By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, February 8, 2009

Q. Sometimes my iPod Touch will find a wireless network called "Free Public WiFi" but then can't connect to the Internet. What's up with that?

A. This non-working network is the unplanned product of an old, poorly thought-out setting in Windows XP. As first released, that operating system would try way too hard to rejoin old wireless networks: Under the right circumstances, an XP computer would create its own "ad hoc" network, named after the last network it had reached.

At some point years ago, somebody created a wireless network named "Free Public WiFi." That network has been bouncing across the airwaves ever since, as XP users have clicked on that promising name and caused their own machines to broadcast the same network ID to other computers.

Microsoft released a patch for this problem in 2007, but it doesn't seem to have been issued as an automatic update -- two XP laptops showed no signs of this fix. You can get your own copy at

You can also turn off the "ad hoc" option yourself. Click the wireless-networking icon at the bottom right of your screen to check your WiFi status; in the status window, click the Properties button. In the Properties window, click the Wireless Networks tab, then click the Advanced button. And in the Advanced window, click the button next to "Access point (infrastructure) networks only."

What color iPod Nano should I get?

This column isn't the place for fashion advice. But two of Apple's nine color choices do offer a functional advantage: The silver and black models include a black click-wheel dial. This should hide dirt much better than the usual white dial, which has turned to a shade of gray on my iPod.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or Turn to Thursday's Business section or visit anytime for his Fast Forward column.

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