Living With Personal Technology

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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Friday, May 13, 2005; 12:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Rob Pegoraro was online to discuss The Washington Post's guide to wiring your lifestyle .

A transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Welcome to all, however you're getting to our site--dial-up, cable, DSL, satellite, WiFi, LAN, powerline, smoke signals or semaphore. Because there are that many different ways to send and receive bits of data, we did this morning's special tech section. And just in case that section didn't answer all of your questions, I've got this here chat. Let's get started...

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Philly: Weren't the satellite tv providers going to be rolling out local HD service this year? Or did I just dream that up?

washingtonpost.com: Television Service Providers

Rob Pegoraro: DirecTV says they will by the end of the year, Dish Network says they plan to do so as well but don't have a timetable yet. To do this, both companies need to launch a new set of satellites and switch to a more efficient video-compression system called MPEG-4, without which they wouldn't have enough bandwidth to send out separate HD feeds for every major TV market.

You'll need new receiver hardware to get this new service.

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Wash DC: Hi Rob-

I recently (1 month ago) got Verizon's DSL service package at 29.95/month -- they've been hawking it pretty heavily. I was amazed at how little information arrived with the modem/router/wireless access point. In particular, there seemed to be no information about changing wireless security. I had to find the manufacturer's website, download their 200 page manual (no glossary provided) and spend some hours figuring out how to enable the encryption and MAC specification, and disable the broadcast of my SSID. The modem also only allows weaker WEP and not newer WPA encryption. The fact they offer no information on any of this seems remarkably negligent given how easy it is to get running with the default parameters (no security).

I'd be curious if other Verizon users had similar problems.

Rob Pegoraro: Not just other Verizon users, but most WiFi users, period. The setup software that I've seen has generally been mediocre to hideous in terms of prompting users to set up basic security.

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Germantown, MD: Hi Rob, your article is really well balanced and is true. As most banks are offering free bill pay service it is not that difficult to pay a few more bills.

washingtonpost.com: So Much Information, So Many Bills

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the comment. (Anybody remember when most of the major banks all charged *extra* for the bill-pay services? Nice to see these guys get an attack of common sense...)

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Chevy Chase, MD: How do you deal with the fact that so many users lack resourcefulness in finding answers to questions? It seemed that your sample couple in the "Enjoying..." article did not retain the lessons that they were taught.

washingtonpost.com: Enjoying a High-Tech Round of Show-and-Tell

Rob Pegoraro: Be careful talking trash about the Harrisons--they could be lurking in this very chat :)

I think the biggest obstacle to tech understanding is often just a matter of vocabulary. If you don't know the particular jargon used to refer to the program or widget that's not working well, you won't know what to type into Google to find the solution. That also makes it harder to ask for help from friends/family/tech support. Having been on the receiving end of those requests many times, I find that it takes a long time just to figure out what the person calling is trying to describe.

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Arlington, VA: I am looking for a replacement for my cell phone and want a device to replace my Palm PDA plus have access to email and the ability to surf the Web and view videos. My office uses Microsoft Exchange Server. Is Verizon's Treo 650 a good choice for me?

Rob Pegoraro: Maybe not. The Treo's mail software doesn't talk to Exchange server natively. A Windows Mobile device should be able to do that, although you'd probably also need to configure things on the server. (I suppose you could use Outlook Web Access on a handheld device's Web browser, but that is likely to be an excruciating experience if it works at all.)

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Tyson's Corner, VA: Rob,

Have you heard of VoIP provider SunRocket? I had a miserable experience with them, from multiple dropped calls to a 2 month battle over a billing mistake they made. Just curious to know if anyone in the audience has had a similar experience.

washingtonpost.com: Net-Based Phone Services Can Save Subscribers Money, but They Have Flaws

Rob Pegoraro: I've heard of them and have gotten maybe two other reports from readers--one positive, one negative, I think.

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Washington, DC: What's the easiest/best way to backup my hard drive? Use a zip drive, external hard drive, CDs? I have no idea what the best option is. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: External hard drive if any one folder of files that you'd want to back up (say, your music or pictures folders) exceeds 650 MB in capacity (or 4.3 or so GB if you've got a DVD recorder drive on your PC).

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Arlington, Va: Rob,

Love the column and thanks for the chats. This is about VoIP 911 services. Why is it that the Government is so hesitant to force providers to share the 911 network? It seems that their lack of firm policy is only making the country less safe. I've always felt that one of government's primary responsibilities is to ensure public safety. Thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: If VoIP firms are going to advertise 911 compatibility, then, yes, it seems axiomatic that somebody ought to hold them to a promise about something as important as that.

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Vienna, VA: Hi Rob-

Slightly off-topic, but need advice. I'm about to switch from Windows to Apple, buying an iMac (maybe tomorrow.). (Fed up w/spyware etc, even w/firewall and anti-spyware.) I realize Apple's alot less vulnerable to intrusion but not foolproof, and wondered what you recommend in the way of internet security software- anti-virus, firewall, anti-spyware, other? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You don't need to add any security software to a Mac. A firewall is built in and can be turned on with a few clicks (open System Preferences, select Sharing, click the Firewall tab). There aren't any dangerous services running by default, there is no Mac spyware and there have yet to be any Mac OS X viruses. There are some OS X anti-virus programs, but most of them have yet to be updated to work with the new OS X release, Tiger.

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Arlington VA: On the Treo 650 and Microsoft Exchange -- any word on GoodLink as a solution?

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm... have heard of it, haven't tried it. (The Post doesn't use Exchange, so I'm not exactly current on things related to Microsoft's corporate mail-server system.)

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Baltimore, MD: If I wait to buy Tiger until it is at release 10.4.3, for instance, will the disk contain 10.4.3, or will it still be 10.4.0 and I will have to download all of the updates? The reason I ask is that I have dialup at home, and these dowloads take a loooong time.

washingtonpost.com: Mac's Tiger Gives Panther Owners Little Reason to Pounce (May 1, 2005)

Rob Pegoraro: You'll probably get a CD with just 10.4. But: Next time you go to an Apple Store, bring a blank CD and ask if you can borrow one computer to download the current set of updates, then burn to the that disc.

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College Park heading to NYC: Rob,

Love your insights. Here's the scenario: I'm about to graduate from UMD and my plan with Verizon is up in August. I'll be starting the working life up in NYC this summer.

So two questions: I'm thinking about switching to Cingular (my biggest calls go to a Cingular user) - would I be sacrificing much service/reliability by switching? And two, I'm debating whether I should get a palm pilot and phone separately or rolled into one. Any suggestions? FYI, I'm a Mac user about to upgrade to Tiger, in case that affects the phone recommendation. Thanks.

-RW

Rob Pegoraro: In the NYC area, I hear that Verizon still has the best service. I don't know how big of a lead that is, though (any firsthand reports are welcome).

If you get a separate phone and Palm, make sure the phone works with Apple's iSync software, so you can keep the same contact list on there as on the Palm. Here's Apple's list of iSync-compatible phones.

Otherwise, get the Treo 650.

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D.C.: Rob,

My first generation iPod finally fell victim to the dreaded battery death.

I weighed the options of getting a new iPod or sending it back for the 100 dollar "repair", but decided to give replacing it myself a try and ordered a battery for 29 dollars (the internet is full of these products and instructions). I'm not that technically inclined, but replacing it myself took less than 10 minutes.

My point is that it is absolute robbery for Apple to charge 100 dollars for this service. If I paid $29 retail for a battery, their cost must by half that or less. Add to that 10-15 minutes of labor, some shipping and handling and you've got what, $30 in costs for Apple? They should be doing this at cost as a service to their loyal customers.

Rob Pegoraro: Apple--along with pretty much every other computer/consumer-electronics company in existence--prices accessories like batteries to make a healthy profit. (Like a FireWire cable for an iPod really costs $19 to make and sell.)

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Bethesda, MD: I have DSL service from AOL. But, your ISP list says they don't. How come?

Rob Pegoraro: They used to offer DSL--resold Verizon connectivity, which for some insane reason they priced at more than the cost of Verizon's own DSL plus AOL's bring-your-own-access plan. AOL stopped selling that quite some time ago and has even begun disconnecting some of its broadband customers (which I think is a completely insane thing to do, but it's their business and they can run it as they see fit).

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External hard drive for backup?: Why go to the expense of an external hard drive for backup? Seems like it's less expensive to add a second internal hard drive since most folks only have the C drive.

Rob Pegoraro: As long as you're sure that your PC will never be stolen, lost, fried by a power surge or otherwise physically damaged, that will work just fine.

Also, try doing that with a laptop or a small-form-factor desktop sometime...

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Washington, DC: When will the Treo 650 be available on Verizon?

Rob Pegoraro: Great news here: Verizon just began selling it to corporate customers, and apparently it goes on sale to the general public May 23. No word yet on what... customizations Verizon has made to its Bluetooth and other capabilities. Let's keep our fingers crossed on that front.

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Fairfax Station, VA: As a first time reader of your column, I have several questions. What programs should we use to remove this spyware stuff that sometimes causes our machine to just freeze? I've noticed several so should we use them all? How often should we upgrade to the fastest machines? Ours(a 1.4mhz P-4)is 4 years old and needs more USB access (a wiring nightmare), maybe more memory (256m),a bigger hard drive 40gb etc. Should we hold what we have until the 64 bit processors arrive? Would taking it to a service lab to ensure that we have the latest updates and get any software conflicts removed be worth it to make it last until the next great update arrives? Thanks, JAH

washingtonpost.com: Videos: Protecting Your Home Computer or Laptop

Rob Pegoraro: 1) Start with Spybot Search and Destroy (it's the fastest), then AdAware, then Microsoft's AntiSpyware.

2) Switch to Firefox and you won't have any more spyware sneaking onboard through your browser.

3) Go ahead and buy a new PC now. A 64-bit processor won't do anything special for the vast bulk of home users. (It's not that your current processor is even that slow, but all the other components of it are holding you back, and it'll be simpler to replace the whole thing with a new PC--or Mac.)

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Reston, VA - HD locals Q: So if DirecTV does this, I would have to replace my $1000 HD Tivo? I currently get the locals in HD just fine through via OTA and would hope the change wouldn't be mandatory

Rob Pegoraro: They've told me that it won't. You can still keep your existing HD service. DirecTV has also said they'll have some sort of upgrade discount for people who already shelled out $$$ on DirecTV HD hardware--but they won't say what that will be or when they'll offer more details. That's why I'm on record as saying that nobody should buy DirecTV's HD TiVo until they clear this mystery up. $1,000 is too much to put at risk.

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NYC area: Verizon is definitely still the best in this area.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks.

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Bowie, MD: We recently got a new computer, yea., and we decided to make the switch to Thunderbird since we've been very happy with Firefox. However, we can't seem to get TB to send&receive mail and Verizon refuses to help us, as they only support Outlook&Outlook Express. We have the correct mail server names, but it still doesn't work. With so much spam making it through to our account, I was looking forward to TB's filtering. Any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: If you've got the right server addresses, that should be all that's necessary. But I don't use Verizon DSL, so maybe I'm missing something. Can any Verizon users rescue these folks from the blinkered ignorance of Verizon's tech support?

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Lilliwaup, WA: I've been getting the following message:

"A fatal exception 0E has occurred at 0028:C027DA63 in VXD CMN (06) + 00003A63. The current application will be terminated.

-Press any key to terminate the current application.

-Press CTRL+ALT+DEL again to restart your computer. You will lose any unsaved information in all applications.

Press any key to continue.

What should I do?

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry, I have no idea. Those error codes are utterly meaningless to me and, I suspect, to everybody reading this chat. I mean, you could've submitted that question in Tibetan and I would not have much less of a clue :)

Tell me what app you were using when it crashed, and what version of Windows you're using, and I might be able to help.

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Arlington, VA: Apple just released a new operating system. They will soon release a patch. Where's the indignant outrage about releasing it to the wild without complete testing?

I bought an iMac to go along with my PC - I'm an "augmentor" not a "switcher". In the course of my research before buying, I found all the snide remarks about Microsoft quality. It just works, etc. Anyway, I'm happy with my purchase, but it seems like if Microsoft came out with a new OS and needed a patch mere weeks later, there'd be a lot of Apple evangelists holding it up as evidence of Microsoft's inferiority.

Rob Pegoraro: I do think Apple rushed Tiger, which is why I told people in my review not to rush out to install it. But bug-fix releases at some point are an unpleasant reality of commercial software development.

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Vienna, VA: Hi Rob,

I'm confused about digital TV. I am looking to install a small entertainment system with one of those flip-down LCD TVs in my kitchen. I understand that someday soon (when?) tv will shift to a digital format and all our old television sets won't function. So, what format should I be looking for with my little TV?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Old TV sets will still work fine--they just won't be able to pull in a signal over the air. You'd need to add a separate tuner box at that point. Old sets also won't show any of the higher resolution possible with digital TV.

What you need to look for to avoid that trap is a built-in digital-TV tuner, sometimes called an ATSC tuner. Unfortunately, I have yet to see *any* flat-panel screen smaller than maybe 26 inches ship with an ATSC tuner. So if you plan on watching over-the-air TV, that flip-down LCD will be guaranteed to become obsolete in a couple of years, or whenever the analog signal does get shut off.

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Columbia, MD: Your article's description that Virgin Mobile's "Minimum deposit of $20 expires in 90 days" didn't quite capture the situation. Yes, you have to kick in $20 every 90 days to keep the account going, but the money itself doesn't expire. It just piles up and continues to be available for use.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure, but your minimum cost is still $20 per 90 days--the extra money is like cash in the bank that you can't withdraw. (I do wish that the prepaid plans didn't have so many different rules. As a customer it's hard to compare them equally, and as an editor it's hard to present their plans in a way that allows any such comparison.)

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Somerset, NJ: Here's a retro question - why use Firefox over Netscape? Why is this browser getting so much attention when I understand it is decidedly slow?

Rob Pegoraro: Your understanding is way off. Firefox is one of the fastest browsers you can run--it's Netscape that is both slower and older (since AOL has this habit of forgetting the browser exists every few months, then finally coughing up a belated update to it). If you're not using the AOL connectivity built into Netscape--AOL instant messenger and access to your AOL e-mail--there is no reason to use that browser at all.

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Falls Church, Va.: The following Thunderbird settings should work for Verizon DSL customers (they work for me):

email address: -your email address-verizon.net]

Server settings:

- Server type: POP Mail Server

- Server Name: incoming.verizon.net Port: 110

- User Name: -your email address minus "-verizon.net"]

- "secure connection" and "secure authentication" should be unchecked

Outgoing Server (SMTP):

- Server Name: outgoing.verizon.net Port: 25

- check "use name and password" and enter your email address (minus "-verizon.net")

- Use secure connection: No

Rob Pegoraro: Thank you.

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Silver Spring, MD: When are we going to get integrated MP3 players and FM tuners in our cell phones in the US? Just came back from the UK, where those are standard items, and the built-in storage is going to be around 2 GB on some of the new phones. You have to recharge your batteries a lot, but that could kill the iPod Shuttle and other small MP3 players.

washingtonpost.com: A Calling Option for Every Lifestyle: What's the Phone for You?

Rob Pegoraro: Wireless carriers here seem to have this peculiar mindset about offering new phone features. My thoughts on that.

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Olympia WA: Hi Rob,

How close are we to getting my dream device on the market? In the strictest sense it is an ipod that will sync directly from windows media player, has full palm pilot functionality (or can at least import directly from my palm data), and is a cellphone (that will dial from clicking on someone in my palm address book). How close are the treos to doing that?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Not very. There isn't any Windows Media Player program for the Palm OS, so you can't have that simple synchronization of music. The iPod can only display your contacts/calendar/notes and doesn't have any built-in cell phone.

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Laurel, MD: One reason I went out and bought a DVD player a few years ago was that I have a hearing loss and usually watch movies with close captions. Many classic movies were not captioned on tape and were being re-released on DVD. I was surprised to find out that some DVD players do not play the captions even if they are on the DVD. They'll show the subtitles if this option is offered on the DVD, but not the captions. Some DVDs (especially those put out by HBO such as Sopranos and Band of Brothers)have captions but no subtitles. I wasn't able to find any way to tell in advance which players showed captions, and ended up having to return one player and purchased a cheapo model that a friend owned that did show captions. At some point I would like to get a nicer player, but I would rather not have to keep buying and returning DVD players until I find one that shows captions. Do you know any way to find out which players show captions?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't. I'm disappointed to hear that any players wouldn't support caption display--it's one of the basic features of the DVD standard, if I recall correctly.

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Gaithersburg, MD: I want to upgrade to broadband internet from Dial-up. I've gotten many adds from Verizon advertising DSL, but when I call they say it's not available in my neighborhood because we don't have copper wire. HUH? I currently have local phone service through AT&T. I'm not sure if DSL is or isn't available in my neighborhood. Should I call ATT? Also., Verizon told me they have a new service called FIOS, but that doesn't seem to be available in my neighborhood either. It very annoying to be bombarded by ads in my mail for DSL and not be able to get it. I guess, my other option would be cable but I can't stand Comcast.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, call ATT. Also check with some of the other DSL providers we mentioned in that list. It may well be, however, that the phone wires in your area don't support DSL. As I wrote, that's the big weakness with DSL.

Also, don't forget Starpower, er, RCN, the cable company that competes with Comcast in parts of Montgomery.

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Falls Church: Even though I am running anti virus and anti spyware utilities it appears my Windows has become screwed up because everything runs slow and it will not install Windows updates.

How do I reininstall Windows and bring the performance back? (Windows XP Pro)

Rob Pegoraro: Your computer should have come with a system-restore CD (or an equivalent partition on your hard drive). Back up your data, then use that to return the system to its factory configuration.

Another option is to use a registry-optimization program. Here's our most recent review of one of those.

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Olney, MD: Verizon has installed their orange fiber optic cables in our area. Do they plan to sell TV programming and challenge Comcast?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, Verizon plans to sell TV service via its Fios service. No word as yet on programming or pricing, though.

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Ft. Washington: I'm in the market for a laptop for a small business. Do you have any recommendations? Also have you tried the new Tungsten E2? I bought the E on your recommendation and I'm very pleased with it. However, the siren song of an upgrade to a great product is powerful. Do you think it's worth it?

Rob Pegoraro: Not really. Verizon says it does offer better battery life (haven't had the chance to test that) as well as the nonvolatile memory that won't be wiped out if the battery does drain--but if you're already in the habit of recharging your T E that issue isn't that important. Bluetooth is nice, but only if your phone and/or computer have Bluetooth as well. Most people's don't.

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Baltimore MD: Basic Satellite TV question: Which is better, Dish Network or DirecTV?

Rob Pegoraro: Dish is cheaper overall by a considerable margin, but DirecTV has the NFL Sunday Ticket, so if you're a football fan that alone might sway your choice. DirecTV also offers a TiVo video recorder, while Dish's DVR is its own brand, which is missing some of those cool TiVo features.

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Richmond, VA: Do you think that cable companies will eventually allow a la carte channel choice?

Rob Pegoraro: No, not unless they're forced to by law. They say that, a) this would increase most people's bills, and b) it would cause niche channels to go out of business. I find a) entirely unconvincing--who ever watches more than 20 or so channels out of the 60 or 100 in a typical package? As for b), I don't care. Why should I be forced to subsidize Animal Planet or the History Channel or whatever?

BTW, I meant to say "PalmOne," not Verizon, in that Treo question. Too many telecom topics on my brain today.

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Washington, DC: Mozilla Firefox

Is your view of the web browser still very favorable, even after the latest v1.04 security fix? I guess as it becomes more popular this in turn attracts more hackers. It also gets annoying that after each security fix some of my cool extensions won't work with new release. Some of them didn't get updated for a few weeks. However, some extensions did get updated a few days later (i.e., Mouse Gestures). Another sidenote on extensions, the more you add the longer it takes for your browser to start-up.

Have a good weekend all.

washingtonpost.com: Security Fix: Firefox Update Plugs Security Holes

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, I am still in favor of Firefox. Consider how fast that 1.04 update came out, and how many people had their copies of Firefox hijacked in the meantime (that would be none). Firefox's record on security remains far better than IE's.

As for old extensions not working--well, that's why they're optional extensions. I'd rather see the Firefox developers push out needed updates than wait for every extension author to update his or her plug-in. Holding back on security updates for the sake of backwards compatibility is one of the things that made Windows security such a mess in the first place.

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Bethesda, Md: I'm getting ready to go abroad for the semester and I need a new camera. I want digital, of course.

My first concern is size. I want something real small so that I can fit in my jeans pocket with no worries. But I also want a camera that takes good enough pictures so that when I look back at them I don't regret getting a better quality camera.

I'm looking to spend $500 or less. What do you recommend for me?

washingtonpost.com: Zooming In on Digital Photography

Rob Pegoraro: You can get a great camera for under $350, easily. Look for one that:

* Has a 4-megapixel resolution

* 3x optical zoom

* takes SD Card storage (small, cheap, widely supported)

* AA or AAA battery compatibility is nice, but might come at the cost of extra size in the camera.

Canon, Casio and Pentax, for starters, all have some nice entries in the ultrathin category that meet those requirements I just listed.

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Online Bill Pay: I would like to point out the oxymoronic thinking of anyone who adopts online bill pay (free or at ANY price) and then complains when the Postal Service has to increase the cost of a stamp a couple of cents to cover the lost revenue from switchers.

That's all.

Rob Pegoraro: Are we supposed to not use a better technology just to keep stamps cheap? That's really putting the cart before the horse, my friend...

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Tampa, FL: How important is the Mac vs Windows question to wiring your house for the digital lifestyle? Does one platform have an advantage over the other?

On an unrelated topic, can a beginner learn anything by attending the Mac Design Conference here in Tampa next month? Or is it just for professionals?

Rob Pegoraro: Mac networking is generally easier to set up, although with Windows you have some added options for sharing your music and pictures to TVs and stereos throughout the house. No, you don't need to go to that conference.

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Washington, DC: I'd like to upgrade to broadband. It would make my life much easier. However, the wiring in my apartment building will not accommodate DSLl, and I'm reduced to one option: Comcast. And that scares me. Every single customer service transaction I've had with Comcast cable has been a nightmare. They don't seem to know what they are doing and don't really seem to care. What's wrong with Comcast? Is the switch worth the risk?

washingtonpost.com: Area Internet Service Providers

Rob Pegoraro: From your question, I'd say you know what's wrong with Comcast already :)

How about Starpower/RCN? They provide service to most parts of D.C.

Another option would be seeing if WiFi service is available locally. Some smaller Internet providers now offer that. For example, there's one called DC Access (www.dcaccess.net) that sells WiFi service around Capitol Hill.

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Washington, DC: Hi Rob, I cancelled my local/long distance package deal and changed over to voice over IP about 2 months ago. The bill is much smaller now, and some of the conveniences are better. For instance, I can hear my phone messages online through my work email.

My problem is that the service occasionally (once or twice a week for periods of a couple hours) simply does not work. Do others with VoIP have this issue? Is it a cable modem problem? I only have a 900 Mhrtz phone. Is that the issue? What have you heard on this subject?

Rob Pegoraro: I've heard stories like that. One of my contributors, for example, has had major quality issues with Vonage. Other folks seem to have no issues at all. If your current VoIP service can't fix the problem, you might want to try a different one.

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New Jersey: Hi Rob:

I'm moving soon to and will have to switch cable companies from Cablevision to Comcast, not Cablevision can be a pain, but Optimum Online is a great service. My broadband choices are Comcast or Verizon, any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: I am almost positive that your broadband choices are *not* just Comcast and Verizon. Have a look at broadbandreports.com, which offers a search form to look for broadband service at any given location.

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Firefox Vulnerability: I couldn't tell from all the talk about the recently discovered Firefox vulnerability if I need to do something on my end or if the Firefox folks fixed the problem on their end.

Rob Pegoraro: Your copy of Firefox should offer to download the update and install it for you (look for a red arrow icon at the top right corner of its window). Or go to mozilla.org and download a copy yourself. The actual update takes under five minutes.

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Croton-on-Hudson, NY: If computers are secured in a network (via firewalls, etc.) is there any reason not to allow anyone who passes by to use the wireless network?

Rob Pegoraro: If you *want* to do that, go for it. But your ISP may not allow that in its terms of service. You might also find that you can't get anywhere online if your neighbors start downloading massive files off your connection all the time.

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Greenbelt, MD: Wow, I hope I get this in before the end. This chat is completely appropriate right now. I have spent HOURS on the phone with Verizon's DSL service over the past week. When my roommate moved out, we wanted to transfer our Verizon DSL service to my name. But apparently, they can't just change the name on the account because of "technical issues". So we have to cancel her service and start a new one in my name. AND they're dragging their feet about disconnecting her service (they said it "takes a few days", but our service dropped off eight days ago and they said it won't finish til Tuesday). Plus then I have to wait 7-10 to turn on my service--a total downtime of up to 23 days. But the catcher--I have to pay a $19.95 "shipping and activation fee" when there's no shipping since we're using the old equipment and all they have to do is reactivate a perfectly good service. Unbelievable.

Rob Pegoraro: Wow. Well, if you want to use somebody else's DSL, our chart has a few options for you...

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Kingstowne, VA: I keep hearing recommendations to install Firefox, including in this chat. Is it something I simply download? How difficult is it to install? I used to be fairly computer-savvy back in the early 1990s in the days of DOS 5.0 (when I was in college and had time), but I'm not that up on these things any more. Thanks in advance.

Rob Pegoraro: It's something you download and install, just like any other piece of software. Go to www.mozilla.org and click the "free download" link, then run the Firefox Setup program once the download completes. If you could handle DOS, you most certainly can do this.

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Wanna move to a mac but . . . : what do I do with all those songs my wife loaded on my PC hard drive?

Rob Pegoraro: Uh, copy them over and play them? If they're in Windows Media format, iTunes can convert them to MP3 or AAC files automatically. (The only exception is songs that Windows Media "protected" by locking them to your hard drive.)

MP3 files play as is, without any further translation.

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Bel Air, MD: So, my iPod is currently frozen. I've had it since January and this is only the second time, but it's the second time in the last week. It will be in the middle of playing a song and then just stop, won't respond to the click wheel. I have to wait until the battery runs out, then plug it into the charger and then it works again. Any idea what is causing this or ways to avoid it? Is it a typical problem for the iPod?

Rob Pegoraro: No, not a typical problem. That's why these things come with warranties--call up Apple and see what they can do to fix the problem.

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Baltimore, MD: After moving to a new house, I finally decided to secure my wireless connection. I got zero help from the information that came with my Linksys wireless router, so I turned to their website. I was extraordinarily please to find that they had a free live chat help section, where I was assisted within a minute or two and directed to a program to download that walked me (a semi-beginner router user) through the steps for security. Bravo to Linksys, as most manufacturers don't care at all once the product gets sold.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the note. Now if only they could fix their documentation--if they didn't have to spend money on that nice live tech-support chat, they could sell their routers for a little less.

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Fredericksburg, Va: Hi Rob, Did a scan using Symantec and the software found two adware files. But they end in .dll and I can't delete them. Do I have a problem here. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Quite possibly. But: Symantec's Internet security suite doens't include a spyware scanner at all. You sure this wasn't a virus scan?

Either way, you should use the tech support that comes with that program--call Symantec and ask them what's up.

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Silver Spring, MD : Our DVD player doesn't play the PAL(?, unknown, no format markings)kung fu movies that my sister-in-law got from Vietnam. What DVD player will work with the most formats and what happened to the concept of standardization?

Rob Pegoraro: When did standardization ever start? The different video-format standards mentioned here--NTSC here, PAL or SECAM in the rest of the world--are as old as TV itself. Some DVD players apparently do support all of those formats, but you'll have to shop around for a bit to find 'em.

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Haymarket, VA: I just ordered a new iMac G5. I wanted the 20 inch screen, but had to order the 17 inch because of the limited space where the computer will sit. What "capabilities" am I sacrificing by not having the 20 inch screen?

Rob Pegoraro: Not all that much. I think the 20-inch iMac isn't a great deal--that's a lot of screen to be locked up inside a computer that will probably become obsolete before the monitor does.

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Rob Pegoraro: Did I say "is a great deal"? I meant "isn't a great deal." Duh.

Running over here, so I'm going to hang out for another 10 minutes or so and then I've gotta get back to my day job...

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Severna Park, MD: As a former Treo 650, Goodlink, and Exchange user stay away. The 650 would crash multiple times during the day forcing a hard reset and even when not crashing would often not receive emails. I had similar problems with a 600 and an older version of Goodlink. Once Good updated the software the device and OS worked well-no more crashes, at least not too many. My advice, stick with a 600 until Good updates the software.

Rob Pegoraro: Or don't use Good's not-so-good software. (I've only heard positive things from Treo 650 users myself.)

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Richmond, VA: Hi Rob,

By the way I used to work with you many years ago in the copy aide station... Anyway, What is your take on the Blackberry 7100t? I am thinking about picking one up.

Joe Weatherford

Rob Pegoraro: A voice from my past. Yes, folks, one of my first responsibilities at the Post was helping to sort the mail :)

Here's my writeup of the 7100t, BTW.

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Herndon, Va: Last month Verizon announced they were offering stand-alone (or naked) DSL for existing customers from Maine to Virginia. I think I've now talked to every customer service rep over there, but not one has a clue about how to implement this. Maybe you've heard something about it?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think that's available here yet.

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Switching ISPs: Your chart is very helpful, but doesn't include start-up costs, like Verizon's $19.95 "shipping and activation fee" and Comcast's unbelievable $49.95 installation fee. Plus, it would be nice if you indicated whether or not a year-long commitment was required.

Rob Pegoraro: We do say in the footnotes that broadband usually requires a year's commitment. Yes, startup costs are a pain--but, again, there's only so much room we have to put things in a chart like that. Over any period of time, the actual subscription fees will add up to far more anyway.

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Washington, DC: Rob, for the poster who wants to play PAL DVDs - the vast majority of U.S. sets are NTSC only, so even if he had a PAL capable DVD player, his TV wouldn't display it at all, or possibly would only show black and white.

Rob Pegoraro: Right. Good point...

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Falls Church, Va.: Rob, I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on the work you did for Leslie Walker's "high-tech show-and-tell" article today. What were some interesting and surprising parts of the experience for you?

Also, you were very smart to mention BroadbandReports.com in your ISP review intro. That site has been far more helpful to me in dealing with my DSL and other computer problems than any tech support rep ever has.

Rob Pegoraro: The surprising part of that experience--pleasantly so--was that the computer wasn't a mess. Without a firewall, I was worried that it would be swarming with spyware. But it was in good shape, so I could get to work installing these other programs without worrying that we were building on quicksand.

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DC area Network Security : For the chatter asking about connecting a Treo in to a corporate Exchange -- be very sure to check with your tech staff. We would never allow a foreign PDA to connect in my network, and that is a pretty common best practice guideline.

Rob Pegoraro: True enough...

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Washington, DC: Of the wireless phone plans, which one offers the "best" pay-as-you-go plan?

washingtonpost.com: Shopping For a Wireless Plan

Rob Pegoraro: I can't answer that, because there is no such thing. *Your* answer will depend on how often you need to make a call and where you want the phone to work, and only you know the responses to those questions.

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Washington, DC: Rob,

Have you heard whether iChat is broken under Tiger? A friend installed Tiger and I did not (Panther, 10.39 for me). We had chatted over cable modem at 20 fps with no hitch when both used Panther--but now I see him fine, but he sees me at 2-3 FPS, and all pixelated. Sound is still aces, though. Any ideas? Other chats for me with Panther users are OK as always.

Rob Pegoraro: iChat worked fine for me--I tested both video and text chats with folks running Panther and it worked fine.

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Fairlington, VA: So Bill Gates said yesterday that he thinks iPods are "unsustainable" and we will all have mp3 players on our cell phone. Is he nuts? I don't want my iPod to take calls, and even the best cell phone wouldn't fit 10,0000 songs. All this convergence gives me a headache. I'd rather have separate devices that do their jobs well, then one device that does some things poorly.

Rob Pegoraro: I found Gates' statement to be questionable as well. He seems to have forgotten how long it takes for wireless carriers to deploy any sort of new technology. He's also overlooking how much carriers want to charge for add-on services. I mean, these are the guys who sell ringtones--not entire songs, but 15-second snippets--for $2 each.

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WDC : To the poster with the frozen iPod:

Press the two middle buttons at the same time. After about a minute, it wakes up, freaks out, then settles down.

Rob Pegoraro: True. But if you have to do that every week, something's wrong with the iPod.

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Arlington, VA: I've been holding off getting an HDTV for some time now b/c I haven't really seen any real standards set in stone (720p vs 1080i vs 1080p, CableCard one-way vs two-way, plasma vs LCD vs LCoS, etc) It seems like the latest and greatest is changing every day. Do you think this will all be sorted out by the end of this decade?

Rob Pegoraro: Sooner than that--over the next year or so for HDTV, I think. (But don't ask me about high-def DVDs.)

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Washingon, DC: No dangerous services on a Mac:

I wouldn't quite say that, since the creation of Dashboard. Since widgets are (D)HTML&javascript coding with access to cocoa libraries and even terminal commands, it is blindingly easy for someone with some programming prowess to create a widget to hose someone's home directory for example. Plus, there's a default setting in safari that allows widgets to be downloaded and installed without prompting (and this same malicious actor can set a widget to be autodownloaded on a visit to a webpage). Add to that there's no simple way to delete bad widgets, and the simplicity of spoofing official Apple widget, where on earth was Apple when the world was watching ActiveX bite Microsoft in the butt.

Rob Pegoraro: WDC here is saying that the "widgets" you can run in Mac OS X's new dashboard feature are a security risk. It's true that there are ways to download a widget to a Mac without the user's notice--a security problem Apple needs to fix--but you still need to consent to the widget actually running. Also, any widget can't do more than you, the user. These things don't have root-level access.

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washingtonpost.com: Footnotes now available on the ISP chart page .

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Perhaps we're looking at different charts....: There aren't any footnotes. I'm not trying to be a pain, believe me, I've researched every sinlge ISP out there so I know most of the start-up costs anyway. And although you're right that subscription fees add up more over time, for an apartment renter like me that's likely to leave the area once I graduate school in December, those fees and yearly committments are important.

washingtonpost.com: We'll add those footnotes in shortly online. Sorry to omit them in early version.

Rob Pegoraro: FYI...

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Arlington, VA: I don't like camcast, and I wanna drop landphone and have VOIP. Is it possible because my understanding is to have DSL you need to have landphone. Is it correct? BTW, when did this chat move to Friday?

Rob Pegoraro: You'll need "naked" DSL, which Verizon does not sell yet. Some other providers (Speakeasy, for instance) do offer that, although with a slight additional fee.

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Rob Pegoraro: Alright, it's time for me to get back to work--I've still got a regular set of stories to finish editing/writing for Sunday's paper. Thanks for all the questions.

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washingtonpost.com: Footnotes now available on the cable/satellite TV chart .

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Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


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