Personal Tech

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, October 18, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Oct. 18 at 2 p.m. ET to answer your personal tech questions and discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

The transcript follows.


Rob Pegoraro: hi. am typing this chat frm my new smartphone. its working alright, except I cant figure out how to get the apostrphe to work

[just kidding]

Hello. What's on your minds today?


Washington, D.C.: My two-year Verizon contract expires this December. Each month the call and write asking me to renew right now. Each month the offer gets a little better. I always say that I am evaluating other vendors. Anyone know what deal I can get if I wait until the very end.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you definitely want to wait until you're out of the contract entirely. Then you should shop around, see what you'd pay at another carrier, and see if Verizon can beat that.

Or just go month-to-month until you have a good reason to switch or re-up. I'm in that status with Verizon now, and it's a pretty good feeling--like it's finally me that's in charge of this relationship.


Chicago, Ill.: How do you recharge your electronics when traveling abroad? Is a voltage/plug converter set enough to make sure they don't get fried?

Rob Pegoraro: In almost every case, you should only need a set of plug converters. But you might not even need that--you've got decent odds of finding a universal outlet in a hotel room's bathroom to recharge a shaver.


Philadelphia, Pa.: My ipod (30G video) has stopped sending sound to the right ear bud, unless i press against the spot where the headphones plug in. It's definitely not a problem with the ear buds, since I bought a new pair and the problem continued. Any thoughts on why this is happening and whether or not it can be fixed?

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah, that looks like an iPod-specific ailment to me. You might have some dirt or dust preventing the headphone jack from working... but I really don't know what the cause might be, or a cure for it. Any suggestions?


Eureka, Calif.: Why are there so few Video Recorders with Hard drives any more (DVR's)? I bought a Panasonic about 4 years ago and I fear that is will fail at some point and there is no replacement on the horizon. I don't want to pay $5 a month to a satellite or cable company to "rent" their machine.

Rob Pegoraro: That's bizarre, isn't it? These days, about your only choice is to get a TiVo recorder--then pay $18/month for the TiVo service. Or, if you're technically inclined enough, you could set up a home theater PC and use that as your DVR.

I'm told that DVRs with hard drives are, however, still widely sold overseas, but vendors somehow don't think that U.S. customers won't appreciate them. (Sort of like how car manufacturers seem unable to grasp that U.S. buyers might like hatchbacks in larger-than-econobox sizes, if I can borrow one of my colleague Warren Brown's occasional rants.)


Frederick, Md.: Regarding the new Zunes announced recently, MS is obviously not giving up the fight. But what is their end game? It still amazes me I have never, EVER seen a Zune in the wild. With their new releases essentially still a generation behind Apple, do they really deep down think they can some day rise to the top of the market, or will they -gasp- settle for rising to a strong no. 2? Why, for example, couldn't MS have been the first to put a 16GB flash-player on the market? You know, out-Nano the Nano? Just SOMEthing to make people take notice.

Rob Pegoraro: Microsoft has told me more than once that for now, they're just trying to be a strong number-2 player in the market. But I don't see how that fits into a long-term strategy either: Microsoft can't make much money off the Zune Marketplace, the Zunes themselves don't sell in sufficient quantity to generate much profit either, and it's not going to do anything to make Windows Media Audio a standard format as long as MP3 and AAC continue to mop the floor with WMA.

From this perspective, the Zune seems like an expensive hobby for the folks in Redmond.


Chicago, Ill.: Hi Rob, Is there an easy and cheap way to create a Web site that contains all my bookmarks with - and this is key - some kind of image of the home page of that site? So it'd be a text link next to an image of the front page of that site.

To be crystal clear, I'm talking about something that looks like this:

But instead of news, I can link to any Web page I want and instead of pictures, I could see small versions of that page's Home Page.

Does this sound nuts to you? I'd really love a simple interface that's online to get to my bookmarks.

Rob Pegoraro: There are bookmark managers that do that--in fact, I think the latest version of Opera has one built-in. [checking] Yup, it's called Speed Dial:

Only works with nine sites, though.


Not Cupertino: When Apple released the iPhone in June, some nicknamed it the "Jesus Phone." I can see why now. In my life I've never seen more gnashing of teeth and rending of hair over a single gadget. What gives, Rob?

Steve Jobs finally laid to rest the conspiracy theory that Apple would never allow third-party software for the iPhone because they were too money grubbing to give up precious real estate on the touch screen. It couldn't have been because the phone was still under development, still evolving and Apple want to offer a solid, stable, secure platform for developers. No way.

Oh, yeah, and Apple bricking iPhones just to be nasty towards anyone who had the temerity to void their warranty with a hack job. You know, I've never once thought of hacking my Sprint Samsung phone so it can work on Verizon or use another music service other than Sprint's. Are folks hacking their PS3 so they'll play HD-DVD's as well as BlueRay?

And now the flood of law suits. Jeez, indeed! Apple and AT&T guilty of monopolistic practices? Last I heard there were scads of other phones and providers available on the free market. Is the iPhone such an commodity that it must have an open service plan to satisfy the massive demand? Oh, and now it's toxic, too.

I know Apple is not infallible but the company certainly can't please everyone and honestly, it doesn't have to. It's just a phone, folks--granted, the best and coolest phone every made--but it's still a PHONE! Get over it. Move on.

End of rant.

Rob Pegoraro: Actually, people have been hacking their cell phones to do unauthorized things with them for years--they just haven't wound up in the headlines the way iPhone hackers have.

There's also some serious irony in Apple trying to stop people from playing around with a phone--Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak spent a fair amount of time in their youth hacking the Bell System in one way or another. Woz's autobiography has some fascinating stories about that.


Washington, D.C.: I have waited for a long time for a decently small smartphone on Verizon's service. Now it looks like the Pearl is coming out in a few weeks. Should the problems you found with RIM's software keep me from getting one? I am not sure the Motorola Q is a better option, and even that is substantially larger than the Pearl. What do you think?

Rob Pegoraro: The Pearl looks flashier than the 8820, and its home screen looks considerably nicer. But once you get past that, the software is the same as what you get on the 8820.

I would suggest the Q myself, except that it doesn't come with a notepad program of any sort. (Hello?!)


Pittsburgh, Pa.: How's the Centro as a phone that you hold up to your head and talk? I'm still using my Kyocera 7135 because I didn't like talking to people on a treo (hard to hear them, lots of background noise). I hate the bluetooth headsets, so I want a smartphone that you can still use to, you know, talk on the phone.

Also, any news about Sprint rolling it's home cell station (Airave, I think) widely? My home cell reception stinks.

Rob Pegoraro: The Centro feels and sounds fine, AFAICT. OTOH, I also can't remember getting any complaints when calling people from my Treo.

As for the home cell station, I saw it demoed at Sprint's tech summit in Tysons in August, but my notes don't include a ship date any more specific than "sometime"


Fairfax, Va.: (I am not sure my question was transmitted, so here it is again.) My 14-year-old is looking for a small laptop that would handle photo downloading, word processing, as well as just the IMing and research online. How big of a memory do I need to look for? She found an EccPC by Asus, that has 512 megabytes of memory. It has the linux operating system. Any thoughts of Asus products? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: The Asus Eee PC laptop sounds really neat--I'm waiting to get a review unit that I can try out. Until then, I can't say how well it would work... but if it's got the usual Linux software bundle, it should at least be able to handle the chores you outlined.

(For the uninitiated, the Eee is a 3-pound laptop that sells for $299 and runs entirely off flash memory--no hard drive included.)

Asus as a company has been a niche player in the laptop business for years, but people seem to think pretty highly of their stuff.


Rockville, Md.:"like it's finally me that's in charge of this relationship"

I'm a married male. What's the feeling of being in charge like?

Rob Pegoraro: I'll ask my wife about that...


Analogville, USA: Is Congress going to get its act together and force the FCC to delay the changeover to digital TV at least a year?

It's obvious that this isn't going well at all! As one of those Neanderthals who has only over the air and no money to waste on a new set of TV's or video recorders, I find the plan to give me $40 towards a $60 or more tuner a joke, plus I would only get two coupons.

And just where are the digital video recorders?

All I see is a conspiracy between the manufacturers, who are making a bundle selling incredibly expensive digital HDTV's and the advertisers, who will be forcing huge numbers to sit through their increasing minutes of ads to watch a program. Most hour shows now have 44 minutes or less of content. Much of daytime is 39 minutes!

Rob Pegoraro: Short answer: No.

Long answer: digital TVs are *not* incredibly expensive unless you go shopping for a 40-inch flat planel set. You can go into Best Buy today and walk out with a digital--but non-HD--CRT for $200 and change, maybe less. (I cite Best Buy because it recently stopped carrying analog TVs at all.)

The digital video recorders exist--check out my review of DVD recorders from this spring. The standalone tuners aren't there yet, but they will be soon enough. (Realistically, I don't see much of a market for them until we get closer to the deadline.)


New Carrollton, Md.: Hi. My portable, old-fashioned, Walkman died, so I guess it's time for me to join the technological revolution and buy an iPod. Any advice regarding specific model and accessories for a technologically-challenged person such as myself? Needs are minimal--would download very few songs and (somehow...) transfer less than 100 songs from CDs to the iPod. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Get the cheapest iPod nano available--the 4 GB, $150 model. (The shuffle is only $70 cheaper, and I think you'd enjoy being able to pick out a song from a list instead of just letting the player serve up whatever's next on the playlist.)


Washington, D.C.: Here's a highly unusual question I could use some help with: one of my company's employees is currently living working in China. We want to set him up with a BlackBerry, but we need to find out if the service will actually work over there (we know that a wireless data network is available, but we aren't sure that the transmissions from RIM to AT&T to the device will go through). Further complicating things is the fact that he will be taking trips to Pakistan and Kabul, Afghanistan, and he'd like to get email on the BlackBerry there, too.

I don't imagine you can give a complete answer offhand, but perhaps you could help us find some places to get started on figuring out what our options are.

Rob Pegoraro: I have no idea at all about RIM service there. I can tell you that both GSM and CDMA service is available in China--I was amused to see my Treo detect a signal at the airports in Beijing and Shanghai--but I couldn't tell you what BlackBerry service would cost.

But actually, *why* would this guy need a BlackBerry? When everybody in the U.S. might be sending him e-mail, he'll be asleep and vice versa.


Detroit, Mich.: Do you have any experience with the Apple USB modem? I know that it is principally for G4/G5/Intel Macs that lack a modem. However, the internal modem on my Emac (1.25 GHz) has died and I wondered if you know if it can work on such a computer that already has an internal modem. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No experience at all, but I don't see why it wouldn't work.


Arlington, Va.: Rob, I have two computers at home, a Dell desktop connected to a DSL modem and wireless router and a Dell laptop pointed to the router. I live in a townhouse community and when I check my wireless connection, it appears to be secure and I can also "see" the wireless signals of a half dozen or so of my neighbors.

Lately, my desktop Dell has given me pop up warnings that indicate that there are others using my setup. It happens sometimes if I am completely shutting down the computer (warning indicates that others connected to the computer may lose their work if I shut down), and I have had the computer mysteriously spring to life out of standby mode. Earlier this week, I was told that having some users log off would speed up my computer.

I am wondering if this is a case of a neighbor or several glomming off my wireless signal or a more nefarious intruder (which I suspect and worry it is). I'm running Norton Internet Security 2006 with a still-active antivirus subscription. Weekly full system scans have turned up no spyware or other suspicious indicators.

Other info: it has only happened on my desktop, never my laptop so far and only seems to happen when I have spent some time in IE 7.0. I use Foxfire 90 percent of the time, but some things still run better in IE, so I do use IE on occasion.

Thanks for any help you can provide and for running these great chats.

Rob Pegoraro: From your descriptions of those warnings, it actually sounds like the Dell is trying to say that other users are on *that computer alone.* It can be a scary thought, but you can get messages like those just from the interactions of Windows and some security programs... NIS 2006 being one of them, as I recall.


Washington, D.C.: Rob -- although Tivo is $16.95 at the highest price, if you commit to a period of years, you can get the price down to about $9/month.

As for why there are no DVRs, it's simple: cable cos. made them useless with a converter (too complex to set up the IR blaster, and refused to support cablecards). Then thet decided to rent you their own, which is much easier to use (but costs per month)

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for pointing out the multi-year TiVo discount.


Jacksonville, Fla.: What is the latest on the HD-DVD/BluRay format war? In addition to LG, has any other company stepped up to produce a player that will play both formats?

Rob Pegoraro: Samsung is working on one hybrid player.

The latest news I've seen was a fascinating story in the WSJ I read over lunch--some Blu-Ray-only titles are sold overseas in HD DVD format, which has led some HD DVD owners to buy them for their own use. Because HD DVD has no region codes (unlike DVDs and Blu-Ray discs), all they need to do is switch to the English-language soundtrack on these discs.


Washington, D.C.: Help. I bought a Creative Zen Micro Photo having previously purchased a Creative Zen Micro (both 8gb). The Photo comes only with a cable to charge it through my pc. My old Micro came with a power cord so I could charge it though a power outlet. They both take the same battery. Question: can I use the power cord that came with the Micro on the Micro Photo? Many thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Sure, why not? (Seriously: If it's the same connector on both devices, try using the old charger.)


Rockville, Md.: Do the online services have fair and open billing? I had a dust up with Yahoo because I got both my photo storage space and briefcase at the same time and thought both were canceled when they stopped doing photo storage. Then by surprise, they charged for another year. To their credit my money was restored. And I was told that I had to stop services to be sure I was not charged again. But what are the ethics of automatically taking money from credit cards every year? I had not used the service for more than a year. One computer magazine does it.

Rob Pegoraro: Why should online services be any different from offline services? You're going to see the exact same variation in business practices online and off... not that there's any meaningful distinction when most ground-based retailers have an online operation as well.


Seattle: With regard to your answer to the former Walkman owner, I'm a bit annoyed. I think we all benefit from more options in the marketplace. And iPod nano is certainly one option, yes, but a SanDisk Sansa is another, provides similar features and costs less. Plus, the person isn't tied to Apple's iTunes store and would then have the option of a subscription service.

I know the person asked for an iPod, but believe it or not, other non-iPod players provide (dare I say) better features at better value.

Rob Pegoraro: But "the person asked for an iPod." And I don't think competing devices provide a better value, or I would have said so at the end of one of the numerous comparisons I've done between iPods and non-iPod devices.

Look, the iPod hasn't gotten to 70-plus percent of the market--even though most of its users have had to install extra software to use it--by accident. There is no vast iPod conspiracy out there.


Arlington, Va.: Will digital tv have a signal that doesn't require cable or a satellite dish for decent reception? After 20 years, I've canceled my Comcast service and now I find that the only channel I can receive well is NBC 4. Will digital signals be any different? Or, will we still need another service simply to receive broadcast channels clearly?

Rob Pegoraro: In my experience--including frequent tests right in Arlington--I've found that digital-TV reception tends to be excellent. I have gotten a *far* better picture via digital than via analog--and I've done this while using the same cheapo antenna I bought 10 years ago as a backup for my cable service.


San Francisco, Calif.: I just got an iPhone as a gift (that I was very excited about) but as I start to use it, I'm getting disenchanted with a few things. First of all, the calendar function is awful -- it has no stand alone that I can sync to on my PC, since I only have Outlook on my work computer, and so there's no way to do anything but manually enter appointments. The worst part of that, though, is that when entering recurring appointments, there's no every four week function, only once a month! I have a lot of meetings that are scheduled every four weeks, and now I have to manually enter them each month, which is ridiculous.

Also, the keypad is horrible and takes a really long time to enter anything, since there are constant needs to backspace and fix errors. And I have really small hands! Have others complained about these issues? Do you think that Apple is going to have a fix for them?

Rob Pegoraro: The iPhone--like iPods--only syncs to Outlook calendars in Windows. (It can sync to an Outlook or Outlook Express address book.) It ought to sync with at least the Windows Calendar that comes in Vista... but I suspect that wouldn't help S.F. here.

The underlying problem is that Outlook has become the only way for people to keep their contacts and calendars coordinated in Windows. It's really pathetic that the only mainstream alternative to Outlook is Vista's calendar and address-book apps.

As for the iPhone keyboard: Try letting the iPhone's software fix your typos for you instead of going back to fix them yourself. A lot of iPhone users have called this "using the Force," and I think the comparison's apt--trust the phone, and it will do what you want. (As long as you're typing words in the dictionary or the iPhone's address book)


Washington, D.C.: Why do a significant minority of Firefox users seem intent on calling it "Foxfire?" I don't think I have ever seen another application's name misspelled so frequently.

Rob Pegoraro: You'd think that everybody still remembers the Clint Eastwood flick...

FWIW, I just checked it does, at least, point users to the Firefox site.


Washington, D.C.: I submitted the question regarding BlackBerry service overseas. Since submitting the question earlier today, I have learned the following:

- BlackBerry service is not available in Afghanistan

- BlackBerry service is available Pakistan

- BlackBerry service is available in parts of China, but apparently BlackBerry devices aren't sold there so you have to buy one elsewhere and then install a SIM card from China Mobile.

As for why our man in China wants this service, it's because he wants to be able to send and receive messages while traveling around the region, without bringing his laptop along. And his email traffic isn't all between the U.S. and China, so timeliness is a factor.

Rob Pegoraro: Anybody who was thinking about BlackBerrying from Bagram: Sorry, no dice.


Columbia, Md.: For the Hard Drive DVR. I recently replaced my Replay TV DVR with a standard Maxtor HD. I even upgraded from the 40GB old drive to a new 250GB drive. You can buy any hard drive (though Maxtor/Seagate is what's used in most all DVRs and Tivo) you just have to find the partitioning software online. There are a couple sites that walk you through how to do it. Or you can just buy one already formated for your particular DVR. Hope this helps.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks. The most popular DVR-hacking site that I can think of is one called (Weird name, I know.) My friend Anthony used them to upgrade his TiVo's hard drive years ago and was happy with the results.


Silver Spring, Md.: Coming in late this time...

I had the joy of stopping the Verizon Wireless shill by responding to the push for a "New every two" phone with the response "No thank you, I do not want a new contract right now."

The crashing of gears in her head was audible.

Rob Pegoraro: Hahaha


St. Mary's City, Md.: Rob, I'm considering upgrading to an 720p HDTV in the 32-inch range. What kind of picture quality can I expect from a standard DVD? Should I choose a TV that has a built-in DVD player? That seems like a marketing gimmick to me.

Rob Pegoraro: Don't get the DVD player built-in; not worth it.

As long as you have at least a progressive-scan DVD player--and you connect it with component, DVI or HDMI cables--your movies should look better than you've ever seen them. With an upconverting player, they should look better still. (The HDTV may have its own upconverting circuitry too.)


Nashville, Tenn.: We've just started seeing TV ads here for two Wimax broadband computer services: Clearwire and Cricket. Both services are described as wireless internet that you plug into your computer. I guess the "wireless" means from your house to the network, because it looks like you have to sit next to your modem and the electrical outlet. My question to you: how secure are these ISPs? Do you have any other thoughts on this type of connection?

Rob Pegoraro: WiMax has spent several years as The Next Big Thing in Internet access, but it's finally entering into commercial service. Sprint has major plans to sell WiMax service--under the bizarre name of "Xohm"--but other companies have already rolled out service, Clearwire being one of the best-known ones.

As for "what kind of wireless," it's a wireless connection from your home to the network--but you can connect any old wireless router to a WiMax receiver for wireless reception within your home.


Madison, Wis.: In your article today you talk about having to choose between the best/worst features of various phones. So why is it no one has a phone out there with 'everything'?

For example: The iPhone comes close, but is on a slow network. If the iPhone was 3G I would have it, but I don't want an iPhone that is not 3G. And, even if they upgrade the phone, they need to upgrade the network. Where I live there is Verizon 3G and Sprint 3G, but no AT&T 3G so far.

The technology is there... I just don't understand how the market has failed to dictate a phone that has the best of everything. Fast Forward: Palm, RIM Struggle for Smartphone Formula

Rob Pegoraro: I couldn't agree more. See today's blog post for more venting from me about this.


Alexandria, Va.: Rob - In past holiday seasons, HDTV prices have seen dramatic drops and "price wars." But I recall reading in 2007 that, going forward, those cuts were largely at an end. True, or will Thanksgiving/Christmas see prices slashed again? I may be in the market but can easily wait if it'll save me some $$$. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: The prices are going to keep dropping, but I don't think by the same margin as in the past. Put it this way: Over the last 18 months or so, the price of a 42-inch plasma has dropped by more than half, to $1,000 and change. I doubt we're going to see another $500 vanish from everybody's prices over the next 18 months.


Albany, N.Y.: I will be traveling overseas soon and will be taking a laptop. I intend on utilizing full disk encryption using Truecrypt. Any concerns with taking an encrypted HD out of the country i.e. ITAR restrictions?

Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: IANAL, but why would anybody care as long as you bring it back?

Now if you give a copy of that encryption program to Kim Jong-Il, then you might have yourself a problem.


Alexandria, Va.: Rob, Do you have any magic answers on how to connect a Linksys WRT54GS Router to a Vista system? I first followed the CD instructions, and after that did not work, called Tech support. They said forget the CD and after two 2-hour sessions, I am still SOL.

Rob Pegoraro: Vista has worked fine with every router that I've tried it with. What kind of encryption are you using on the Linksys? Try WPA2/Personal--for one thing, it's a lot more secure than the WEP encryption that the Linksys probably defaults to.


Houston, Tex.: Rob, Do you still believe there's no value in buying a 1080p set over a 720p? I'm trying to decide between a 1080p Samsung LCD and a Panasonic plasma. How much of an issue is LCD blur in fast moving scenes while watching sports?

Rob Pegoraro: Close. I still think spending extra on 1080p reception is a mistake--no content is available in that resolution unless you buy into the Blu-Ray/HD DVD format war, and you can't even see the difference between 1080p and 720p at a normal viewing distance unless you have a 50-inch or larger set.

But: A lot of manufacturers are making 1080p a standard feature, or including that on all but their cheapest sets at any given size. So you may not have a choice in the matter by the time you go shopping.

As for LCD blur--when I tested a few LCD sets last year, the only time I noticed it was when I focused on the news tickers on CNN and ESPN.


Austin, Tex.: I'm feeling the urge to buy an HD radio. Can I be confident that there will be more and more programming available?

Any other advice?

Rob Pegoraro: I think so--but I don't know what the Austin stations are up to, only what the ones in D.C. are doing. (Here, NPR affiliate WAMU just launched two HD-only channels with actual, live DJs.)

I would in general say that it wouldn't hurt to wait a few more months to buy an HD Radio, unless you're shopping in a category where there's already a decent variety of choices (so far, that limits you to tabletop radios and car stereos).


Hanover, Va.: My wife and I are planning on buying a TV this holiday season (we're hoping that there are some good sales like last year). I tried to find where you reviewed the options and talked about the pros/cons of plasma and LCD. Do you have some general guidelines for what I should keep in mind as I compare models? And, are you planning on doing another review soon? Thanks! Printable Guide: Choosing a Television (pdf) High-Def Disconnect(Howard Bryant) Fast Forward: LCD or Plasma? Consider Size, Weight, Glare

Rob Pegoraro: The last link is the story I did last year--and I don't think I'd change any of those recommendations.


Silver Spring, Md.: I've been waiting to buy a Mac mini until it comes preloaded with OS X Leopard on 10/26, but have seen online rumors that the mini itself will be replaced at that time; local Apple retail store employees say they are in the dark as well. Heard anything?

Also, is there an easy method for transferring files from a PC to a new Mac? I'm abandoning a 5-year-old Dell along with Windows; it has first-gen USB ports, and I can no longer successfully burn a data CD with it. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro:1. Nope, haven't heard anything either way. I hope the mini does stick around, but Apple is going to do whatever Apple wants to do.

2. The easiest way, from what I've heard, is to use a program like Detto's Move2Mac to automate the transfer. Otherwise, you've got a lot of painstaking detail work.


Bethesda, Md.: Rob, I hope I am not too late.

I just bought a new linksys wireless router so I could upgrade my security to WPA.

We have two machines the house that won't connect using WPA, both are older XP machines.

Have you heard of this before? Any recommendations on how to fix it?

Also this coincided with the installation of Panda Software antivirus. It has been unistalled but I am still unable to get the machine to connect. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You're not too late. (There's a newsroom meeting about to start, but I'll just have to sneak in late...)

Some older WiFi receivers just can't handle WPA. A firmware update from the manufacturer might solve that, but if none is available your only option is to replace the WiFi receiver. (Which shouldn't cost more than $20 or $30 these days, but still...)


Fairfax, Va.: We have a desktop for our kids running windows 2000 and a good antivirus program. A few days ago my son told me that the desktop had changed and that some programs were missing after the Tuesday update. When I checked the computer the windows 2000 tour windows was displayed, the wallpaper was the standard blue and word 2003 was nowhere to be found. His documents were still available in the administrator my documents folder but there appeared to be two administrator folders on our "c" drive. I checked for viruses and found nothing.

Have you heard of such a thing happening and since its not XP and doesn't have a system restore, is there anything I can do to restore it to the way it was?

Thanks for any insight into this.

Rob Pegoraro: I have not, but I haven't heard much of anything about Windows 2000 in general these days--that OS had about zero market share in the home-use market even when it was new.

Right, there is no system restore in Win2k. Which means you'll have to try to move things back into place on your own. Sorry...


Annapolis, Md.: Hi Rob. I'm thinking about getting an iPod and would like to know if the 16 GB Touch version is worth the money. The Nano is just too small for me so its between the Classic and the Touch. I wouldn't use it too much for watching movies or storing photos and the wi-fi capability of the Touch seems pretty attractive. The main use will be listening to music on my bus commute from Annapolis to DC. Should I go for the Touch or just stick with the Classic? Thanks! Fast Forward: Apple's Two New Bites

Rob Pegoraro: I'd get the 8 GB version in that case. But why is the nano too small? You can't mean storage capacity--8 GB is an enormous amount of music. You can't mean screen size if you won't be viewing photos or videos. As for the physical size of the controls... well, I think the nano is a lot easier to use than the touch, for one reason alone: physical volume controls.


Go Zune!: I just wanted to rave about my Zune. It out classes every iPod out there, IMHO. Easy to use, attractive, and far fewer of the restrictions on sharing music than iPods. The built in radio tuner is phenomenal as well. Renders the iPod useless, IMHO!

Rob Pegoraro: Delighted to hear from you, GZ.


Washington, D.C.: Cellphone Overseas 101: Please help me sort this out. I want to have a cell phone I can use when vacationing overseas. If I understand correctly, my soon-to-be purchased TMobile is gsm and of the appropriate frequency, and TMobile offers a global option for free, so I will be all set to use it overseas. However, I will pay a roaming rate according to country.

What I need to know is if there are other options for getting a better rate when using this phone, like a prepaid sim card purchased overseas? As I now understand it, I will not need anything extra to use the phone but want to save money if possible.

Rob Pegoraro: Exactly--get a prepaid SIM card. You should be able to pick one up before you even leave the airport overseas. Then you just have to remember not to lose your "real" SIM card.

Oh, and you also need to ask T-Mobile to unlock your own phone so you can use another SIM Card. As I recall, their policy is to do so once you're 90 days into a contract.


Oviedo, Fla.: Red alert to parents - cell phones you give your kids are loaded with work-arounds when it comes to downloads. I bought two phones for my girls and had "all downloads, music, games and wallpaper blocked." Well, Verizon meant (but did not specify) single-purchase. My kids knew to oder subscriptions to these items - $675 in two months before I figured out the gotcha verbiage was "block subscriptions." I then canceled the phones, paying $175/per phone. Also, Verizon supposedly pro-rates but "not your plan." Riiiight - a mainstream family plan bought in Costco. Much too exotic for anything consumer-friendly like a pro-rated cancel policy.

Be warned - most plans are not pro-rated cancellation and SUBSCRIPTIONS are the magic word to use when fully blocking downloads. Trust me the teens know about this back door - and of course the company does. Verizon is banking on your not knowing it. I was suckered - learn from my grief. That bill is what we did instead of a camping trip this summer.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for sharing your experience. Yikes...


Arlington, Va.: do you think that most hardware/software vendors are snubbing VISTA? ... I got a networked drive and it doesn't work properly with VISTA ??

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think they're deliberately snubbing Vista. I think they're demonstrating an extraordinary level of incompetence in failing to support an operating system that everybody had YEARS to get ready for.


best way to transfer files: is to take your new mac and your old PC to your local genius bar.

Rob Pegoraro: Good suggestion--this is a free service, IIC, if you buy the Mac from an Apple Store.


Washington, D.C.: Re. Silver Spring and Mac Mini - I think I recently read that if you buy a new Mac -now-, you can upgrade to the new OS for an extra $10 once it's released. Check Mac rumor/news sites to confirm.

Rob Pegoraro: True also


Alexandria, Va.: To Annapolis: as an iPod Touch owner, I can say it's a pretty poor music player - as Rob notes, no volume controls are a deal-breaker. Get it if you'll mainly watch video on the go, and then get the 16GB as you'll need the space.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Downtown DC: Rob,

Finally joined the digital camera world, even though I still like film. To transfer pics to my computer, should I upload the software that came on disc with the camera (a Canon), or simply buy a memory card reader that I can plug into the computer's USB ports? My brother-in-law has a reader that appears to hold about 6 different kinds of memory cards, and he seems happy.

Rob Pegoraro: It's not actually much of a difference either way; if you only have one camera, you're tying up a USB port whether you use the connector cable or you plug in a card reader.

I would, however, recommend against installing the software that came with the camera. I've tried a bunch of these programs, and most are not very good. Kodak and HP's photo-album applications are OK, but in general you're better using a third-party photo manager. Google's Picasa is one good choice in Windows XP; in Vista, you can try Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery; on a Mac, use iPhoto.


Atlanta, Ga.: If I started using the anagram IAALBNTKOL (I AM a Lawyer, but not that kind of lawyer) people would know what I meant?

Rob Pegoraro: They would now.


Ashland, Ore.: Good afternoon Rob,

I am a lawyer for an environmental non-profit group out here in Oregon (Go Owls!) and I've gotten a $2500 grant for a new computer. Most of my time is at my desk, but I'd also be off to court in California fairly frequently. I'm trying to decide between a big new iMac, which would have superior ergonomics for my desk, and a Macbook Pro, which would be portable. I have a personal Macbook which I could use for company business, but would prefer not to. What would you do?


15" Macbook Pro with an external monitor?

17" MBP to split the difference?


Rob Pegoraro: I'd go with door number 2, Ashland. The extra weight and size of the 17" MBP will bug you every time you're shuttling between Oregon and California.


Washington, D.C.: My parents enjoy their Tivo, but are now upgrading to a high-definition tv. To switch from lifetime standard def to lifetime high def service costs $199, plus another $299 for the new high-def Tivo recorder. Is this price (a total of $498) a reasonable one, in light of other options for recording and playing back high-definition tv content? My parents are older, so paying some premium for ease of use is understandable, but $498 sounds really high for a glorified hard drive. Is it?

Rob Pegoraro: I hear you. But if they're going to call you when they can't figure out how to work their cable company's DVR, that might be a cheap price to pay. (I'm assuming that they do like the TiVo they have now.)


Treo 700wx or Centro?: I'm about to (begrudgingly) get a Treo 700wx despite the fact I hear they freeze constantly. But now I'm intrigued with the Centro...have you heard about it freezing as well?

Rob Pegoraro: That's the weird thing--the Centro I've been testing has yet to crash. I don't know why it hasn't; it has the same old no-multitasking Palm OS as before. It may be that the e-mail client and Web browser on it include some bug-fixes not present in older Palm devices (both VersaMail and Blazer are, by an overwhelming margin, the least stable devices on my own Treo).

I type all this, BTW, in the full realization that the Centro will probably start crashing on an hourly basis now that I've complimented its stability in public.


Washington, D.C.: To the person with a question about recharging devices overseas: look carefully at the devices' power bricks. They almost always tell you what types of power the device will accept. For example, my laptop's power brick says its power input can accept 100-240V at 50-60Hz, meaning that all I need when traveling abroad is a plug adapter, not something to convert the voltage or frequency.

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip.


Bethesda, Md.: Any way you can get out of Apple the "top secret" additional Leopard features that Jobs mentioned at the WWDC?

Rob Pegoraro: You mean the features itemized at ?


Seattle: Perhaps my location gives me away, but I recently purchased a refurb Zune 30. You know what? I love it. While the Zune software is a mess (a more resource-heavy version of the terrific WMP11), the player itself is fantastic. It's attractive, feels solid, and has an interface that far exceeds the decidedly tired iPod interface (not a single real change, excluding CoverFlow, in six years!).

Further, my Zune will be updated with new firmware in a bit less than a month, giving me access to wireless syncing. I'm stoked.

And that's to say nothing of Microsoft's increased efforts on the whole Zune Social thing. It's a community-based effort to connect Zune owners to one another and I think it creates a pretty exciting future for Zune owners.

I'm pretty sure Microsoft has the same endgame in mind as their successful Xbox Live community. "Zunetags" will become just as robust online as are Gamertags.

Basically, there's a theory with the Zune. It's a handsome player, and then some. Other than a fashion accessory that plays music, what is the iPod?

Rob Pegoraro: Hello, Seattle. In part, you're echoing my original review of the Zune--I wrote that the player itself was good, and simpler to use than an iPod in some respects.

But until somebody releases another Zune-syncing app, I can't evaluate the player in isolation. I also have to look at the Zune software--and, man, that stinks. It takes a very... special program to make WMP 11 seem fast, but the Zune software somehow pulls that off.


Help me Obiwan!: My hard drive is a goner, and so are all my photos and memories. Can you recommend someone or some place that can recover the hard drive. All I want are my photos. How much would this service cost me?

Rob Pegoraro: It could be a lot. It depends on the state of your drive, but if it's suffered physical damage, you might be looking at $1,000 or more to recover it.

If you're lucky, a data-recovery service can get your data back by putting the drive in an enclosure, hooking it up to another computer in read-only mode and copying everything off it that way.

See this blog post for some details: Reminder: Back Up Your Data Already!


Re: Parents and Tivo: My folks just got a new HD tv and upgraded their Tivo to match. They cry because they think it is so beautiful.

Which has nothing to do with the original post, I just thought I'd share.

Rob Pegoraro: Whatever makes 'em happy!


Greenfield, Ind.: Rob,

I get dozens of spams each day on Outlook, using, but when I check my e-mails through Yahoo there are none. Since SBC (now AT&T) uses Yahoo, why do spams appear only on Outlook?

Thanks, Ray

Rob Pegoraro: Yahoo--as in the Web-mail service--has some OK spam filters, but pre-2003 versions of Outlook have none. That's my guess.


Rockville, Md.: For Arlington, Va.:

If you think others might be on your system (wirelessly), check the log of your router. If you see other MAC addresses listed as have being connected (other than your desktop and laptop), you'll know somebody has been on.

It is also possible (maybe not probable) that somebody has spoofed the MAC address of your laptop to get on so also check the dates/times in the log to see if it looks like your laptop was online when it wasn't.

Rob Pegoraro: Rockville is referring the network addresses attached to every network interface on a computer (usually, the Ethernet port and the WiFi receiver). It is, however, a pain to look up this data.


Washington, D.C.: Rob -- what's your prediction for the 2009 digital tv "transition"?

Earlier poster aside, who's already moved to over the air hdtv, it strikes me as likely to be a big nothing: Cable will still have analog transmission, and folks without cable probably aren't caring too much about television anyway (which is probably a good thing for them and their lives . . . )

Rob Pegoraro: My main prediction is that it's going to mean continued employment for the likes of me :)

I think that there will be a small minority of people who are extremely upset to see TV as they've known it go off the air. The industry hasn't managed this well; they took too long to get cheap digital tuners into smaller sets, and they're going to pay at least a PR price for it when 2/17/09 rolls around.


Bethesda, Md.: My cellular contract is up, and I'm evaluating my renewal options (including a new smartphone to replace my still more or less functioning Treo 650). I will not, under any circumstances, use a Windows Mobile device, and I'm not thrilled about Symbian-based products, as I understand that they are regularly hacked. This leaves Palm OS devices.

The many Centro reviews - including your own - describe the Centro an evolutionary model.

When can we expect something more revolutionary (OS AND hardware) from Palm? Holiday season 2007? First quarter 2008? 2009?

Thanks very much!

Rob Pegoraro: If I knew, I'd probably still be wrong. Palm has had more trouble updating its operating system than any company since the mid-1990s incarnation of Apple. (I should have known Palm's software development efforts were doomed when they hired one of the people responsible for the Copland fiasco at Apple.)

I would like to think we'll see a new, revolutionary Palm device by Q3 '08, but nothing in the company's recent history gives me reason to think that I'll see any such thing before the January 2009 CES. I would like to be proven wrong, but the evidence is what it is.


What do I need: currently an AT&T user with a Razor. I am an attorney and keeping my calendar correct is a major thing. I keep my calendar on Yahoo but now they will not sync to my phone anymore. I am thinking of an iphone mostly b/c they are cool and I could access my calendar on it and get e-mail which I currently cannot do. Is this the move?

Rob Pegoraro: Not *the* move, but it's *a* move. If you keep your calendar and contacts in Outlook and don't need to listen to music on your phone, you'd probably be happier overall with a Windows Mobile smartphone like the Samsung Blackjack. (My techno-geek friend David has one and has been really pleased by it.)


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Rob. I notice you never recommend Apple's Safari browser for Windows as an alternative to Internet Explorer. Is that because its so slow and bug-riddled? Apple seems to have abandoned it. I haven't seen any updates or patches for it yet, meanwhile I get something for iTunes every other day. That said, Safari is still one of the prettiest browsers out there for Windows. Seems a shame to see it die on the vine.

Rob Pegoraro: One reason for me to avoid suggesting Safari for Windows is that it just isn't finished. But another is that it has issues at a lot of Web sites that display correctly in Firefox (for example, Yahoo Mail).

Lastly, Safari for Windows just doesn't look quite right. It duplicates the OS X look so well that it appears out of place on the Windows desktop.


You joke, but: Remember when you did a chat from a moving car? That was awesome. Everyone could feel the palpable excitement. Maybe you should do a chat while skydiving or windsurfing or something next.

Rob Pegoraro: My dream is to do this chat from the International Space Station, but The Post can't seem to find the $20 million the Russians are charging these days. Anybody have a spare $20 million around? :)


Rob Pegoraro: That's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the questions; if I missed yours, I should be back here in two weeks, or you can e-mail me in the meantime:


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company