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Personal Tech

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, June 28, 2007 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, June 28 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your personal tech questions and discuss recent reviews, including his columns about choosing a cellphone service and electronics energy efficiency.

A transcript follows.

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

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Rob Pegoraro: A big thanks to everybody who kept me busy two weeks ago--that earned me "Chattiest Postie of the Week" status, narrowly beating Weingarten's chat. Seriously--it's like the U.S. beating the USSR at hockey.

Not sure if I can live up to that standard this week, but let's see how this goes...

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Chantilly, Va. - Iphone vs Sprint Mogul: I had the chance to play with the Mogul last night and I was hugely impressed. I am on my third Treo from Sprint right now and the Mogul seems to solve a lot of the wishes that I've had through the years with the Treo - including wi-fi access and a better keyboard.

While it is certainly not built to be an 8GB media device like the Iphone it seems a MUCH better choice if you are going to do any sort of business work on it.

Couple of questions:

1 - How will the lack of replaceable battery affect phone sales?

2 - Will the lack of 3G support start to affect sales?

I wonder if they will have a massive runup for a few weeks like a movie opening but then when reviews come out it falls off? Personally I feel a bit ripped off knowing they are already developing the Iphone 2.0.

Rob Pegoraro: I see a lot of iPhone questions today, so let's start with this one. (Note that I still haven't gotten an iPhone to play with, so I can only going by what I've read elsewhere.)

1) Unclear. A phone is going to experience many more discharge/recharge cycles than an iPod, and if you can't get the battery swapped out quickly and cheaply at an AT&T or Apple Store, that could be a big problem. (The lack of a user-replaceable battery need not be a fatal flaw, as sales of the iPod ought to demonstrate; for that matter, I'd bet that a lot gizmos with user-swappable batteries--for instance, my 2-year-old Treo--never see a change of battery.)

2) That may depend a lot on what types of sites people like to visit on an iPhone. Even though it's supposed to allow browsing of full-sized Web pages, people may find that it's easier to stick to phone-friendly versions of sites--versions which are already designed to load in a hurry over slower connections. The iPhone also has WiFi built-in, so you're not stuck with a slower form of access all the time.

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Rockville, Md.: Rob - I sleep my MacBook Pro all the time. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid shutting it off or restarting. What problems did you have with the iMac and was it running the latest version of OS X?

The reason I'm posting: Apple's OS X 10.5 "Leopard" got - and continues to get - little fanfare. I suppose this is due to the iPhone's release tomorrow. What I am curious to know is: are you trying it out either at work or home and are there really any must-have features in the new version? Basically, do I gain anything by upgrading from 10.4? I already do regular backups, so Time Machine (which everyone says is such a Godsend) doesn't appeal to me right now (we'll see how I feel about it after using it). What are your thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: I was wondering if somebody would notice that detail in today's column. The fix for the iMac not sleeping automatically--I'm probably going to write this up for Help File--turned out to be resetting a little chip called the SMC, short for System Management Controller (I think).

To do that, you shut down the computer, unplug everything--power, network, USB, FireWire cables--let it sit for a minute and then boot it back up. It seems to be working properly now.

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Damascus, Md.: I'm ready to make the purchase of my son's computer as an incoming engineering freshman at Virginia Tech. They require a Tablet PC and the university bookstore and a negotiated vendor both carry Toshiba and Fujitsu. Their configurations are basically identical in terms of CPU, hard drive, optical drive, wireless card, etc. Any relative merit in terms of durability or customer service from these 2 companies that you know of?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tried out Fujitsu's customer service, but Toshiba's was nothing special--if not as awful as HP or Dell's--last summer. I have seen Fujitsu come out with some really smart, lightweight designs, much more than Toshiba.

The most important factors for any machine that's going to be hauled around campus, though, are weight and battery life. Go with whatever Tablet PC has less of the former and more of the latter.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene's on hiatus for awhile, so you just have to watch out for Barry. (BTW, did you know that if you combine Pegoraro and Svrulga, you get... most of the alphabet.)

Rob Pegoraro: I can take Svrluga in a chat-to-chat contest. But don't make me try to out-blog him. He'd kick my butt any day of the week!

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi. Posting early so I can go get in line to buy an iPhone.

I use Firefox with my G4 iMac. I have noticed that some websites - most notably Yahoo - fail to render properly. For example:

In Yahoo's message boards, the rating buttons do not show up. When I compose an email, the icons for Text, Font, Color, etc. do not show up, but if I let my cursor linger over the empty space, the message box describing them does show up. (The button is there, but not visible). Various icons in Yahoo Weather do not show up in the forecast displays. Am I missing some sort of add-on or something? Thanks for any help you can provide.

Rob Pegoraro: That's odd--I'm used to sites sometimes looking off in Safari on a Mac, but appearing properly in Firefox. That's how things should work; Firefox uses the same page-display code in Mac OS X and Windows.

Have you tried clearing Firefox's cache? Go to the Tools menu, select "Clear Private Data...", uncheck everything but "Cache," and click the "Clear Private Data Now" button.

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Upgrading my iBook G3: I bought an iBook back in 2004. The hard drive failed last Fall. I want to buy a new hard drive (maybe 100GB - I know how to install them), and upgrade the RAM (at least 512 MB), plus get OS 10.4 (it runs 10.2.8 now).

I have an iMac now, which will be mine; the iBook will be my wife's. What do you think? Is this feasible? The computer is a fine machine, except for the HD.

Rob Pegoraro: Anything is feasible if you've got enough talent and/or skill with a soldering gun--yesterday, I read one guy's instructions on replacing the LCD screen on a laptop.

>In principle, what you're trying to do shouldn't be that hard; laptops use standard drives with standard connectors. But the tricky part, I'll bet, will be dismantling the iBook to get to the hard drive--if I remember correctly, yours has a removable keyboard, but that only provides access to the memory slot, not the hard drive.

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Murdock, Fla.: I recently installed Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 on my computer. Later, attempting to use a web creator program by Broderbund that permits previewing a web site before publishing, discovered that PS4 has become the internal browser and can't open the web site. Thus no preview, making it impossible to tweak my site before publishing.

I have moved PS4 onto a different drive and it still takes over. Any idea of how to turn off or modify this aggressive browser function? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Go to the Folder Options control panel (or just select Tools in any desktop window) and click the File Types tab. Re-assign "HTM" and "HTML" to your regular Web browser.

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Charleston, W.Va.: Are flat panel, LCD televisions made by lesser known companies as good as those made by the more well known manufacturers? These TVs often sell for less, making them attractive to me. Thanks for your advice.

Rob Pegoraro: They're not the same thing. If you look at the specs of these sets, you'll see that some of them offer lower contrast ratios and slower refresh rates. They can offer fewer connectors and some don't include a TV tuner.

That said, none of those factors has to be an issue if a cheaper set's picture looks great to you and it offers the features that you need.

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Columbia, Md.: I asked this question in the last chat. I'm still trying to network a Windows XP computer and a Vista computer. I checked to see that the workgroup names are the same--they are. The connections all seem fine. I'm using the Windows firewalls, not any third-party firewalls. What should I try next? I'm tempted to turn everything off and turning it back on, to see if that might work.

Rob Pegoraro: Actually, that is what I'd suggest. You are doing everything by the book, so I don't know what could be wrong here.

(Anybody have an idea what Columbia and myself might be missing?)

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Woodstock, Va.: Hello Rob, thanks for taking this question.

I bought a 4GB iPod in May. I have nearly 3GB of music on it. On a couple of occasions - maybe 2-3 times, when I select a category, e.g. playlist, or album, the screen scrolls only 1/2 frame at a time, then another 1/2 frame until it reached the "song". Then it displays e.g.: 1 of 23, for about 2-3 seconds, then cycles to 2 of 23, 3 of 23 etc until it reached 23 of 23. At each song, the slide bar displays a playing of 2-3 seconds, but no sound was played.

Each time, I was able to restore the unit from scratch and re-download all my music, but 3 GB is a pain to download.

I went on Mac-forums and posted the problem but no one had any suggestions. Since I'm still under warranty, Apple offered to replace the unit, maybe with a refurbished unit, but I'm a little leery of inheriting someone else's headache. Should I just suck it up and continue the restore/download route?

What do you think? Have you ever heard of this problem? Thanks, again, in advance.

Rob Pegoraro: I think I'd take Apple up on that offer. By restoring the unit from scratch--wiping the hard drive and reloading its software and your songs--you've already "replaced" all the parts that can be replaced.

The only other possible cause would be cranky hardware, which you can only replace by swapping out the entire iPod.

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Alexandria, Va.: Here's what I'm looking at picking up for my den, a possible entry-level digital/HD setup:

New DVR with digital tuner

Small HD TV (15-20")

Rabbit ears

Am I correct in assuming the "upconverting" on the DVR will let me view DVDs in HD (or close to it)? Does that apply to programs I record as well? Does it matter if the HD TV is just a monitor?

Also, I've looked at some of these TVs and I see all different levels of resolution -- from 1024x768 to higher numbers that start with 12-, 13- and 14-. How much does that matter?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope--you'd need a DVD player or recorder that does upconverting, not a DVR (which only has a hard drive). OTOH... on a 15 or 20-inch screen, you're going to have to stay within a couple of feet of the TV to *see* any high-def resolution in the first place.

Those resolutions must be referring to HDTVs that can also serve as computer monitors. The only HD resolution you're likely to see in a screen of that size is "720p."

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Courthouse, Va.: In going from a home theater that has 2.0, to 5.1, do the back 2 speakers make much difference, or should I not fret the whole wiring across a room issue over those two? I.E. will two main left/right speakers, plus center channel and subwoofer, be almost as good?

Rob Pegoraro: The two rear-channel speakers do make a big difference--in annoying your wife when she sees those black boxes next to the sofa :)

(Sorry, couldn't resist that.)

The rear-channel speakers can help a lot with spacing out the audio of a movie, but you can live without them. In my last place, we wound up boxing up the back two speakers, just because they took up too much space and required having speaker wire trailing across part of the living room floor.

Another option is what's called "Dolby Virtual Speaker," a feature on some receivers that simulates surround sound through just three speakers--left, right and subwoofer.

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Blacksburg, Va.: I have an Intel Based iMac, and I am having trouble connecting wirelessly to a linksys based router. Is there anything special that has to be done to connect to a non-Apple based router? When I activate the wireless card in the top right hand corner, no routers show up at all. My roomates' dell has a list of about 8 routers (including ours), but I am not seeing any of them on the Mac. Does this sound like a hardware problem, or do you know of a special setup I need to do to connect to a non-apple router? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: There's nothing special about connecting to a non-Apple router from an Apple machine--I've done it dozens of times. You just need to make sure you have the correct password for the other network; most of the time, it will be a 26-character string in "hexadecimal" notation (the numbers 0-9 and the letters A-F)

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Arlington, Va.: Please settle a debate raging in my family! My sister wants to buy a Mac for her solo graphic design business. Should she buy new or refurbished?

Rob Pegoraro: New. She's using it for her work, so she might as well get the fastest possible machine with the fewest possible worries. And Apple doesn't offer the greatest discounts ever on refurb computers anyway.

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McLean, Va.: Rob, Interesting that you mentioned resetting the iMac's SMC. I just had to do this with my MacBook. Of note, whenever you call Apple, the first two things they tell you to do are reset the SMC and reset the PRAM.

To reset the SMC with a notebook, unplug it and remove the battery and hold the power button down for 15 seconds.

To reset the PRAM, hold down the command, option, P, and R keys when starting the computer. If done properly, the computer will "double chime" - i.e., after it turns on the first time, it will restart within a few seconds.

Love the chats! Keep up the good work so you can make a habit out of beating Weingarten.

Rob Pegoraro: You're welcome!

Rebooting PRAM (that's short for "parameter RAM") brings back some memories. I've never done that with an OS X machine, but I remember doing that all the time with this Mac I used to run at work. It was a form of computing voodoo everybody engaged in to minimize the number of times OS 9 would lock up or crash.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: How bad is HP support, really? I just got a new HP laptop, and it's not connecting to my home WiFi consistently. Everything else works fine on the network, and I've already tried all the obvious fixes. But I'm so frightened by the prospect of entering phone-support hell that I'm thinking of skipping that step completely and just returning the computer back to Costco and starting fresh.

Rob Pegoraro: Not good, in my experience: They've picked up the phone promptly, but the first person I've reached has only offered the most basic sort of guidance--after, of course, asking for my name, phone number, e-mail and whatnot. Then I'm passed on to some other tier of tech support, which involves first some non-trivial hold time then my giving up the same personal info I already coughed up to the first guy! Just exasperating.

That's one reason why I usually resort to tech-support Web sites and forums. I completely understand your anxiety, Chattanooga.

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Kensington, Md.: Rob, Bought a Sony road warrior (TX series) laptop recently with Vista on it. 1GB RAM. The usual bunch of eval and free software. But it is painfully slow - takes many minutes to boot, takes forever to bring up applications, etc. Yeah, it has Norton's eval stuff on it also and I know that might be part of the problem but I gotta ask if this is typical of Vista? Would bouncing it to 2GB be likely to resolve the problem? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro:1 gigabyte of memory in Vista is like 512 megabytes in XP--barely adequate these days. But you should also go an uninstall spree--Sony is one of the worst companies around when it comes to loading up new computers with unwanted trialware junk.

(Dell recently began allowing customers to opt out of these useless software bundles.)

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For Woodstock and 4GB iPod: Take the trade. Those refurb models are just as good as the brand new models and they restart your 1 year limited warranty.

Don't let this discourage you from iPods, either. When a company makes so much of one item (or so much of any item), there are bound to be bad units. If there really were so many problems with iPods, people wouldn't keep buying them.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, FWa4GBi

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Washington: I have downloaded music from Walmart, which says that, "Our files are in the WMA format with PlaysforSure Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption." Would I be able to copy these songs to CD, then rip them back to my computer as mp3s to put on my new mp3 player that doesn't accept wma? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Correct, that will work--with WalMart's downloads and any other store's, so long as they allow you to burn the song file to an audio CD in the first place.

You will lose a little bit of quality in the process; you're changing file formats, so some finer points may be lost. You probably won't hear any difference on your MP3 player; you may not hear any difference at all. (One of my co-workers would beg to differ, but this guy can be a little fastidious about things--he has the cleanest, most precisely organized desk in the entire newsroom, and possibly on the entire block.)

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NYC: Are people still have trouble with battery life for the Dell Latitude D630s?

Rob Pegoraro: I dunno...

Would people like to chime in on this point?

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I need some advice, and you're always so helpful. I just bought a new computer with Vista. Of course, my mp3 players (zen micro and sandisk sansa) aren't compatible. They're both a few years old, and according to their websites they are not going to get vista drivers. So I will soon need to buy a new mp3 player. I really don't want to get an ipod, because I don't like the monopoly, I don't want to get sucked into the itunes cycle and I have a lot of music in wma format. Is there any other option? I wouldn't mind upgrading to something with video or data capabilities (I am considering a Treo smartphone), but it's not necessary. When is a good alternative to ipod coming? I've been a vocal supporter of Creative in the past, but their customer service and support are lacking, to put it kindly. Thanks, Rob!

Rob Pegoraro: That is a real surprise to hear--most MP3 players now don't require any special drivers at all. You plug them in, and Windows Media Player recognizes them automatically. What happens when you try that?

It's also odd that Apple is providing better Vista compatibility than either Creative or SanDisk; iPods and iTunes both work in Vista (now that Apple's released the Vista-compatible 7.2 version of iTunes).

You could try iRiver--some readers have had pretty positive things to say about their stuff, although the iRiver clix I tried didn't do much for me. Any suggestions?

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DC: Rob, I have one cable outlet in my living room. Of course it is not where I want my 42" plasma tv to be located. I also do not want wires running along the floor or tacked to the ceiling. Is there some wireless alternative to send video and sound to the TV?

Rob Pegoraro: There are such things, but they're not easy to set up and their quality can suffer. (My old electronics guru Daniel Greenberg has owned some and has had a lot of issues with them.)

I'd live with the cable-along-the-wall solution. If you paint the cable or get one in white, it won't be that obvious. (If you live in a house instead of an apartment, you can also just run the cable down to the basement, along the basement ceiling, and back up into the living room behind the TV.

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Chantilly, Va.:"If there really were so many problems with iPods, people wouldn't keep buying them."

People still buy Windows...

(ba-dum csssh)

Rob Pegoraro: People used to say that about AOL, OTOH...

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DC: Have you had a chance to review any of the new Dell Inspiron models?

Rob Pegoraro: No, although I just put in a request to Dell's PR agency--I want to try one of the new Inspirons with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled.

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Washington, D.C.: A couple of weeks ago you let me know how to create an itunes "smart list" of selected music which I could then transfer to my nano (1st generation). Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to transfer the songs on that smartlist onto the nano. Itunes keeps telling me I don't have enough space but I appear to be well below the capacity of the nano. Do I have to first delete all music on the nano before attempting to load the smart list?

Rob Pegoraro: When you're looking at the iPod in iTunes, you should see a screen where you can designate what music goes on it. Make sure that only the new playlist is checked; if another one shows up there, uncheck it. Also, if you've got the iPod set with the "manually manage music" option--where you drag songs to the iPod from the main playlist window--uncheck that also.

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San Diego: I have several questions concerning the Casio G'zOne Type-S being offered by Verizon Wireless.

1-What do you think of the phone?

2-Do you know if there are unlocked versions of the phone available anywhere? Does it even make sense to get an unlocked version since Verizon uses CDMA, which prevents you from using it with most other carriers (att, t-mobile, etc) and most other places around the world (particularly Europe)?

3-Do you know about any upcoming ruggedized and/or water-proof phones in general that will be usable in the states?

Rob Pegoraro:1) I have only seen it on Verizon's Web page, which isn't much to base an opinion on.

2) There's no such thing as an unlocked CDMA phone, at least in the U.S. market.

3) Nope.

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Massillon, Ohio: Hi, Is it possible to store data in the multimedia hard drive such as Zune or Ipod? If not how can I do it?

Rob Pegoraro: You can enable a "disk use" option on an iPod, which will cause it show up on your desktop as a removeable hard drive. Then you can drag over whatever files you want.

The Zune doesn't have that option out of the box, although I've heard of some third-party programs that enable such a thing.

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Paramus, N.J.: Rob, do you have an iPhone to review? If not, why not? Will you buy one at retail? How do you feel Apple's PR outreach has been on this important product?

Rob Pegoraro: See my first answer on this topic--but if you missed it, no, I don't have an iPhone. I don't think you will be surprised to hear that I am *not* happy about this state of affairs (I put in my request for a review unit weeks ago), and have said as much to the people in Apple's PR department.

They are now sending one my way, and I'll have a review for you all next week.

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Madison, Wis.: For the poster trying to network XP and Vista machines, this page outlines the steps for the Vista machine.

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/network/evaluate/vista_fp.mspx

Some steps that may have been missed are Setting the Network Location Type, Enabling File and Printer Sharing Options and actually sharing a resource such as a folder or printer. This page has other helpful information under the common questions section.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Madison. I'm sure Microsoft will get this stuff working at some point...

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Nashville, Tenn.: A couple of chats ago I asked your opinion on a DIY battery replacement for my Palm Zire 72 PDA. I did it, and I'm very happy with the result. Thanks for the encouragement! Two things worth mentioning for other folks.

1. I found an online battery company that promised not to keep my cc info on file, and 2. I had to google for info on opening the PDA case because no battery company had the right instructions. Actually, Rob, sometime you might want to do a column on the different privacy policies of online vendors. Thanks again!

Rob Pegoraro: You're welcome!

Another thing you can do, if you're nervous about your credit-card data sticking around, is to see if your card issuer's site has a feature to generate a single-use number. Bank of America offers that; you log into your account, select this feature, set a credit limit for this new number, and then use it once, after which it stops working.

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Madison, Wis.: Did any of the manufacturers of the DVD recorders with digital tuners ever answer your question about their ability to output high def video using only their tuners? Everything I've seen on this topic indicates they can't, although they can record HD broadcasts in standard def and output standard def video from the tuners. I guess the makers assumed everyone who buys the recorders already has a TV with the high def tuner or set top box they can watch in high def. The trouble is I'd like to replace a set top box with one of these units.

Rob Pegoraro: LG says their recorder doesn't. Panasonic never answered my query. But I also heard from another company, LSI Logic, that says it makes the chipsets used in many of these recorders. Here's what their PR guy wrote when I asked him about this:

"The LSI system on chip (SoC) decodes ATSC and downscale to 480p. The resulting output is then upconverted to 1080p for display. The current version does not support full resolution native HD decode. But this should not stop consumers from using the same box as an ATSC receiver. LSI uses special video processing technology that makes the upconverted 1080p signal visually very similar to the original HD signal."

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Sleep vs. Shutdown: Rob, I was wondering if you could explain the advantage of setting your computer to sleep overnight as opposed to shutting it down. I shut down my laptop every night and only have it on for a few hours in the evening - I can't understand why I would pay for the energy to keep it powered on while I'm sleeping and while I'm at work. Can you shed some light on this for me? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Sleep mode and off mode use about the same electricity either way--it's a difference of maybe 1 watt at most. (I've verified this myself on about six computers.)

Since computers take much less time to boot up than to wake up (except, perhaps, for some malfunctioning Windows machines), why not stick with sleep mode?

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Seattle: I'm not sure what Washington D.C.'s problem is. My SanDisk Sansa works just fine with Vista and Windows Media Player 10. He might want to download the newest drivers from SanDisk's website.

Rob Pegoraro: That's the problem--SanDisk apparently isn't releasing any Vista drivers for the player he's got.

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Upgrading my G3 iBook: yeah it's not easy gaining access to the HD. but it can be done, with patience. I'd rather spend a day upgrading, than spend many hundreds to get a new HD and have someone do it for me, or thousands for a new Apple altogether.

Rob Pegoraro: Much appreciated. Anything in particular our iBook owner should watch out for when doing this surgery?

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Germantown, Md.: Hi Rob - I'm having Verizon FIOS 15 Mbps Internet service installed in a couple of weeks. I'm told I need a USB wireless 802.11G adapter. Isn't it also true that they can hardwire directly to the computer if their router is very close (on the backside of the wall that the computer is on).

If the hardwire isn't feasible and they're stating that a USB 802.11 G adapter is needed, wouldn't a PCI wireless G adapter also work, and if so, is it better or faster than a USB version?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't have Fios myself and can't say for sure, but I've never seen nor heard of a wireless router that doesn't also have a regular wired Ethernet port. You should be fine without getting an extra adapter for your desktop.

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Seminole, Fla.: I recently have been unable to remove a web site that continues to try to access the web even if I am not on line. In addition, my computer will not let me into task manager to see what is running?

Any help would be great. Thanks, Dennis

Rob Pegoraro: If you can't open the Task Manager, you've almost certainly got a serious spyware problem. Disconnect the machine from the Internet and either try using a rescue CD--some security programs include these--or pay a pro to clean out the problem.

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Tina in Falls Church: I have Nikon Picture Project 1.7.5 on my Vista machine. Something is preventing this program from connecting to the Nikon server. Nikon says it's me. The problem is... w/out being able to connect I have no access to their "message center" so I can tell the program to quit trying to check for updates. Nikon does note there are "issues" with message center. Any suggestions where to start? Thanks, Tina

Rob Pegoraro: Here's the first message from Tina--and before I could get around to answering it, I saw this second message...

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Tina in Falls Church again: I resolved the Nikon program problem, Pcillin was blocking it. I just ordered a HP CD for the Photosmart printer I have, full feature CD was free!! Strange, I had to beg for a free basic after I got the computer and their software would not work w/Vista.

Rob Pegoraro: This is why I hate third-party firewalls--they keep causing issues like this.

I'm aware of the utility of blocking third-party programs from connecting to the Internet without permission... but if you have some piece of spyware trying to go online, YOU'VE ALREADY LOST!

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Germantown, Md.: Do you have any experience with the Rockbox iPod flash? This is software that replaces Apple's iPod software. Wondering if it was any good (no doubt it disables the DRM).

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't tried it and am not going to. The iPod does what it needs to do already; why would I want to waste time putting somebody else's software on it? This is... not really what I'd call a mainstream application. And I saw this as somebody who's reviewed Linux way more times than any other daily newspaper's tech columnist in the U.S.

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DC: Have you heard any rumors of a new Palm PDA out there? Not a smart phone, just a PDA.

Rob Pegoraro: Nope. Palm's plans for any future PDAs continue to be mysterious at best, nonexistent at worst.

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Coopersburg, Pa.: If you are using sleep mode, when do you run your backups and virus scans?

Rob Pegoraro: You don't have to schedule them for the middle of the night; you can have them happen after you leave for work, then have the computer go into sleep.

(Of course, if you've got a Mac you can dispense with the virus scans.)

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob, The electrical "leakage" from AC-DC powers supplies has been getting attention recently. Modern adapters are smaller and more efficient when not under a load. But its hard to find the efficient power supplies. Is there anywhere you know of to purchase energy-efficient replacement power supplies for computer eq and home electronics?

Rob Pegoraro: Replacement power supplies--I don't know! I'm going to check th Energy Star site... here you go: External Power Adapters : ENERGY STAR

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Washington, D.C.: Is there going to be a difference between using a fast SD card (50-60X) and a faster (130X) one when it comes to using a point-and-shoot (Canon 800 IS) in how fast the pictures are taken and written? I read somewhere that the real limit is the camera's buffer and both speeds exceed the limits of the buffer, so it wouldn't matter. Is that right?

Rob Pegoraro: Used to be, 50x or 60x *was* a fast SD Card. I don't know that a 130x card would make any difference on anything but a high-end digital SLR.

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re: Haven't tried it and am not going to. The iPod does what it needs to do already; why would I want to waste time putting somebody else's software on it?: Uh. Hello? Sticking it to The Man? Anyone? Anyone?

Rob Pegoraro: The Man doesn't care what you have on your iPod. (I just called him to ask about this and got his voicemail, but he phoned me back from his business jet to say that it's not worth his time to worry about such trivialities.)

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Alexandria, Va.: I recently bought a Sony Bravia full 1080p HDTV (40"). I get HD service from Comcast. While it's unbelievably great, I wonder if there is any fine tuning, particularly through the cable box settings vs. TV settings, that could be done to maximize the sound and picture quality?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. The first and easiest thing to try is to switch the TV out of its default picture mode. Most come set to look good in a showroom--brightness and contrast cranked to the max, which can obliterate some more subtle details. Try switching to the "standard" or "normal" modes, whatever they may be called.

If you really want to go nuts about this, you can try using a calibration DVD called Video Essentials. Or you can pay somebody to do this for you... but that last step is a little too rich for my blood.

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Ashburn, Va.: After reading your story about the rise Apple's market share I am interested to know if Apple still commands a high share in America's schools. Is this outdated? It seems that Apple has taken a different market approach.

washingtonpost.com: Mac Market Math

Rob Pegoraro: Apple hasn't had first place in that market in a while, but it continues to do better in the educational sector than in the overall market. (One data point: the latest copy of my wife's UVA alumni mag mentioned that 20 percent of freshman... I mean, first-year students used Macs.)

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, is there an easy way to set up the power settings so that the computer doesn't go to sleep while watching a movie?

Rob Pegoraro: Ideally, the computer should know you've got a program active already. But if it's not that smart, just set the sleep delay to exceed the length of the movie, then change it back when you're done. You can also set up a power-setting profile for this use. The Windows laptops that I've used have all included one out of the box.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, my 26" HD LCD Syntax Olevia tv, which I use with an LG tuner/DVD player, sometimes has a translucent, horizontal line which moves up from the bottom of the screen to the top of the screen when I'm watching DVDs or tv in HD. Any ideas on what could be causing this, or how to fix it? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like an issue in your TV. Do you have it connected via a digital HDMI connection? Do you have any special image-enhancement modes selected?

You might have to get Syntax Olevia to look at the set... could be the sort of thing that requires replacing it. Hope you're under warranty :)

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Two Seat Home Theatre: My TVA is in a small room that really can not accommodate a true surround sound system. I've read about the Yamaha YSP-800, which uses an array of speakers to direct sound around a room, apparently with some sort of tiny time delay to create an illusion of surround sound as the waves are bounced off the walls. Are you familiar with this setup and have any feedback regarding its performance?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tried it myself, but the aforementioned Daniel Greenberg reviewed it a couple of years ago: Surround Sound -- From a Single Speaker

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Early Poster in DC: Hi Rob, Bought a used computer off of ebay, an hp a1430n running xp media. There are a few leftover bits of software from the previous owner, dangling like loose threads. One of the most annoying is a thing called PhotoGallery, which attempts to start installing itself each time I open a photo album, then errors out saying "The feature you are trying to use is on a network resource that is unavailable." Canceling the install doesn't work, it just keeps coming back until I close the folder with the photos in it. I have tried searching for it, but I cant find it either on the computer itself, or out there in the internet. Add/Remove can't find it either. How do i get rid of this thing?

Rob Pegoraro: If you haven't accumulated too much data on the computer and you've got either a system-restore CD or a system-recovery partition on the hard drive, I'd wipe the hard drive and start from scratch. If the owner left some of his apps on the thing, there's no guaranteeing that he didn't leave some virus lurking around. You'll also fix any performance problems like the one you're describing.

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Reston, Va.: Re: Comcast HD.

Another bit of advice, go download the .pdf of the cable box's manual. The Comcast 'tech' that brought our HD box didn't quite get things right on the box end, but the Scientific Atlanta documentation helped out.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Phoenix, Ariz.: We can put a man on the moon, and we can now make an iPhone, but we still haven't mastered the quality toupee? Our country has one messed-up technology agenda, that's for sure!

Rob Pegoraro: Hey, the shaved-head look works for Mayor Fenty!

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Alexandria, Va.: Robbo, I wouldn't pay $600 for a cellphone. Given that, what is the next best cell phone, mp3 player, organizer for those that aren't interested in the iPhone?

washingtonpost.com: Calling All Competition

Rob Pegoraro: You're looking at either a Palm Treo, a Windows Mobile device (which can be a Treo itself) or a BlackBerry. I'd get a Treo or a Windows Mobile if you mainly need an organizer, a Windows Mobile device if media playback is important and a BlackBerry if e-mail is important.

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Wife a UVA grad?: I didn't know that! Wahoowah!

Rob Pegoraro: It was a little awkward a couple of years ago when UVA played Georgetown at the Phone Booth... and my Hoyas lost :(

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Do you have it connected via a digital HDMI connection? Do you have any special image-enhancement modes selected? : Yes, it is connected via a digital HDMI, and no, I don't have any special image-enhancement modes selected. Although the HDMI cable that I'm using came with my Dell monitor. Could it be that I need a better HDMI cable?

Otoh, the line rises up the screen for about ten seconds, and usually doesn't recur for another 1/2 hour, so it's not worth replacing. I'm mostly curious about how such a thing could happen. (Of course, I'd love to learn how to fix it myself, too.) Once again, thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: No such thing as a "better" HDMI cable--either you've got a connection or you don't. Give Syntax Olevia a call about this.

HDTVs are sufficiently complicated beasts that manufacturers have begun releasing firmware updates to cure issues like this.

(And come to think of it, a firmware update for your DVD player might also be a way to fix it.)

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Reston, Va.: I've got a Yamaha sound bar. It's pretty good. Not the real deal, but adequate, nonetheless. It comes with a microphone that you set where you want to sit, and it'll adjust the various delays during a test.

Rob Pegoraro: Appreciate the report!

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Seattle: Rob, I thought that cell phones were sold at low prices when you sign for service because your service charges subsidize the cost of the phone. Is that correct?

If so, why is the iPhone $500 with the base plan at $60 a month? I understand that a workable amount of minutes plus unlimited data for $60 is a pretty good deal, but at the $500 price point? And with only 4GB? They're pushing movies as a feature, but with that amount of space, you could fit about three or four and forget mp3s.

Please make sense of all of this.

Rob Pegoraro: New Treo smartphones have been known to retail for that kind of price, and you never saw people camping out to wait on line for them. (That said, I think sleeping on a sidewalk for *a cell phone* is a wee bit ridiculous.)

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: I'm an avid fan of your columns. I read your advice recently on "To remedy that problem in Windows,try the FileHippo Update Checker ( http://www.filehippo.com/updatechecker)."

I assume you are aware its a beta. Can it harm that its not full program? Keep up great work. Just a shame your not on daily.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, it's beta. But I've used it on three different computers--including my work machine--and haven't seen any problems with it. I asked the folks at FileHippo if the beta status would end anytime soon; they said it would not, and so I decided I might as well go ahead with the review.

"Beta" is starting to lose any real meaning. Gmail has been in beta for years now, but I don't think anybody would argue that it's not suitable for daily use. Then again, I can think of a quite a few non-beta, "finished" releases that I don't quite trust to run on my computers...

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Help! : I ruined my 2 year old laptop with a precariously, stupidly placed glass of wine. It's definitely dead - I've tried recovering the hard drive and even that's not going to happen. I need a new one but all the stuff I'm reading about Windows Vista is really confusing me. I hear that it crashes often, it won't play nice with video card drivers, and possibly none of my current hardware will work. I'm debating if I should go ahead and get an XP machine while it's still available, or take the plunge and get Vista.

I use the laptop for editing photos with Photoshop (with a regular monitor plugged into it), storing those photo files, downloading music and talking books, watching movies, creating and managing websites, and of course Internet surfing and email. Any thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: Ouch! Shame to waste a perfectly good glass of wine, too :)

Your anxiety about Vista is well placed. There are real compatibility issues to worry about with this release, and it also needs significantly more powerful hardware than XP.

An XP machine would certainly be simpler to switch to. Another option is a Mac laptop--but the movies and audiobooks you're downloading may not be playable on a Mac, along with whatever Web-authoring software you use.

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Airport Extreme: I'm considering upgrading my wireless router to an Airport Extreme. I have Verizon DSL. Do I need a DSL modem or some other device between the Airport Extreme and the phone line for it to work?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you still need a DSL modem. (If only DLS modems had gotten standardized the way cable modems are... you could buy a router with the DSL hardware built-in.)

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pay $600 for a cellphone: The iPhone is really a handheld computer that can make phone calls. To call it a "cell phone" isn't really fair.

Rob Pegoraro: How about if I just call it a "cellie"? (Or is that noun so 2003?)

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LCD vs. Plasma (vs. DLP): Rob- I understand that LCDs have a brighter picture and plasmas have deeper blacks. What does "deeper blacks" mean?

With respect to DLP, I know you get more for your money (bigger screen, 1080P), but I wasn't too impressed by the picture quality. What would you do if money's not a primary concern?

Rob Pegoraro: To quote a noted authority on picture-panel technology, Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel: "It's like, how much more black could this be? and the answer is none."

"Deeper blacks" means that the darkest possible shade the screen can display really is black, not a very dark gray. The catch with plasmas is that in a well-lit room, the glare the screen will pick up can erase those subtleties. (Plasma sets are built with an extra panel of glass, which makes them much more glare-prone than LCD.)

I'm not a huge fan of DLP and other rear-projection sceens, mainly because a lot of them don't look as bright if you're not sitting directly in front of the screen.

The HDTV I'd buy would be an LCD, but that's because my living room gets a lot of light.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, can you recommend any electronic organizers with WiFi? It doesn't need to have a phone, audio player, video player, or automatic car parking attached. Just a simple device to replace the daily to-do lists on post-it notes in my pocket, with the ability to check any additions to our Google calendar that the wife has added during the day. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Palm's TX is about the only thing that comes to mind... the non-phone organizer market is drying up in a hurry. (HP still makes some iPaq organizers, but they'd be overkill for what you want.)

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Downtown, D.C.: My xp sp2 laptop was running a little slow, so I decided to reinstall xp. I did a complete reinstall (not a repair), but did not format the computer first, I just booted from the CD, and went through a clean/new install.

Computer works great, no problems with the install and subsequent updates. But I noticed in the C:-docs and settings- folder, that the two users I had set up in my previous install still had folders in there.

Those users are no longer on my machine (I choose new user names), and I can't see them under the user admin section. It's not a huge deal, they're not taking up much drive space, it just seemed strange to me. Should I have formatted the drive prior to running the install?

Rob Pegoraro: As long as it didn't have any virus problems beforehand, you should be fine. Just delete the old user folders.

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Reston, Va.: Whoa! Probably not good advice to tell Mac users that they don't need to scan for viruses. While there may not be many out there now, it's a good safe habit, and with a certain reporter indicating that Mac sales are up, the nasties will surely start to target those, too.

Rob Pegoraro: Forget "not many"--there aren't *any* Mac OS X viruses in existence. Still have yet to hear of any successful virus attacks on OS X. I do wonder why that is the case--Apple has to release plenty of security updates, and some have come long after the announcement of a vulnerability.

The other thing, though, is that a successful virus--which nowadays means one that will turn a computer into a spam-spreading, phishing-host bot--would need to burrow so deep into a Mac that it would need administrator access to the computer, which it doesn't get automatically (and which most Mac apps don't need anyway). The user would have to grant permission to it--a higher barrier than just getting somebody to double-click on a strange file in XP or click past the same old "User Account Control" dialog in Vista.

If you do run a Mac and want to be safe, try the free, open-source ClamXav: http://www.clamxav.com/ I had a writer try it out a while back and he found it inobtrusive and occasionally helpful... at catching Windows viruses that had landed in his inbox.

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AngryTown, D.C.: Rob,

Speaking of Vista woes, have you heard of any remedies for the problem of not being able to get a smartphone to sync with the new Mobile Device Center? I've been trying for a week to get it to connect and have taken down all my firewalls and everything else.

Any ideas? Anyone?

Rob Pegoraro: AT, that's a new one to me. But e-mail me with the details of the problem and I'll see if I can find out anything for you.

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Richmond, Va.: Dear Mr. Pegoraro, I want an Ipod Telephone, but my Dad says I'm not old enough. (He also says that the mean kids down the street will just take it away from me if I don't start showing some backbone.) Mom has offered to buy me a CB radio instead. I do not think this is an appropriate substitute. What do you think?

Rob Pegoraro: There is a cardboard cutout of an iPhone that you can print out from iphonecountdown.com and carry around...

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Rob Pegoraro: And that is going to have to do until we meet again! Thanks... see you all here the next time.

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