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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Monday, December 18, 2006; 2:00 AM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Monday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your personal tech questions, discuss recent columns, and provide advice for finding the right gadget for the holidays.

For more advice on holiday tech giving, check out this year's Holiday Tech Gift Guide.

A transcript follows.

Want to know what upcoming topics are being covered? Sign up for the Fast Forward e-letter-- get updated information on personal technology news and product demos.

Past editions of Rob's e-letter are online here.

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Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for showing up. This is my last chat of the year, so I'll stick around as long as I can to answer your questions. What's on your mind?

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Alexandria, Va.: Rob,

Do you have any thougts on digital cameras this holiday season. What features, brands, models? The person I will give it to will use it for snapshots.

Rob Pegoraro: Have a look at my recent column on that subject: For Cameras, Zoom In on Your Resolution Needs

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Princeton, N.J.: Hi Rob. Got 2 questions. After years of indecisiveness, I finally committed and purchased a 50" hd plasma. Regarding Directv HD service, which I don't have yet, I only have the regular service, I know that not every channel is HD. Does that mean the non-HD channels will look crummy on my HD set even if I upgrade to the HD service? Second, I see that A/V receivers have up-converters to make the picture better on an HD set. They can do this if you attach a DVD player for example but how come they can't upconvert a regular, non-HD sat signal and do the same supposed magic?

Rob Pegoraro: The non-HD channels will look, at best, only a little bit better with the HD service (the new receiver might use a higher-quality connection compared to what links your receiver and the HDTV now).

There's no reason that you couldn't upconvert any video signal, but the receiver you're looking at might support that only on a single input. Another option may be on your TV itself; many HD sets feature one form or another of upconversion (sometimes called "line doubling").

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I have a 2400 HP all in one that I finally got to work nice with my wireless laptop by sharing with my desktop (the printer is plugged into the desktop and the laptop is wireless). However, after I downloaded the new IE7 the printer is no longer recognized - anyone else have this problem?

Rob Pegoraro: Get the latest driver software from HP's site--there's a known issue with the HP Director software and IE 7. (Somehow, HP didn't get around to fixing this in the *fifteen months* IE 7 spent in beta testing... but HP's far from the only developer to drop the ball on IE 7 compatibility.)

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Alexandria, Va.: Love the chats. Are you aware of any digital cameras that can take panoramic pictures without using a separate or special lens? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure--what you want is a panorama-assist mode that will coach you through taking pictures in a line, then stitch them together so you get one big panoramic shot waiting for you on the computer. The Kodak model I tried at the start of this year did this very well.

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Home wireless networking: Arghhh! I didn't know you needed the equivalent of a Microsoft Certified Technician credential to be able to set up a home network.

Several calls to Linksys tech support and connections to the router still drop out randomly and I'm no where near being able to share files across computers.

This is all new equipment -- not the very top of the line, but not bargain either. Are all wireless networks so unreliable? And how in the world do you share files? Every time I look in XP or Microsoft help, there seems to be a different "solution" -- all of which have been unsuccessful so far.

It's been very frustrating and I just want to break something.

Rob Pegoraro: Wireless networking can be a royal pain because so many different things can contribute to problems like yours:

* buggy firmware in the router

* buggy software on your computers

* interference from neighbors' wireless networks

* interference from other hardware in your house (for instance, some cordless phones)

* incorrect or unwise network settings

To debug your network performance, try simplifying things--use only Windows' controls for each computer's wireless receiver, not whatever software Linksys supplied. Then make sure the router has the latest firmware installed. This Help File item has some tips on how to avoid interference from neighboring networks.

As for file sharing--yes, it's a mess in Windows. Try the instructions in this Help File column. Another option: Longtime Post contributor Daniel Greenberg is a big fan of a utility called Network Magic.

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Fort Worth, Texas: Is it better to get a DVR box from DirecTV, or use a "normal" DirecTV box and add a Tivo box? Is it possible to offload programming from the box onto a hard drive or DVD? HD is not a factor.

Rob Pegoraro: Get the regular DVR from DirecTV. It will be vastly cheaper to operate and simpler to set up, even if it means losing out on some TiVo features.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob:

Your column is my favorite part of the Sunday Post. My Norton Internet 2005 subscription ended this weekend, so I downloaded the Norton 2007 upgrade. However, after uninstalling the old version and installing the new 2007 version, my computer completely crashed. After 2 hours with Tech Support, I did restore my laptop after completely removing all traces of Norton/Symantec products. But, now I have no virus protection. I've used the AVG free versions on my kids' PCs which runs very nicely, but didn't know if you recommend AVG's non-free upgrade or some other less difficult to install anti-virus software. Thanks so much for your articles.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the kind words. I haven't tried the non-free version of AVG yet. But why not just use the free release? You're not talking about a computer used for work, right? So you'd still be fine to use just free AVG.

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Chantilly, Va.: Quick question re: your newsletter iPod-resetting tip "...first reset the iPod with the menu-and-select shortcut, then switch to holding down the select and play/pause buttons -to] force the iPod to present itself to the computer just as an external drive."

Any idea if that works on just the mac iPods or does it work on the windows versions as well?

FWIW, I've got nothing but good things to say about the service I've received at the genius bar at the Tyson's Corner Apple store. Just be sure you sign up for an appointment before you go. You can sign up online thru apple.com/support. Saves a lot of the frustration.

Rob Pegoraro: Chantilly's referring to an item in this morning's newsletter. This tip should work on any iPod--you're forcing the thing to operate at the most basic level, so it doesn't matter what it was formatted as. (The guy at the Apple Store didn't even ask me if I'd set it up for a Mac or a PC until after he'd revived it in this manner.)

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Atlanta, Ga.: My parents are in the market for a HDTV at 46 inches, which appears to be a spot where plasma, LCD and rear projection are available.

Absent buying a state of the art LCD with better ability to handle fast motion images and given your previous observation that buying a 1080p set is not necessary, any comments on the relative picture quality of a 46 inch DLP, LCD, or plasma with 720p images?

Rob Pegoraro: If the TV will go in a reasonably dark room, plasma will look best overall. Most "microdisplay" sets--DLP, rear-projection LCD and LCoS--look great when you view them from directly in front, but their images darken quickly if you move out of that center axis; that could be a problem if your parents' living room layout requires some people to watch from one side or another.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi Rob -

You may have covered this in the past, but my wife and I both have basic MP3 players for use at the gym.

We wanted to buy some music online but are a littler perplexed. We are "pay as you go" people (i.e. we have Virgin mobile) as opposed to a monthly subscription fee.

Do you have a few that you reccomend?

Rob Pegoraro: You didn't say what kind of MP3 player you have, but I'll assume that they're not iPods--so the iTunes Store, otherwise the best music-downloading option online, won't work for you.

For just plain music buying, you could do fine with the MTV Urge store built into Windows Media Player 11. Napster, Rhapsody and Yahoo Music Unlimited--better known for their subscription services--also sell individual tracks without requiring a subscription, but all three require adding extra software to your PC.

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Columbia, Md.: Do you the PS3 is going to fail (not to meet market expectations?) I own the original PS and PS2 but the PS3's price is not very palatable. I have the means to buy it buy chose not to (also due to the unsettled BR vs. HD DVD format.) Instead, I got the Wii and I am having a blast (I am 35 years old btw.)

maybe Nintendo hit a HR this time since the SNES in the console format?

Rob Pegoraro: That's a real possibility. The success of the Wii shows how easily the digerati can be led astray by focusing only on technical specs like display resolution or processor speed. By those numbers, the Wii is... well, wiik. (Sorry, couldn't resist that :) But it's also, by all accounts, enormously fun to play. And that's what more important to people--enjoying their game console, not counting how many pixels it puts on the screen.

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Cedar Park, Tex.: Will PC and laptop prices come down after Christmas?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. But they also do. (I.e., I'm not expecting any precipitous drops, just the usual steady erosion of what you'll pay to get a PC with a given feature set.)

The real reason to postpone a computer purchase wouldn't be to claim any big savings, but to get a machine with Windows Vista preloaded (starting Jan. 30).

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D.C.: I've got a iBook that's too small for my iTunes library, and the family needs a desktop. We're getting the iMac for Xmas. Is there a way that the iTunes library can be on the iMac, but the iTunes on my laptop can also play from that library (to not lose playcounts and so that the 60GB laptop can select songs off of the full 80GB library?) Apple says this is impossible.

If it is impossible, is there an easy way to transport folders from the desktop to the laptop, so I can load up the laptop with particular music when I go on trips?

Thanks for all you do. Happy holidaze!

Rob Pegoraro: Whoever told you that was "impossible" forgot about one of the greatest features in iTunes--it will share your entire library over your home network with any other computer running iTunes. And you don't need the world's greatest home network for this; regular WiFi is fast enough.

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Oakland, Calif.: Rob,

I'm looking for MP3 speakers for my 9 y.o son's Nano. I want to stay under $100 dollars. Do you (or your readers) have any options (the more "fun", the better!)

Kyle in California

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't auditioned any iPod speakers lately myself, but I'm sure some folks here have. Any advice for Oakland?

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MP3 Limbo: Do you know of any music download sites where you can buy mp3s without a subscription? A decent selection, especially of the alt-country stuff would be good, it's for my wife.

Rob Pegoraro: There's this little thing called the iTunes Store. Maybe you've heard of it? :)

(Yes, it does have an excellent selection--for instance, they feature both of the two alt-country bands led by current or former Post staffers, Last Train Home and Little Pink.)

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Larry, Mt Brook, Ala. : I bought my two teenagers new MacBooks for Christmas. These macs are to replace their G3 iBooks that have gotten very long in the tooth. Both of them have extensive iTunes collections and other files that I will need to move. Do you think the migration program that is part of the new Mac setup is sufficient, or is there something else I should use? I used Move to Mac when I set up the iBooks and that went very smoothly.

Rob Pegoraro: The Migration Assistant program Apple includes is AWESOME. Seriously... it's ridiculously, laughably easy. You do, however, need to be moving from one machine with a FireWire port to another with a FireWire port.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: For the person with the new Linksys router--you are not alone. I bought a Linksys router about a year ago, and after much trouble with my network connection (mainly dropping out randomly), I discovered that Linksys had shipped out this model with buggy firmware. I think they did it knowing that there were problems. After a great deal of ranting and swearing, I finally talked to a Linksys technician online, I was able to download new firmware for the router, and it's worked fairly well since then, but what a pain!

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, G'burg!

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Stafford, Va: Rob,

When people talk about HDTV, I don't think enough people discuss the value of QAM tuners. I live too far to get good reception from Other the Air DC or Richmond stations, so I got an HDTV QAM tuner so I can watch the unencrypted HDTV channels on my cable system (which is only HDnet, HDnet movies, WJLA, WUSA, and two WETA channels all the digital music channels) without out having to upgrade to expanded basic and rent a set top box. To me it's not a big deal since I don't watch TV, but I'm bummed that my cable system (Adelphia, now Comcast) does not send all local HD channels unencrypted, espeically Fox 5.

Rob Pegoraro: Stafford's talking about a component on many, but not all, HDTVs that lets you plug in your cable connection directly. It won't work with encrypted premium channels--i.e., stuff like HBO--but for everything else it can spare you the need to put up with a cable box. Now if could just remember what QAM (pronounced "kwam") stands for...

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Rob, for a home network I use the free AVG, free Spybot and free Adaware and yesterday downloaded the windows defender. Am I safe enough as I surf the web with the latest version of Mozilla?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, as long as you think before you download. If you'll run some random program just because a pop-up ad says you should--something too many readers have confessed to doing--no software in the world can keep you safe.

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re: Gaithersburg & MP3s: If their players are Windows Media compatible, Wal-Mart's 88¿ per download ain't so bad...

Rob Pegoraro: There's another good option, although Walmart's selection is weaker than everybody else's.

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Helpless in Arlington: Last week, you told someone that iTunes could convert .wmv to .mp3, for use on an iPod if you drag and drop the wmv file into the iTunes library. It doesn't work! Is there a special import function, or a preference that needs to be changed? I can do this with .aiff files but not with .wmv.

I also tried using "import file" off the toolbar menu, and iTunes will not import.

What am I doing wrong?

Rob Pegoraro: WMV = Windows Media Video. iTunes can't do that on its own. What it can and will do, the first time you run it, is convert WMA (Windows Media Audio) files to either AAC or MP3 (whatever you've set as the default format in iTunes). I'm not sure if there's a way to make it go through that conversion routine after the fact... might be a good Help File item if I can figure this one out.

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iRiver Land: Sorry I wasn't specific enough. No iPod, just iRiver mp3 player. she bought a song from iTunes but she's been unable to figure out how to copy that to her iRiver player. I just assumed it was iPod proprietary. Am I wrong and she can get her itune to her non iPod player?

Rob Pegoraro: She can, but she'll need to go through some extra steps. First she'll need to burn the song to an audio CD, then she needs to pop that CD right back into the computer and let iTunes import the song as an MP3. Then she'll have a file that will play on the iRiver player.

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Silver Spring, Md.:

I've been struggling for months about what upgrade to make for internet access at home. My husband and I both work a lot from home - and we have a teenager who wants to do all the downloads and photos, etc. We're still on dial-up (AOL) because I cannot decide between Comcast DSL, Verizon DSL or Verizon FIOS. (We have Comcast cable and Verizon phone service.) I get conflicting opinions from everyone I ask. Can you help? I was thinking wireless networking since having the capability for all three of us to be online at the same time would be great. How can we decide between these options?

Thanks so much for any assistance you can provide. I know it should probably be a very easy thing to move forward on but, as I said, I just keep going round and round about it!

Thanks again, and thanks for your wonderful columns!!

Rob Pegoraro: Get Verizon DSL. It's the cheapest option of the bunch, but still more than fast enough for all the uses you mentioned. Fios will be much faster, but will you actually need that speed? I'd hold off on Fios until the Fios TV service becomes available--then you might find that you can save even more money by ditching Comcast for Fios TV.

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Durham, North Carolina: Rob,

Monster Cables (or other expensive connection cables for AV). Are they worth it? I am coming to learn that Best Buy -- the place I regret buying my new HDTV -- makes the bulk of their money from selling the expensive cables and installation services that are ancillary to a consumer buying an HDTV. I am told by an associate that using the "monster cables" are critical to extracting the best picture. Problem is, the cables are VERY expensive. So, are these very expensive connection cables worth it? Thanks, Crash Davis

Rob Pegoraro: No. And especially not if you're talking about digital connections, where you get the exact same signal with every cable. Or as somebody once said about a different sort of technophile behavior: You don't need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball!

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Bethesda, Md.: This is probably a stupid question, but I'll ask it anyway. I have a DOS-based computer bridge game. I'm considering buying a new computer -- a Mac. Is there any way to convert this game (I have it on a disk and on a CD) to a format compatible with a Mac?

Rob Pegoraro: You could just run it on the Mac as is... beyond the commercial Windows "virtual machine" programs, you could use a free Windows emulator to run that program. This emulator--it's called just "Q," at http://www.kju-app.org/kju/--is a lot slower, but you don't need any great speed to run a DOS app.

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Woodbridge, Va.: When will we start seeing DVD players that support both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats?

Rob Pegoraro: Who knows? There's nothing impossible about it, in the purely technical sense--but the fact that nobody's even promised to bring such a thing to market yet should say something about the economic feasability of it all.

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Okemos, Mich.: Hi Rob,

I am thinking about buying a plasma 50 inch TV for my husband for christmas. I have found a fairly good deal on an LG. Is that a good brand? Are there remarkable differences between brands. Quite frankly I do not know the difference between LG and Kitchen Aid, so any advise will help.

Thanks very much,

Valerie

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, LG's a good brand.

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NYC, N.Y.: I purchased an HP a1010n and was assured by HP that it would be compatible with my HP scanner and Paperport. I have not been able to get them to work together. Am I doing something wrong or aren't they compatible?

thanks,

tricia

Rob Pegoraro: No, you're not doing anything wrong. HP is. What's HP tech support's response when you call for help?

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Fios TV: Speaking of Fios TV, when are we going to get it in Montgomery County?!?! I'm sooooo sick of Comcast it's not even funny, and I don't want to commit 12-18 months to a satellite provider. Tell me, when will I be free?

Rob Pegoraro: You'd have to ask your county council, which only got around to approving Verizon's application a few weeks ago. (Fios Internet service, meanwhile, has been available in Mongtomery County for, what, two years now?)

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Basking Ridge, N.J.: Rob - this chat is great stuff, you help a lot of neophytes and we appreciate it!

I have been having problems with TiVo lately -it is having trouble updating itself via the phone connection. I have a lifetime subscription from a few years ago so I know that is not a problem. Would i be better off updating TiVo using my wireless home network, and if so, what device do it need to plug into the TiVo box?

Rob Pegoraro: That's cute--a telephone connection isn't working in Ma Bell's hometown.

To get your TiVo on your wireless network, you'd need to buy a USB wireless adapter and plug that into your TiVo's USB port. (I'm assuming yours has one.) The TiVo Web site sells one such adapter for $60.

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Kingston, R.I.: What do you think of online backup companies like Carbonite.com? Is it safe to backup your hard drive in remote locations? Would these companies pry into your files and view the content?

Rob Pegoraro: If they did, they'd be dead--instantly--if they ever got caught. What you should worry about instead:

* Hackers breaking into the backup archive

* The backup archive being temporarily offline when you really need it.

* Your own Internet connection being temporarily offline when you really need access to the remote backup.

Online backup does have the advantage of putting your data in a spot where it will survive even the complete destruction of your house. But most people's Internet connections don't have the bandwidth to deal with uploading anything but a small subset of your files anyway--you're better off with an external hard drive or rewritable CDs or DVDs.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob,

I'm looking for a new digital camera. I'm looking for something beyond the basic point-and-shoot. I wouldn't consider myself an expert photographer, but I'd like a camera that will at least allow me to set exposure and aperture manually, with some level of control over exposure compensation and white balance settings. I take a lot of night shots, so the ability to take long exposures is very important. I know there are a ton of cameras that can do all of this and more, but the catch is, I'm looking for a compact camera that I can take with me everywhere. Is there anything smaller than a Canon PowerShot G7 that will give me some level of manual controls?

Thanks,

DM

Rob Pegoraro: The Canon A710 IS--I tried it out this fall--is no bigger than the G7, has the same manual control but is a lot cheaper. Otherwise... there's not much. If you do need manual controls, there aren't that many pocket-sized models out there. (To see what's available, try using the "review finder" at dcresource.com, one of my favorite camera-review sites.)

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I hate ITUNES 7.0: I hate ITUNES 7.0. I keep my podcasts as songs on the older version. I hate it.

Rob Pegoraro: Stop holding back... how do you really feel about this software?

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Barnegat, N.J.: I have a Verizon Wireless Palm 700p. Problem is that all of my home PCs run Windows Media Center and the phone will not sync as Palm and Verizon "do not support Windows Media Center."

Palm says there is no fix and none planned.

Do you or any of your readers know of a solution? I am one of 6 million people who bought a Media Center PC so somebody else must have the same problem...

Rob Pegoraro: What has happened when you do try to sync the phone to the computer? Does the software not work at all? If so, that is utterly inexcusable behavior on Palm's part.

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Alexandria, Va.: I want a Treo 650, but I don't want a phone plan. Is there one where I can pay for my calls as I use them?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think anybody sells the 650 with a prepaid service plan--but, actually, I don't think anybody sells the 650 at all.

You could buy the 680 directly from Palm and not activate for any wireless service at all. But then you'd spend a lot more than what Cingular would charge you for a phone with a contract.

Why not just buy a regular Palm handheld organizer instead? Buying a Treo and not using its communications capability would be like buying a new car so you can keep it in the driveway and listen to its stereo.

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Rob Pegoraro: As an aside: Clifton, my friend, you're STILL insane.

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wiishing for a wii in Utah: Hey Rob,

My husband and I decided to get a wii for ourselves for Christmas -- we're in our mid and late 30's and don't have other game consoles, so here's another vote for Nintendo having done something right! However, we're not inclined to camp out -- see previous comment about our ages! (Lines here in Salt Lake formed at 10 pm Sat. for the Sun morning arrivals despite cold temps and several inches of snow overnight!)

Are we right in guessing they'll be significantly easier to find the last week of December, or are we probably going to be waiting until January?

Rob Pegoraro: Very hard to say. If you can deal with waiting until after Xmas to get a wii, you'll certainly get one eventually... but a week after? Two weeks? Wish I knew...

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Annapolis: My Norton Utilities/security subscription is ending on my desktop, and my McAfee security is ending on my laptop. Do you know if I can buy one copy of one of these to use on both machines, or am I stuck buying two separate copies? (I prefer the Norton to the McAfee).

Rob Pegoraro: Norton Internet Security's license allows you to put one copy on up to three PCs, but McAfee only allows one computer per copy.

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Arlington, Va.: Son, 11, 5th grade, had an Apple Notebook on loan from school and enjoyed using it. He wants a notebook, but also wants to be able to play various games. Daugther, 13, going to high school in fall, also wants notebook. She will use it for more traditional academic purposes. Interested in advice on whether we should buy Apple, or PC based notebook, and if the latter, should be wait for Vista preloaded versions?

washingtonpost.com: Mac Vs. PC: How to Decide, Nov. 26

Rob Pegoraro: My column, linked above, may have be able to help you out.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Rob - I've used a BlackBerry for work for the past two years, and have loved it. It's worked great for email, web browsing, and keeping my contacts and calendar. The time has come that I'm no longer working and have to give back my beloved BlackBerry, and thus I am looking for something else. It will be for personal use, as I'm going back to school in the fall (don't know where in the country). I'm considering a regular phone, but I'm apprehensive about giving up the email feature I've become so addicted to.

I fell in deep lust with the Pearl, but I know your review found it lacking. I'm also concerned about using either Cingular or T-Mobile (Cingular wasn't great for me in the past), and as I'm moving to an unknown location, I think sticking with Verizon to ensure coverage is probably the best bet.

So - any idea when the Pearl might come to Verizon, or any suggestions within Verizon's current lineup? I'm finding their selection...lacking, to say the least.

Thanks!!!

Rob Pegoraro: The Pearl, so far, has been a GSM-only device, meaning it's only compatible with the network technology T-Mobile and Cingular use. RIM would need to manufacture a CDMA version before Sprint or Verizon could think about selling the Pearl... and then Verizon would need to conduct its usual testing, which can take much longer than you'd think necessary, before selling the phone.

In other words: Don't hold your breath on a Pearl from VzW! Instead, get the Blackberry 7130 that Verizon does sell at the moment.

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Adelphi, Md.: Thanks for giving us Geeks the opportunity to tell folks that QAM stands for "quadrature amplitude modulation"

Rob Pegoraro: You're welcome!

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McLean, Va.: Regarding Monster Cables. They wouldn't be my first choice, but when I got my HDTV I ended up getting one. Because of the better shielding. I lived in an apartment building and what with the washer/dryer, dishwasher, and other equipment being basically in the same room as the TV there was alot of electrical noise. The basic cable had issues with the noise which went away when I bought the expensive cable.

Now if I was in a house, or an apartment without those issues, then the cheap cable is the way to go.

Rob Pegoraro: But would you have done as well getting a no-name shielded cable? I just have a hard time believing that any one company has some sort of exclusive technology when it comes to audio or video cables.

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new to apple: Hi Rob,

Mom needs a new computer and Dad just picked her up a mac laptop. The rest of us are all pc users, but think we can help her out better with a mac = hopefully she won't have any more of those strange issues that only she gets! (And there's always the genius bar to keep us from pulling our hair out!)

Anyhow, does Migration Assistant work with pc's if they have firewire? I have a pcmcia firewire card I could take home with me if that would help us start the tranisition out smoothly ...

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, Migration Assistant is Mac-to-Mac only. For a PC-to-Mac move, the closest equivalent would be Detto's Move2Mac software.

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Tina in Falls Church: I'm going to try to hold off replacing my computer until Vista is out. Can you suggest a program that would help me move data (bookmarks, Word letters) to a new machine? I've been pricing computers on Dell and see several options for programs. Hope to be home for your chat today. Thanks, Tina

Rob Pegoraro: Microsoft has said that Vista will ship with that kind of capability built in--the company bought a company called Apptimum, the developer of the AlohaBob migration utility, so it could add that feature to Vista.

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Falls Church, Va.: On the relative size of modern things - The most recent issue of Invention & Technology has a photo of a 1964 Motorola car phone which the caption says weighed 40 lbs, "half as much as the original 1940's units."

Firefox question - after upgrading to 2.0 Firefox was much better about hogging resources, but recently (and particularly when using Washingtonpost.com, discussions in particular) it has been a real processor hog, using as much of the processor as it can get. Did WPNI change something, or is there some reason Firefox would be doing that? -Using Windows XP Pro, Firefox 2.0, no extensions other than acrobat reader].

Rob Pegoraro: Posting this so our tech people can see it - I have no idea about this issue myself.

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Frederick, Md.: Hi Rob: Posting early for lack of time today. I'm a devoted fan, reading your columns and online discussions regularly. I don't recall seeing this problem and hope you can help. I bought my daughter and son-in-law a Dell laptop and Netgear router to setup a home network so she can be online while he's studying (law school student). They also have a Dell desktop, and both computers work just fine. However, there's a problem getting the laptop to connect online in their apartment. He can take the laptop to U of Baltimore and connect to the school's wireless network without issues every day. When they try to connect to the home network, no luck.

I spent some time with the Netgear customer service techs, and they went through all the right manual steps to connect to the home network and both computers were online just fine, until I shut the laptop down and restarted. I then had to go through the same set of manual steps (which is a pain to have to do repeatedly) to get the laptop back online again.

I'm convinced the router is working fine, but there's some other software problem with the wireless card or with some other setup function of the wireless network. We haven't had time to spend with the Dell customer service techs yet, but I wanted to get your advice on a fix recommended. We don't want to do anything dumb that could hurt the laptop as we're all fairly technologically challenged.

Do you have any advice or could you point out where to get help for this issue. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd try disabling whatever third-party software you currently use to control the laptop's wirless card. Use the software built into Windows, which seems to have an easier time running automatically. Here's how.

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NOVA: OK, I'll admit it - I HATE my iPod. I used to have a creative Zen (probably 4 years ago) and when it was stolem I bought the Pod. The iPod is now broken and I am trying to get it fixed. If I can't, can I use the new Zen I would buy with all my music in iTunes?

Rob Pegoraro: If your iTunes collection is all MP3s, sure--but you'd have to move them to another program. But music files bought from the iTunes Store won't work on another player unless you go through the burn-to-audio-CD-then-rip-as-MP3 workaround.

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McLean, Va.: Hi Rob

I have an older iMac with a 250GB hard disk that is almost full. There are a million photos on the disk that I am planning to archive to CDs to free up disk space for other things (and to speed up the iMac). In a PC world, you have to do tons more steps to make sure old files are "really" deleted. Is that the case with the iMac operating system as well? The iMac has the Tiger OS on it right now. Thanks for having these chats!

Rob Pegoraro: No, deleting a file pretty much deletes it.

If you want to clean up a ton of space in a hurry, try a free program called Monolingual (http://monolingual.sourceforge.net/); use it to strip out the foreign-language files from all your programs and the operating system. (It can also remove some processor-support files, but if you're not careful with that feature it can break some of your software.)

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Fairfax, Va.: Shorter version of a longer question submitted earlier.

What's a good basic PDA that will play nicely with multiple Macs?

Are PDAs even worth it these days, or is something better on the immediate horizon?

Rob Pegoraro: Palm is pretty much the only game in town--nobody else really makes basic handhelds these days--but unfortunately its Mac software stinks. I suggest a $40 program called the Missing Sync (markspace.com), but it works much better on OS X 10.4 than in 10.3--the older operating system doesn't have a feature Missing Sync needs to sync a Palm's databook and address book with OS X's Address Book and iCal.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: My daughters are music addicts, and after lowering their iTunes allowances they are maxing out every month and asking for more. It looks like those subscription services would save us money each month.

I know they won't work on the iPods and we won't "own" the music but portability isn't that important to us - we mostly listen at home. I don't care much about ownership either - we've got over 200 shiny plastic coasters that I'm so glad we own, and they don't even listen to the music they bought a year ago!

Do you have a favorite subscription service and possibly a cheap portable that works well with it?

Rob Pegoraro: This is a good question. I made my share of in-retrospect-embarrassing music purchases as a teenager, and if I had been given the option of a music subscription service I might have really benefited from it. Or at least, my parents might have benefited from it!

Take a look at Yahoo or Rhapsody's subscription offerings. Rhapsody's software is a little nicer--and you can now buy one line of Sandisk's Sansa players with Rhapsody preinstalled--while Yahoo is a buck or two cheaper a month.

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Charleston, SC: Rob,

For me, iPhoto is the right mix of ease of use and functionality, but I wish I could figure out one thing: is there a way to reduce the size (not the dimensions) of photos within iPhoto? That is, turn (or make a copy of) a 2 MB photo into a much smaller photo, say one of 200 KB. One can do this by File - Export (to somewhere like the Desktop), picking a smaller size, then dragging the new smaller sized photo back into iPhoto. But is there a way to just reduce the size WITHIN iPhoto as one can rotate, crop, reduce red-eye, etc? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Not that I've heard of, although there might be an iPhoto plug-in that does the job. Have you checked on versiontracker.com?

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Seattle, Wash.: Hi Rob- I bought a Series 2 Tivo (one of the Humax-manufactured versions with a DVD burner) about 6 months ago at a great deal. Once I make the upgrade to an HDTV and HD cable service will I be stuck viewing TV in non-HD if I continue to use my Tivo for regular viewing?

Rob Pegoraro: You mean, if you run the TV service through the TiVo? Yes, you will be stuck at non-HD quality.

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non-iPod MP3 player with Apple computer?: Are there any non-iPod MP3 players I should consider, to use with an Apple computer? I have a 3 year old iRiver that I like a lot but it's big and heavy compared to the new players. I like some features the iPod doesn't have - has built-in FM radio, can just drag and drop files and I don't have to worry about DRM, isn't the exact same product that everyone else has - but I need something that works with an Apple since I've inherited my boyfriend's old Mac Mini. Should I just join the herd and get an iPod, or are there other players to consider?

Rob Pegoraro: The Mac version of iTunes is supposed to support other MP3 players--but I haven't tried that feature out in years. Have you tried just plugging the iRiver player into your Mac?

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Arlington, Va.: I have a Dell Inspiron 710m. We tend to leave it on all the time. It will get hung up on the screen saver and take a minute to "Wake up." Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry, that's just Windows being Windows.

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Washington, D.C.:1. Which do you recommend for a laptop, Mac or PC?

2. Our Mac mini (not upgraded to Tiger) seems to have problems accessing certain web-based programs. Any suggestions to eliminate this problem?

Rob Pegoraro:1) See the how-to-buy-a-computer column (link showed up earlier) for my thoughts on that. 2) If some Web sites won't work in that computer's copy of Safari, get yourself a copy of Firefox; that usually fixes any compatibility issues.

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Va.: My ex-BF used to download movies and burn them so he could watch them. We're talking about a Russian version of a Tom Cruise movie before its release on DVD.

Now, that's his business if RIAA wants to get medieval on his rear. BUT, suppose he did something like this when he was visiting me and using my wireless network. (I don't know if he did this.) Would I be the one that RIAA would go after too? Like I said, I don't know if he do this when at my place, but given how he is, I wouldn't be surprised.

(I don't know why he ever did it; he never picked any good movies and they had all Russian subtitles, and junk like that. I'd rather rent a movie.)

Rob Pegoraro: I'd be more worried about the Russian Mafia coming after you in that scenario :)

In practical terms, the odds of you being sued by the RIAA or the MPAA are low in general. That's especially true if you only download and don't upload.

But if the file-sharing app, like many, was set to share anything on the computer while it's in use, you could get in trouble. Here's how: When these suits are filed, they're generally done as "John Doe" suits; the plaintiff is suing the owner of a particular computer, not a named individual. And that computer may be IDed only by its Internet Protocol address... meaning that, yes, your ex could get you in trouble by using your computer for file-sharing downloads.

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For TiVo user who wants to go wireless: TiVo has been a you-know-what about wireless USB adapters. It's easiest (even though it's not cheapest) to buy theirs, either via the web or at Best Buy. There have been a lot of problems about the TiVo boxes only being compatible with older versions of the USB adapters (i.e. Belkin, Linksys, etc) which you can't find in the stores anymore. Just a word to the wise from someone who has been there.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks - hope the original poster sees this.

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Cary, N.C.: Hi Rob!

I want to get a portable media playing device for my husband. He's got an MP3 player (not an iPod) and loves taking photos and videos and sharing them. He has his eye on portable DVD players. But I'm also considering a whopping portable media player like a Creative Zen Vision W. He'll use this on trips to keep himself entertained--mainly in the car while I'm driving.

He's also considering playing his PlayStation on whatever device I get him.

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Your second-to-last sentence makes me ask this: How about a PSP, the portable PlayStation? It's a good games machine and, with the right third-party software, not bad as a portable media player. It's the only non-iPod multimedia gadget that I see with any regularity on planes.

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Richardson, Texas: Apple wants to update my software with iTunes+Quick Time 7.0.2. I am on a Dell PC. I don't use iTunes. Is this going to be a problem?

Thanks for all your help.

Rob Pegoraro: Shouldn't. QuickTime updates generally include some sort of security fix, so you don't want to skip out on them--and you don't have to use iTunes afterwards if you won't want to.

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re; DC and iTunes: The sharing funtion of iTunes works only as long as the other machine is there to "serve" the songs. When iTunes or the Mac is off, you won't have access to those tunes till next time (this works on an office network, too.) As far as I know, you can't copy over the network - not within iTunes, anyway. For portability, burn your music to "thumbdrive," CD or DVD - I can get 1200 128 Kbps MP3s/AACs that way - in data mode and dump to the other machine. DRM restricted music will ask for your password.

Rob Pegoraro: This is a good follow-up to an earlier exchange. You do need to have the machine hosting the iTunes library active all the time--or least whenever you want to share the music library. (I.e., if you're going to have that computer stream a long playlist during a party, make sure you change its power-saving settings so the music doesn't stop halfway through dessert.)

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Columbia, MD:"...one of the greatest features in iTunes--it will share your entire library over your home network with any other computer running iTunes." Really? I had no idea! I have two desktop computers at home on a wireless network. How do I set this up?

(Warning of potential snag: I put a password on my wireless router to keep out the neighbors, and can't remember the password! I am a little worried that the router may ask for the password to implement whatever tip you may provide. Would unplugging the router for some length of time cause the router to clear the password?)

Rob Pegoraro: And more on this: Start up iTunes on the first computer, open its Preferences window (under the Edit menu in iTunes for Windows), click on the Sharing tab and click the checkbox next to "Share my library on my local network." Then start up iTunes on the other machine; it should see the shared library automatically and list it in the left-hand pane of its window, just above your playlists.

You may need to adjust firewall settings on the first machine, but hopefully your firewall software will be smart enough to notice that iTunes is trying to share your music and will ask if that's OK.

If you do need to reset your network, there's usually some complicated dance involving turning off the power while holding down one button or combination of buttons. Consult the router's manual for this--but you shouldn't need to do this to enable this music sharing.

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Miami, Fla.: hey Rob, I was thinking about getting a portable xm player. like the pioneer inno. I would love to be able to listen to xm instead of taking my ipod everywhere. What are your impressions of the pros and cons of these devices such as battery life, music storage, etc.?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's our review of the Inno from late May: A Music Player Only the RIAA Can't Love

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Cary, N.C.: I have an LG 50" plasma and I love it very, very much. So does my husband and all of our friends.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Jim NYC: What about allofmp3.com? Am I going to get in trouble for having bought music from them?

Rob Pegoraro:"Get in trouble"? Probably not. But the site, even if it hasn't been illegal under the letter of the law in Russia, is clearly not doing the right thing. You might as well just use a peer-to-peer service and not pay anything; the artists involved will get the same compensation either way, and you won't have to stay up late worrying that the Russian mob has your credit-card number.

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Madison, Wisc.: Hi Rob, I really enjoy your chats.

I'm worried about millions of lead and other heavy medals laden analog TVs being taken to landfills in 2009 when analog over the air broadcasts end. I don't think there will be enough subsidized digital tuners to go around and I'm worried the cable companies will make people get digital boxes and will no longer provide analog, or analog converted from digital, even though the federal mandate doesn't apply to cable companies. What do you think about this potential big ewaste issue on the horizon? Do you think Congress should require cable to provide a 'lifeline' analog service for old TVs without a box?

Rob Pegoraro:"E-waste" is a real issue, but I don't think the DTV deadline will contribute much to it--either people will buy these converter boxes or they'll just keep their same basic cable as before. (Cable companies are under no obligation to retire analog cable boxes, since they don't require any use of the public airwaves.)

I am *not* saying that this final deadline for the digital-TV transition won't be inconvenient. But I am also *not* saying that anybody has a right to TV in the first place.

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Antwerp, Belgium: Hi,i enjoy your chats&always look forward 2 them. I'm running Windows XP+SP2. 1 giga ram memory. IE6. Still hesitating to make switch to IE7, but my internet freezes or crashes very often,gotta close the appplication. Gives me error:"iexplore.exe needs to be closed" Any cure? Happy hollidays!! Menachem

Rob Pegoraro: Yes: Mozilla Firefox. Almost all of the good features of IE 6, but next to none of its risks.

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Centreville, Va.: Have you compared the Zune Pass with other subscription based music services (Urge, Y! music, Rhapsody)? Are they all basically pretty similar including music catalog? Or does one have significantly more music than another? I tried Y! Music for a month and it seemed like some of the catalog (tracks I "rented" disappeared the next month -- ie, I was still paying, but couldn't select that track anymore).

Rob Pegoraro: The Zune Marketplace isn't as good as the others--the selection trails that of the competition by a pretty sizable margin.

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Herndon, Va.: Hi Rob, I really enjoy and appreciate your insights. What is the best anti-virus software/firewall program you would recommend for Windows XP? I just had a disaster with Norton Internet 2007 crashing my laptop, and I'd prefer to try a program that's effective, but not so difficult to upgrade and maintain.

Rob Pegoraro: If you're talking about a home computer, it's hard to get something much simpler and easier than the free AVG.

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Bethesda, Md.: My elderly mother wants to get a flat screen TV, not because her 15-year-old one is dying or because she's eager for HD, but because it's neater -- no tables, no boxes, no wires, just hang it on the wall the way they do in the commercials. Is she kidding herself, or is she still going to have to have wires and converters? And what's the best way to go (plasma, LCD, etc.) if the viewer is, um, not all that sophisticated about picture quality? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Get an LCD with a good ATSC digital tuner (well, assuming your mom gets OK reception with analog today) and you can have *most* of that clean look. You'd only have a TV antenna and the power cable to mess up things. (I suggest against plasma because it would weigh too much to hang easily, and because it doesn't sound she wants a 37-inch screen in the first place.)

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Arlington, Va.: Hi,

Is there a software for Mac that will automatically back up all picture files to a backup drive? I'm not a savvy user and I've spent $500.00 recovering some pictures I lost due to a bad hard drive.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure - if you subscribe to .Mac, the Backup program included can do that for you. Otherwise, try the free iBackup (you can find that on versiontracker.com).

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NYC, N.Y.: Rob

The Container Store has very good portable speakers for portable players, light small and good sound. I got them for my wife to replace older very bulky ones.

MaT

Rob Pegoraro: The Container Store? Who knew... (BTW, if you're shopping there you must be getting close to moving into the new place. Good luck with that : )

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, I was wondering if you have any experience with the personal GPS units that can be loaded onto a Treo? (650, specifically). My husband drooled over the Telenav unit in the SkyMall mag recently, but I'm not thrilled with the idea of buying it, upping his dataplan, and paying an additional monthly service on it.

It's much less expensive (short term) than a Garmin or other non-PDA attached unit - but would the Garmin, etc be a better long term purchase? Hold off altogether & get him a DVR instead?

Thanks!!

Rob Pegoraro: If you would have to upgrade your data plan to use a Palm-attached GPS receiver, that kinda argues against using it. The best reason to get a separate GPS unit? It will have a larger screen that will be easier to glance at while driving.

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Rocklin, Calif.: On HDTV: got a Sony Bravia 46" LCD a couple of weeks ago, then added the DirecTV HD-DVR. Looks great.

I picked the LCD because that room has lots of windows and lights, and non-LCD screens showed a lot of reflection from the lights.

It has a wide viewing angle (about 176 degrees), colors a bright and vibrant, and blacks are black. Greatly pleased with the whole thing (and a wife that allowed the purchase!)

...Rick...

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Rick!

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Bethesda, Md.: For the guy with the Montgomery County FIOS question:

We just had the FIOS lines installed in our subdivision in Bethesda, and Verizon said it should be up and running in a few weeks!

Rob Pegoraro: That'd be nice. Appreciate the update...

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From Daniel Greenberg: Inexpensive iPod speakers: I recommended Logic 3's i-Station speakers in the Post's Tech Gift Guide because they have a subwoofer, which makes them sound better than the usual tinny speakers in the sub-$100 category.

WMA to MP3: To convert audio files from almost any audio format to MP3, WMA, and more, my tool of choice is my current favorite MP3 player and music power tool, MediaMonkey.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Daniel! Almost done here. I mean it this time :)

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Washington, D.C.: How about some gift recommendations in the $200 range? The last chat was all tech questions and no gift recos.

Rob Pegoraro: OK, here's a few, some right up to $200 and some much cheaper:

* iPod nano. (C'mon, like I could leave that out!)

* A car-adapter kit for whatever MP3 player the gift recipient uses.

* A wireless media receiver, so they can listen to their digital music on their stereo. Look at the Roku Soundbridge, the SlimDevices Squeezebox (alas, over $200) or Apple's AirPort Express.

* A new point-and-shoot digicam if their existing model is more than, say, three years old.

* An upconverting DVD player if they have, or are about to get, an HDTV.

* A compact, "bus-powered" hard drive (so it won't need to be plugged into a wall outlet, just a USB 3 or FireWire port)... your friend will finally start backing up his/her data that way

* If the person already has a digital camera that takes SD Cards, SanDisk's Ultra II Plus cards--they fold open to let you plug them right into a USB port.

* You can't really go wrong with a good book or a nice bottle of wine either.

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Rob Pegoraro: And that's it for me. Thanks for all the questions! See you in 2007...

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