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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, June 14, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, June 14 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

A transcript follows.

Read Rob's latest tech tips in his new blog, Faster Forward.

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Rob Pegoraro: I'm back. How has everybody been?

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Chantilly, VA - Itunes Plus - why bother?: The beauty of Itunes was that it could cheaply provide you with a seemingly unlimited amount of songs. But at the pricepoint that Plus creeps into it is no longer become THAT cheap of an alternative.

Besides, with the number of converters that are out there (Soundtaxi for example), you can buy a "locked" album from Itunes, convert it to an unlocked version and boom you are done. You purchased the album, paid Itunes their money, the artist gets paid and you get to use your unlocked copy however you want.

Sorry but this whole idea just smells bad to me. Just another way to squeeze another 30 percent more out of their customers. Personally I love Itunes, I have over 6000 songs in my library and buy probably 1-2 more cds per week straight from their library. But I'm not going to pay another 30 percent on top of that for the privilege of using the files where I want to use them as opposed to where they tell me I can use them

Rob Pegoraro: I'll start with this post, with which I disagree. First, the 30-cent surcharge is only on individual songs. Albums and videos cost the same either way. Also, you've got the improved sound quality--you can't hear it on every track, but it made a real difference on some.

I do place some value on my time; not having to break out a second program to do post-processing on every single iTunes purchase has some value to me.

Finally: If you hate DRM so much, voting with your money for no-DRM music is the most effective way customers can help usher it into the dustbin of history.

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Annandale, Va.: Good afternoon, Rob.

Is this the wrong time to buy a Palm product? I want a pda that's a pda, not a phone and I'm considering the TX. I'd appreciate your opinion. (I'd really like a Nokia 800 but I don't think the PIM software is there yet.)

Rob Pegoraro: I'm afraid it is the wrong time. Here's my own scenario: I've got a two-year-old Treo 650 that's starting to show its age, but I have to hope that it keeps soldiering on. I don't want to have to shell out almost $300 on a Treo 755p that's only a micron or two smaller and which doesn't fix the things I like least about the 650--the stalls and the crashes.

Palm, get back to work, OK?

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Missoula, Mont.: One my Yahoo and Hotmail accounts, I can block a certain amount of senders, and I regularly get Google News alerts on various subjects. There's an annoying amount of news about a certain famous-for-being-famous inmate in a Los Angeles jail. Is there any way that I can block any mention of this person from appearing anywhere on my computer screen? Please.

Rob Pegoraro: You can try filtering on this person's name, but a lot of spam obscures names with asterisks, misspellings or garbage characters.

Spam filters can solve this problem, but Hotmail and Yahoo's aren't nearly as effective as Gmail's. Might want to think about switching...

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Norfolk, Va.: Rob, I'm in an older house and have trouble getting a wireless signal throughout it. I'm planning to purchase a -n router for the increased range. Also, I have wireless phones that are on the 2.4 band. Due to this I was looking at the Apple router which can operate in the 5.8 spectrum. Do you know of any laptop cards or USB network cards (for windows) that operate on 5.8? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: A lot more laptops offer the 5.8 GHz option--aka, 802.11n WiFi--but you still have to look around to find them; you may have to custom-order that feature.

It would probably be cheaper to get a new cordless phone. But you might also find that the upgraded router alone solves the problem. The range improvements in 802.11n are for real.

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Fairfax, Va.: I am in the midst of an awful problem with Cox Communications, our cable and internet access supplier in our apartment in Fairfax. They advertise their "high" level of service and reliability, but they have left us "high and dry" for days without internet service and a variety of excuses. Have you heard from others around the area with similar problems?

Rob Pegoraro: Not lately, but I was out of the country for the first 11 days of the month. Any other embittered (or not) Cox users in the house today?

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Alexandria, Va.: Is there a good waterproof digital camera worth buying?

Rob Pegoraro: Pentax has made a few waterproof models, but I haven't tested them myself. Lots of camera vendors also sell waterproof housings you can use with their cameras.

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Washington D.C.: Hi, I'm glad ITunes + EMI are offering DRM-free music, although charging 30c more for it is silly. It's so easy get around DRM if you really want to that I have trouble believing that DRM does anything to stop music piracy and instead just inconveniences casual consumers. Has anyone asked Apple how much the DRM-free part contributes to the extra 30c?

Anyway, there are a lot of free and legal ways to get new music on the Internet. If you are willing to give independent label bands a try, you can find some wonderful music out there. Knowing where to look is a bit of a problem. I wrote a guide a few days ago on this that your readers might be interested in:

http://www.1001words.com/2007/06/pancake-city-guide-to-indie-music.html

Rob Pegoraro: That looks like a good survey of the options out there.

About the price of iTunes downloads... when I talked to Dischord Records about DRM-free music last month, they said they liked the idea of iTunes Plus but weren't comfortable being forced to charge that much a song. (For the uninitiated, Dischord is a local D.C. label that has long prided itself on making music accessible at a low cost.)

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Tina in Falls Church: With suggestions from the group I bought a Toshiba 32" Regza HDTV. I purchased it at a local retailer I love b/c all purchases are negotiable. I decided what we wanted, how much I would pay and told the salesman if he made me a deal I would drop the Visa card there and stop shopping. He knocked off about 200 bucks. It has a built in DVD player and the picture is really good. Still learning about best display mode for different broadcasts and technical stuff. Not all broadcasts are created equal. I chose the Toshiba b/c it has the best side viewing angle I saw in my price category. It's almost "petite" compared to the honkin' 36" Sony analog it replaced.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report. Great job bargaining!

Have you tried over-the-air reception with the Toshiba? If not, what's your source for HD programming--cable, satellite, Fios?

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Downtown D.C.: itunes/ipod sync problem., I've got a windows xp laptop and an 80gb ipod video. Although I hate that apple makes me use their terrible software to sync with my ipod, I use it, but I've been having trouble lately with some movies. I've converted them to mp4 with all the ipod specific settings, and I can get them into itunes just fine (and play them through itunes), but for whatever reason, they wont sync to my ipod. No error message or anything, they just don't sync. Some movies do sync, but a couple of specific ones wont. In the tab for my ipod in itunes, I've gone to the movies tab (or videos, whatever it is) and I can say "sync all movies" or "sync specific movies" and select just the ones that one sync. Doesn't matter, after then running the sync, the movies are not on the ipod (all other info transfers), but they're still in itunes.

Sorry for the long post, any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: ITunes can play more video formats than the iPod--you do need to get this right. The good video-to-iPod programs that I've tried (like Instant HandBrake) try to ease this by making their default settings the correct ones for iPod video, but others make you figure stuff out on your own.

Which app are you using?

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Washington, D.C.: My laptop was recently stolen, and I'm concerned about whether the thief (or somebody down the food chain) might be able to access any personal financial information that I (as a functional computer illiterate) wouldn't even know existed. I used the laptop for online banking, shopping, etc. None of my passwords were saved on individual websites, but I never did anything else (deleted cookies or whatever?) to protect my information. I canceled my credit card (its number WAS stored on some sites), but beyond that, should I be worried? My bank told me no, as long as I changed my password (which I immediately did, and put an additional security code on the account), but I didn't necessarily trust their answer. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: No, your bank's right about that. By changing your account passwords and getting a new credit-card number, you've done everything right. You should, however, also change the passwords on any of your other accounts, just in case.

(If you want to encrypt sensitive data on a Windows laptop, try the free, open-source TrueCrypt (http://www.truecrypt.org); on a Mac, use OS X's File Vault feature.)

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Detroit, Mich.: Any idea of the minimum requirements that will be needed in a Mac to run Leopard? I have a G4 Mac (an eMac) and a G3 laptop. They do everything I want.

Rob Pegoraro: Still unclear. I'd guess you'll need a gigabyte of memory, and if you make serious use of the Time Machine auto-backup feature, you'll also need a ton of disk space. Otherwise, it's unclear. The G3 laptop might be on the bubble for this upgrade...

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Annapolis, Md.: I read the article over the weekend about cable boxes, and the legislation that goes active on 7/1. But I'm unclear if it's better to switch cable companies (from Comcast to Verizon) -before- July, or wait till after.....any thoughts???? There seemed to be pros and cons to each.

washingtonpost.com: Relief in Store for Cable TV Subscribers

Rob Pegoraro: I'd wait. It's only another month. (Also, I'm still largely in the dark how this will play out in the real world... the cable companies have done a very good job at ignoring CableCards so far, so I'm not quite sure that this switchover will work quite as planned.)

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Syosset, N.Y.: Hi Rob...Posting early and really hope you can answer my question.

I have a less than one year old HP desktop (7600). Yesterday, the computer just shut itself off, without any warning, three separate times. The power went off and nothing. After a minute or so, I'd turn the power back on and it was fine, but this happened three times last night.

What's the deal? I can't be without this computer for too long (it's our only computer at home) so I don't know what to do. Any ideas would be appreciated! Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like an overheating issue. Are the vents at the back/bottom of the machine blocked or clogged with dust? Are the fans making any sort of weird noises?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, sort of off topic but do you know when its worth trashing an electronic device vs. getting it fixed? My Dell computer won't turn on after yesterday's lightning storm and I'm afraid it got zapped via an electronic surge, even though it was hooked up to a surge protector. Instead of a green colored power light I get an orange light and it doesn't even make a noise. What usually gets damaged in a computer when there's a power surge? Do I have a chance of salvaging my hard drive?

Rob Pegoraro: The hard drive's almost certainly salvageable (though it can be difficult to get at hard drives in laptops). If it's a desktop, you can replace the power supply; it's an internal module that screws in place at the back of the box. How old is this Dell?

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Cody, Wyo.: Welcome back, Rob. You were missed! John

Rob Pegoraro: I'm flattered :)

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Anonymous: So.... Not a palm tx, not a phone. What to get? Is an Ipaq 1950 the only choice left?

Rob Pegoraro: Kind of. It's amazing how the traditional non-phone handheld organizer has fallen out of favor... Dell canned its Axim handhelds late last year or earlier this year, and Palm might as well have done the same--it hasn't updated any of its Zires or Tungstens in quite a while.

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Washington, D.C.: Are these combo hi-def disc players slowly making their way onto the market for real? They say they can play both BluRay and HD-DVD, but don't those discs require completely different proprietary laser technologies? I thought the electronic manufacturers were as deeply entrenched into the format war as the movie studios.

Also, can these combo players also upconvert standard DVDs to 1080i?

Rob Pegoraro: The combo players--right now, I think we're only talking about a single LG model--do exist and do play both formats (although I think the LG doesn't support all of the HD DVD format's features, or maybe it's the Blu-Ray format's features). It does upconvert standard DVDs, as do almost all non-entry-level DVD players and recorders these days.

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Farragut Park, D.C.: Some cousins and I are thinking of creating a family website where we could list genealogy, post pictures, celebrate milestones, announce reunion plans, etc. Is there a best route? Buy some hardware of our own to host the data, link up with an online host, other? Naturally, we want not only data security, but plenty of memory to add things as years go by, along with ease and flexibility for a non-techie to make those edits; we would be rookies at website maintenance. (I hope I'm making sense in describing what we'd like to create.)

Rob Pegoraro: Running your own Web server is *serious* overkill. Let somebody else host the site. I would, however, put it behind some kind of password protection, since mothers' maiden names can be so useful for getting at credit-card accounts.

You could also use some of the free Web-based genealogy services, which free you from having to do any kind of setup work and also provide access-control features. There's one called Geni (geni.com) that sounds promising, from what (little) I've read about it so far.

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Arlington, Va.: I just had Verizon FIOS installed and I am really enjoying it. The bandwidth on the Internet is great (wonderful upload/download) and the TV service has been dependable. The reception on the standard definition channels is great and I like the way the DVR and the system works. Most of all, I like the price!

Is this going to have a lasting effect on the industry? How is it being received locally?

Rob Pegoraro: Quite positively in general. The one complaint that I've heard, and have, about Fios is the air of mystery around its deployment. Verizon doesn't seem to think it has to give customers any sort of heads-up about it--one day you don't have it, and then a truck shows up on your street.

I, for example, still can't get Fios and have no idea when I will. But I do like the idea. Competition is good, and badly needed in the video-services market in particular.

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Capitol Hill:: Rob, Working on building out my home entertainment center and am trying my best to 'future proof' things, by running cables to and from where my receiver will be and where my tv will be on the wall. I'm running component video cable (my receiver doesn't have HDMI switching) as my primary way to run video. I plan to run an HDMI cable through for good measure too.

I also plan on getting a Mac mini to place near my receiver and use the tv for the monitor and my stereo system for audio (will stream audio and video from another computer on my home network). So I'm trying to figure out the best way to do the video to the monitor. I was thinking a DVI cable, but more research into flat screens leads me to believe that DVI is not a standard input on all models.

Should I plan on just sticking with the DVI cable and insisting my monitor includes it. Or do I get a converter to component video, HDMI or RGB/VGA. If it makes a difference, I'm planning to get something with a 50-65" screen, and it doesn't matter if it's LCD or plasma.

Thanks again for doing these chats, they're a great help.

Rob Pegoraro: You can buy DVI-to-HDMI cables for about the same price as HDMI cables (which means anywhere from $5 to $100... don't pay much more than $5, they're all equally capable). You can also get DVI-to-component adapters, although the picture quality can be a smidgen less sharp and you'll have more cables behind the TV.

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Missoula, Mont.: Thanks for answering my question, but to be more direct, is there anyway that I can prevent the name Paris Hilton from appearing on my computer screen from all sources -- including the Washington Post?

Rob Pegoraro: No.

Dude, you've gotta let this one slide. It's just not worth getting worked up about....

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Columbia, Md.: Hey Rob thanks for doing the chat. I was just wondering if you could do a quick breakdown on HDTV antennas. Price, reliability, and the like? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: There's no such thing as an HDTV antenna. Digital TV uses the same airwaves as analog--if you get OK reception with an analog set and an analog antenna, you should get terrific reception with a digital set and the exact same antenna.

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Madison, Wis.: Regarding Silver Spring, Md's question about the possibly fried Dell: I work with Dell desktops and have seen the orange indicator on the power button when a power supply has or will go bad. One way to bring it back, at least temporarily, is to unplug the cables from the power supply from the motherboard for a few minutes (with the power cord unplugged of course) and plugging them back in.

If that fixes it, then order a new power supply if it is a fairly recent Dell model.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestions!

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Burtonsville, Md.: As much as I hate getting pestered by those big box salespeople to purchase their protection plan, I actually caved on a recent computer purchase. Well, the computer's motherboard fried itself, and got a new computer delivered to my home within a couple of weeks. They never even laid hands on the old machine, just sent a new one without much questioning.

Maybe listening to that 30 second spiel and $100 was worth it to get my 1-year-old dead computer replaced for free.

Rob Pegoraro: In your case, yes!

(Just don't think the store feels bad about this. Protection plans usually come from third-party companies; they're just another product the store sells, and when the computer goes bad and you use the warranty, it's that third party that takes the hit, not the store.)

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Ft. Wash, Md.: Do Itunes plus songs work with all Plays For Sure labeled products? (does anything work with plays for sure labeled products?)

Rob Pegoraro: No. You need a player that can handle AAC files--which, as I found while trying to check out a couple of vendors' Web site, isn't the easiest thing to discover. (I had to download a PDF of a manual on iRiver's site. Not happy...)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, I'm the one who wrote in a while ago about her Airport Extreme not working properly and you suggested buying the new 802.11n Extreme router. Well I went to the store and the Genius Bar people told me not to bother buying the 802.11n router because the MacBook I have doesn't have the 802.11n card in it - they don't make a 802.11n card yet and won't until IEEE adopts/ratifies whatever the card in 2009. So while the 802.11n Airport has a great range I won't benefit from it at all because my MacBook is 802.11g.

I understand some of this but not all of it other than don't waste your money. So instead I suffer through with a router that doesn't work well. They said the router's files were corrupted fixed it I took it home and 2 days later I'm having the same problem again. Its very frustrating!

Rob Pegoraro: The "Geniuses" ought to know that the AirPort Extreme does all three versions of 802.11: b, g and n. So you can still use it with your older machine and derive benefit, even it's not as much as what you'd get with a laptop with 802.11n support built-in.

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Arlington, Va.: Some of us geezers got to talking in Gene Weingarten's chat about typewriters. So, Rob, without peeking...true or false, old typewriters did not have a key for the numeral "1"?

Rob Pegoraro: I believe that's true. (The first keyboard I ever typed on was my dad's old manual typewriter, and I remember thinking it odd that I was supposed to type a lowercase "l" for that numeral.)

Wish I still had that typewriter, actually. There's something strangely soothing about typing on something that makes you pause at the end of a line to shove the paper back over.

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Border Town: Hi Rob! Are you planning to do an in-depth review of Apple's iPhone? If so when? Any secret comments about it you want to post about now?

Rob Pegoraro: Nah, it's just another cell phone. Maybe we'll run something off the AP wire when it ships, though :)

Kidding! Yes, I am planning to try out the iPhone for my column.

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Comcast Hater Here: I cannot believe that Comcast just ripped off a few channels on my analog TV in the bedroom (one being Turner Classic Movies which I adore) and then advertised that I could get a "free" digital box to again view them. Why don't they mention that you have to pay a monthly fee for that "free" box!? Where is the competition and Verizon certainly does not sound much better. Once the world goes digital they'll all have jacked up prices!!!!!

Rob Pegoraro: Look up--the competition is satellite TV. Unless you've got trees or buildings in the way, you will almost certainly save money with satellite. (You will, however, need a tuner box to go with every TV, and Dish or DirecTV may charge extra for a second or third box... not that you still can't save money overall on the deal.)

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Fairfax, Va.: I use Trend Micro PC cillin as my virus checker. Last week, when my daughter turned on our laptop receive a virus warning indicating a Trojan horse. I tried scanning the computer but Trend PC could not scan. I managed to find the infected file ydwxyj.exe but could not delete it as access was denied. Following Trend PCs instructions I disabled system restore and restarted the laptop in safe mode at which point I could delete the exe file. When I restarted the computer in normal mode and ran the virus check it found TROJ_MAILBOT.BC (noted as low risk) which could not be quarantined, or deleted. I googled the virus and came back only with two hits, both New Virus Pattern Release file on the Trend PC site. Is there any way to get rid of this virus or will I have to format the disk, and is it even a risk to keep it and what is a virus pattern release? Should I have first tried a system restore before disabling it, as recommended by the Trend PC site or would that not have removed the virus? Any suggestions? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I wouldn't count on System Restore removing a virus--that feature has been around long enough for malware authors to try to code around it or defeat it with their own products.

I'd try going back into Safe Mode to delete the bugger. But I'd also prepare myself for the possibility that I'd have to reformat and reinstall. The way Windows is built, it's very hard to ensure you've got a clean system after you've been infected--the operating system, especially pre-Vista, makes no attempt to quarantine itself from even legitimate programs, which makes it too easy for viruses to burrow deep into the system.

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Nashville, Tenn.: PDA's may have lost popularity, but I relied on my Palm Zire 72 until its battery died. It has everything I need: camera/Word and Excel via Docs To Go / Palm Reader for books, and more. I feel really frustrated because this model has a hard-wired, non-replaceable battery. Should I try a DIY kit from the internet? I am handy with electronics in general.

Rob Pegoraro: If you've seen enough postings from users who have had good results with those kids--why not? You've got nothing to lose there, and if you've got a tinkering mindset it could even be fun.

(I write my reviews assuming that people don't want to *have* to tinker with their computing/electronics gear, but I do recognize how that can be fun in the right circumstances.)

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Rockville, Md.: Rob - Love the chats. Followed the Apple conference (WWDC?) more closely this year than last. Is there anything to be really excited about? Sure Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" looks cool but are there any significant technological breakthroughs that we (perhaps unfairly) expect from Apple? I thought the whole thing looked a little Vista-y with respect to the grass background and the translucent menu bar. Your thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: Define "significant" :)

The Apple conference--WWDC stands for World Wide Developers Conference--took place while I was out, so I still need to sit down and watch the keynote video. But from what I've read so far, the feature set for Leopard does have some major changes--Time Machine could be a big difference for most people, since the average home user operates with no backup at all, much less automatic, constant backups that let you roll back any given file to an earlier state.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, A follow-up question. In addition to my computer, yesterday's storm also knocked out my TV and DVD player. With all the choices in technology I'm not sure what sort of TV and DVD to buy if I need to buy new stuff. Can you recommend any particular brands and/or features to look for? For example, if I get an HD TV should I also get an HD DVD? And what about Blue-Ray?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, get an HDTV. No, don't get an HD DVD or Blu-Ray player--get a DVD recorder that upconverts regular DVDs to near-hi-def resolution instead. Much cheaper, without any compatibility worries or a need to re-purchase your existing library.

This column from November has more info on HDTV shopping, most of which hasn't become obsolete quite yet: LCD or Plasma? Consider Size, Weight, Glare

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Comcast Hater Too: Is this like the move they pulled awhile back where they took away HBO and SHO - and charged the same price? They offered to give us back the 2 channels but that would cost $30 - a 30 percent increase. Oh well, good thing the Sopranos is over. No reason to watch.

Rob Pegoraro: Ha! I wonder how many HBO customers have cancelled their subscriptions--not in protest at the mystery ending, but just because they don't like Entourage or Big Love enough to keep shelling out for HBO.

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Burlington, Vt.: The ads for the ipod telephone seem to imply that you can git online any time any where. I'm guessing that it won't be that easy. Am I right? (FWIW, I am often right.)

Rob Pegoraro: You're right. For one thing, AT&T's network doesn't work in the underground parts of the Metro here. And if you look at its coverage maps, there are plenty of other parts of the country where AT&T's signal drops out. In fact, the map on their Web site shows that they only provide service in the entire state of Vermont through some unnamed partner company--unclear if that includes data service or not.

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Comcast Troubles : About a year or so ago we had trouble with our Comcast internet - we kept losing the signal. A few technicians visits later and it turns out that they had overloaded the area (big phone pole outside our apartment that feeds the neighborhood). They fixed it and now we're all doing better. Any reimbursements for that time that I lost internet (and work from home)? Ha! No.

Rob Pegoraro: I have heard from many readers that they've been able to get their rates knocked down just by calling Comcast and saying they're going to drop the service. Try that yourself!

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Tip and a ?: For the poster seeking a waterproof camera, we researched the Pentax Optio W30 and the new Olympus 770SW. After reading many online reviews, we went with the Olympus (the Pentax got pans for its screen/picture quality)

Now my question - my husband and I want to install parental controls on my step-daughter's laptop because her Mom refuses to monitor her internet use (she lives with her, and has posted some rather risque stuff on her Myspace) Her mom's ok with us installing software, but we're not sure what's best - we want more than a blocker, something that can actually log activity (we'll only check it periodically though) Any tips?

Rob Pegoraro: All the parental-control apps do log activity, but I haven't tested any of them in a while. (Vista and Mac OS X have built-in parental controls, BTW.) Any recommendations?

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Fairfax: Hi. I'm interested in buying my first Mac for routine home email and web-surfing. I know that the entry-level unit is the self-contained Imac, but I'd like to be able to choose/upgrade my own monitor. Is there any reason not to buy a mini-Mac? With similar specs, does it perform like the Imac? Any reliability problems? Alternatively, if I want to go with a laptop, Apple doesn't seem to sell a PC-style docking unit that allows Macbooks to be popped into a desk workstation. Is something like that available from aftermarket suppliers? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The Mac mini runs on a lower processor, and you can run out of USB ports on it pretty quickly. But it is a good, cheap, and exceedingly compact little model.

Don't know of any MacBook docking stations, but why would you need one? Plug in an external keyboard and mouse over USB, then plug in a monitor, and you're all set.

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Sterling, Va.: Another thing to note about running your own web server is that most ISP's frown on that unless you pay for their "business" class line. It's usually against the Terms of Service for normal Internet connections. There are a couple ISPs that allow it -- Speakeasy DSL comes to mind -- but it's rare. The TOS may or may not also be supplemented with a block on port 80.

That said, none of that stops me running a personal site on my regular cable modem line. It almost certainly is overkill like you said, but I do it more for fun than anything else. A "non-techie" almost certainly wouldn't want to bother.

Rob Pegoraro: Agreed. Thanks, Sterling

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Columbia, Md.: I recently acquired a Windows Vista computer and I'm trying to network it with a two-year-old Windows XP Home machine. However, it seems like the Vista machine can't "talk" to the XP machine, and vice versa, when I try to set it up via either XP or Vista. Is there something else I need from Microsoft to make this happen?

Rob Pegoraro: If you have third-party firewall software on either machine, turn it off and let the firewall built into Windows handle things.

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Typewriter question: You are correct: back in the Stone Ages the lower-case L doubled as the numeral "1" (the Stone Ages, in this case, were 30 years ago). For extra credit, how did you make an exclamation point on your dad's old typewriter?

Rob Pegoraro: I have no idea! (Maybe I just wasn't a very excitable writer back then... no, I just don't remember.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: I'm running Windows XP on a 3+ year-old Dell desktop.

The machine's main HD has lots of space still -- less than half of a 120 Gig drive - - but it's starting to act up (and slow down) a bit, despite periodic virus scanning, defragging, and even some basic registry review (via software).

It makes me crazy that everything I've read says the best thing to do at this point is to wipe the drive and reload.

Is there an easier (or BETTER) way?? Joe S.

PS: I have good backups on external HD's.

Rob Pegoraro: You can try policing the apps that run at startup and shutting some of them off--Microsoft's free Windows Defender is good for that. If you're using an Internet security suite, get rid of that and use a separate anti-virus app, plus the firewall built into Windows. Lastly, you can try specialized utilites like CCleaner that try to get rid of the detritus of old programs... but when I've used that, I haven't seen any real speed improvement beyond, perhaps, a placebo effect.

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Comcast Hater Here Again: I live in an apartment and because of the way my patio is situated (my complex will not allow the dish on my terrace for appearance sake) I cannot get satellite TV so. . . . no options?????

Rob Pegoraro: Over the air digital TV. Otherwise... yeah, Comcast pretty much owns you. My sympathies (my old apartment faced north)

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Chantilly, Va.: If it's Wednesday morning, that must mean my computer will have rebooted last night due to the automatic MS security download. While I prefer to have the updates automatically downloaded and installed, I don't want to have my box reboot automatically as I typically have jobs running overnight.

How do I configure it so that everything's installed automatically, but it doesn't reboot until I tell it to?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know of a way to do that. Microsoft has things set up that way, BTW, to ensure that the updates actually take effect. I suspect you'd also be risking some trouble to have some freshly installed updates loaded, but not active, over a long period of time--I could see other programs' installers causing trouble in that scenario.

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Oakton, Va.: I have a secure wireless network in my home. But is this actually secure enough to do sensitive transactions like online bill paying and credit card transactions, or should I turn off the wireless connection on my laptop and use an Ethernet cable?

Is there anything I can do to make the wireless network fully secure? I only deal with reputable, secure websites. Thanks for your help!

Rob Pegoraro: You're fine. All those financial transactions are done at sites that encrypt the connection--anybody who sniffed your network would only see gibberish.

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Harrogate, England: Rob, we are coming back to Chantilly, Va., to live, after having spent 5 years in the UK. What are the best options for phone, internet, and TV service today in that area? Comcast, or the satellite services (DirectTV or DISHTV)? How are the bundled services of Comcast, or Verizon FIOS for phone, cable and internet, or should we look at separate providers? We haven't kept up with the reputations of the various providers since we left, and would hate to make a mistake in signing up for services, as we hear many "new customer" deals require a year's commitment. Cost is important, of course, but so is reliability and service (and DVRs would be nice for the TVs - we got hooked on the British SKY DVR while we were there.) Love your online postings and columns, and thanks in advance for the help!

Rob Pegoraro: Welcome home! My advice, greatly condensed:

* For broadband Internet, DSL is cheapest, followed by Fios, then cable.

* For TV, over-the-air digital TV is cheapest, followed by basic cable, followed by satellite, followed by non-basic cable. Fios TV is just a little more expensive than cable.

* I'd avoid the all-in-one services; they're usually structured on the assumption that you want more of everything--more channels, faster downloads, more long-distance calling. It's like paying for an all-you-can-eat buffet if you only want a burger and fries... er, chips.

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New to MacLand: Hi Rob,

I'm a former life-long pc user who just made the switch to a macbook pro. I'm really loving it (especially when I boot up the old windows machine and it wants to install a million updates and restart).

Anyhow, I have a question with iPhoto, and haven't had any success with finding the answer via google. When I import pictures either directly off my camera, or old pictures of a usb hard drive, the date the photo is taken is lost (date modified and created are both the date I transferred them onto the computer). Is there a way to make iPhoto keep the actual date?

Rob Pegoraro: IPhoto does keep the actual date, as recorded by the camera. The only way that wouldn't apply is if the camera somehow didn't apply the usual date/time stamp (this data is kept in a format called EXIF, which you can edit directly with third-party programs).

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Lorton, Va.: Hi Rob, Love your chats. I have a desktop computer that is slowly dying and looking to replace with a laptop. I mainly use for internet and Word/Excel. Should I make the jump to Apple with a MacBook or MacBook Pro because I am not excited about Vista? How hard is it get used to working with Apples? Would love your insight.

Rob Pegoraro: A Mac would be well-suited for those uses--it's got better Internet software built-in than any Windows machine, and Microsoft Office for Mac OS X is very easy to switch to from Office for Windows (it's also much better than pre-2007 versions of Office for Windows).

There are many parts of OS X that can be confusing to Windows users at first, though. Probably the big one is how you quit a program: In Windows, you only need to close its windows, but in OS X you usually have to go to the File menu and select Quit.

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Columbus, Ohio: The proprietary software for downloading and editing pix from my daughter's FinePix A203 Fuji digital camera specifies in the license agreement installation on only one machine. She already has it on her Mac and I am buying the camera from her. The camera store recommended a free download of Picasa, but there are several versions and I am not clear which is appropriate for my PC with XP SP2. Furthermore, I prefer not to install this Google software for privacy reasons.

Do I even need additional software just to download pics from the camera? The usb driver for the proprietary software downloaded and installed before I aborted the rest at the license agreement window. I know I can edit with MS Office Picture Manager. Do I have enough already? If so, how do I download the photos using the software I have? Mark

Rob Pegoraro: Oh, ignore the license agreement. You're buying the camera, and as long as your daughter uninstalls the software you're complying with it anyway.

XP and Vista are perfectly capable of downloading images from cameras on their own; XP, however, is not that useful at organizing images.

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Exclamation point on a typewriter: Type a period. Then backspace, and type an apostrophe over it. Kids today...they don't know how good they have it! Okay, back to spewing acronyms I don't understand.

Rob Pegoraro: Ah... yes, I recall that.

(Now I've got the old typewriter sounds in my head: clack clack clack clackclackclack... ching)

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Rob, I'm trying to ditch Comcast and go with OTA HD. How are the standalone HD tuners (my HDTV doesn't have one) and will the HD TIVO work with them?

Rob Pegoraro: They vary a little bit. Sony, Panasonic, LG and Samsung make pretty good tuners in my experience, but the Philips TV I tested last year had an awful tuner. Not sure about how well the HD TiVo's tuner works.

Also not sure about reception in Rockville. At that distance, you might need a rooftop antenna to pull in the signal.

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Burke, Va.: My music purchases are much less frequent than most folks, so the work-around isn't a bother in my case. But am I just chewing memory if I use a higher bitrate when ripping the songs back onto my computer? Am I really improving the song quality all that much?

Rob Pegoraro: Depends. Not all music needs the higher bit rate. I mean, I wouldn't bother doing a 256-kbps rip of the Sex Pistols, the Standells or the Replacements... stuff recorded on cheap equipment doesn't come in great fidelity in the first place. But if we're talking Miles Davis or the NSO, it's a difference scenario.

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Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: Hey, Rob,

This is totally off-subject, but can you tell about your trip to China? Did you go with a group or was it just you and the missus? What cities did you visit? What's your take on the state of technology there.

Thanks, and welcome back!

Rob Pegoraro: In case anybody wonders why I didn't blog from China--it was a vacation, yes, but the Chinese government is also not overly fond of Western journalists. So when the people at the consulate see where you work on the visa application form, they ask you to sign a statement saying you're not working for your employer during the trip.

But anyway... yes, it was just my wife and I. Visited Beijing and Shanghai. As for the state of technology--it wasn't like visiting Japan, where you're immediately floored by how tiny and advanced everybody's phone is. But everybody's cell phones did look pretty modern to me.

Also, it's true what they say about the availability of pirated DVD movies. I saw a copy of Shrek the Third for sale for the equivalent of a dollar and change... somehow with DVD extras already included.

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob, Thanks for the answer about the virus.

Now how do I go about backing up and saving my outlook express e-mail before reformatting. Or should I transfer them to Outlook and then back up. Any easy solutions (I wish)?

Rob Pegoraro: No easy solutions. I hate hate hate the way both Outlook and Outlook Express use quasi-proprietary, hidden message stores... it's as if nobody at Microsoft thought anybody would ever need to leave these applications. There's a freebie program called OE Backup that can handle your Outlook Express messages--that's the easiest thing I can suggest.

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Baltimore, Md.: Isn't it true that most HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players also play standard DVDs, meaning that you don't have to replace your old discs? Do the current hi-def players on the market also upconvert?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, they do play standard DVDs. But if you're only going to watch upconverted DVDs, why bother paying extra for HD DVD or Blu-Ray support? Most upconvert--but the most popular Blu-Ray player out there, the PlayStation 3, does not.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Rob,

I just switched to a Macbook and so far it has been heaven. Two questions though - I have no idea how to uninstall programs. Is it just moving the program folder to the trash? For example I installed Adobe - but then realized preview worked just fine. Do I just move the Adobe program folder to the trash?

Also, any idea on how to make add a new tab button to Safari? For now, I am sticking with Firefox, at least until I can figure out whether I like Safari.

Rob Pegoraro: Correct, to uninstall a Mac program you only need to drag its icon to the trash. (It can leave behind a settings file and some cached data in your user account's Library folder, but you can ignore that if you want.) The only exception is some programs that required an installer in the first place, and those should usually come with their own uninstallers for you to run--see, for instance, HP's printer drivers (ugh) and Mark/Space's Missing Sync.

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Baltimore, Md.: Rob,

I want to make my Verizon cell phone into a modem that I can also use at home. In that way, I can cancel my cable internet at home and actually save a few $ a month. However, after contacting Verizon, they told me that their wireless broadband service is not really designed for at home use. In fact, their "unlimited" broadband plan only allows 5 Gb/month of downloads and uploads. The customer service person told me that I was prohibited from streaming movies/music and downloading lots of stuff. What's up with that! Isn't V-Cast streaming music and videos?

Rob Pegoraro: Doesn't make much sense at all, does it? But that's how VzW has chosen to run its business. Don't replace your broadband connection with a Verizon cell phone--it's not worth the risk of having your account axed.

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Pegorarosville, DC: Welcome back, Rob!!

Two quick Mac qs:

(1) The screen sometimes flickers on my iBook. Does this mean something bad, like that it's nearing the end of its life, or is it ok to ignore?

(2) I downloaded ClamXav to scan for trojans and such but now I'm afraid to install it because the warnings and disclaimers say it's probably going to move around all my files. I've backed everything up except the applications. Any advice?

Rob Pegoraro:1) Flickers? That's not normal behavior for an LCD. But these displays do tend to run for years and years. It could be that the fluorescent lamp in the display is about to fail... in that case, you can get it replaced, but it's not a cheap procedure.

2) I've installed ClamXav and didn't have any issues. It seems a safe program--it's been around the block a few times now. But it's also not exactly something you NEED... there are no OS X viruses for it to find, so its only practical utility is in preventing you from unintentionally forwarding Windows viruses to friends.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The question from Burke looked like it was about buying songs, burning them to a CD, and then re-ripping them at a HIGHER bitrate. There's no point at all in doing this, since it can't add back in any data lost when it was originally created at the lower bitrate.

Rob Pegoraro: Good point!

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tina in Falls Church, HDTV follow up: I use FIOS service. We already had the HD box since we wanted the DVR service and that box is HD, no muss no fuss. I used HDMI connectors, that was controversial...several different opinions about HDMI with FIOS boxes but my hook up is fine. I have not tried over the air...the mighty antennae on the house blew away in the hurricane and the rabbit ears were tossed years ago (with the obligatory tin foil balls attached!). I still use that tin foil approach on a little tv in my office, works great

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Thanks in advance for your help. I'll be flying to the East Coast during your session but will check the transcript. How do you capture and record online video (like video webcasts or clips of reports from broadcast news sites) to your computer? And once you do, how do you convert them to a form that will play on any old dvd player? Is it possible? And if so, do you have specific software that you can recommend? I have both a pc (WIndows XP SP2) and a mac (10.4.9), so either platform is fine. Thank you so much! This has been driving me crazy!

Rob Pegoraro: A lot of sites nowadays use Flash video, and the Flash plug-in doesn't provide a way to save that. There are some third-party utilities that can fix that--try Googling for "download YouTube"--and the next version of RealPlayer will also have this built in. I got a demo of this before I left on my trip and it seemed to work well... and the Real developers swore up and down that this wasn't an annoying, computer-hijacking jerk of a program anymore.

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Falls Church, Va.: I broke the USB port on the front of my PC (stepped on the iPod cord and apparently cracked the port). Can this be replaced? I'm very handy inside my PC when it comes to plugging and unplugging, but I'm not geeked up enough to try to solder a new connection onto my motherboard.

Rob Pegoraro: Simplest option is to buy a USB hub, then park that at the side or front of your computer. Shouldn't cost more than $10 or $15.

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Washington, D.C.: I think my computer has contracted a worm of some sort. It's running very slowly and is even slower when connected to the internet. I've tried using Adaware but it now gets stuck somewhere in the registry scan and stops moving. Is this something that I can clear off on my own or do I need to take it somewhere?

Rob Pegoraro: Yup, I think you've got a very sick PC there. Try rebooting into Safe Mode--hold down F8 as it stars up--and then running AdAware. Also try another anti-spyware app, like SpyBot Search & Destroy (spybot.info). But you might have to summon outside help for this one. Good luck...

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, What's your opinion of flatscreen TV vs. projectors? I found a really good deal on a projector- about $600 after rebate, and our electronics guys at the office looked at it and said it was in fact a really good projector. But I've always thought Flatscreens were the zenith of TVs. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I'd buy a flatscreen over a projector--but in my living room, the TV has to go into a corner, which isn't going to work for a projector. In practical terms, I wouldn't look at projectors unless you have a really large, featureless expanse of wall you can dedicate for that purpose. It also helps to have a room that doesn't get a ton of light.

Flat-screen TVs, OTOH, can go pretty much anywhere (though plasmas have bigger glare problems than LCDs).

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Washington, D.C.: Windows xp SP2 laptop (compaq). I hate the alerts that pop up at the windows task bar anything something happens like: I get a wireless connection "you're now connected to..."; or b/c I've only got usb 1.1, when I plug in a device that can run usb 2, I get a pop up balloon down there saying "this device can perform faster..."

Anyway to disable those annoying alerts/bubbles?

Rob Pegoraro: I wish there was--short of tinkering with the registry. Suggestions?

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Seattle: Wow..Safari beta on Vista is a disaster. It takes forever to boot up, forever to load pages, and has a propensity to crash. Recognizing it is indeed a beta, are you surprised at how bad it's been? I sure am.

Rob Pegoraro: I've only spent a couple of days trying Safari in XP and Vista, and I can't say I'm overly impressed at the moment. The copy in XP has crashed multiple times, and on either system it just doesn't fit in well. It doesn't look or feel like a regular Windows program; the keyboard shortcuts that work in every other Windows browser--like hitting the backspace key to go back--don't work in Safari.

(iTunes doesn't look like a regular Windows program either, but neither does Windows Media Player 11 or RealPlayer or any other usual jukebox programs.)

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Alexandria: Exactly when do you do you chats and when do your articles appear in the post? I've been extremely confused since your articles no longer appear in the Sunday Business section.

Also, how sexy is the new iPhone? Too bad it cost a small fortune.

Rob Pegoraro: Thursday, Thursday, Thursday. (I got an e-mail the other day from a guy who said he was a regular reader, but wondered why I wasn't in Sunday's paper anymore... had to tell him the FFWD column had moved to Thursdays back at the end of January.)

Help File, however, still runs on Sundays.

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Chantilly, VA - answer for Ipod Movie Synch problems: It sounds like the same problem I had. When I ripped my DVDs to Itunes and converted them to mp4 for use on my video ipod I had trouble getting some files to copy. For me, it was a couple of files that went over 2gb in size. Seems like the Ipod wanted no part of them. Try re-converting at a slightly lower resolution.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks...

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Paris: My question concerns external hard drives. I am presently using a Powerbook G4 but think I will be getting a Dual core laptop in the Fall. I don't really have storage problems but think I will be using more and powerpoint presentations including some video excerpts in my job. I understand most computer operations although rarely do anything complicated. My question is are there any special features I should be on the lookout for in a hard drive? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: With a laptop, you want--need--a "bus-powered" drive that doesn't require its own power adapter. With a Mac laptop in particular, you also want a drive that connects via FireWire (so you're not using up one of the too-few USB ports on a MacBook or MacBook Pro). These features will cost you a little extra, but not having to find an extra power adapter--and being able to use the hard drive on a plane--makes that cost worthwhile.

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Washington, D.C.: About the 802.11n Airport Extreme vs. the older one: Newer Apple laptops DO in fact have the 802.11n card installed -- they're just not enabled. For about $1.50 you can download the enabler from Apple's online store.

Rob Pegoraro: Right. Good tip...

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Chantilly, VA - Itunes Plus - my followup:"First, the 30-cent surcharge is only on individual songs. Albums and videos cost the same either way. "

If purchased new. If you want to upgrade an album you previously purchased through Itunes, your own column said that to upgrade old album purchases will cost 30 percent more:

"You can also download iTunes Plus copies of older purchases by clicking an "Upgrade My Library" button in iTunes. That upgrade costs 30 cents a song, 60 cents for a music video and 30 percent of an album's original price for a brand-new download of each."

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. but that upgrade charge is a one-time cost. I'm looking at the ongoing expenses (assuming that we all are going to keep buying music in the future, which seems like a safe bet).

This is also why I'm not a fan of using rental services to collect music. They make sense to get a temporary collection--for a party soundtrack--or to research music, but not so much if you want music around for the long term.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, any thoughts on when we'll see a new iPod - and what features it'll have - in light of the iPhone? I'd love to buy a widescreen video iPod for commuting, as the iPhone loses me on price (high) and storage (low). But I'm afraid Apple will hold off for many months more so as not to steal the iPhone spotlight.

Rob Pegoraro: Good question. The iPod lineup hasn't seen an update since last fall, except for the shuffle, so it's definitely due. (That's also the advice at buyersguide.macrumors.com) I also expect an update soon just because a lot of iTunes Store downloads are now twice as big as before--it would be beyond logical for Apple to roll out a lineup of iPods with expanded storage to match.

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Rob Pegoraro: That's going to do it for today, everybody. Thanks for all the great questions--I'll be back here in a couple of weeks.

(Now pretend you just heard a sheet of paper being whisked out of a manual typewriter.)

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