Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Randocity Tech Holiday Shopping Guide

Posted in giving, holiday, video game by commorancy on November 23, 2018

GiftBoxIn the spirit of the upcoming holidays, I offer the Randocity Tech Holiday Shopping Guide otherwise known as the How-to-avoid-technology-pitfalls Guide. Let’s explore.

Purpose

The purpose of this guide is two-fold. First, it’s designed to help you choose various electronics and video game gifts. Second, it’s design to keep you from falling into pitfalls with said gift purchases, to help minimize returns / exchanges by selecting an incompatible item and to help avoid making you look like you don’t know what you’re buying.

Let’s get started…

Xbox One Wired Microphone + Headset

Here’s one gift where you might think it would be easy to locate a functional item. Thanks to Microsoft, you would be incorrect.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: Even though the Xbox One does have a 3.5mm jack on the controller, it only accepts certain compatible chat headphone accessories. If you’re planning on buying a chat headset for someone with an Xbox One, you should check the box for the words Universal, Xbox One and/or Samsung / Android compatibility. The problem… The Xbox One is only compatible with headsets wired for use on Samsung / Android devices or devices specifically labeled compatible with the Xbox one.

πŸ‘Ž This means you cannot buy any Apple compatible headphones with a 3.5mm jack and have the microphone work. The stereo output will work, but the microphone will not. If you’re unsure of the compatibility of the headset, ask the store, search the manufacturer’s web site or find another brand.

βœ… Instead, look for and purchase wired headsets that list Samsung, Android, Xbox One or Universal on the box only.

πŸ”₯ Note that it is getting more difficult to find boxes labeled for Android or Samsung as most Android devices understand this incompatibility and have built their latest devices to support either headphone type. This has caused more confusion rather than helping solve the problem.

πŸ‘ Gaming headsets change yearly and offering a specific recommendation means this advice will be out of date by this time next year. I will say, Turtle Beach quality isn’t great so steer clear of this brand. If you stick with Sony branded headsets for the PS4, you should be good there. Microsoft doesn’t make high quality headsets, so you’ll have to buy from third parties for the Xbox One. I personally have a Plantronics RIG 500 Pro HC and can recommend this as a good basic quality headset. The fidelity is decent, but not perfect. Some reviewers of this headset have complained of the microphone breaking quickly.

PS4 or Xbox One Wireless Chat Headsets

Here’s another gift idea like the above, but it too has a big pitfall. I’ll break it out by console version.

πŸ›‘PS4 Pitfall: While the PS4 does have Bluetooth capabilities, it doesn’t support the AVRCP or A2DP profiles. Instead, the PS4 only supports the HSP (HeadSet Profile). This profile is a lesser used profile throughout the industry and it doesn’t support the same quality stereo output as AVRCP and A2DP. For this reason, you can’t go and buy just any Bluetooth chat headset and assume it will work. For example, the Apple Airpods do not work on the PS4. Randocity recommends not even looking at Bluetooth headphones for the PS4 as greater than 97% of them won’t work.

βœ… Instead, you’ll need to buy headphones specifically designed for the PS4, and these typically come with a dongle for Wireless. For example, Sony’s Gold Wireless headphones. There are other brands from which to choose, but be sure that the box is labeled with either PS4 or Universal console compatibility.

πŸ›‘Xbox One Pitfall: The Xbox One doesn’t support Bluetooth at all. This makes it a little bit easier when gift shopping in that you can entirely avoid looking at Bluetooth headphones at all.

βœ… Instead, you’ll want to look for wireless chat headphone boxes that have either Universal and/or Xbox One printed on it. As long as you make sure to look for this printing on the box, then this headphone will work.

πŸ”₯ Many places don’t allow you to listen to a gaming headset’s sound quality. You’ll have to buy the headset untried. Whether any specific headphone sounds good, that’s a personal preference. You can’t take into account your gift recipient’s personal tastes in how they like their headphones to sound. However, if you avoid buying headphones priced below $40, the headphones should provide fair to good sound quality. Below the $100 price point, don’t expect those deep rich bass drivers, though. Though, headphone drivers have drastically improved in recent years and the sub $100 price point tends to be much better quality than what you would have found in the early 00s and 90s.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends a visit your local Best Buy or Gamestop or even Amazon and see which wireless gaming headphones are on sale. I might suggest a gift card which avoids the situation and lets the gamer pick their own brand.

Video Game Controller for iPad or iPhone

Here’s another area that would seem easy, but it isn’t. Apple requires a specific hardware certification for all game controllers called MFi. This makes it a little more tricky to find a controller that works.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: There are many game controllers on the market including Microsoft’s Xbox One controller, PlayStation 4’s DualShock controller and even Nintendo’s Pro controller. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can get these to work. Even though all of the aforementioned controllers are Bluetooth, that doesn’t mean they’ll work on the iPad. None of them have the MFi certification. Avoid buying one of these “other” controllers as you cannot get it to work.

βœ… Instead, look for and buy only MFi certified controllers, such as the SteelSeries Nimbus controller. Not only does this controller charge using a Lightning cable, it is fully compatible with all Apple devices including the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and even MacOS.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends the SteelSeries Nimbus controller for Apple devices as it feels the most like a PS4 or Xbox Controller.

Newest iPad and Headphones

With the introduction of the latest iPad using USB-C, this throws yet another dilemma into the works for gift purchasing. This problem also underscores why Apple should never have removed the headphone jack from its devices.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: With the introduction of the current home-buttonless iPad, you’ll also find the unwelcome surprise of a USB-C charging port. This means that any Apple headphones (other than the Airpods) won’t work on this newest iPad. To use either a pair of Lightning or 3.5mm jack headphones, you’ll need an adapter.

βœ… Instead, pick up a pair of Bluetooth headphones which will remain compatible with all Apple devices going forward.

πŸ”₯ Apple insists on changing its port standards regularly. As a result, you should not buy into any specialty jack wired Apple headphones. If you want to buy any wired headphones, buy the 3.5mm jack version and eventually Apple will create an adapter to its newest port. Since every other device on the planet still supports a 3.5mm jack, you can use these headphones on every other device. Buying Lightning or USB-C headphones means you’ll be extremely limited on where those can be used… and when Apple decides to change its port again, those USB-C or Lightning headphones will be useless.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends gifting Apple Airpods for Apple devices. Not only do they sound great, they’re easy to use (mostly) and they’ll remain compatible with future Apple devices… unless, of course, Bluetooth is replaced with a wireless protocol of Apple’s design. The Bluetooth Airpods are also fully compatible with many other Bluetooth devices, including the Amazon Echo. Skip the wires, the hassle and the expensive dongles and go wireless with Apple devices.

DVD, Blu-ray and UltraHD 4K Blu-ray

I find it funny that we still have so many optical disc entertainment formats. DVD as a format was introduced in the late 90s and has survived for so many years. Yet, we also now have Blu-ray and UltraHD Blu-ray.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: Be sure to read the disk case carefully. Even though DVD is typically sold in a different sized case, packaging standards in movie entertainment are loose at best. Be sure to read the package carefully so you are getting the disc you think you are getting. For example, both UltraHD 4K Blu-ray case packages and DVD use black plastic cases. If you’re eyeing the case strictly by color, you could accidentally pick up an UltraHD version of the movie when you wanted the DVD version.

βœ… Choose the best format that can be played by your gift receiver’s equipment.

πŸ”₯ During the Holiday season, particularly on Black Friday weekend, you’ll find all sorts of content on Doorbusters. Take advantage, but be careful to read the packaging. You don’t want your gift receiver to be surprised that you bough them a Blu-ray when they only have DVD or that you bought them an UltraHD 4K Blu-ray when they only have Blu-ray. Be a careful shopper and read the box and also know what your gift receiver has.

It’s likewise just as bad if you buy a DVD for someone who has an UltraHD 4K TV and Blu-ray player. They won’t want to watch your DVD and will return it for credit towards something else.

Additionally, if you give a DVD or Blu-ray, you may find that they have access to Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix. They might already have access to the film or have already watched. So, be cautious.

πŸ‘ I’d recommend a gift card intended towards the purchase of a movie. This allows the recipient to buy whatever film they want in whatever format they have. Though, you’ll want to go look up the film and determine its price, then give a gift card that covers that purchase price.

Video Games

Here’s another one you might think can be an easy gift. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: Video games are very much personal to the gamer. Because there are so many genres and types of games, it can be impossible to choose a game that not only does the gamer not already have, but impossible to choose a game they might actually like.

βœ… Instead, because most games are $60, you’ll be safe to give a gift card in the amount of $60 to cover the purchase of the game.

πŸ”₯ If your recipient is an adult, the purchase of any game shouldn’t be a problem. However, if your recipient is a minor, then you’ll want to give a gift card to avoid any ESRB rating or content issues that a parent might not want within the game. Avoid becoming “that aunt” or “that uncle” by buying an inappropriate game for a minor. Because video games are a personal taste situation, buying any game blind could end up with a return. I do realize that gift cards are an impersonal gift, but in some situations like video games, it is well worth it to play it safe.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends buying gift cards over buying physical game copies, particularly for minors. If you happen to have a specific game request by the receiver and the parent has approved the game, then by all means buy it. If you’re simply shopping blind, then a gift card is Randocity’s recommendation to avoid this pitfall.

Giving the Gift of Music

Here’s another one that should be easy, but it isn’t. If you’re thinking of buying CDs for your tech savvy friend, you might want to ask some questions first.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: Because of music services like Apple Music and Amazon Unlimited where you get access to nearly Amazon and Apple’s full music catalog, subscribers no longer need to buy CDs. As long as they remain subscribers of these music services, they now have instant access to the most recent music the day of its release.

βœ… Instead, it might be wise to avoid this type of content purchase, particularly if you know the person is affluent and a music buff.

πŸ”₯ Be careful and ask questions if you’re thinking of gifting a CD. If they have access to Apple Music, Spotify or Amazon Unlimited, buying them a CD may result in a return.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends giving gift cards to iTunes or Amazon instead of buying a specific CD. If you give a gift card, they can apply the amount towards their membership or whatever other merchandise or music they wish. This avoids the awkward look you might get once you find out they already subscribe to Apple Music.

Giving the Gift of an Apple Watch

Thinking of giving someone an Apple Watch for the the holidays? You need to understand the pitfall here.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: An Apple Watch is entirely dependent on an iPhone to function. In order to even get the Apple Watch setup and working as a watch, it must be configured using an iPhone. Further, because the Apple watch only pairs with an iPhone, don’t give it to someone who only has an iPad, iPod touch or iPhone 4 or below. It won’t work. It also won’t work for someone who owns an Android phone.

βœ… Instead, if you’re not sure if your gift recipient has an iPhone that will work, I’d suggest getting them a different watch. If the person owns an Android, you’ll want to choose one of the Android watches instead. The Apple Watch doesn’t work at all with Android.

πŸ”₯ If you do decide to chance that they own an iPhone, be sure to give them a gift receipt as they may need to return it if they don’t have one.

πŸ‘Ž Randocity recommends avoiding the purchase of an Apple Watch as a gift, particularly if you know the person doesn’t have an iPhone or has an Android phone. This is a particularly tricky gift item and is likely to end up returned if the person doesn’t have an iPhone. If you know the person doesn’t have an iPhone, then you’ll need to gift them both an iPhone and an Apple Watch… which is a whole lot more expensive of a gift than you might have expected to give. For this reason, I thumbs down πŸ‘Ž giving the Apple Watch as a blind gift. If you are absolutely 100% certain the person you are giving the Apple Watch to has an iPhone, then go for it.

Gift Receipts

πŸ‘ Randocity always recommends asking the store for a gift receipt. Then, include it with any gift you give. This allows the recipient to trade it in should they happen to get two copies of the same item.

Happy Holidays!

β†©οΈŽ

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Hottest Video Games for 2018

Posted in video gaming by commorancy on August 31, 2018

The fall of the year is always the time when the majority of video games release. After all, kids are back in school and the holidays are right around the corner. The game industry waits until August to begin trickling out their biggest games, building momentum until the end of the year. As always, there are a number of games this year to consider. Let’s explore.

Video Game Inclusion Criteria

The games selected for Randocity’s top games list for 2018 only include games that I feel will be of high quality, will be fun and will offer the best play value for your money. Nothing is implied about any game that didn’t make this list. The lack of inclusion simply means that the game isn’t likely to offer the best play value for your money. Those other games are also usually for gamers who specifically look for those kinds of games. This is especially true if you’re considering using this as a gift guide. With pretty much any of these games you cannot go wrong giving them as a gift, with the exception of Fallout 76 due to its MMORPG nature. Without further adieu…

Randocity’s Top Video Game Picks for Fall 2018

PS4, Xbox One and Multiplatform Games

Game Platform(s) Release Date Rating Publisher
Destiny 2 PS4, Xbox One September 4th Bungie
Spider-Man PS4 Exclusive September 7th Sony Interactive Entertainment
Life Is Strange 2 PS4, Xbox One September 27th Rating Square Enix
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey PS4, Xbox One October 2nd Rating Ubisoft
Mega Man 11 PS4, Xbox One, Switch October 2nd Rating Ubisoft
Call of Duty: Black Ops IV PS4, Xbox One October 12th Rating Activision / Treyarch
Red Dead Redemption 2 PS4, Xbox One October 26th Rating Rockstar Games
Hitman 2 PS4, Xbox One November 9th Rating Warner Bros. Interactive Ent.
Fallout 76 (requires Internet)
PS4, Xbox One November 14th Rating Bethesda / Zenimax
Battlefield V PS4, Xbox One November 20th Rating Electronic Arts
Darksiders III PS4, Xbox One November 27th Rating THQ
Just Cause 4 PS4, Xbox One December 4th Rating Square Enix

Nintendo Switch Games

Game Platform Release Date Rating Publisher
Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition Nintendo Switch September 5h Stage 2 Studios
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut Nintendo Switch September 13th Rating InXile Entertainment
Super Mario Party Nintendo Switch Exclusive October 5th Rating Nintendo
Child of Light Nintendo Switch October 11th Rating Ubisoft
Dark Souls Remastered Nintendo Switch October 19th Rating Namco Bandai Games
Project Highrise: Architect’s Edition Nintendo Switch October 23rd Rating Kalypso
PokΓ©mon: Let’s Go, Eevee! Nintendo Switch Exclusive November 16th Rating Nintendo
PokΓ©mon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! Nintendo Switch Exclusive November 16th Rating Nintendo
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Nintendo Switch Exclusive December 7th Rating Nintendo

The games listed above are not all of the games that will release this year, but they are on this list because they will work well as gifts for just about any gamer. Note, some of the games on the Switch may have previously released on other console platforms. This particular year there’s not a whole lot of games that really stand out as must play games. But, there are a few… specifically PokΓ©mon, Super Smash Brothers, Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption 2. These are the only true must play games on this list.

The rest of the games will likely be fun, but they’re not games that I feel must be owned day one. Though, they do make great gift ideas. Note that Fallout 76 is an MMORPG in similar form to The Elder Scrolls Online. It requires an internet connection and Xbox Live if playing on an Xbox One. Be careful when considering this game as a gift item if you don’t know whether the recipient has always-on Internet or Xbox Live. If you’re not sure whether your recipient meets these game requirements, you might should consider other games on this list. All of the other games should be safe without Internet, but always read the back of the box to be absolutely sure.

Enjoy!

β†©οΈŽ

Consumer Tips: How to navigate the Toys R Us liquidation

Posted in best practices, business by commorancy on April 1, 2018

[UPDATED: 12/17/2018] TRU officially closed all remaining US stores as of mid-summer. This article is here simply for legacy reasons. Buh-Bye TRU and thanks for all the fun. We’ll miss you this holiday season.

If you’re thinking of visiting Toys R Us to take advantage of the store closing liquidation sales, this is your safety guide. Don’t throw your money away at Toys R Us, make every dollar count. Let’s explore.

Giving Gifts

Toys R Us’s liquidation is All Sales Final. The first tip is pretty straightforward. If you’re looking to buy a gift for a child, you are trying to stock up for the holidays or for any other rainy day reason, keep in mind that you cannot return, exchange or refund anything you purchase at this time. For gifts, this can be critical, particularly with children. You should always make sure that the person who receives that gift can return or exchange it if they don’t like it. Purchasing from Toys R Us on liquidation, you forfeit the return option.

Even if the gift is to be given while Toys R Us is still open, there are no refunds or exchanges. So, be aware that whatever gift item you choose is theirs to keep forever. You might want to be prepared to perform an exchange with your own money. Note that this can become an uncomfortable situation.

If you know there’s a possibility that your gift might be returned, you should buy from Amazon, Target or Walmart instead which leaves that option open for the recipient.

No Returns, Refunds or Exchanges

This goes hand-in-hand with All Sales Final. If you purchase items from Toys R Us during liquidation, you may get a great deal, but at the cost of no refunds, returns or exchanges. Make absolutely certain that what you buy is absolutely something you intend to keep.

Whether or not you intend to give the item as a gift, you should open the item and check it thoroughly. Do it in the store if at all possible. If it has batteries, make sure to test the item for functionality. You may not be able to test a battery powered item in the store, however. They may not allow you to remove the item from its packaging in the store to perform this test. You may have to take it home and check it there. By that time, you’ve already purchased and it’s too late if it’s defective. If you’re in doubt, leave it at the store.

If you do find a dead or defective item, you will need to contact the toy manufacturer directly and work your exchange through the manufacturer. Keep your receipt. This exchange process could take a whole lot more time than if you bought at a store still accepting exchanges.

Consider your purchases during a liquidation carefully. Do not purchase Toys R Us gift cards… but this should go without saying.

Extended Warranties

If you decide to buy an expensive item that could break easily, you should ask of Toys R Us to offer you a SquareTrade warranty plan. This will ensure you can get a replacement after Toys R Us closes. In preparation for this article, I spoke with a representative at SquareTrade who confirmed that they will continue to honor all SquareTrade warranties purchased at Toys R Us. If you do decide to invest in an expensive item that is prone to defects or breakage, you should also consider purchasing a SquareTrade warranty during liquidation.

Video Games and Video Game Consoles

Purchased video game content is a reasonably safe investment during the Toys R Us liquidation. It’s rare that a disc or a cartridge is defective.

On the other hand, purchasing a video game console or other video game hardware is a bad idea. If you must purchase one, purchase a SquareTrade warranty at Toys R Us to go with it (assuming they are still selling these warranty plans). If it’s not SquareTrade, then you should call the plan service provider before you check out at the store to ensure that insurance plan will continue to cover your purchase after Toys R Us closes for good.

Without an extended service plan, you have no replacement policy if it’s defective or gets broken. Be very cautious of buying video game hardware from Toys R Us during liquidation without a warranty. Though, you can try to work through the manufacturer warranty, it’s sometimes only 90s days. During liquidation, this is the one time where you should consider the purchase of a third party warranty, at least for purchases like video game consoles… particularly the Nintendo Switch which is portable and prone to being dropped.

However, certain types of lesser expensive video game hardware, like controllers, wires, Amiibo, cases, pens and other similar $30-$50 items are safer to buy, particularly when they are marked down 50% or more. However, consoles themselves, like the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 are not considered good investments from a liquidation sale.

I’d also suggest to avoid buying these devices from eBay as well because many will flood eBay listings from sellers who went to Toys R Us just to cash in on these low prices. If you’re thinking of buying a console from eBay, ask where it was purchased. Be wary if it’s from Toys R Us.

Dolls, Action Figures and Non-Battery Toys

Toys that don’t require batteries and don’t have complex moving pieces are some of the safer items to buy. They offer less defects and are more likely to last the test of time than RC vehicles, video game consoles, battery powered electric child cars, electric skate boards and other custom battery items.

Consumer Safety and Toy Recalls

Toys R Us was very good at keeping up with safety recalls. Unfortunately, they are going out of business. This also means that any toys you purchase during the liquidation that later fall under a recall, you can no longer return to Toys R Us. Like the All Sales Final discussion above, consider that items like cribs, baby items and other possible dangerous infant and toddler toys won’t have any place to go if they are recalled, especially if your baby gets hurt. Though, the manufacturer might honor a return or exchange, you will not be able to do so at Toys R Us. You will also not be able to make any legal claims of injury to Toys R Us once they have closed.

Safe or Unsafe Investment?

Here is a list (not exhaustive) of items that I consider safe, somewhat safe and not safe for a liquidation purchase so long as you fully understand that you cannot return or exchange them at TRU.

Note, safe, somewhat safe and not safe represent what I consider as a “safe purchase” (i.e., getting value for your money vs. throwing your money away), these labels do not describe whether the toy or item itself is safe for use by a child. You will have to determine toy safety yourself.

Toy Type Liquidation Safe Purchase? Contains Battery? Reason
Dolls Safe No
Motorized Dolls Not Safe Yes Prone to defects and can be unsafe
No store warranty
Bicycles Somewhat Unsafe Depends If you’re buying for a gift, unsafe.
If you’re buying to use now, perhaps.
If it has a battery, unsafe.
TRU may or may not offer assembly.
Use your best judgement.
Motorized Electric Kid Cars Not Safe Yes Batteries can be defective
May not be able to find replacement battery
No store warranty
Action Figures Safe No
Plush Animals Somewhat Safe No Depending on what it’s made from,
it may be safe or unsafe. Choose carefully.
Vinyl Figures Safe No
Hot Wheels Safe No So long as the Hot Wheels contain no batteries
Lego Safe No So long as the Legos contain no batteries
Motorized Toys Not Safe Yes Avoid motorized or electronic toys
Video Games Safe No Games themselves are rarely defective
Video Game Consoles Not Safe Maybe Could be defective
No way to exchange
No store warranty
Choose 3rd party insurance plan if you must buy
Video Game Controllers Somewhat Safe Yes Typically okay along with certain accessories.
Barbie Safe Depends If the Barbie doesn’t contain a battery,
this should be safe. If it contains a battery,
make sure the doll is working before
leaving the store.
Baby Toys Depends Depends For safety reasons, I do not recommend buying
baby toys and items via liquidation sales.
Diapers Safe No
Cribs Not Safe No Cribs can be dangerous for infants.
Purchase at a store where you can return.
Car Seats Not Safe No Car Seats can be dangerous for infants.
Purchase at a store where you can return.
Skateboards Safe No
Electric Skateboards Not Safe Yes Β Avoid because of custom battery (replacement)
RC Vehicles Not Safe Yes Β Avoid because of custom battery (replacement)
Tablets Somewhat Safe Yes Β If Apple, you can rely on Apple. If another brand, avoid.
Wrapping Paper / Party Safe No
DVDs and Blu-ray Safe No
Toys To Life (Amiibo) Safe No
Headphones Not Safe Depends Β High chances for problems
Toys R Us Exclusives Somewhat Safe Depends Avoid with custom batteries
Wooden Toys Somewhat Safe Depends

Use Your Best Judgement

The above is not an exhaustive list, so always use your best judgement if it’s not listed here. If the toy contains no battery at all, it should be fine. If the toy contains or uses standard AA, AAA, C, D or button cell batteries, you’re fine. If the toy contains a lithium ion and/or custom battery, you should avoid purchase. Any toy that contains a custom battery may have been custom made for Toys R Us. This means you may find it difficult or impossible to find batteries later. House brand or Toys R Us exclusive toys requiring refill packs should be avoided. Toys and products for infants should be avoided for safety reasons. The only product I would suggest is safe for an infant is diapers and possibly formula as long as it’s a name brand, not a house brand.

Tablets and electronics should be avoided if not from Apple or another recognized brand. If it’s a house branded electronic item, avoid.

Toys R Us Exclusives

Toys R Us Exclusives are now considered rare. However, that doesn’t mean they’re a good investment. Pop figures are fine, exclusive Barbies are fine and exclusive Hot Wheels are fine (see the list above). However, any exclusives that require something that you can only get at Toys R Us (like batteries or refills), you should avoid purchase.

Toys R Us Geoffrey toys

These are likely to be some of the rarest toys available. If you want a piece of memorabilia to commemorate Toys R Us, you should head over fast and pickup whatever Geoffrey items you can find. If you’re looking for plush, you might have to ask at the service desk.

Happy Deals and good luck!

β†©οΈŽ

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