit: dropping a laptop 6 feet and using it afterwards is COOL!

This Powerbook DID survive a tornado, hardly.. (0)

Ellis-D (19919) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885377)

It wasn't picked up and trown at 80-100+ MPH to have it land 20 miles away.... Now that would of been impressive..

But of course I can say being soaked in mud and water and continue running, that's pretty good in it's self.
"Windows 98 Second Edition works and players better than ever." -Microsoft's Home page on Win98SE.

Re:Rugged laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885378)

...but the accessories aren't as tough as it claims. For a rugged computer, a pre-loaded Windows NT is all it takes to destroy it (unless of course, replacing it with Linux).

Linuxcare story? (0)

MikeO (951) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885379)

What happened to the LinuxCare story that was up a few minutes ago, but no longer seems to be there? Somebody regretting a spur-of-the-moment email?

Panisonic CF-25 Pros and cons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885380)

I have a CF-25 mark 2 that, love the chassis especially the machines aluminum handle. I believe that is they (manufacturers) added handles to exsisting laptops that dropping wouldn't be so much of a problem.

I work for a company that does vehicle tracking w/ GPS and CPDP (wireless TCP/IP networking) we do alot with Mobil data terminals and PC in police vehicles and the biggest problem is officers spilling coffee on the keyboards (honest!)

I must admitt that for all the cool militant look and shock resistance, I wish they could have put a little more thought into the Battery/power usage(random battery life), PCMCIA slots (constant problems)

Panasonic Laptops (2)

Red Knight (35944) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885381)

I have seen these at a Government convention they were dropping them about 4 feet. Then having 200 pounds guys stand and jumb on them. The screen got a little screwed up sometimes but that was it. I would love to have one of these babys.

Re:Computers on Expiditions (1)

UncleRoger (9456) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885382)

Sure, Sattelite phones will get you on-line as on a friend's recent trip [] , or you can use a ricochet modem [] like I do [] , and this guy [] does, if you're in range.

Ruggedized Laptops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885383)

Tough laptops are cool, but this line: "A belly flop off a desk, however, would mean a force of 1,000 to 3,000 G's at impact." is a howler. Was there an editor working at the NYT that day?

Re:I've worked with one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885384)

not bulletproof either ? tsk..tsk..

Re:This Powerbook DID survive a tornado, indeed. (0)

Ellis-D (19919) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885385)

Well I was just talking about the powerbook. I could not read the artical that was originally posted @ the top. The company blocks alot of sites.... (arggg)
"Windows 98 Second Edition works and players better than ever." -Microsoft's Home page on Win98SE.

That's HUMMER vs. HMMWV.... (1)

SimplyCosmic (15296) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885386)

If anything, the HUMMER is a scaled-*UP* version of the HMMWV M998A2. Better suspension, better seats, a radio... etc. Minus the kevlar weaved into the fiberglass, mind you.

Hummer vs. Humvee (1)

Mindcrym (52114) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885387)

This is not on topic but I wanted to post anyway because people are always commenting on how the Hummer is a "scaled down" version of the Humvee. This is plain wrong. Even though Slashdot has a link to they failed to actually read the site:
"The civilian Hummer has the same basic design and
components as the Humvee military truck. Many
creature comforts have been added to make the Hummer the world's most serious 4x4 vehicle."
(Bold text by me.) So as you can see, if anything, the Hummer is a scaled up version of the Humvee.
And yes, I am somewhat torqued by this because I actually do own a Hummer.
Just needed to rant.
No, I haven't tried driving over a laptop with it.

Ruggedized Suns... (2)

AtariDatacenter (31657) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885388)

The Air Force has some ruggedized Sun workstations they use. (The components are bought by a third company from Sun, repackaged, and then sold the to military.) The quote from my buddie in the armed services is that "It could be dropped from an airplane and keep on going."

I have to wonder how many packets per meters/second it generated.

How Hot Do They Burn (1)

shogun (657) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885389)

Rugged machines, therefore, keep their interiors sealed but avoid spontaneous combustion by using the surrounding magnesium case as a heat sink.

Sounds like a good idea, but what if you overclock these things, just how quickly is that magnesium case going to catch fire? ;]

Submersible? Cool! (1)

Accipiter (8228) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885390)

I like the idea of a submersible laptop. I would buy one just to use in my pool. Think about it! grab an oxygen tank, some goggles, a laptop, and go Scuba Diving High-Tech! The idea of being able to pund the crap out of it to no avail is good too. (How many times has YOUR laptop pissed you off enough that you want to throw it across the room? NOW YOU CAN!)

THAT should be touted as a feature.

-- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

That's protection! (0)

Ellis-D (19919) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885391)

Now if car engineers could figure out how to to this for engines...
"Windows 98 Second Edition works and players better than ever." -Microsoft's Home page on Win98SE.

Re:Linuxcare story? (1)

KnightStalker (1929) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885392)

I was just wondering the same thing. What gives?

This is supposed to be *new* ? (5)

GMontag (42283) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885393)

Excellent comparison, read on.

This time 4 years ago I was working on a US Army vehicle maintenance project, using the Panasonic CF-44.

All hardware was off-the-shelf. The idea to use the CF-44 was from their use by geologists and in the oil industry (BP was already using them, as I recall).

The model we used was an i486-66, 8meg(?) RAM, forgot HDD size, 2 PC slots, hot-swappable battery/floppy bay, plus a 2x CD tucked under the flip up keyboard. Had a kewell trackball pointer and a titanium top (the bottom of case was plastic).

These machines were issued to mechanics in Army motorpools, along with barand new "electronic technical manuals", i.e., maintenance manuals on CD. The computer was the vehicle to bring the new manual format into the motorpool.

The first major indication that we had picked the correct hardware was... a mechanic knocked a running Panasonic off the hood of a HUMMWV and it lived, no damage.

However, they were not Officer proof. Later a Lt. dropped a power supply into a lake, he had to buy a new one.

More ruggedness at (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885394)

Check out their AMD based 133Mhz number.

Not anything that you could actually use for doing programming but seriously rugged, great for those vertical market solutions.

* All solid state disks.
* Magnesium case.
* Immersible.

They say they can survive a 2M drop onto concrete.

Above comment should not have been scored down (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885395)

Where's the accontability in the moderation system here?

This Powerbook DID survive a tornado (4)

webslacker (15723) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885396)

The article's over at Ogrady's. []

Too bad they didn't mention this one in the NY Times article.

Rugged comps to use in Burger King like places (1)

atw (9209) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885397)

This is exactly what would be required for
"Burger King to offer Internet Access" [] .
If this thing will be able to withstand few months of this environment at all. All I wonder is if they tested the thing not with passive water, but actively corrosive stuff like Coke.

Actually, I would like to have this notebook (if it was not THAT expensive) to play some jokes, like spilling my coffee in refectory so people would be horrified.

AtW, []

rugged == good (1)

SmartSsa (19152) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885398)

my thinkpad POS 380D is still running... but i wouldn't say it lasted more than 6 months.. battery is dead, cdrom is fooked... yeah.
then again its in a plastic case too... stupid IBM.

I own one (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885399)

I found the CF-25 Mark II in the Microage Outlet for $1800. Panasonic was asking about $3500. I now have the 2.1GB hardrive partitioned to dual boot Linux (RH5.2) and Win95B (Came with it). It is a great laptop. It has survived a couple of drops (3 ft or less) while running. The case is a magnesium alloy, the screen is protected so that you can't make casual contact and cause that distorted look most LCDs get when you push on them and the hardrive is shock protected with some gel padding. If you have the money I would definitely recommend these laptops.

Re:I need this (1)

D3 (31029) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885400)

Consumer Reports did an article on laptops last month. They concluded the same thing about the Dell after their spill test. Yup, they spilled it on purpose.

I don't need ruggedized, just waterproof... (1)

Greg Titus (11738) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885401)

I carry a PowerBook around with me all the time, am not too careful with it, and I've never had any problems. Granted this is not tornado country.

The feature that appeals to me about this would be getting a waterproof laptop that I could use in the bath. I do my best thinking underwater. :-)

I need this (1)

joshv (13017) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885402)

Maybe one of these could have survived my Dell laptop's recent experience with Orange Juice.

Needless to say the Dell faired poorly.


Re:Rugged laptop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885403)

Needs to survive having coffee spilled on the keyboard without blowing out the keyboard.

What about surviving being rinsed under the facet to get rid of all the dust?

sealant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 15 years ago | (#1885404)

I do tech support, talked to a guy last month who's working on an underwater laptop for the Navy SEALs. Get this: they have a magnesium-based self destruct feature. Perfect for teaching your boss not to look over your shoulder when you're working.

Re:For those who dont like to be registred (1)

rhaig (24891) | more than 15 years ago | (#1885405)

so don't register....

use the cypherpunk login
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