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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, August 9, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro will be online Thursday, Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your personal tech questions and discuss his recent reviews.

A transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: Rob Pegoraro will be joining us shortly, please check back at 2:15. Thank you.

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Rob Pegoraro: Hey folks - sorry I'm late. Wish I could blame this on some crazy, Kafkaesque computing meltdown, but Metro was just running late. Let's get going (and yes, I will stick around late to make up for the lost time)

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Falls Church, Va.: Rob, I've lost my cell phone. I'm still under contract, so all Verizon will do for me is give me 25 percent off the full price of a new one, provided that I sign for another 2 years. My brother says that I can buy a used Verizon phone off of eBay, and the company will be required to activate it and switch me over. Is this correct? Can I buy last year's Verizon phone and take it into the store?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm pretty sure you can--my colleague Sam Diaz did that when he didn't want to pay full price for a new Treo.

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Worthington, Ohio: I was disappointed that Apple didn't announce any iPod updates this week. Any thoughts on when that might happen? I'd love to get an iPod with a touch screen feature and a larger viewing window.

Rob Pegoraro: A month or so ago in one of these chats, I predicted that Apple had to update the iPod, and especially the iPod nano. It's gone a long time without an update, and the arrival of iTunes Plus downloads that take up twice as much space as the regular iTunes Store tracks means you really need a nano with more storage than what's available now. And what better time to put a new set of iPods on sale than the back-to-school shopping season?

I think all those reasons still hold true, but Apple will do what Apple wants to--when Apple wants to do it.

(BTW, anybody seen any iTunes Plus tracks for sale from labels that *aren't* EMI?)

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for hosting this chat! Do you have any recommendations for software to use to help with creating a personal web page? A friend recommended Joomla, but it looks like there are dozens of these "content management systems" out there, and I have no way to know which one is best. Which one(s) do you like?

Rob Pegoraro: As a general rule, anything described as a "content management system"--or a system of any sort--is going to be grotesque overkill for a personal Web page. Try the free, open-source Nvu (nvu.com). It hasn't been updated in a long time, but it ought to get you rolling easily enough.

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Mt. Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: Hi, Rob, I've been using iGoogle for a while now to keep tabs on your blog and those of others. I've noticed, however, that iGoogle will remain connected to the Internet even after the page has fully loaded and will access on its own from time to time. Does iGoogle send back information it collects from my computer? I've refused to use Google Desktop because of this and would stop using iGoogle if it did the same. Thanks in advance for your response.

Rob Pegoraro: iGoogle--the personalized portal Google offers--is just a Web page, not a separate program like Google Desktop. As such, it can't grab random information off your computer.

Also, as a rule Google doesn't do that kind of snooping. Google Desktop *can* share certain information with the Google mothership (look under "advanced features" in the GD help), but that option is disabled by default; turning it on requires first looking at the most obvious warning/disclaimer imaginable.

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Detroit, Mich.: One disappointment from the latest product news from Apple was that the new iMovie is incompatible with G4 Apple computers. I have found that I can do everything I want on a G4 and previously found that all Macintosh software was compatible with it. Is this the beginning of the end for support and usability of G4 Apple computers?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, it probably is. But the G4 has been around for a long time--Apple would have retired it long ago if it could have obtained a laptop-compatible G5 processor.

FWIW, the installer for the new iLife '08 will leave an existing copy of iMovie HD on your hard drive--buyers of the new suite can even download a free copy of iMovie HD if they want. (This, as I understand it, is because the new, developed-from-scratch iMovie doesn't include all the editing tools of the old program.) So it's not like you're using an abandoned program.

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Houston, Tex.: My teenage daughter bought a cell w/her boyfriend, and it's in his name. Can you suggest a way she can determine the contract details as he is now in Dubai. thanks, the mom

Rob Pegoraro: That's going to be difficult. Asking for somebody else's account information will probably get you a flat refusal--the cell phone company may think you're engaged in a pretexting scam, which is a serious crime for them to enable. You have to ask the boyfriend to provide the contract details.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Rob, I run Windows XP on my home computer and I elect to have automatic updates download and ask me when to install. I have been getting constant install notices about a .net security patch. The installs never work and it seems I'm stuck in a constant downloading and installing cycle for a patch to .net. A Microsoft workaround didn't work and I haven't heard back from them - any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: Try uninstalling any .Net frameworks you see in Add or Remove Programs, then installing a freshly downloaded copy off Microsoft's Web site. (You'll see 2.0 and 3.0 versions available there, but you only need 2.0 in most cases.)

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Palo Alto, Calif.: Now that the frenzy has abated, are people who purchased the iPhone generally happy with it? Are there any major reasons NOT to buy one now?

Rob Pegoraro: Well, let's hear from the iPhonesters in the house today--what do you think?

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Saint-Herblain, France: I think about an International authority to regulate the use of computers on the world.

It would be a representative an non governmental organisation, financed by computer trade (1 computer, 1 or 2 euros). States would be represented as a minority. The other members would be lawyers, technicians, journalists (from wp for ex).

It job: publy annual report, and alert public opinion. From your point of vue, is it possible? Antoine

Rob Pegoraro: No.

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Moneta, Va.: Firefox is my designated browser, but Internet Explorer opens simultaneously when I move from one item to another in the Washington Post and NY Times but not other newspapers that I read. Why and how do I stop this?

Rob Pegoraro: I got an e-mail about this--maybe from the same person who just posted this question--and was utterly baffled. I can only offer the vague suggestion that you make sure that IE isn't set as the default in any of the possible places you can set a default browser in Windows: the Start Menu control panel, the Set Program Access and Defaults application and the Internet Options control panel's Programs tab.

(Memo to Microsoft: This stinks! Give me one place to adjust this, not three that can sometimes show mutually contradictory settings.)

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TV confused-land: Looking at getting a 50 inch plasma, and I saw that Panasonic now had anti-glare screens. Worth the extra money for a room with many windows?

Rob Pegoraro: Not sure--I haven't seen these screens myself. The only good way to check this out would, I guess, be to take a really strong flashlight to a store that carries one of these sets, then see if the Panny screen exhibits any less glare than the other plasmas near it. (Most electronics retailers keep the big-screen TVs far from any windows, so you need to bring your own light source.)

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Sacramento, Calif.: I have used a Palm for a long time but am thinking of switching to a Blackberry. I'm just getting tired of carrying around so many small electronic boxes - cellphone, Palm, iPod. I use a Mac so would like to sync the PDA calendar with iCal and other mac applications. The awkwardness of syncing a Palm and Mac is one of the main drawbacks. I'm also hoping to use the phone in Europe as well as the US, but that may be too much to ask.

Any recommendations on the Blackberry?

Rob Pegoraro: You could solve the Mac-syncing problems and avoid having to learn a new smartphone interface dropping $40 on Mark/Space's Missing Sync software. That's what I'd recommend... the BlackBerry is kind of weak as a handheld organizer, and it has a *lot* fewer third-party apps compared to a Palm.

That said, Palm's current hardware itself is looking pretty old and busted. A Treo will work fine, don't get me wrong--but if you spend any real time on the Internet with it you're going to be angry at Palm for failing to ship it with a stable, multitasking operating system.

If you go with a BlackBerry and want to use it in the U.S. and Europe, you'll need one that runs on a GSM network, which means going with AT&T or T-Mobile. AT&T has a faster data network and has better coverage, but T-Mobile costs less. Make sure whatever 'Berry you get has the little trackball above the keyboard instead of the jog dial on the side.

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Massachusetts: Hi, This weekend is sales tax free weekend in Massachusetts. I'd like to buy a HD LCD TV about 36 inches. Any recommendations.

Rob Pegoraro: I've tried Samsung and Sony LCDs and liked both, but Samsung's a lot cheaper than Sony. You should also look at Sharp and LG.

You'll find considerably cheaper models from off-brand companies, but I haven't tried them out. Has anybody here bought a mid-size LCD HD set lately that they can recommend?

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Alexandria, Va.: How do I get a downloaded ZIP file to be recognized as such, so that Windows will open it and decompress the contents? The file itself opens in Firefox, which does nothing, and for the life of me I can't figure out how to associate it with a file decompression agent. Haven't had this problem with prior ZIP files; any thoughts on what I can do in this instance?

Rob Pegoraro: Windows XP can decompress Zip files automatically, but in this case it sounds like the Web server doesn't have the right "MIME type" setting for the file--meaning that your browser isn't being told that it's a file and instead thinks it's a long string of gibberish text. To fix that, right-click on the link leading to it and select "Save Link As..."; save it to your usual download directory.

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Printing color photos : Do you know anything about color calibrating a computer so that what you see on screen is what you get on your printer?

My desktop is very old and I'd love to replace it with a laptop. But, I'm a heavy Photoshop user, and print lots of photos to my inkjet. When I've done that on a laptop, I've had results where the color is way off from what I saw on screen. Can I make a laptop work for this?

Rob Pegoraro: We're talking about running a set of tests to make sure that a computer will display the most accurate picture possible. Graphics designers do this all the time. But most home users never bother with it or even think about it until--to give one example from my recent experience--they're looking at a paint company's Web site and wondering why the colors displayed there look so little like what they see in the brochure they picked up at the store.

Anyway, color calibration involves the same basic process on a laptop or a desktop. But if your laptop doesn't have a particularly good screen, no amount of color calibration can fix that. Same goes for an inkjet with a limited "color gamut"--the range of colors that it can reproduce.

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Arlington, Va.: Have I seen iTunes Plus tracks from labels other than EMI? No.

Isn't the iTunes "Plus" feature of DRM-free tracks kind of a joke, since the files are still AAC, and iTunes will not convert them to MP3, so they're still kind of locking you into iPods?

Rob Pegoraro: No, because:

1) AAC isn't a proprietary format. It is every bit as open as MP3--but it's cheaper to implement in some cases.

2) You've got a wide range of other programs and devices that support it--the PlayStation Portable and the Zune, for instance.

3) You *can* convert an iTunes Plus download to MP3--iTunes is doing that in the background as I type this.

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PCI, Sys: Rob, Can you direct me to web resources that can help me deal with some severe PC problems?

My Dell PC is nearly 6 years old, one of the very first XP machines. It has been a great PC, but it was getting a little old and slow, so I recently bought an iMac as a replacement. However, I continued to use the Dell for some applications where I don't yet have equivalent software for the iMac.

This week, the Dell quit suddenly, telling me that the System file (a few layers down a folder path that I can't recall) was lost or corrupted. After locating my system CD and booting to the Recovery Manager, I was able to figure out how to fix that file, booting up to the normal desktop. Almost immediately, a new error was displayed that pci.sys is broken.

I'm not in a critical fix, because I backed up all my key files on the iMac and an external drive when I bought the new computer. However, I would love to recover this machine so I can keep using some of the software and playing some of my old games.

Any assistance you can offer will be greatly appreciated.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm flattered that you think I have any understanding of what the pci.sys file is or does :)

The Microsoft knowledge-base site (support.microsoft.com) lists a variety of things you can try to do to repair this problem, so I'd try going through those. But you might find that it's easier to use Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop or the just-released VMWare Fusion to run Windows on your iMac.

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Arlington: Rob, please help! I really like the design of the Treo 755p, but I am not too sure about Palm software. Why would somebody choose a Palm based phone instead of a Windows based phone? Also any word on the new Windows based Treo for Sprint? Thank you

Rob Pegoraro: Palm's two remaining advantages are ease of use and third-party programs. It's still fractionally easier to do many everyday tasks on a Palm OS device, and you've got a much better choice of third-party applications on a Palm (especially if you're looking for freeware; for whatever reason, Windows Mobile programs tend to come with a price tag.)

Also, if you don't run Windows a Windows Mobile device--here's a shock--is a lot tricker to sync to your computer.

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New York, N.Y.: I live near the 24/7 Apple Store in NYC, and have been having a romance with the iMacs, and the service/support available right there in the store. Thus I'm poised to divorce Dell and Windows and all the problems I've had... all for the new iMAC. But I'm an older guy, now retired from academia, I'd use the iMac in a limited way: for word documents, some numbers, the Web.

A D.C. friend says: you don't need one unless you're 14 yrs. old. What do you think?

Rob Pegoraro: Anybody who'd say something as objectively foolish and insulting as "you don't need a Mac unless you're 14 years old" is not somebody whose advice you should be taking on *anything* related to computers.

Get the iMac. (But don't spend the extra cash on the 24-inch model; the 20-inch screen is more than big enough.)

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Washington, D.C.: My VCR bit the dust after several years, and I have discovered that you can't buy VCRs anymore. All I can find are combo DVD player/VCRs, which apparently you can't even hook up to your cable connection to record tv shows unless you buy a separate cable. And these machines cost significantly more than I paid for my last VCR.

I just want to tape TV shows when I'm not home and watch them later. I know there are now DVD recorders as well as digital recorders that use a hard drive. But they are all also pretty expensive. Is there any cheap way to record TV shows anymore? I'm not picky about picture quality. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, the standalone VCR is dead. Heck, even my mom got rid of hers!

But where are you getting this idea that you can't hook a DVD recorder or DVD/VCR combo to a cable connection unless you get a separate cable? These things have the exact same inputs as any VCR; the wiring diagram you'll see in the manual for connecting a cable input is no different from what you'd see in a VCR's manual.

It is true that a DVD/VCR combo costs more than a plain old VCR. But it also does a great deal more.

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Richmond, Va.: Hi Rob, Do you have any experience with virtual surround speakers that are also good for listening to our (all digital) music collection? Putting a true 5.1 system in our living room (which is the only room in the house we watch TV or listen to music - there is no family room/HT room) is a non-starter. A 2.1 or one of those one-speaker packages is more what I'm looking for.

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tried any, but in this case it doesn't matter: Unless you're using some high-end codec, your digital music is almost certainly encoded in stereo, not surround sound. You wouldn't get any benefit from piping that through a 5.1 setup (that's one center speaker, two side speakers, two rear speakers and a subwoofer).

If you want surround sound for movie viewing... my old freelancer Daniel Greenberg tried out a few virtual-surround systems over the years, and he liked a couple of different products--the Dolby Virtual Surround system, available on a pretty wide variety of receivers, and a single-speaker rig from Yamaha designed to fit underneath a widescreen TV.

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Re: seen any iTunes Plus tracks for sale from labels that *aren't* EMI?: No, because according to Slashdot, only EMI is doing DRM-free music.

Rob Pegoraro: Who on /.? Some random poster? Robin Miller? Can we be a little more specific on sourcing, please?

In any case, that's not true--Apple has invited other labels to start selling DRM-free music on iTunes, and I've talked to independent labels that want and plan to do exactly that. I'm just wondering when they'll show up.

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NoLo, DC: I'll have had my iPhone for 5 weeks as of tomorrow. It replaced a 30+ month old Treo 650, from which I already had Cingular/ATT service.

Overall, the experience using it is so far superior to my Treo (which I generally loved) that I've no regrets about the switch.

There are definitely some shortcomings compared to the Palm platform, both in the lack of applications and specific functionality I relied on. I miss AvantGo a lot -- while the web experience is miles beyond Blazer, it's still very annoying to me that I can't rely on downloading a bunch of web content and having it always accessible when I'm offline (When switching apps, MobileSafari sometimes loses track of its cache and wants to reload content; not very helpful on the metro or a plane!). And I really wish the notes app was more robust (folders, please!). And, um, where are the games? That would give me something to do when I'm offline, too!

Of course, Apple has already released one patch set, and I have no reason to doubt they won't keep improving things (contrast that with Verizon/Palm taking a year+ to get out a firmware update for the 700p! An update that didn't solve a lot of problems!)

Overall, though, I'm thoroughly satisfied with the machine. And given that I spent over $400 for my Treo when I bought it, for all of 32mb of memory, I have no qualms about what I paid for my 8gb iPhone.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the detailed report!

(Uh, where is NoLo? I thought I was up on marketing-friendly neighborhood monikers, but this one I don't recognize.)

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Richmond, Va.: Rob, I was sure you reviewed the new TiVo HD (not the Series 3 but the cheaper one) but I can't seem to find it. Do you have a link? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: No--this thing hasn't even shipped yet. I do plan on trying it out at some point, though.

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Silver Spring: The new iMacs look nice...but should I wait until Oct so I get Leopard for free bundled in? I don't NEED a new computer, of course.

Rob Pegoraro: Dunno... is your existing machine a 2005-vintage iMac that's trucking along just fine, or a 2001-era eMachine that's starting to wheeze? It all depends on what your alternative is.

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Bethesda, Md.: So obviously you'll be doing a new iMac review. Will you include a review of the new Mac Mini with it as well? I've been waiting to see if Apple released a mini with the Intel 2 Core Duo chips, so I might be more interested in this than the iMac (like having a separate monitor I can use later).

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think I'll review the Mac mini--there's not enough new material there to justify a column. There will be an iMac review, but I might wind up putting that on my blog; there are a few other topics competing for space over the next month, and this iMac isn't an enormous change from the earlier model.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi Rob, I bought some songs on ITunes on line from the ITunes Store and but my computer won't let me burn them as MP3 files on to a CD. I know -I can't make a million copies but I thought i could make a few or at least 1 CD. Thanks for any help or advice.

Rob Pegoraro: You can burn them to an *audio* CD, and then you can re-rip that into MP3 format.

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Seattle: Is it true that HP's offering a 20 percent cheaper ink cartridge... but that there's 60 percent less ink? If so, what a ripoff and how stupid will consumers have to be to buy one.

Rob Pegoraro: Not familiar with this myself... but look, inkjet cartridges are kind of a ripoff in general. The profit margin on them is enormous.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, My 2nd generation iPod just suddenly quit working on me. It makes a strange whirring and clicking sound, like the hard drive has huffed and puffed its way up a hill and is about to drop to the ground. I then get a very scary "sad iPod" icon. I've looked at Apple's website to see if I can repair it myself. I can't, of course, so I was wondering if you have any ideas about what happened. I figure I'll have to buy a new one but thought maybe I could ask you and sound more knowledgeable than I really am. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You're giving all the right descriptions for a hard-drive failure--and I can't think of anything else that would cause an iPod to fail after making those sounds.

So what caused this? It could have been plain old age. If I remember my iPod generations correctly, you would have been carrying this model around for 4 or more years. It also could be the result of too many physical shocks to the iPod--ever drop it or shake it?

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RE: x-pensive ink: I don't need a printer. I have excellent penmanship, and I rely on that.

Rob Pegoraro: How many pages per minute can you output? What about in color?

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iGoogle: Isn't Mt. Pleasant's question about iGoogle still communicating after fully loading the page just an example of good Web 2.0 programming?

Rob Pegoraro: AJAX ("asynchronous JavaScript and XML"), technically--but, yeah, a well-designed page can update parts of its content on demand.

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D.C.: Dell has started marketing a line of computers, Vostro, that they are targeting to small businesses. Apparently they aren't very different from their consumer lines, but they are shipped without trialware, which strikes me as a strong selling point. Is there any reason not to buy one of these for ordinary home use? Would I be giving up anything I might need?

Rob Pegoraro: Take a look at the graphics card offered on the machine--it might not work well, or at all, with games or Windows Vista's Aero graphics.

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FORT APPLETON: hi Rob.

You sure mentioned iMac needing upgrade at good time last week. However, you also mentioned Mac mini and I found out theres Mac Pro, as well as G5 Server Workstation.

I like College Dorm, all in one, feature of imac and its new ability to run windows and even Vista Games, with ati 2600Pro or 2300 xt game card built in, not hottest, yet TOP End game Cards would cost more than entire unit, so great. Also dual core Intel sounds good for easy use and flexible Apple/Microsoft software adaption.

Yet can you tell us little about entire line of Apple Computers I mentioned and compare them to new iMac at this time?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't cover the Mac Pro--too expensive, too big, not at all marketed towards consumers--much less servers. Sorry...

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Ward Circle: NoLo = North of Logan (Circle)?

Rob Pegoraro: That would make sense. (I can remember when Logan Circle went by the name "East Dupont" in real-estate ads.)

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Washington, D.C.: Hello, Rob, My desktop is really starting to slow down; it's a 3.5 year old Compaq with 512MB RAM. I use it for work, play poker, manage my music and photos, and..um....participate in your chats! I'm considering:

1 Buying more RAM and cleaning off the crapware. Do you recommend this and is there a good resource to figure out what is safe to delete?

2 Buying a new Vista PC

3 Buying an iMac, but needing to pony up for parallels and XP/Vista for our music and games software?

Rob Pegoraro: Go with your first choice. It's by far the easiest and cheapest solution.

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for Wash DC: Your ipod hard drive is dead. Take it to an apple store and get a discount on a new one. Hard drives have limited lives (filled with excitement, at least).

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip about the Apple Store--I think the discount is 10 percent, and they'll also recycle the iPod's parts for you.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, Please help me help my 86 year old grandmother! She's gone from never having used a mouse to buying shoes online in 6 months!! The computer she has has Norton SystemWorks and Internet Security 2005 on it and it's up for renewal. She tried to renew and upgrade to Norton 360 online and was told that she wasn't spelling her name right so she couldn't do it. Reading the reviews of 360 look bad anyway (she's got a pretty basic 2 year old Dell XP SP2) and I'm a Mac user. So I'm way out of my league. So what's the best and easiest to use AntiVirus/Firewall blah blah blah. If it matters she's on FIOS so it has a router. I know you like Ad Aware but what else does she need? Would the Microsoft system be enough for her? She pays bills online, doesn't go to weird website and knows not to open emails from bad people. That being said she thinks nothing of opening and clicking on links from forwards sent from friends. Thanks from the both of us!!

Rob Pegoraro: The easiest security fix there might be to put a copy of the free AVG anti-virus on and switch to XP's firewall. Make sure she uses Firefox, and she should be safe from most attacks. (Not that you still shouldn't be teaching her "skeptical computing"--i.e., don't run anything unless you've checked it out first)

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Washington, D.C.: Quick one, Rob: can you recommend a resource (hard copy or online) to help an XP user learn Vista. Just got a new laptop and would like to get the most out of it. Or maybe M$ bundles a guide with the machine? Nah.

Rob Pegoraro: I've got a stack of Vista books on or around my desk, but I haven't had time to flip through any of them. Any recommendations for WDC?

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Sacramento, Calif.: Newbie switcher here - just got my macbook pro and linksys wireless N router. Having a devil of a time getting wireless internet access. No security, no problem. Add security and get no access. I've dug around and found many things to try, but no definitive answer. I know N isn't finalized yet, but I didn't think it was this bad. Should I have shelled out for the Airport Extreme instead? Does Apple stuff work best/only with other Apple ware?

Rob Pegoraro: Apple's wireless gear works fine with non-Apple products. But you really should be able to get the Linksys router working with your MBP. Are you sure it's set to use the right version of WPA encryption? (Don't use WEP; it's insecure, and it will usually require you to type the key in as one of those obnoxious 26-character hexadecimal strings.)

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Downtown DC: I know I'm going to have to replace my trusty old 20-inch Magnavox TV sometime soon, especially with the mandatory technological switchover coming up soon. The thing is, almost everything I read about HD TVs is in reference to big screens. But I don't want a big screen--I don't watch enough TV to justify it, and I have a little living room that I don't want to redecorate around a TV. What fancy-schmancy flat screen plasma whateveryoucallit would be comparable in size to what I have now? And how much would it cost?

Rob Pegoraro: Think screen height--most digital sets are widescreen models, so a 20-inch LCD will be shorter than your 20-inch CRT. I think you'd be looking at a 26-incher to get about the same height as before--which means your choice is actually pretty straightforward, as nobody makes a plasma or projection screen that small. You're looking at CRT or LCD, and I'd go with LCD--slightly higher price, but less weight, it's flat and it should use less electricity.

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germantown, md: for the first poster, you can buy a phone online and activate it on the verizon website

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Germantown!

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McLean, Va.: I have to submit early because of a meeting. My question is with the upgrades to the Mac Mini, is there any way this will improve its gaming performance? I know the video card wasn't upgraded, but I was just curious as to if the processor would make up for it.

Rob Pegoraro: Doubt it - the Mac mini isn't the computer to get if you want to play any high-end games. (I've seen the insides of them; forget about upgrading the graphics chipset.)

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HP vs, Dell media center PC: Rob, looking to buy a media center PC (with AMD duo core processor) by either HP (8034 series, not latest series, which is up to 8100+ but will meet need) or Dell Inspiron 531. Which brand do you suggest?

Rob Pegoraro: I'd lean a little towards Dell, just because they now offer the option of ordering a computer without the usual trialware garbage--while HP is one of the worst offenders in that area.

(As an aside: When/why did Dell retire the Dimension name? I thought that was a decent moniker... better than "Inspiron," which could just as easily be an anti-allergy mediation.)

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Tempe, Ariz.: I just bought a Samsung LNS3251D 32" LCD, and I'm THRILLED with it. HD cable picture looks great, crisp colors, true blacks, etc. And the base swivels, which seems silly at first but it's actually really handy. And I only paid around $800 for it!

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the LCD suggestion (in response to my invitation at the start of this chat)

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Columbus, Ohio: After @3 recent days of glacial email deliveries (and server timeouts) from my ATT provider to my Outlook Express, I downloaded and installed (I thought) their "self-support" tool. When that program totally failed to work, I called ATT tech support and eventually was informed by a level-2 tech that there was a security filter causing the email problem for me and other subscribers, and that it would be altered or removed. Since then, my email is mostly fast, with occasional crawls.

Meanwhile, after failing to locate it in the "programs" directory, I searched my hard drive and found the self-support program in two files in my recycle bin, and the files duplicated in a backup directory. I have no idea how they got there, but their dates indicate they've been there since last October (which is when my ATT DSL service started).

I would like to get rid of all vestiges of the program, but Windows uninstall is not an option because the program is not really installed. I have no idea if it made any changes to my registry at any point.

How do I proceed? A restore from the recycle bin and then a Windows uninstall (the program also includes its own uninstall)? A hard delete of the files from their present directories? What about my registry? Or should I just let sleeping programs lie? Mark, Columbus, Ohio

Rob Pegoraro: Try a program called ZSoft Uninstaller (http://www.zsoft.dk/index/software_details/4 ) - I used that to extract a program that Add/Remove wouldn't get rid of on its own.

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PCI.SYS, Revisited: Rob,

Thanks for the pointer to the support site. Best I can tell, it looks like there may be a hardware problem, so I'm going to open the box and see if the thing is gunked up with dust or something else obvious.

As for using Parallels or Boot Camp, one of the reasons I went with the iMac is that I was getting tired of the expense and system overhead required for antivirus/antispyware security. If I set up a parallel XP boot, I'd have all those issues to deal with, plus the extra hard drive space consumed by XP. It just doesn't seem worth the hassle to me.

Rob Pegoraro: Well, you could also just give up on the Windows programs. I mean, it's not like you're free of virus/spyware issues because you have an old, second computer. Actually... you could be safer overall with a solution like Parallels or Fusion, as long as you only used the Windows environment for designated program. If you do all of your Web browsing and e-mail outside of it--in the usual Mac software--you cut out the primary attack routes of most malware.

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Fairfax, Va.: I agree with you and others about the awful, exorbitant inkjet ink prices of the likes of HP, but Overstock.com offers a nice compatible alternative at a very reasonable price although they don't carry all types. I have been very pleased with HP45 and HP78 compatibles.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the tip!

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New Haven, Conn.: I read on Forbes.com that they think the iphone has seen all the hype it is going to see and will actually fizzle as a product....are they just gicking up dust for fun? I am in the market for one!

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think the iPhone is just a fad.

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Alexandria, Va.: The Nintendo Wii seem to be the darling of the video game market, but it still is not a complete entertainment system like the PS3 or XBox 360. Does Nintendo have any plans to add a DVD or HD-DVD/BluRay player to the Wii system?

I have enough boxes in my entertainment center, and while I'd love to have a Wii, I cannot see having a box that can only do one thing when the competition can multitask.

Rob Pegoraro: Not that I've heard of. But it's not like the Wii is some huge box that has to take up space in the usual home-theater-system stack--you can tuck it away on the side of the TV and put the receiver for the Wiimote on top of the set.

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Frederick, Md.: Rob, if I'm not too late, can you provide any information/wisdom on any of the new smartphones Verizon Wireless is rolling out? I need to upgrade and VZW is my only option. I've heard good info. on the XV6800 and Samsung's i760. Have you test driven any of these or others (RIM, Palm) on the horizon?

Rob Pegoraro: I can't find that Samsung phone on VzW's site or the 6800, but I do see a 6700 listed there. That seems like a decent choice, assuming it's not too different from the Sprint version I tried out a year or so ago. It runs the full Windows Mobile software and has WiFi built in. However, if you're looking for a phone more than a Web device, you might not like this model so much.

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: I'm thinking about a MacBook. Is 1 gig of RAM enough? Even when they update the OS?

Rob Pegoraro: Can't tell you about 10.5's memory appetite, but a gig can be enough if you don't need to run too many PowerPC programs (they need extra memory to operate on an Intel processor). Most developers have already made that switch--Microsoft and the perpetual Mac laggards at Intuit are the only major holdouts I can think of.

But if you want to run Parallels or Fusion, then you'll need 2 gigs.

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Damaged hard drive: Hi Rob. My laptop hard drive got damaged after some liquid spilled into the computer. The computer will turn on, but will not recognize the hard drive. I removed the hard drive and put it in a hard drive case and tried to access it from another computer. The other computer sees the hard drive, but won't let me access it.

Geek Squad wants $1500 to recover the drive. Before I dish that money out, is there anything else I can try on my own? I've seen some cables one can use to recover hard drives. Are those any different from the hard drive case I've already tried?

Rob Pegoraro: If you only spilled water on the computer, the hard drive should have recovered from it once the water evaporated. But if it was something else--soda, coffee, beer--you could try washing out any remnants with water.

Exactly how you'd do that with a hard drive is, unfortunately, something that I'm going to have to leave as an exercise for this poor guy.

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Greenbelt DC: So I tried your test, looking for Red Rocks, a new pizza place in the area, via yahoo, ask.com, live and google. Lo and behold, not one of the search engines brought any sites that referred to the pizza place! I had even tried "red rocks dc," since the pizza's home page is redrocksdc.com, but - nothing. How can this be? You'd think the first website hit would be the homepage of the restaurant!

Rob Pegoraro: That's odd--I just Googled for that same phrase and found a bunch of sites talking about the new pizza joint in Columbia Heights.

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Williamsburg, Va.: Re: Seattle's question about HP cartridges -- an article in one of those other papers up in NY says some HP printers from Spring 2007 on can take two types of refills -- "standard" cartridges that are smaller and cheaper than the old HP cartridges; and "XL" cartridges that hold 3x the ink of the "standard" at twice the price. Maybe that's what Seattle's thinking of? Here's the article, and HP's got a press release (pdf).

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the research!

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Columbia, Md.: The other day I tried out a friend's computer, which was preloaded with Windows Vista. My first reaction? "This is EXACTLY like Windows XP". Is it just me, or is Windows Vista just a horribly-performing, somewhat better-looking version of Windows XP? And it took Redmond 6+ years to develop it?

Rob, what I really wanna know is... do you think I can hold out on Windows Vista indefinitely until something actually worth it comes around the tech-corner? Until then, I've declared a personal boycott on Vista...

Rob Pegoraro: If your computer stays health, nobody's going to make you upgrade to Vista.

And, yes, you're not the only user who's said "is that all there is?" to Vista.

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob, thanks for doing these chats. They are very informative and enjoyable. Now for my question, I am in the market to buy an ultraportable notebook. I travel a lot and always take a company laptop, but I am unable to install personal software on that machine. My plan is to travel with two laptops, hence the need for an ultraportable. I've narrowed it down to two models of the Sony VAIO, the TZ150 and the SZ480. The TZ is smaller but lees powerful than the SZ. Would an TZ with a dual core 1.06 Gz chip and 2MR RAM be adequate for e-mail, internet surfing and other similar applications? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes.

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Burtronsville, Md.: Hi Rob, I can't get my Norton Anti-virus 2007 to work on my PC unless I uninstall it and re-install it before each scan. I have a 5 year-old Sony Vaio running XP home edition, and have never had this problem with the other 4 editions I have installed each year. Mine is one of those old computers with 80GB split 20/60 between a C: and D: drive. My C: has 5GB free, my D: has 45GB free. Does Norton have to load onto C: in order to run? If I could have found my receipt I would have taken the disk back and gotten a refund. Can you recommend a free anti-virus downloadable program I could use to replace this clunker? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I like the free AVG anti-virus. I wouldn't be surprised if NAV demands a spot on the C: drive... the bozo at Sony who decided on that useless partitioning scheme really shafted a lot of users.

Good news is, you can resize that partition for free with the GParted LiveCD: gparted.sourceforge.com

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Washington, D.C. followup: OK Rob, I'm comfortable installing more RAM. But I have no idea where to start in the "cleaning" of my registry and bloatware. Is there a handy guide out there you reference? I know you keep your computers very "tidy."

Rob Pegoraro: I try, but it's not easy in Windows! (As I was waiting for this XP desktop to finish logging me in and starting up all the usual background proceses, it occurred to me that this delay amounted to a sizable fraction of my usual morning commute.)

Try CCleaner: ccleaner.com. But as a general rule, *don't* be aggressive about registry cleaning. It's easy to get into trouble by junking things you actually need.

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Tysons: Rob: Are you EVER going to stop taking questions today?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--after another couple of queries. (I did start almost 20 minutes late...)

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Bowie, Md.: I'm running Vista now. Is it necessary to defragment your hard drive or run scan disk like it was for Win98?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope.

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Rockville, Md.: Perhaps I am saying this to an unfriendly audience, but isn't technology supposed to make things easier? It just seems that the more gadgets we get, the more problems we run into. We get computers that crash or get infected, phones that are only designed to work on 1 network so that if you want to switch you have to name your first born Verizon to get out of a contract, or you end up with a mess of wires in the back of the TV to get the DVD working with the HDTV? It just seems life is more hassled than ever, rather than less. Am I just having a bad day?

40-something Dad that used to be on the latest stuff

Rob Pegoraro: You might be having a bad day, but that doesn't mean your complaint isn't valid. Too many tech products are made for a technical audience--the developers assume the customers are themselves developers.

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Hudsonville, Mich.:1. My USB ports are all filled up and I'm wondering what I should look for in a USB hub....many people say the hubs they buy are too light, cheapo, etc., and I'd like to get one that will work out well for plugging in my digital camera, iPod, other devices. (This is for an iMac)

2. My daughter's MacBook is great, but the fan seems to run a lot. Do you recommend some type of a cooling pad to set this laptop on? (she uses it in her dorm room primarily)

Rob Pegoraro: There's nothing special about USB hubs--buy whatever one you like. If you're the tinkering type, you can even make your own: http://www.instructables.com/id/EVE2DG1FJFES9J4LYE/

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wash dc: just bought a new Mac. I need to run one windows based program. only one. what would suggest as to putting windows on this new mac?

Rob Pegoraro: Just one? You might be a candidate for CodeWeavers' CrossOver, a program that runs Windows programs without needing a copy of Windows itself--it basically makes them think they're inside a PC, then translates their commands so that Mac OS X can work with them. There's a compatibility list at codeweavers.com you can check to see if the application in question should work in CrossOver.

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Rob Pegoraro: And now I really do have to clock out. Thanks for the great questions--see you here in a couple of weeks!

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