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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, September 6, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Sept. 6 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your personal tech questions and discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

The transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: I see a ton of questions about the iPod today. Was there some news that I missed? :)

I'll try to get to as many of those as I can, along with any other tech queries you may care to send my way. Let's get rolling...

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Drooling over the new iPods: I was in the market for a new iPod anyway, so this week's announcement is certainly good timing. But now I'm not sure about the new nano vs. the touch. WiFi would be nice, of course, but maybe not worth the extra expense and bulk. What do you think?

Rob Pegoraro: I've only seen/touched/used the new nano; the touch isn't finished yet, so Apple can't even say when this month it will arrive in stores. But I suspect that if you already have a cell phone that syncs to your computer and includes decent Web access, the touch will be a little redundant--even if the iPod touch's Safari mops the floor with any phone's Web browser.

I think the nano is in no danger of losing its status as "best-selling iPod"; if anything, I bet that a lot fewer people will even consider the full-sized iPod, now that the nano can play video as well as music.

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Dover, N.H.: Hi Rob, Any idea if Apple is going to do anything for those of us that paid the original (high) price for the iPhone? Lots of angry bloggers at the Apple web site feeling cheated. thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I've written up a little bit about this in a blog post that should be popping up momentarily. Short answer is, if you bought your iPhone within two weeks ago, you should be covered by Apple's price-protection policy. Otherwise... go into an Apple Store and ask--nicely--if the company can do anything for you. Quite a few readers have said that they've had Apple Store reps cut them a break when they've showed up in person to plead their case. I don't know that you'll get any results this time around--I've only seen one unconfirmed report of somebody getting a $100 refund--but it doesn't hurt to ask.

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What time is it?: I wish they'd stop trying to make iPods smaller and smaller. I really want a comically oversized one I can wear on a chain around my neck like Flava Flav's clock.

Rob Pegoraro: Haha. That'd be awesome. Cold lampin' with an iPod!

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Drumaville: Rob -- I found your recent piece on the lack of consistency with power chords to be timely and on-target. This is a ridiculous state of affairs for the electronics industry. Heck, I have two different Sony digital video cameras only about a year apart and they don't use the same plugs! What I wouldn't give for an adaptor that would work with a phone, video camera, DVD player and laptop, all of which I recently took on vacation.

Speaking of two many wires, is there such a device as a combination cable modem/wireless router? I have separate boxes for each and it's WAY too many wires.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a question about today's column--which I know *everybody* read before getting to the news about the new iPods. Right?

(crickets)

OK. Well, anyway--yes, I've seen many combination cable-modem/WiFi-router units in stores. Verizon also provides a combo modem/router for Fios customers. Are there any DSL modems that include WiFi? Not sure that I can think of any...

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Adelphi, Md.: Any idea what will be done with the stock of last-generation iPods? Any chance we may be able to get one at clearance prices? Apple never seems to put anything on sale.

Rob Pegoraro: I am kind of surprised not to see any of the old-gen iPods for sale on the online Apple Store. But check around at other retailers--they must have some leftover inventory to dump, so you should be able to find a deal at one place or another.

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Oakland, Calif.: Now that the iPhone has dropped a lot in price, I'm really jonesing for one, even though I promised myself that I'd wait until early 2008. Can you tell me all of the bad things about it, to help me decide if I still really want it or not despite all of that?

Rob Pegoraro: You're asking me to compete with the Steve Jobs RDF (Reality Distortion Field). That's a tall order!

The biggest objection I hear from most people--myself included--is the carrier attached to the iPod. AT&T's coverage around D.C. is not so hot. I don't know how it is in the Bay Area, but you should ask around among AT&T-using friends.

One of my initial complaints about the iPod, FWIW, is now being resolved: Thanks to the work of a lot of diligent hackers, it's now pretty easy to add your own programs to an iPhone. (I won't be even a little surprised when Apple makes adding extra software a normal, supported feature.)

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Mt. Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: So if the new iPod Touch has WiFi and Internet access, why didn't Apple include their email client Mail? Would that have been stepping to far into the iPhones territory? Just curious.

Rob Pegoraro: I asked Apple that in the interview I had earlier today, and the answer was basically "product differentiation"--the iPhone is supposed to be a complete Internet communicator, while the iPod touch treats Web browsing as more of a nifty extra.

In other words: "because."

I wonder how long it will take for the iPhone hackers (see previous question) to start adding new apps to the iPod touch as well.

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Bethesda, Md.: I've been doing my own testing of universal chargers since getting my new MacBook; it obsoleted my Targus charging accessories which were very similar in concept to the iGo line: buy $10-15 tips for every device.

I've ended up with a BoxWave VersaCharger PRO which has a USB port on it and can plug into a wall (110/220V auto-switching), car or plane outlet. Since my devices either have mini-USB charging ports (Palm, Motorola phone) or come with USB cables (hands-free, iPod) I don't have to buy a new proprietary $10 tip every time I buy a new device. Worst case I may have to buy a new USB charging cable which might approach $10 in cost. I also tested plugging multiple USB devices into the BoxWave through an unpowered hub and it could charge two devices at once! (I should note that one of these devices I tested with was my hands-free headset, with low power consumption during recharge) And if I ever replace the BoxWave with something else or if it breaks, the cables are still usable unlike all those old Targus tips I bought.

One peculiarity I noticed, though, is some high-current devices like Palm PDA's and Motorola phones will not work on the BoxWave with a standard USB cable--you have to use a special cable that BoxWave makes to charge those devices. My 1G iPod nano works on it with the cable it came with.

While researching for my USB charging setup I found this link to be quite helpful.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the mini-review! Very helpful stuff...

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Alexandria, Va.: A few months ago I bought a 40" Sony XBR HDTV. While it's the greatest thing ever, there is one odd thing happening with it.

Occasionally when a graphic appears on a telecast, it is accompanied by an odd clunking sound. It only happens once in a great while and it seems to be when a graphic quickly flashes on and off the screen. Any ideas what is going on?

Rob Pegoraro: You should call up Sony and ask if there isn't a firmware update available for the TV. Don't laugh--HDTV sets have a lot of computing circuitry inside, so many of them allow for software updates that might fix the issue.

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Miami Dade, Fla.: does navigating with a macbook/intel limited user account equal a similar PC protection? Thank you for your excellent column.

Rob Pegoraro: No--when using a Mac as a regular user, you're only asked to authorize computer operations that would affect core system files. Because Mac OS X separates OS X itself from applications--and also walls off both the system and apps from your own data and settings--normal applications can usually be installed by dragging their icon to the Applications folder.

In Vista, you have to authorize Ever. Single. Program. Install. There's no guidance on whether one installer is going to monkey with more of your system than another. You can't get any smarter about how to tell a good program from malware in this system.

I think you can guess which approach I prefer.

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Beltsville, Md.: Rob Pegoraro: "Are there any DSL modems that include WiFi? Not sure that I can think of any..."

When I got DSL with Verizon they provided (for free I think, some sort of special), a Westel DSL modem with on-board Wi-Fi. And yes, I have DSL, not FiOS.

Rob Pegoraro: Interesting. Thanks, Beltsville.

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washingtonpost.com: Faster Forward: Digging Into Apple's News

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Falls Church, Va.: I handle tech support for my great-aunt's PC. I just upgraded her from Win 98SE to a newer computer running Win XP Pro. I set myself up an account with administrator powers and set her up as a limited user.

I then forgot and tried to install the printer while I was in her account, and it gave me an error message telling me that she lacked the privileges to do that. I clicked OK, then switched accounts and installed the printer from my account.

The problem is that now she gets the same error message whenever she boots up. Windows seems to think she's still trying to install the printer from her account. Her account recognizes the printer and can print, so no problem there. How do I clear whatever is causing this error message to recur?

Rob Pegoraro: Another question on this issue...

I'd switch her account to admin mode, complete the install in her account, then switch her back to a limited user. A lot of printer drivers seem to feature really shabby workmanship, in terms of complying with the rules of the road in Windows or Mac OS X.

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob, My 12-year-old has been saving for a laptop for years and currently has around a $1200 budget. He had his heart set on an Alienware, but is starting to realize it might take him until his HS graduation to save enough to afford one. If you were going to recommend the best laptop bang for the buck in that price range, what would you tell him? Beefy specs are more important to him than size or aesthetics.

Rob Pegoraro: When I see "wants an Alienware laptop," I think "wants to play a lot of games." And it's going to be really hard to find a game-compatible machine at that price, I think.

I wrote "I think" because in my recent laptop guide, I steered clear of trying to give advice to gamers--I wanted to focus on mainsteam use. Any advice for this 12-year-old?

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Front Royal, Va.: Thanks for your columns and discussions. Is there another "smart" phone other than the iphone that is wifi capable? And when I say wifi I mean non-proprietary wifi such as one would find in a coffee shop. I'm not interested in paying $60 per month just to occasionally check my email.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes--look at the Windows Mobile phones carriers offer. Many of them now include built-in WiFi that works with any old network.

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Madison, Wis.: Rob, thanks for your great column.

I know you have written about this before, but how can I move contents of DVD's (movies and TV shows) to my computer's hard drive? Is this illegal even if I have purchased the DVD's and can produce receipts for the same? Thanks in advance.

Rob Pegoraro: I recommended Handbrake (handbrake.m0k.org) before in this space and stand by that recommendation. As for legality--IANAL, but at worst you're violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act under one interpretation of it. I would also note that I haven't heard of anybody being prosecuted or sued for this kind of private ripping. (After all, nobody's getting ripped off here. You're making use of *your property.*) So go ahead, rip away.

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Washington, D.C.: I finally got a Wii, and I cannot stop playing it! It is the most amazing and intuitive gaming system I have ever laid eyes on, and I can't wait until WiiFit hits the market. I thought I was going to have trouble changing from an X/Y/Z/A/B/C/L/R-style controller to the Wiimote for traditional sports games, but it's so easy that I can't understand how I played games pressing all those buttons.

I thought PS3 was supposed to have the motion-control controllers, or am I imagining that? Is a motion-control upgrade coming for PS3 or XBox-360, or will it be another 5 years until the next generation systems come out?

Rob Pegoraro: Couldn't tell you about the future of the controllers for the Xbox or PS3--but, yeah, the Wii is an amazingly fun thing to play.

(Just remember to keep the controller's leash around your wrist, lest you pitch the thing into your new TV.)

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Sony Guy: I'm not laughing..I also have a BluRay disc player and I've received two software updates for that in the last four months.

Rob Pegoraro: How'd you install them? By burning a disc with the new software on it? Popping in a Memory Stick with the new software?

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Charleston, S.C.: Isn't the $200 price drop just another early-adopters fee? Every review I read said, yeah, it's cool, but $600 is A LOT to pay for a phone. And remember when the iPod photo first came out and it cost, like $900?

Rob Pegoraro: The iPod photo didn't cost that much, but it was much more expensive than any other iPod at the time. I wrote a column calling it a bit of a boondoggle, saying that I couldn't see paying much extra for photo viewing. That's exactly how it worked out--photo viewing became a "free" feature on any iPod with a screen (just as video viewing is now about to become "free" for new iPod buyers).

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Atlanta, Ga.: Is Handbrake Mac only?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, there's a Windows version also (which I need to try out again, since the program just got a fairly major update).

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Lorton, Va.: I have a Macbook with parallels. What kind of mouse you recommend I should buy? I plan to use lot of PC programs (two button mouse?). Thanks. Mo

Rob Pegoraro: The MacBook touchpad already has a right-click function built-in. Open System Preferences, click on Keyboard & Mouse, then click the Trackpad heading. Then click the checkbox next to "Place two fingers on trackpad and click button for secondary click."

If you'd prefer an external mouse, any USB rodent will work. You shouldn't even need to install any software--the right button and scroll wheel should function out of the box.

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Mac user: Hey Rob, can you recommend an external hard drive that is idiot-proof? I have a refurbished macbook and have yet to back up any of my files. I have many mp3, jpgs and word documents that I would hate to lose. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: My advice for anyone looking for an external hard drive to plug into a laptop: Spend a little extra on a "bus-powered" model that won't need to be plugged into the wall. With a Mac, get a drive that also includes a FireWire port; this way, you won't tie up either USB port.

I picked up a nice little LaCie external hard drive a while back with these features that's worked out pretty well so far.

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Chicago, Ill.: In the market for a 37in LCD. I like the Sharp AQUOS, but the Vizio seems too good to pass up for the price. Is the Vizio good enough or should I pay to play with the Sharp? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Not knowing the specifications (contrast ratio, refresh rate, etc.), I can't say for sure. Have you been able to make a side-by-side comparison of both sets tuned into the same program?

You should also check to see if the Vizio set includes a digital, or ATSC tuner--which it should.

One useful extra to look for: A memory-card slot or USB port on the TV, which will let you show your digital pictures without plugging in a laptop or any other digital tomfoolery.

(Yes, I was looking for an excuse to throw in that noun.)

Has anybody here faced this same decision recently?

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laptop buyer: I plan to buy a laptop soon and am confused about whether I should get a discreet graphics card or stick with Intel Santa Rosa's integrated graphics. I understand that I would get better battery life with the integrated graphics but faster video performance with a graphics card. I don't know how much of a difference it will make. Also, getting a graphics card will cost about $100 more.

I will not be playing games. I will use the laptop for web surfing, word processing, photo editing (red eye reduction, cropping, etc.) and maybe some basic video editing (transfer video from a Mini DV camcorder to the computer, delete the boring parts, and burn to DVD). I might occasionally watch a DVD. I plan to use Windows Vista with the Aero interface.

I'd welcome some advice from you and the readers!

Rob Pegoraro:"I will not be playing game." That makes the decision for you--the integrated graphics will be fine.

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Cambridge, U.K.: When is Leopard out?

Rob Pegoraro: Not yet. Apple says "October," but no specific date has been announced.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Dumb iPod question of the day: so the new ipod lets you surf the web and buy from the iTunes store and stuff. Do you have to buy some kind of service plan to do that?

Rob Pegoraro: It's only the iPod touch--again, not yet released--that can do that. You don't need a service plan, but you do need a WiFi signal from somewhere. It can be your own home network, it could be the next-door neighbor's, it could be the coffee shop around the corner or your school's network.

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Tina in Falls Church- firmware: I have a Toshiba HDTV, bought with the collective wisdom of you guys...I was told if a firmware update is needed I have to bring the tv to the shop. Belmont said the updates are not provided to the customers, only to the dealers. Belmont's service contract does not cover this situation. Mine is 36 in, it would not be a problem to haul it in but whet if it was a really BIG one. Yikes. Tina

Rob Pegoraro: That's an annoying way to distribute firmware updates. There's no reason to make the customer do that much extra work--on some new Samsung HDTVs, I'm told you only need to download the firmware updater to a USB flash drive, then plug that into the USB port on the back of the set.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, I have a Sharp 32" LCD TV that doesn't always recognize the HDMI connection from my Motorola digital cable box. Sometimes, the TV just stays dark, and I have to turn it off for at least 30 seconds to 1 minute, turn it on again, and hope that the connection is established.

Have you heard of this problem before? I have a bad feeling that if I call Sharp, they'll blame the cable box, and if I call RCN, they'll blame the TV...

Rob Pegoraro: Yes - it's called a "handshake error," when the source HDMI device doesn't initially recognize the receiving device as one that will obey its copying restrictions. (Yes, yet *another* example of DRM copy controls making a nuisance out of themselves.)

You should ask Sharp if they have any firmware updates for the TV... but I have this hunch that the problem is in the cable box.

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Phoenix, Ariz.: Why are dudes always playing games?

Rob Pegoraro: There are girl gamers too!

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Williamsburg, Va.: The PS3's controller is motion-sensitive; IIRC, its range of motion just isn't as extensive as the Wiimote.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the correction (following up on an earlier exchange here.)

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New to Mac: Hi, Rob - I bought a Macbook because I needed one for class you said if you're staying with PCs you have to go to Vista eventually. I like it, but it's really different and there's a learning curve.

Can you tell me how to switch my songs from my PC I-tunes to the Macbook? I tried burning CDs but the PC got locked up after a few, and doing it over the network doesn't bring all of the songs for some reason. Does iTunes put them in different locations on the hard drive? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Are you trying to bring over your entire iTunes library--star ratings, playlists, everything--or just the individual music files? The second scenario is easier, since you only need to drag the files out of iTunes' window onto a blank CD or DVD.

The other one... well, that would be a great Help File topic to research :) Thank you for the suggestion!

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Rockville, Md.: I just bought a 42" plasma, and I was debating the decision of Vizio (or so called low tier) TVs vs. name brand. I ended up getting a Samsung because I've have good experience with it and it wasn't too much more than the Vizio. I think Sharp Aquos is way overpriced so there is a big price difference with the Vizio. I'd suggest going name brand if its your primary set for watching DVDs, HD content, Xbox360/PS3, go lower tier if its for your bedroom or den. All that really matters is that it looks good to you and that it has a ATSC/NTSC/QAM tuner.

Rob Pegoraro: Appreciate the input, Rockville.

(QAM is a term for a basic digital-cable tuner; you can't get premium channels with a QAM tuner, but unencrypted channels should come through fine without a cable box.)

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I waited: to buy an iPhone (thankfully) and I'm still waiting, on the advice of a friend who indicated that the slow AT&T web connection was due, in part, to the lack of "3g" streaming technology (I may have butchered the phraseology, sorry).

Can you explain what is the enhanced benefit an iPhone having 3g technology would provide?

Rob Pegoraro: You'd have a much faster Internet connection. The iPhone maxes out at maybe twice dialup speeds, but 3G is more like entry-level DSL--300 kbps or so.

For that, however, you'll need to wait for the next major revision of the iPhone. 3G support isn't something you can add with a firmware update.

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Arlington, Va.: Any idea when the new iPod shuffles will be out for sale? I'm excited to look at their new colors.

Rob Pegoraro: The online Apple Store says the new shuffle "ships within 24 hours," and I think Apple said before that it should be in stores by this weekend. (The colors, if you haven't seen them yet, are a set of pastel-ish hues: purple, green, aqua. They remind of the M&Ms sold around Easter time.)

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U street DC: I need help! My nearly 3 year old PC laptop, with Windows XP, has been warning me for the last few weeks that I have "very low disk space" and that I need to delete unnecessary files/programs. I've done that countless times. I've uninstalled programs that I didn't use often and deleted large files. The message tells me I need to clear 20 MB of space, which I've done countless times. But I still get the message daily, and don't know what to do. This "very low disk space" means that there is no room to download anymore CDs into iTunes or install any new programs on my computer, which is very frustrating.

Do you, or anyone else, know what's wrong with my computer? Since it's nearly three years old, it's obviously no longer under warranty. And being a recent college grad with a new job, I'm not really in the position to buy a new computer. Help, please?!

Rob Pegoraro: There's nothing "wrong" with the computer, it just has too much junk stored on the drive. See this post on my blog for a link to an old Help File item on cleaning up a cluttered drive: Help File's greatest hits

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Tampa, Fla.: At what point will my G4 TiBook become obsolete, especially with OS 10.5? Mine is a 667 mHz G4, ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics card, with 768 mb RAM. I can go up to 1 gb of RAM. It has USB 1 and FireWire 400 connections; no USB 2. I have no plans to buy an iPod. I don't do video editing or similar memory-intensive software. It seems to work fine with OS 10.4.10. Apple Care replaced the hard drive about 2 years ago.

Rob Pegoraro: A gigabyte of memory might not be enough for Leopard--but I won't know for sure until I've had the chance to throw Leopard on an older Mac with that kind of memory onboard.

Otherwise, I don't see anything that's going to force you to retire your PowerBook (not least considering what you do with the computer). The lack of USB 2.0 is the biggest flaw the machine has now, but it seems like you've been able to work around that.

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Glen Allen, Va.: When I got a firmware update for my Sony 42" Grand WEGA, they sent a guy out with a USB flash-drive; he opened up a panel in the back and followed some written instructions about power cycling and that was it. That was during the warranty period, not sure what they'd do for me now.

Rob Pegoraro: Seems like an expensive way for Sony to provide firmware updates--but I suppose that I'd rather have a technician do the work if there's any chance that the new firmware might brick the TV.

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New York, N.Y.: Ron, cheaper or not, iPhone lacks a search function. Why should the creator of Spotlight on the Mac failed to provide this? Any thought of providing same? jack

Rob Pegoraro: Who's this Ron guy you're trying to talk to?

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Rhode Island: Hi Rob, I recently had an aux input adapter installed in my new (used) car, which lacked an aux jack and cassette deck.

Sound quality for music and audiobooks is OK but not great. The podcasts, however, are just awful. Sound quality is terrible, and even with the nano's volume turned all the way up and the car radio's volume turned all the way up, I can barely hear the podcast while I'm driving.

I've gone into iTunes and adjusted the volume setting upward, but it hasn't helped. These are NPR podcasts, not home-grown ones, so I'm assuming the initial quality is good.

I love catching up on NPR shows during my commute, so this is a big disappointment for me. Do you or your readers have any advice? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: This is a strange one. If you don't hear any difference in sound volume over headphones connected to the iPod, there has to be some glitch in the new aux input. Have you showed this problem to whoever put the aux input in?

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: Explain to me again why Palm thought it would be a good idea to spin off their software arm into a different company.

Rob Pegoraro: Worst. Decision. Ever.

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Springfield, Va.: To the parent of the 12-year-old saving for a laptop. You should ask him what matters more: Games or portability?

If he says 'games' then he should get a desktop and focus on the graphics card. (Over the processor, even.) If he says portability he should be prepared to get a laptop that's simply "ok" at gaming (But one that has a bright screen and long battery life).

He'll pay a lot more to get something that does all things well. That's great if he can afford it, but since he can't he needs to choose between portability or top-of-the-line hardware. He can't have both at those prices.

Putting the question to him that way may help him focus his choices. Most kids try to get the best they can afford and end up with a computer that's solidly average across the board. (And I don't mean that as a compliment.)

I find it better to put your money towards the feature you need most at the expense of other features you don't care as much about. Hopefully this advice will help him find options in his price range.

Rob Pegoraro: Good advice. Thanks, Springfield!

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Annandale, Va.: Just got this message on my V-Cast Verizon phone: Verizon Wireless Update. Due to your recent calling plan change, you need to dial -228, press Send and select option 2." Legit or should I disregard?

Rob Pegoraro: It's legit. Dialing *228 is the standard way to update a Verizon phone with the latest coverage info.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What's your take on how the issue of open access to new fiber-optic lines will come out? I was pretty depressed to see on the front page of the Post recently that Japanese customers pay as much for fiber-optic service as I do for DSL and get 50 to 75 times the speed. The Post article pointed out the role of competition in driving down prices and increasing speed in Japan and other markets.

washingtonpost.com: Japan's Warp-Speed Ride to Internet Future

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, that was a fascinating story. Well worth setting aside some time to read this afternoon.

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Transferring iTunes: I just had to transfer my iTunes library to another computer (Mac-to-Mac in my case). I was able to do it fairly easily using iTunes's "Back up to Disc" feature under the File menu. You need to have the latest version of iTunes to do this. All the music files and extraneous data are backed up to as many CD or DVD as needed. If you have a big library, be sure to have lots of discs on hand--the largest capacity DVDs that your computer will burn. Once you have it backed, as soon as you insert the first disc in the computer you're transferring to, iTunes will as if you want to restore the library and takes it from there. I did have to manually copy my playlists (a simple export/import) to finish the job.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's the Mac-to-Mac procedure for transferring an entire iTunes library. Anybody with Windows-to-Mac or Mac-to-Windows advice?

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Rockville: Rob, I got Verizon DSL, which says it requires Windows to run.

My PC has two hard drives, and I can boot up in either Windows (2k) or Linux (Ubuntu) by telling the BIOS which drive to boot.

I had to use Windows to initially set up the account. But now that it's set up, I've been able to use it in Linux. Is this because my Windows drive is still active on the PC, even when I have Linux booted? Or once the account was initialized is there really no difference which OS I get onto the account with?

Rob Pegoraro: There is nothing Windows-specific about Verizon DSL--or anybody's DSL. I've heard from plenty of people who happily use their Vz DSL with a Mac or Linux setup.

Where, exactly, does Verizon say that you need Windows?

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Bettendorf, Iowa: I guess I'm one of the few people who never upgraded to SP2 for Windows XP. I have a firewall and anti-virus software that seem to be doing the job and I was reluctant to introduce the possibility of aggravation which often accompanies upgrades from Microsoft. I have recently received the SP2 upgrade on CD and I was wondering just how easy it would be to go ahead and "just do it". Would I have to endure all the updates issued since SP2's introduction? Is there any other advantage to SP2 beyond firewall and virus protection? I'd appreciate hearing any suggestions anyone could offer. Bob

Rob Pegoraro: Just do it. Seriously. SP2 makes an enormous difference in security. Plus, a lot of newer programs won't install at all unless you're running SP2.

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Centreville, Va.: I am assembling photos, documents and scanned memorabilia to burn onto a DVD-RAM. Do you think there will be software and hardware available thirty years from now to read JPG on DVD-RAM? What about bitmap and other formats? Visualize grandchildren finding this in a shoe box under the bed. CS

Rob Pegoraro: Don't use DVD-RAM--it's the least-compatible recordable DVD format out there. Use either DVD-R or DVD+R, both of which can be read by just about any computer or DVD player in existence.

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Farragut Park, D.C.: Rob, What are the advantages and disadvantages of variable bitrate vs. constant bitrate for song files? I'm mostly thinking about computer memory needs and music quality, with a wide range of music styles.

Rob Pegoraro: Variable bitrate is more efficient; the computer will save more space for a complex passage instead of trying to fit each second of music into the same allotment of data. But it's not going to guarantee better sound: a high fixed bit-rate encoding will still sound better than a VBR encoding at a lower quality level.

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Laurel: Rob, where do you think the demise (if it was that) of the Palm Foleo leaves the prospects for an ultra-basic laptop?

There's been a lot of talk this summer about alleged knock-offs of the "One Laptop Per Child" coming to market soon, that were supposed to feature flash memory but haven't come on-line yet.

OTOH, I've seen ads this back-to-school season for mainstream Windows laptops for as little as $300 (more commonly $4-500) and if those could be re-fitted with Linux they might cost $50 less.

Which direction do you see the sub-notebook market going; and do you think we'll see them this year?

Rob Pegoraro: The most promising machine left in that category seems to be the Asus Eee PC, a $200 (!) Linux-based ultralight. I've sent in a query to Asus's PR department to see when I can try out one.

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Milpitas, Calif.: In an RV campground last week, we tried to access their wifi and found that our laptop would not hold onto the signal. Tried each of their three channels. It works fine with the SBCGlobal DSL LAN at home. When I asked at the office, the manager confidently (even glibly) asked how old the computer is. I told him it's about 6 years old -- a Gateway 5300 running Windows 2000 with a Netgear after-market wifi card. He said "That's the problem -- your computer is too old. This wifi is brand new, and is just delivering too much too fast for it." He suggested making sure that nothing else was running, and turning off any firewall. Note that he did NOT try to sell me a new system..... Sounds to me like he was just parroting what a salesman/installer told HIM. Comments?

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah, my hunch is that the IT guy at your office was reciting some marketingspeak. The problem is more likely to be in whatever software you had to add to Win 2000 to get the Netgear card to work.

Remember what I said about the quality of printer drivers? I'm not that happier with the state of add-on WiFi software. One of the first things I do on any Windows laptop is get rid of it to use just the simpler Windows interface.

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Handbrake install question: I get this message when I try to install:

Handbrake cannot be installed on systems with .NET framework version smaller than 2.0. I'm running XP pro

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like you've got the 1.0 or 1.1 .Net framework. Hit Microsoft's Web site and download the 2.0 release.

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external hd: Hey Mac User, I second the LaCie recommendation, just make sure that you read the about section so that you know the command to back up your files when plugged in. Will save you a few minutes of confusion.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Springfield, Mass.: I'm aware that there's a chicken and egg factor regarding covering Linux but coverage does beget usage and not everyone who wants more from their Operating System can afford the upgrade to Vista. Also, including (more) free software other than just FireFox when reviewing software would be providing a further service to your reader. regards

Rob Pegoraro: I have, in fact, covered Linux many times--I reviewed Ubuntu 6.06 in my column last summer. (And I would have had a review, either on the blog or in the print column, of one of Dell's new Ubuntu-equipped laptops if that company's flacks could have ever shipped one to me.)

Besides Firefox, I've also reviewed and continue to recommend Thunderbird, Pidgin, Audacity and VLC player, among quite a few others. I don't mean to be completely snarky here... but are you sure you didn't have some other tech columnist in mind?

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Chicago: I have a new MacBook Pro and cannot access many videos from sites such as CNBC, MSNBC. I have been to the Apple store for help; they installed Flip4Mac and Firefox. Still no luck.

Rob Pegoraro: Not sure what's going on with your machine--the MacBook on the desk, which doesn't even have Flip4Mac installed, is playing back video from CNN and MSNBC in Safari as I type this.

Do you have the latest version of the Flash plug-in? That's the only other thing I can think of. Visit adobe.com/flashplayer to fix that.

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Ivins, Utah: I am still enjoying your column, even after moving from Virginia. I have about 146 folders on my C: drive under Windows with names like -- $NtUninstallbasecsp$

Are these old files from Windows update? Is it OK to delete them? Many thanks, Jim

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. (The Help File link I posted before has details on that.)

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Reston, VA - Ipod Touch - 8GB ????: What is Apple thinking? I could understand if it was not a video Ipod but come on, who in their right mind decided that having an 8GB option and a 16GB option was adequate for something that takes video? First of all if its similar to the iPhone you lose .75 of GB on the OS. Now on my video ipod my hour long tv shows are about 1GB each and movies are about 2GB each. What a mistake on their part.

I have an 80GB that is nearly full so there's no way its feasible for me to get one even though I love how it looks!

Also, what have you heard about the iPhone 2.0 or whatever they want to call the next release? It seems to me a price slash is the first step in a new product coming out say for the holidays.

Rob Pegoraro: I highly doubt that we'll see a new iPhone before 2008. As for the capacity--well, that's why they also sell a 16 GB version. And you just know they'll have a 32-gig model by next summer.

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Power Adaptor Nuisance: This is my third LG phone from Verizon, and each charger has been different. Ridiculous. Also, I somehow managed to lose my power adaptor for my 2005 Canon printer, and the Canon store does not have a replacement ... if only companies were forced to standardize these things...

Rob Pegoraro: Agreed.

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iPOD TOUCH: OK, so I really want one but would prefer to get a second generation version over a first generation model. How does someone figure out when they will issue a 2nd generation version of a product? Do you just wait and see or is there a website that tracks the development of Apple products once there out in the marketplace?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes: http://www.macrumors.com/buyersguide/

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Planning on Moving to Mac: Even though I've been a longtime PC user, I'm ready to make the switch and buy a Mac laptop. I'm just a home user, so I think one of the basic Macbooks will be fine, but is there a "best time" to buy? Do you see prices going down at all in the next year or so?

Rob Pegoraro: Either the prices will drop or the speed/capacity/features of Apple's computers will go up. That ALWAYS happens. There is no best time, although the buyers' guide link I just posted can offer some guidance on what the worst times might be.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, I know Mike Musgrove wrote about Apple and the new products but I want your take. I think the iPod touch looks great! I have a 1st gen iPod Nano and an old Palm Tunsten E that are both slowly dying - I've been putting off replacing them but the iPod touch seems like a great option to combine them into one - and finally I can stop using the Palm software on my Macbook. The only thing it doesn't seem to have is a place to write up Notes - like what is available on the iPhone. I see the iPod touch as having all the benefit of a PDA for someone who wants a basic PDA (calendar and contacts) but also allows us to use it for music and the the like.

Am I missing anything?? I can't wait until they arrive in stores so I can play with it before buying!

Rob Pegoraro: No, you actually sound like the kind of person Apple might have had in mind when it designed the Touch. FWIW, I expect somebody to offer a third-party note-taking app for the iPod touch before long.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a question about the iPhone's email, and I guess other handheld's email. If you get email over the phone, is the email still stored on the original server? So if I get an email on the phone, can I still go to the internet from my desktop later and see that email, or is the email permanently only on the phone? Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: The e-mail is kept on the server unless you delete it--but even then, it may stay in an online trash can, depending on how your account's set up.

(Technical digression starts here: The iPhone is geared towards accounts that run on a standard called IMAP, which is about a million times better suited for access from multiple locations than the POP standard that most mail accounts still run on. It continues to amaze me how many providers don't offer IMAP accounts, even as an option.)

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Ijamsville, Md.: Rob, any idea what is up with Quicken for Mac? New 2008 versions only for PC. Any chance the next Mac version will be full-featured and compatible with PC quicken files?

Rob Pegoraro: Knowing Intuit: No.

At this point, I'm just hoping that either a third-party program will step up--iBank looks promising, but it needs some kind of one-setup account-download function--or that Apple will decide that it's sick of Intuit's garbage and write its own personal-finance program.

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Northern Virginia: Having a debate with a friend ... did Apple come out with a new iPhone, or just lower the price on the one that came out in June?

Rob Pegoraro: Just lowered the price.

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Philadelphia: Probably a stupid question, but -- I have a Dell laptop and like the ability to move around the house with it, but recently have been looking at real estate listings and would like a monitor like I have in the office. Can I buy a monitor and hook it up to the laptop so that when I am in a certain space I could use that for my screen? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Absolutely: Just plug it into the blue VGA connector on the laptop.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: Why do you spend so much time discussing Linux and free programs? Some of us aren't charity cases, you know.

Rob Pegoraro: I just can't win here!

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Winnipeg, Canada: Burning Question: My sony DVD burner on a Windows 2000 machine works just fine using NERO with -R disks, but I just bought a pack of +R's without paying attention and every one I've tried, about five, has failed to complete and close successfully, though the burn itself seems to work -- should I look at changing a setting, returning the discs (unlikely this will be accepted) or just never get +R again?

Rob Pegoraro: Most older burners only worked with particular kinds of recordable DVDs--either they only took DVD-R and DVD-RW blanks, or they required DVD+R or DVD+RW.

So, yeah, you should stick to DVD-R or DVD-RW as long as you have that drive in service.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I put a Firefox extension on on my computer (Verizon Minutes Used Firefox extension) that lets me know what minutes I have left on my cell phone. It worked very well for a while then it stopped showing the minutes. I did the update and tried to see my minutes but kept getting a message that it could not get my minutes. I contacted the person who did the program and they wanted my password to run a check on the program. I did not give him the info because my financial info is tied so this account that I pay online. However, I do not see this program in add/remove programs and am wondering how I can remove it from my computer.

Rob Pegoraro: Go to Firefox's Tools menu, select Add-ons, select this plug-in, and click the Uninstall button.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I'm getting ready to buy a DVD recorder, and I have a couple of questions. First, is there anything I should be looking for--format, features, etc.? I'm not really familiar with these machines. Second, is it possible to record output from a VCR onto a DVD? I have a lot of tapes that I want to convert, but I don't particularly want a VCR/DVD recorded combo. Oh, and if you happen to know if it's possible to record from a Tivo receiver onto a DVD, that would be great. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: The most important feature to look for is a digital, ATSC tuner--the DVD recorder can be a backup to your cable or satellite if it goes out. (Although in Gaithersburg, I'd expect that you'd need a rooftop antenna to pull in any digital broadcasts.) Also, make sure this recorder can upconvert standard DVDs to near-high-definition.

Copying any non-commercial tape to DVD is no problem, but most movies come with "Macrovision," a form of copy block that scrambles any recording.

To transfer recordings from your TiVo to DVD, just run audio and video cables from the TiVo's outputs to the DVD recorder's inputs. Then press "play" and "record" on each device's remote.

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Pittsburgh: the person planning on switching to Mac should watch the Apple Store's "Special Deals" page-- it usually has the just-replaced hardware at reduced prices. We got our eMac there a couple of years ago and an iMac this summer.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the link...

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Rob Pegoraro: And that's going to wrap things up for today. Thanks for keeping me busy! I should be back here in a couple of weeks; in the meantime, stay tuned to blog.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward for the latest ramblings from yours truly.

- R

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