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MacBook Air Repair, Part 3 – Mission Accomplished – Apple Support in Japan Tips

My Top Tip on Getting your MacBook Air screen replaced in Japan

 

Where to find a MacBook Air 11.6 inch replacement screen? Well, it’s not at the local Eiden, shockingly. 😉
Having looked online the best deal all I could find was $299 on ebay.com. Nothing directly from China. Shame. Throw in shipping, and at that price point, possible import taxes, and it gets pretty steep.
I thought I’d ring Apple, just to get an idea what they’d quote. They told me all out of warranty repairs on MacBooks, iBooks, and MacBook Airs, are a flat rate 34650 yen. That’s ridiculously expensive – for anything other than a MacBook Air screen. Considering the hassle and the likely delays in getting it from abroad, then still having to fit it myself, I went for the convenient option. Maybe I’ve been in Japan too long. 😉

They turned it around in 5 working days, which, I guess, is acceptable.

So, here’s a top tip: if you cracked your MacBook Air’s screen, don’t contact me, just call Apple. Shocking, isn’t it?

You can call support on 0120-99-4477, then press 5 for English. This is free to dial from landlines. The number to use from Skype or other VOIP software is 03 5334 2096.

What to expect?

Well, as I have said the turnaround was quick. The price is high, but at least they won’t charge you for just looking at it, like Sony does. Shipping back and forth is included; there’s no benefit to going to an Apple Shop. They’ll send a Kuroneko delivery guy with a box to pick it up, so you won’t even have to package it (more on that later).

Wait times on the phone were tolerable. I got between 5 to 10 minutes every time. Operators are a mixed bag. Some speak really smooth English and can understand natural speed English, some don’t. My advice is to hang up politely and redial if you get the low end. A guy named Hasegawa was fluent and very helpful – you can ask for him by name if you get stuck.

Further, the system is all Japanese – all the automated emails, the status updates you will get are in Japanese.
These are fairly concise though – “we’ve received it,” “we’ve sent it back.” They can be easily decoded with Rikaichan.

My experience was not 100%. However, I don’t regret having gone with this option.

– The next day my Air was picked up I received a Japanese email, addressed to the previous owner, telling me that the laptop wasn’t under warranty and I should call them. Gee whiz, that’s why you wanted my card number when booking it in, right? I was having a chuckle.

– The same day I found the original packaging for my Air outside my door, on top of the garbage bags. Turns out the Kuroneko driver took my MacBook Air out of the box, and put it in a box they have prepared. The Air has a nice box and I would have been upset to lose it. I was not chuckling anymore.

– I did ring them, and spoke to a lady who was less than helpful or competent. She shall remain unnamed here. She didn’t know what was going on and promised a callback. That never happened. I left it – I trusted that my point has been made and they can sort it out without further chasing. Sure enough there was an email in my inbox a couple days later, telling me the repair is complete and they’re sending it back.

– Laptop has arrived as scheduled. It worked OK; they’ve replaced the whole top case, including the screen. Just as I have expected. The screen assembly wasn’t meant to be taken apart; the amount of glue in it is ridiculous.
On the downside, 2 screws on the bottom of the machine were loose. No biggie, but it can be rather annoying if you don’t have a MacBook Air pentalobe screwdriver handy, like I do.

 

Tips on dealing with support (not just Apple Support, but any PC support)

– Always ask for and make a note of the person’s name you’re speaking to. It helps with accountability. You may think this is not relevant in Japan, take it from me, it is. Remaining faceless and hiding behind company policy is in vogue here more than anywhere else.

– Ask for the ticket number they’ve logged the call under. This ensures that, in fact, your call has been logged on their system. It also saves time during your next call.

 

Good luck! Feel free to contact me for laptop repairs and upgrades! Except for MacBook Air 11″ screens, that is. 😉

MacBook Air 11 inch Screen Story

The MacBook Air 11.6, which I’ve referenced in the last post, has arrived.

Just 10 minutes before we were to go out in the morning, the usual Kuroneko delivery guy was banging on the door. He seemed shocked when I opened the door almost immediately.

I guess he’s used to having to wait a minute or two until I put down the laptop I’m working on at the moment.

Last time he came during a particularly tricky screen replacement. It was a delicate balancing act holding the screen in two places to prevent damage by flex, and putting in the screws on the side. As you may imagine that takes 3 hands, ideally. I only have two, and the guy was banging on the door. He had to wait until I’ve secured the screen with one more screw. He seemed upset.

In any case, here’s my new experiment, a 5.8 inch MacBook Air. It’s not a new extra-tiny model, but the half of the 11.6 inch the current smaller model has.

 

I think I see a pattern emerging. 😉 This is typically a screen cable fault, however with the high level of integration and the super-thin screen in the Air I’m not expecting a walk in the park.

Apple does not service the display. If something goes wrong they just replace the whole lid, with the screen, hinges, bezel, inverter and cables inside. The whole kaboodle. That’s one of the reasons it costs $699 (in the US, I haven’t ventured to ask in Japan yet). One more is that it’s a ready made assembly that was not designed to be taken apart. However, as a unit, it’s easy to replace. The third reason is that they obviously want you to buy new stuff instead of repairing the old.

The bezel is glued on. No clips like in the standard MacBook, no screws, just glue. Glue requires heating to remove, and if any remains it can cause flex in the screen. The screen breaks notoriously easy on the Air. Here’s a video to give you an idea;

Now that I look at this video, I realize the hinges on mine are definitely tighter than they should be. No one-finger opening for me. That’s an other clue pointing in the screen cable direction. Over-tight hinges often wear out the cable passing through them.

Which Browser Should I Use?

I get this question all the time.

This is my very subjective non-technical review. The information here was destilled over years of experience and has served me well using various equipment in various countries.

Here’s a very brief overview of the 9(!) browsers I currently use.

Google Chrome;
Fast and agile. The creation of Google, it was the first to include a unified internet address and search box. Recommended for speed.
PROs: Great if your PC is older or lacks much memory.
CON: Can’t get it to remember passwords properly. Google is the machine learning company, and they’ll probably know everything about you, including what time you go to bed and whether you dream of unicorns.
Recommended if… you like speed and easy of use. Great for older PCs, slow netbooks.

Mozilla Firefox:
Once the main speed challenger of the then-ubiquitous Internet Explorer, now an over-eating monster with an outdated interface. That’s not to say it’s not capable, but it really shines only on a fast PC with lots of RAM. Unique “tab groups” allow you to manage multiple sets of open pages, which is neat if you have 42 browser windows open and can’t bring yourself to close any of them. Big support community creates lots of plugins.
PROs: There’s a plugin for everything. Tab groups.
CON: Slow and outdated interface.
Recommended if… you have a relatively recent PC with lots of memory, and open tons of sites at a time. You can arrange them into pretty groups and put a bow on them too.

Internet Explorer 9:
The browser that Microsoft provides Vista and Windows 7. Updated, fast, sleek. XP users are stuck with version 8, and must look for an alternative. Internet Explorer 9 comes with a unified web address and search box. A marked improvement over previous IEs.
PROs: Speed and compatibility. As the default browser of all Windowses, no site dares to be non-IE compatible.
CONs: The mark of the beast, and being an obvious hacker magnet (again, as the default browser of all Windowses).
Recommended if… you want to download an other browser, or you want to check a site that doesn’t display properly in your other browser.

Maxthon:
Nice and fast. Kind of like how Opera was years ago. Vertical menus take advantage of common wide-screen layout. Viable alternative to Chrome in the “speed with no frills” department.
PROs: Split screen mode for developers, not bloated
CONs: Small user base
Recommended if… you want to view your sites in a fresh browser? Have an extreme-wide screen?

Opera:
I’ve been an Opera user for ages. Opera innovated now common features such as tabbed browsing and the speed-dial start-up screen that shows a preview of your most visited sites. It shines on slow internet connections. Available for many platforms.
PROs: Great for slow connections
CONs: Not as fast as it used to be
Recommended if… you have a really slow internet connection (remember modems, anyone?), or a slower but not too slow PC.

Safari:
Bling from Apple, not just for the Mac. PC version is quite usable too. Nice graphics.
PROs: Eye candy.
CONs: No icon for opening first new tab within the same window. Have to use Ctrl+T. Why oh why?
Recommended if… you want the illusion of a Mac on a PC.

Rockmelt:
This is Chrome with a Facebook data pump on top, so you’re never out of date on the brainfarts of your friends.
PROs: Facebook access from anywhere.
CONs: Facebook access from anywhere.
Recommended if you take your morning facebook before your morning coffee, and you’re hoping to find your life’s purpose on facebook.

SeaMonkey:
The name suggests it could be a circus attraction or a distant relative of Firefox, but it’s actually a descendant of Netscape Navigator. If you remember and liked Netscape you’ll like SeaMonkey too. The layout, the tools, including a web editor called Composer are all there.
PROs: An updated Netscape navigator.
CONs: Weird placement of “open new tab” icon.
Recommended if you have fond memories of Netscape. In which case you are using it already anyway.

Lunascape:
I think it should be called chameleon. Has 3 different browsing engines, so it can act like IE, Firefox or Safari if you so desire. Why would you want that? It’s handy for developers. Other than that it’s a curiosity. Popular in Japan, and with geeks.
PROs: Cool techie tool.
CONs: Who needs that anyway?
Recommended if your circle of influence appreciates talking about the only triple-engine browser.

Mac Mini Unboxing In Japan (Japanese Version)

There seems to be a bit of mystery surrounding the Mac Mini, and its unusual form factor.
I get asked about what’s in the box and what does it come with all the time.
Here’s a video of me unboxing one; that should clear things up.

Note I’m in Japan and this is a Japanese version; accessories may be different in other markets.

How To ~ Make Your Current Computer Speak English

Making Your Existing PC Speak English

Bought a computer in Japan, and having second thoughts? Tired of the kanji? Want to understand at least the error messages? Here’s how to change the display language to English.

 

Windows World

 

Windows XP

If you’re on XP and you have a Japanese or other language version, the only way to make it display the menus and everything else in English is to install an English version of XP. It can’t be done as an upgrade or a “refreshment”. You’ll have to back up your hard drive, wipe everything, re-install XP from zero, and then put all your programs and data back again. Hassle.
Further, XP is not commercially available anymore. Microsoft is pushing everyone towards Windows 7. However, if you want to stick with XP it’s not that difficult to track down a legit copy online. eBay is a good place to start or you can go for a less then legit one on an other “bay” (without my support).

If your computer can handle it, Windows 7 may be the best way to go. Software support for XP is slowly but surely diminishing. Luckily Windows 7 runs on all kinds of cr@p, including netbooks and other abominations. It doesn’t really require anything fancy in terms of processing power. What it does like to have is a lot of RAM memory.

Here’s a few “rule of thumb” guidelines.

Minimum:

  • 1GB RAM (Microsoft says 512mb is the minimum. I say don’t even think about it, for anything beyond playing solitaire.)
  • 1Ghz or faster CPU

For everyday office/browsing use I recommend the following:

  • 2GB RAM
  • dual-core CPU for efficient multi-tasking
  • DirectX 9 compatible graphics card for the aero interface and video playback

It will run OK without a dual-core CPU but you’ll be limited in multi-tasking performance. It will also run without a DirectX9 compatible graphics card, but you won’t get the see-through effects, the window preview on the taskbar, and the fancy task switching. The really annoying bit is video playback; it will happen slowly and without smoothing, so videos will look grainy.

 

Windows Vista

Vista is a mistake and you should get rid of it. It hogs resources and eats up RAM memory like nothing else. You should upgrade to Windows 7. Your computer and your sanity will both be thankful. If your machine came with Vista, it can run Windows 7 too. Read on below for Windows 7 tactics.

 

Windows 7

Vista introduced switchable display languages. These remain in 7. There are many flavors of Windows 7. Starter for netbooks and emerging markets, Home Basic for cheapskates, Home Premium for the home user (duh..), Ultimate for those who want it all, and Enterprise for big corporations, just to name the main ones. The language options are only available in Enterprise and Ultimate, bless Microsoft. I’ve often imagined how the meeting went when that was decided.

Big Boss: We want more money.

Everybody: Right.

Droid #1: I have an idea. Anybody has relatives in other countries?

Everybody: You mean abroad? Hell, no! What are you getting at?

Droid #1: Just a sec. Anybody speaks any foreign languages here?

Big Boss: What, you mean a non-English language?

Droid #1: OK, so why don’t we make those multi-lingual losers pay extra. Let’s have them buy Ultimate too!

Everybody: Brilliant!

 

You can’t buy Enterprise as an individual. Ultimate is the only option, whether you need all the other bells and whistles or not.

If you have a Japanese Home Premium, like most users in Japan, there is no way to “switch” it to English.
You can do one of 2 things.

 

  1. Wipe it and install an English Home Premium on it. Purchase online from Microsoft at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/buy/default.aspx for $199. Also available on Amazon USA for $189. Amazon.co.jp has it sometimes too but it’s either overpriced or it disappears quickly. If you know a stable source within Japan, let me know in the comments.
  2. Turn your Japanese Home Premium into Ultimate using Microsoft’s “Anytime Upgrade” pack. Around 13,000 at amazon.co.jp. Pricey but you get a legit Ultimate, and the process is quick and painless. The upgrade used to take ages under Vista, now it’s done in 10-15 minutes. Your data and installed software is not effected. Once you have Ultimate you can install English or your other preferred language packs through Windows Updates. Language packs are under “optional updates” and are NOT offered by default.

 

(MAY BE CONTINUED)
Please leave comments below. Let me know if you know where to get a legal English Windows 7 Home Premium in Japan.

How To Buy A Printer In Japan

Get One With a Decent Warranty

Consumer grade printers are disposable junk, so get it with a decent warranty. One year is not going to cut it.

In our area the Eiden (エイデン) chain of denkiya has a store credit card offer. The card gives you 5 years warranty on everything you buy. It costs about 1000 yen per year. Not a big expense.
What you’re actually paying for is an insurance policy. When your stuff requires repair outside the manufacturer warranty the insurance pays for the repair.

Tip: Midori, Deodeo and Ishimaru shops all belong to the same Edion group. I wouldn’t be suprised if they have the same offer. (Please confirm in comments if you know.)

Eiden is a too expensive for everyday shopping, but I think it’s definitely worth it for printers. Why?

All mechanics in modern inkjet printers are plastic. Not good. They’re mechanically inefficient and prone to failure just from dirt and ink stain buildup.

Essentially they’re designed to give you the finger just over the 1 year mark. That’s when the manufacturer warranty ends. They’re as disposable as a used tissue or a fading idolette in a girl band.

Further, anything that causes excess buildup of dirt or ink stains brings the day of failure closer:

  • Non-original ink cartridges
  • Two-sided printing
  • Printing with lots of coverage, such as pictures, photos
  • Printing on non-standard paper
  • Dirt from the outside (clean the room sometimes, ne?)

The failure may be the final one if you don’t have an extended warranty. Out of warranty repairs are generally too expensive to consider.
Many of these failures can be rectified just by taking the thing apart, cleaning off all the ink and gunk, and putting it back together. Makers will charge you 10,000+ for this.

Don’t ask me, I’m not interested in printers. It’s a dirty business, in more ways than one.

The business model is as follows: company (HP, Epson, Canon, Brother, Lexmark, you name it) sells printer at cost price, or below. Then they make a huge profit by selling proprietary ink cartridges at over-inflated prices. Just look it up on the internet, there are articles about how inkjet ink is more expensive than human blood for example.

 

On ink cartridges; always buy new, and use them fresh. Yep, an other invention in the name of money is making ink spoil, and adding expiry dates to cartridges. I’ve no idea how they do it, but it works. I’ve had old HP cartridges I wasn’t able to use. However I’ve used Canon cartridges over a year past their expiry date without any problems.

To quote Mark Twain, “Never argue with people who buy ink by the barrel”.

In our days, “Never argue with people who sell it by the drop and can make it spoil too.”

Get originals, your printer and your nervous system will both survive better.

Amazon.jp is the cheapest, and they have free shipping, so that’s where I recommend you get them.

What Printer to Get?

Avoid the cheapest ones. Those in the 5-10,000 yen zone usually only have a black and a color cartridge. On these printers the color cartridge often has to be replaced before it’s completely depleted. When one of the main color components (usually cyan, magenta and yellow) is gone, some colors can not be produced anymore, so the printer will tell you to replace it. What you saved on the printer will cost you extra in ink, throughout its lifetime.

Don’t print color at all? Consider a monochrome laser printer. They may cost a bit more but generally speaking are more durable and have lower per page costs than inkjets.

For most casual printer users an inkjet printer around 20,000 yen is sufficient. It should have separate ink tanks for each color, plus two blacks (one for photo, one for text), networking functions, and driver software available in English.
These are all multi-function units nowadays, so it’ll serve as a scanner and an el-cheapo photo copier too.
It’ll let you print black and white and color annotated text quickly, handle documents with pictures, and print the occasional frameless photo.

Just remember printing photos at home may be convenient and great for parties, but it’s substantially more expensive and shorter lived than printing it out for 30 yen a piece at a shop. Got lots of pics? Take it to the shop.

To be continued ~ leave a comment below
Any questions, suggestions for articles? Let me know…

How To ~ English PC in Japan

Getting a New English Computer in Japan

Buying an English PC in Japan doesn’t need to be a pain. Here are the options I’ve found.

Get a Mac

Yepp. The shortest way to an English laptop or an English desktop in Japan is to get a Mac. You’ll get a fashion accessory, some street cred with geeks, and a machine that supports 30+ display languages out of the box. Plug it in, go to the System Preferences/International, drag “English” to the top of the list, log out, log in, setup done. 5 minutes of your time, no extra cost, and you have an all English PC. Voila.

Budget tip: Go see it at the Apple Store if you have one nearby, then buy it online at Amazon; it’s cheaper there.

First Mac? Get a Mac Mini. It’s made for “switchers”. Use your current monitor, keyboard, mouse. Don’t forget the VGA monitor adapter if you still use an analogue monitor.
Require a laptop? Get a MacBook Air. The small one and the slightly larger one are both excellent; decide based on size requirement and budget.
For both the Mini and the Air, add an optical drive only if you require one.

Amazon tip: Click on the “Show this page in English” link towards the upper right hand corner of the screen if it comes up in Japanese.

English Windows PCs

All is not lost if you’re a stubborn masochist and require a Windows PC in English.

Go for a Dell

Give Dell a call. I heard they sell English OS PCs in Japan at no extra cost(to be confirmed – will be updated soon). That would be an English Windows 7 Home Premium, or similar, so you won’t be able to switch to Japanese later.
(Gosh I can’t believe I’ve put that brand name on my blog. Sacrilege.)

Build Your Own With Windows 7 Ultimate

I’m yet to see any English Windows versions for sale in Japan. (If you know how to get hold of one please share in the comments).
That leaves us with getting Windows 7 Ultimate. Only Ultimate and Enterprise let you switch languages. Microsoft must hate expats.

The “DSP version” is the cheapest. It’s targeted at system builders and it’s the equivalent of the OEM version in the western world. Around 20,000 yen at Amazon. It’s supposed to be bundled with hardware you’ll put inside the PC. Amazon overcomes this by throwing in a few hundred yen’s worth of hardware, such as a USB card or LAN board. Clever. Windows won’t check for that specific hardware, so don’t worry if you don’t have a use for it. Just nail it to the wall or something. It’s still substantially cheaper than the standard retail version of Windows 7, which is a cool 33,000 yen at the time of writing. The difference? The license agreement. It doesn’t let you move the DSP version to an other PC. Once installed, that’s where it stays. (Re-installation on the same machine, and hardware upgrades are possible of course.)

Of course you could just download a copy off file-sharing sites for free. I wouldn’t fault you as I believe MS is discriminating against expats and international families and they need to sort themselves out. Switching languages has been a standard feature in OS X for ages. Actually in all Unix based systems, even before that. Microsoft is like 10 (20?) years late in the game, yet they have the face to charge extra. They can eat the results of their own poor planning and marketing for all I care.
I can’t, however help you in that any further, so don’t even ask. Sort activation and the updates out yourself, K? 😉

Leave comments below! Anyone call Dell for me, I’m really procrastinating on that one!

Yahoo Auctions Japan Review & How To

I’ve been using Yahoo Auctions for a while to get hold of the most elusive parts. The PowerBook G4 memory, for example.

Yahoo Auctions is a seller’s world. The seller can remove bids, filter out certain bidders, be slow and lazy without penalty, and so on. Kind of like eBay in reverse; eBay caters for the buyer, Yahoo Auctions caters for the seller. I think it’s the cultural context. Customers in America can go to amazon, or any number of online places to buy stuff. So eBay works hard to convince them they’re safe and cheap. Sellers in America, on the other hand, can’t really go elsewhere to sell their stuff, as far as I know (Feedback in comments please; I’ve only lived in the US for a year and that was a long time ago).
In Japan sellers can just go dump all their stuff at the nearest recycle store. No packaging, no hassle, instant cash. There are nation wide chains such as Hard Off, and lots of independent shops. Space is at a premium, affinity towards shiny new things is at a high, and the recycle stores cater for the excess. So Yahoo entices sellers with the prospect of getting more for the stuff. Self-prolonging auctions squeeze every last penny out of the buyers. Where do buyers go to find stuff? I don’t really know. The recycle stores I guess, but going beyond what’s locally available there are not many choices. eBay Japan croaked years ago; Bidders.com is substantially smaller.

Today I finally received a RAM module I waited over a week for. It’s dead. I sent the guy a refund request. It’s not a big amount. I’m really interested in how he’s going to approach the situation. It’s a learning curve and a cultural experience. 😉

Most annoying thing is not the money, but the time I lost. Now I have to start searching all over again. “Time is money” is a lie; money can be lost and earned again, time, once lost, can not be “earned back”. /me is ~annoyed

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted.

Follow-up 2011.11.21
The dude replied politely, and refused my request, pointing out there’s no warranty on things sent by kuroneko mail-bin. That’s because kuroneko mail-bin is uninsured, and if it’s lost, then I can only claim the postage back, and that’s understood. Making it no-warranty whatsoever is a bit dodgy for me. What do you think? There was no damage to the packaging. RAM modules are not killed that easily (unless you static damage them).

So what can I do to get my money back? Nothing. I could go to the police or sue him, but short of that, zilch. Yahoo Auctions provides nada buyer protection. Seller is king and buyers eat dirt. I can’t even leave him a negative feedback, because I’d get a negative back; looking at our numbers it would hurt me more than him.

So what do I do? Move on.. takes me off the hook and leaves him there. Best thing I can do.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Who Am I?

Hi, Sandor here. Thanks for visiting. Computer trouble in Japan? You've come to the right place!


I am 34 years old, and have been fixing computers since 1994, since before I finished high school. Then I got a degree in Computer Science, had my own PC shop, worked at a top laptop maker in England. Then I came to Japan; it's what I always wanted to do.


I pride myself in providing the best service possible and by being honest about my work. I now service all of Japan by a simple mail-in system. Use the "Contact Me" tab on the top menu to get in touch.


Contact Me

Testimonials

Sandor is the best! If you are someone, like me, who needs to have computer stuff explained ‘like you are a 6 year-old’, then you have come to the right guy! I was having trouble with my wireless modem hookup and also needed to upgrade my RAM memory….Sandor very carefully explained what I needed to do, he even found me some videos on YouTube to help me along. If he thought my questions were silly, (and believe me, I’m sure they were!!), he was very polite and made me feel not so naive in the ways of the computer. Thank you so much Sandor…..I will share your name and this site with anyone who needs the help!! Debbie Kuroiwa, Nagasaki City, Japan


Hey Sandor thanks for the Mac advice and for getting me the hard to find parts for my iMac G4 so quickly. You really saved the day. Thanks again. /RF/ Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan


Hey Sandor: Just a quick note to say thanks for diagnosing fixing my computer so effectively (and so cheaply). I am writing you from my computer now, and it is still running strong! Much gratitude.

Doug Colbert from Anjo, Aichi, Japan


As a truly satisfied customer - I heartily recommend the services of Sandor to anyone having PC related issues. Of all the people I have dealt with regarding PC related issues in Japan – he is the best. Not only is he an expert in his field – but he aims for the most cost effective solution. I have truly benefitted from his good advice & constant updates and genuinely admire his integrity. What more can I ask for ?

Anirvan Mukherjee ( Vice President - Nomura Securities Ltd, Tokyo )


Hi Sandor! I must to say, we have never met as good computer expert as you are! You were the first, who solved our problems as we wanted to, as we needed to. Your work was always quick, professional and practical. And: you never wanted to organize our computer liking yourself! :-) Since you moved to Japan, we all the time hope, some time you will go back to Hungary!

Ági and Gábor from Budapest, Hungary


...He worked well within the team and his attitude and performance was of a very high standard. He was a very honest and reliable member of the team.

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