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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, April 17, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro will be online Thursday, April 17 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

Read the transcripts of past Personal Tech discussions here.

Submit a question or comment now or during the discussion.

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Rob Pegoraro: It's a beautiful day out there, so I hope some of you all are reading this on a park bench or a sidewalk cafe somewhere. Me, I'm cooped up in the usual cubicle. [shrugs]

So let's talk computer security, the subject of today's column. On with the chat...

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Rockville, Md.: Hey Rob,

If you had to pick one Anti-Virus security suite for your PC, which would it be?

Also, can you rank your top three security suites?

And, how do you feel about some of these AV suites deriving from out of the US, such as Kaspersky (Russia) - couldn't they at any time infect all their customers with viruses and the like if relations with the U.S. go bad? ...Just a thought...

A concerned citizen

Rob Pegoraro: That's a big "if" there, Rockville! If I had to install one of the three I reviewed... hmm... I would go with OneCare. It's cheaper, it's cleaner, and it doesn't try to duplicate functions (anti-spam, anti-phishing) that you get for free with any modern Web and e-mail software.

Not sure what the top three, in order, would be.

As for your question about non-U.S. software: With all due respect, that's verging on tinfoil-hat territory. While there is such a thing as "cyber-warfare" (how I hate that "cyber" prefix!), it's not waged through commercial software sold by established companies.

To put it another way: If you can't trust Kasperskey's security software because you can't inspect its source code, then you can't trust any other closed-source program... unless you somehow think that only nice people create security software in the U.S. of A.

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Arlington, Va.: Win XP limited user account question: Am I going to have to reinstall a bunch of the programs I run from my Owner acct., from within the Ltd User Account, to get them to run properly ... things like Lotus Notes to get to my work email, Quicken, etc., which don't want to work properly from within the limited user account?

I am guessing so, but oy, what a hassle to reinstall several of these & reconfigure, etc.

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: That's why most XP users don't bother with a limited-user account. It's an enormous pain, and especially if you're going to run programs as complex/sprawling/ugly as Notes.

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Philadelphia: I use Netvibes as my RSS reader. When I add new feeds to my page I have the option of picking the "RSS 2.0" feed or the "RSS 1.0" feed or the "Atom" feed or the "RSD" feed. They all seem to work. Should I care which one I pick? Do we really need this many choices?

Rob Pegoraro: No, you don't. I knew the difference between those formats a year or two ago, but I couldn't tell you which one's what now. I'd go with RSS 2.0 for the fuzzy reasons that "RSS" is a more established standard than Atom, and 2.0 *has* to be better than 1.0, right?

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Lakewood, N.J.: Hi Rob,love your chats and advice. Jewish Passover coming up this weekend. It's a 3-day holiday. Whats your opinion of unplugging the power from my router & modem so that it doesn't heat up over the long holiday when not being used? Can it harm? Have a nice weekend.

Rob Pegoraro: You should be completely fine doing that--you might as well unplug those things anytime you're going to be away from home for, say, more than a few days. Why keep them drawing power and running up your electric bill when you don't get any benefit from them?

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Seattle, Wash.: What's your take on the (re)emerging class of mini-notenook computers? Asus has had great success with their ee and now HP's making a splash with their mini as well. Have you had the chance to test any of these computers?

Rob Pegoraro: I just had a quick meeting with a couple of Intel reps who were talking about the company's strategy for ultralight laptops and other portable Internet gadgets. It's safe to say that company is expecting a lot out of that end of the market.

So am I! I tried out the Asus Eee PC at the start of the year and, while the tiny keyboard and screen bugged me, I still thought it had some neat ideas:

Rob Pegoraro - Two Pounds of Efficiency - washingtonpost.com

I hope to try out HP's Mini-Note soon also.

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Hudsonville, Mich.: Rob -- you are probably sick of these questions about the digital transition, but here is ours: Our first connection to the antennae is our VCR -- we select our channels through the VCR and then the connection runs to the TV. Will we be able to connect our converter box to the VCR in this same way? Are we dumb? We do NOT tape shows from TV, but we do have some old videotapes that we watch.... Is there a better way we should connect to our housetop antennae? Thanks in advance for your expertise!

Rob Pegoraro: Should've known I'd get some questions about digital TV today!

I think your understanding is correct. You'd have the following sequence of parts: antenna -> digital-TV converter -> VCR -> TV.

This way, you'd be able to watch videotapes and also watch over-the-air broadcasts, switching between the remotes for the VCR and the DTV converter. You would not, however, be able to record on any channel but the one the DTV box is tuned into (not an issue for you, but it will affect many other folks.)

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Digital TV Conversion Help?: Hi, Rob. Posted this on another chat and didn't get any help (perhaps the answer isn't out there yet).

We're of the rabbit ears ilk (don't want and really can't afford new TV, cable and or satellite). We got our converter box and for various reasons, can't set it up yet.

However, just by looking at it and the cables that came with it, it will attach to the TV in the exact place that our DVD player is now hooked up.

So does that mean if there's a rain delay during a Nats game on Channel 20 and the kids want to watch a movie, we have to unhook the converter box, plug the DVD player in, then unplug that and re-plug the converter box when the rain delay is over? Or are we missing some secret?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: And another converter-box question. Both of the boxes that I've tested included two different outputs: an RCA video connection (small yellow plug, which sounds like what you use for your DVD player) and a coax connection (a round metal post sticking off the back, identical to what you'd connect an antenna to). So in your case, you'd keep the DVD player where it is and connect the DTV box to your TV's antenna post, then switch between inputs as needed.

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Missoula: Hi, Rob, I hope this is not a "forbidden" question, but where can I purchase past versions of software? I don't need the most current version of an office productivity product, and the 2000 edition will suffice for my needs.

Rob Pegoraro: You can try eBay. But why not just use the free, open-source OpenOffice? That won't cost a thing--and unlike Office 2000, it doesn't have that talking paperclip to annoy you.

It's at openoffice.org

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I'd read your review of the electronic photo frames...: is there any way one can tell if one has a virus or anything like that before you really start to use it? I'd love to get one (not a real fancy one, just one that can display a range of photos), but am very wary. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You really can't, not unless you have some diagnostic tools at home. But this should not be a huge risk; only one or two models have had this problem, as I recall.

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Los Angeles: If most XP users don't bother with a limited-user account and it's an enormous pain why is your collegue Brian Krebbs so hooked and adament about it?

Rob Pegoraro: I agree with Brian about a lot of things, but I think in this respect he underestimates the amount of time most home users will put into that kind of task. My general rule in those cases is not to give advice that a large chunk of readers will either ignore or quickly give up on.

Put it this way, I have enough trouble convincing people to stop using IE 6, and there you only need to install one program to fix your problem!

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Jerusalem, Israel: I have a Sony laptop with a fingerprint security swipe but I have never activated it since I am afraid that if I send to to serviced, the technician will not be able to start the machine.

Is this a valid concern?

Thanks-

Rob Pegoraro: Shouldn't be. All the fingerprint-recognition software that I've seen lets you log in with your usual username/password combo as well.

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Frederick, Md.: I am a longtime Mac user, since the first Macs appeared in 1984, and the go-to person for several later Mac adopters, only because I know only slightly more than they do (as a way of saying my knowledge is limited.) My question is about shopping for a new external hard drive for Mac users in this era of many larger capacity, lower cost, multiple interface HD options now available - i.e. 500 gb drives now approach $100, and triple interface HDs are around $150 at Buy.com.

My question is what should I recommend as the best choice for my Mac friends, since there are HDs now offered with up to 4 interfaces: USB 2, Firewire 400, and now Firewire 800 and eSATA, each with different transfer ratings up to 1.5gbs for eSATA. Can we know what real transfer rates to expect in each case, and does Mac even support (or can be adapted to) the really fast eSATA interface?

Additionally as I recall, Macs cannot be booted from an external HD via USB, but can with a Firewire interface - which may make the FW a more versatile option for Mac users for a small premium in price. I have not seen much info to aid us in these decisions - what words of wisdom can you share here?

Rob Pegoraro: FireWire, unless your friends have a MacBook Air. Macs have too few USB ports, so a drive that connects to the FireWire port makes more sense. Many of them are also "bus powered," meaning they don't need to be plugged into a separate outlet.

It doesn't hurt that you can also boot the machine off the FireWire drive, but you shouldn't need to do that in normal use.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob: Do you ever see Apple putting some effort into improving the Mighty Mouse? The right click on my wireless mighty mouse works maybe 20 percent of the time. Very frustrating and I've had to change my preferences to allow for the center button to be the right click rather than the dashboard.

Rob Pegoraro: I kinda doubt it. I have mixed opinions about the Mighty Mouse myself--my gripe is that the trackball on the top picks up too much dirt and has to be cleaned regularly, otherwise you find yourself limited to scrolling in one direction.

There are some pretty good Bluetooth rodents available these days from other manufacturers...

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Washington, DC: My friend told me that the new high def televisions will send your electric bill up noticeably. Is that true?

Rob Pegoraro: No. Categorically not.

In specific cases, they can--if you go from a 25-inch CRT to a 50-inch plasma or LCD, you will be using a lot more electricity when the set's on.

The other thing to remember, however, is that older TVs draw electricity even when they're off (but still plugged in), while any new Energy Star-rated set should draw zero current when it's off. That alone may entirely offset the added consumption, when on, of a big-screen flat-panel set.

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Silver Spring, Md.: New Mac mini, older Aquos HDTV with a DVI input labelled "computer" and an HDMI input.

Can't get the DVI input to use most of the mini's great resolution. Will HDMI do me any better?

Rob Pegoraro: Not sure what you're saying--the Mac should recognize the HDTV and set itself to the right resolution automatically. (I just tested this with a MacBook Air and a Vizio LCD the other day.)

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Anti-virus: Wait, One Care? Isn't that Microsoft's thing? And costs money? What happened to the freebie anti-virus, like AVG (which I use and seems to be just fine) and another one you've recommended in the past?

Rob Pegoraro: The reader asked me for my favorite security *suite*, not anti-virus program.

I am a fan of AVG, which is why I suggested it by name in this morning's blog post about the ways I would secure a Windows machine:

Insecurity Over Security Software

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Anonymous: What is your opinion of the Canon SD890IS? Is it worth the price and do you have confidence in its features. Is there a a comparable less expensive digital camera in another brand?

Rob Pegoraro: I've been happy with the Canon cameras I've used, but I haven't tried this particular model.

It is a pretty high-end unit, with more resolution than you may ever need. Look farther down Canon's product line for a lower-resolution SD-series camera if you like this model's features but not its price.

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Bethesda, Md.: What do you think-- Does Apple have a security problem, or not?

Rob Pegoraro: You're talking about my blog post of last week, right? ( A New View on Mac Security)

That particular vulnerability has been fixed; Apple released an update to Safari yesterday that fixes the flaw exploited in that CanSecWest contest.

In the broader sense: Yes, Apple has a security problem in that it needs to stay on top of security threats to all of the Internet-facing software it ships--most of which (Safari, iTunes, QuickTime) runs on Windows as well as OS X.

The important point here, though, would be that Apple's users still face immensely less danger on the Web than Windows users.

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Farragut Park, D.C.: Having worked in multiple places through the years, I have plenty of saved documents in both Word and WordPerfect. I have discovered that, when doing a document search, Windows will not recognize WordPerfect. In other words, I can have the word "Pegoraro" in Word files, plain-text files, Excel sheets, even JPEG files, and they will be found. Any WordPerfect document containing it, though, will NOT be found by the search function. Thoughts? And no, I can't convert them -all- to Word...

Rob Pegoraro: Google Desktop should be able to index them (I think - you might need to add a search plug-in for that).

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New Orleans, La.: Hey Rob---thanks for a consistently interesting and helpful column. My question today involves backing up---I recently installed a Seagate external drive, and while it's hardly as self-explanatory as I'd like, it seems to mirror activity on the files in XP's My Documents folder just fine. What I'm really interested in, though, is a backup copy of Windows Media Player, which contains all my music files arranged into albums and playlists. If the laptop hard drive ever crashes I'd rather not have to scan for files in a clean copy of Media Player. I did that once, and it took days to get things back where I wanted them. Any suggestions?

Once again, thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: You should be set already--the My Music folder is itself inside My Documents, so if you're mirroring your docs folder your music should be safe too.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I like to play MLB the Show on my PSP while I watch the Nats on TV. The problem is that I purchased the PS3 version as I wanted the big screen version. I thought the 2 systems were linked. Do you know if I can play the PS3 MLB The Show on my PSP? How? I'd hate to spend another $40+ for basically the same game.

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, you can't do that. You can plug a PSP into a TV, though, if you've got the newer, thinner model Sony shipped a year or so ago.

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Alexandria, VA: As for Macs, what are your recommendations for security? I know about setting up the firewall, unchecking the 'Open Safe" files after downloading' option in Safari, as well as keeping software updated with the latest patches . Do you have any other recommendations (other than using common sense while on the Internet or in email)? By the way, your chats are awesome! Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You've got things about right there. There is a free, open-source anti-virus program called ClamXav that you can get, but its only real use--as long as no Mac viruses are afoot in the wild--is to stop you from accidentally forwarding Windows viruses to friends with PCs.

Also, don't forget the Internet-facing software that isn't covered by Apple's Software Update. That's mainly Adobe's Flash player, but RealPlayer and the Flip4Mac QuickTime plug-in (needed to play Windows Media files) would also be covered.

As an aside, *not* having to deal with Sun's horribly broken Java-update system is one of the underrated benefits of using a Mac.

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Silver Spring, Md., with Aquos: Well, yeah, it should. But it doesn't.

I have to use another Mac connected by VNC to set the resolution myself. And the good high ones aren't available, even after the Mini is forced into a resolution that the Aquos accepts.

Rob Pegoraro: I have to think your Aquos has some glitch in its DVI input. Does the Aquos have a VGA input? You could get a DVI-to-VGA adapter.

Which also means that HDMI might work better, too; in that case, you'd need a DVI-to-HDMI adapter.

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Minneapolis: Can you help with a HDTV question? In a chat someone mentioned advice you had given about 720p vs 1080p. Can you enlighten me? Is 1080p worth it for the casual viewer who won't (at least in the foreseeable future) buy a Blu-Ray player and doesn't game at all? I want to save some of my stimulus!

Rob Pegoraro: No, it's not.

That said, if you're buying a set that's 40 inches or larger, you may wind up getting 1080p if you like it or not. It's becoming a standard feature on most sets of that size.

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MAC MS Office Question: Hello Rob,

Thinking about getting a Mac for school. I've read some mediocre reviews on MS Office 2008 for Mac online, and was wondering your opinion. Is the previous version (2003? 2004?) superior and still available?

Rob Pegoraro: It's not worse than Office 2004, but it's not some enormous breakthrough either.

I still need to put a review of this on my blog. Had I known that not reviewing it when it first shipped would mean it would have been crowded out by other news for the next six weeks, and would then rate as "old news"--yeah, I might've reshuffled my review calendar.

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Alexandria: Hi Rob-

I need some sort of PDA device. Contact and calendar management are core needs, but I would also really like GPS, a decent keypad for texting, and the ability to use the web on the go. The obvious solution is one of the smart phones on the market, but I only use my phone around 50-75 minutes a month (I am currently on VirginMobile).

Are there any non-phone PDAs with the extras I want? How about smart phones with pre-paid plans?

Rob Pegoraro: Get yourself a Nokia 810. It's not cheap at all, but it does have every one of the features you outlined.

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Frederick, Md.: I'd like to convert to free off-air HDTV. Are there any good DVR options except Tivo? Do you know anything about the one Echostar announced?

Rob Pegoraro: I think LG or Samsung sells, or sold, an HDTV tuner with a built-in DVR--no subscription required. I even remember seeing this thing on the shelves at a Best Buy in D.C. not long ago.

You can also get a DVD recorder with a DTV tuner, but that won't record in HD, and most of them lack the interactive programming guide that makes scheduling a recording on a TiVo or other DVR so easy.

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Tampa, Fla.: Have you heard of any problems installing Office 2008 for Mac? I installed it updated it from the Mactopia website, and it went fine, with 2 exceptions: First, I got an error message during the installation saying that Office could not find the Shared Office file. I don't network, so I don't think that's a problem.

After installation, however, I find my Address Book has some problems. I have difficulty selecting which of several email addresses of a single contact I want to use. All the email addresses for that person are there, but when I select one, another of that person's email addresses appears in the To field. To get the email address I want, I have to select a different email address of that contact.

For example, assume I have bob@gmail.com and bob@yahoo.com as addresses for Bob. I go to the entry for Bob, select bob@gmail.com, but bob@yahoo.com appears in the To field. And vice versa.

On the other hand, if a start typing Bob's email address, I can then select the one I want.

Weird, but annoying.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm. I will need to look for this in my own copy. Thanks for the tip...

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Herndon, Va.: I just had FIOS installed (TV, internet and phone). What security should I set up with the provided wireless router so I can use wireless with my work laptop?

Rob Pegoraro: This advice goes for *any* wireless router:

1) Change the router's administrative password from the default. This way, a stranger can't hop on your network and then reconfigure the network at will.

2) If you don't want to share your Internet access with neighbors, enable encryption on your home network. Choose WPA, not WEP, for this encryption.

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Power for TV sets: Rob,

In response to the poster asking about power use - I did a bunch of research before deciding on my new HDTV. Crutchfield actually has a great info section about power usage and even gaged some screens they sell. Generally, plasmas use the most (with 1080 using almost twice as much as 720), LCDs second (with 1080 not making much of a difference), and the new LEDs using a heck of a lot less. I have a watt meter - my old Sony Trinitron uses about 170 watts on, 7 watts off. My new Panasonic 50 inch HD (720) plasma uses less than 1 off, about 250 on (and puts off a decent amount of heat - not an issue in my basement, even in the summer).

Rob Pegoraro: Those figures match what I've seen using a power meter (although I haven't tested any screens bigger than 42 inches).

Here's a tip for anybody reading this with an Arlington library card: You can borrow one of these power meters from the county's libraries.

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Temple Hills, Md.: For people that want to hook up a VCR and a DTV converter box and want to be able to watch a different channel while the VCR is taping, an A-B switch will help. That's how I did it at my house. I still need to get an extra DTV converter box for the VCR though.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Temple Hills!

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Ashland, Ore.: Hey Rob, I've got a fresh Leopard install, but every time I try to print a document, it either crashes preview or silently refuses to do anything. All software is up to date. The printer is properly selected and has the correct driver. Am I missing something obvious? Everything always worked fine before a couple of days ago, when nothing obvious changed.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd download the latest printer drivers from the vendor's site, then reinstall them. Printer drivers often need an update after you install a new operating system.

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Washington, D.C.: I downloaded a classical music TV program at the request of my parents, for them to watch on their computer. However, I'm holding it hostage until they get some decent speakers, because what's the point if the sound's so bad you can't understand the words or pick up any range of frequency? However, they are--not to put too fine a point on it--skinflints. There's no way they're going to spend any real money on computer speakers. Do you have any suggestions for something desk-friendly, cheap, and with simple wiring they can plug into the regular small speaker or headphone jack? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro:"Holding it hostage"? Not to go all Caroline Hax on you, but this seems a little extreme. There is always the chance that your parents are content with the computer's own speakers... I'm just sayin'

Any cheap-and-simple speakers suggestions?

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, I have a question about HDTV for you and the chatters. I don't have an HDTV set yet but I figure I'll wind up buying one sooner or later, since that's evidently the future of TV. But recently I had the chance to watch my brother's HDTV and it gave me a headache almost immediately. Is this a problem for other people? My brother told me I'd get used to it, but I'm thinking not since I feel the same way if I try to watch an IMAX movie. I can't watch footage from moving cameras either, like a camera on a car during a race. Am I eventually doomed to get sick every time I try to watch TV? Will I be forced to just read books instead? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: This is a new one. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Internet. Sure you didn't mean to submit this to Weingarten's chat? :)

Remember, though, that DTV isn't just HDTV. You can buy a standard-definition set with the same resolution as your current TV.

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Alexandria: Rob: I'm in the market for a 40" LCD. Should I buy a 1080p or is the 720p adequate? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro:720p is fine--but as I said earlier, you may find the decision is made for you when the set with the features you want already includes 1080p.

In other words: Don't beat yourself up if you get 1080p for free.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob,

I'm submitting this question early because I'll be away from the office later. I hope you or one of your readers can settle this question once and for all. I'm mulling over a switch back to DirectTV from Comcast. Though I really like the OnDemand feature, it's benefits are outweighed by Comcast's nickel and diming and having to call the company to get a discounted package rather than having one offered automatically. I'd like to know whether DirectTV really offers (as it claims to) more HDTV channels than Comcast. I've looked at channel lineups for both services and it's not clear to me that this is the case.

Rob Pegoraro: Does it matter? I mean, you really should look at the channels you actually watch. Who cares if one company has another four channels of a premium movie network you don't subscribe to anyway?

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Arlington, Va.: This is a bit of a specific question. Do you think there can be interference that could prevent a MacBook from accessing an Airport Extreme (Apple's wireless router)? I've had an Airport since Dec and the wireless notwork i set up ran flawlessly with a Windows desktop, windows laptop and the MacBook. About a week ago, however, i started to experience all kinds of trouble between the Mac and the Airport, but the windows machines are fine. I took the Mac and the Airport to a "genius bar" at an Apple store and the wireless worked fine, but as soon as i brought it home, same problems. BTW, do routers aid security?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's where you can have "fun" trying different wireless settings to solve your interference problems. Try any or all of these:

* Set your router to use "interference robustness."

* Change its WiFi channel from the default (what is it on an AirPort, 6?)

* If all of your computers support 802.11g, switch the AirPort from operating in 802.11b/802.11g mode to g-only operation.

Anything else Arlington oughta try?

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Fairfax, Va.: Are these people seriously asking if it's OK to turn off power to their routers and modems???

We have everything plugged into a power strip and turn it off every time we are through with the computer, both to save energy and to avoid lightning damage and the like. How can anyone rationalize leaving things on that they are not using, when we have such an energy/global warming crisis on our hands?!

Rob Pegoraro: Do you realize how many extra ergs of current my monitor is using to display all that extra punctuation in your query? :)

In all seriousness, I wasn't surprised to get a question like "is it safe to turn off my router." You get told so many times that one false move will Kill Your Computer Dead, it's only natural that you get a little skittish about doing something not specifically authorized by a manual.

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Monte Rio, Calif.: For anymouse, try the CanonSX100, 8mg=10X...great pics and zoom.

Rob Pegoraro: I tried that one last fall myself. Good little camera, with a ridiculous zoom lens for something that small.

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North Port, Fla.: Cheap-and-simple speakers: Wal-Mart has several in this genre.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks...

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Bethesda, Md.: Rob, The other night while my iPod was connected to my PC for charging, a MS update was performed and the machine rebooted.

When I restarted the machine and iTunes, my iTunes library was not there and and I received the message that my iPod was synced to a different library.

Have you ever heard of this happening? Should I be concerned? The music was still on the machine.

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I have not--but, y'know, I've heard of so many other bizarre Windows calamities that nothing can really surprise me at this point.

Have you checked to see that your copy of iTunes is pointing to the right folder on your hard drive? Go to its Edit menu, select Preferences and click on the Advanced tab.

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Oakton, Va.:1 yr old PC with Windows Vista Ultimate. I am the Administrator and have 2 HD's. When I try to move a file from C drive to D drive it tells me "You need permission to perform this action. try Again or Cancel" It never asks for my permission or allows me to intervene. Similarly I try to save a file in the D drive and it says "you don't have permission to save in this location. contact the administrator to obtain permission. Would you like to save in the Documents folder (C:drive) instead?" It also won't let me delete files in the C: documents and say "you need permission to perform this action" started doing this about 2-3 months ago and I can find no wayto counter these roadblocks. Advice? How do I get MS help?

John

Rob Pegoraro: You'd think the steep price of Vista Ultimate (the name may actually refer to Microsoft's profit margin) would get you a direct line to Redmond, but not so.

[takes a moment to wake up the Vista laptop on the desk]

Have you tried taking a look at the sharing and security settings of the drives in the Disk Management console? Type "disk" into the Control Panel and click "Create and format hard disk partitions."

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New Orleans, La.: I installed Google Desktop and then uninstalled it---frankly the idea of Google, or anybody, checking the contents of my computer on a continuing basis is rather alarming. Copernic Desktop Search is a great little self-contained utility that runs on your own hard drive---it hasn't failed to find the lost file yet.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure, but it's a program on your hard drive that's going the searching, not The Google itself. The default settings don't share or upload any of your data.

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Hudsonville, Mich. re mighty mouse: Hi Rob,

I have gone thru 3 of the mighty mice (under warranty) with those little balls that finally won't work at all. I've been doing something with the latest mighty mouse that works great. I turn over a legal pad to the back side (thick paper) and then pick up the mouse, running the ball all over on the paper. After 30 seconds of doing this each month or two, it has not had ANY problems again. Much better than the advice Apple gives on its documents -- wiping it with a damp cloth and all -- this truly works!!

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a tip for users with feeble Mighty Mice...

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San Diego: Rob, Why aren't there more DVR's available without a subscription service (TIVO or local cable company). It seems like a device ready to take over the (now largely outdated) VCR.

Rob Pegoraro: I wish I knew, S.D. It baffles me that the market has settled on the subscription model for TiVo service. (TiVo's willingness to sue everybody and anybody for patent infringement does help explain that, though.)

Your best option might be to plug a DTV tuner into your computer--none of those come with any subscription fees.

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Bethesda, Md.: My parents' XP Home machine is dying and they are looking to replace the system - but NOT the software, especially Office 2003. Can an Office 2003 license be transferred legally from one machine to another, and how does one do this?

Please note that Leopard and Office 2007/8 are (very dogmatically) out of the question.

Thanks for your help!

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you can do that. You'll just need to call Microsoft to get the new installation activated--the activation routine built into Office 2003 will see that it's been installed on a second desktop and will probably balk at that.

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Ruidoso, N.M.: What is the best affordable photo software?

Rob Pegoraro: Google's Picasa is your best free editing software for general photo cleanup. I'm not so happy with how it organizes your pictures.

If you want to get into more advanced editing and don't need a photo organizer, try Paint.Net: getpaint.net

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Alexandria, VA: Since the concession announcement from Toshiba, we've seen HDDVD players drop 50-75% (almost cheaper than standard upconvert players) and HDDVD disc and combo disc prices plummet to equal standard DVD prices. When are we going to start seeing Blu-Ray prices come down? Discs are still going for $29 and up and players are ALL still over $350. Could we see $15-20 new release discs and $250 players by Christmas, or will Sony continue to bask in its format war victory and reap the benefits by refusing to make their technology more affordable?

Rob Pegoraro: I think $300 Blu-ray players ought to be a reasonable goal, but I don't think movie prices are going to drop. The studios seem anxious to milk the new format for all it's worth.

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north port, fla.: I have a desktop computer with Win XP, SP2 and whatever else MS updates for me. However, it is somewhat dysfunctional and I tried reinstalling XP. Got the message that the installed version is newer than the disk, then the XP program won't install. I tried to boot from the CD-rom, but it won't load (new cd-rom, works OK).

Any suggestion on how to to go about this project? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: When you try to reinstall XP, did you choose the option to repair the existing system? Not that it'll necessarily work...

As for booting off the CD, there's no reason that shouldn't work--but you do need to specify the boot device, usually by holding down an Fn key right after it starts. (On some PCs, the message telling you which key to press only displays for, like, 1.5 seconds--hugely annoying.)

If the system's really going south, you might be better off backing up all of your own data--basically, the entire contents of your Documents and Settings folder--and then reformatting the drive before reloading Windows.

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Pen Gap, Va.: What is the least expensive way I can 'speed-up' and improve the memory or free-up disk space on my 2001 Sony VAIO laptop? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Add more memory. You need at least 512 MB for XP to run at a tolerable speed, and a gig is a better idea in a lot of cases.

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Halethorpe, Md.: I just hooked up a (Motorola) converter box to my 30-plus-year-old tv (rabbit ears and all), and I like the results--the picture is much clearer, as advertised. I get the Baltimore stations (those that have DTV broadcasting, that is), but I can't pick up any DC stations except for WETA, and its channels have a bit of breakup in the lower part of the picture. Since I live in a rented townhouse, a rooftop antenna is out of the question. Do you have any ideas on how to improve my DTV reception?

Rob Pegoraro: I'd say you've already won--you're just outside 695, so I'm surprised you get even one D.C. broadcaster. My advice to you is to declare victory and enjoy your free TV reception.

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Alexandria, Va.: Are there any HDMI splitters/switchers that are better than others, or is this a "cheaper is better" item?

I thought 1 HDMI input was fine when I bought my HDTV 2 years ago, but with a PS3/Blu-Ray player on the way I need to do something to accomodate both the cable signal and movie/game signal without having to climb behind the TV and switch the cables manually.

Rob Pegoraro: With HDMI, as with any digital connection, either things work or they don't. The catch with HDMI is its copy-restriction features; I could imagine a poorly built splitter messing up the "handshake" process that goes on between an HDMI source and an HDMI display.

If you've got a separate set of speakers for the TV, a lot of home-theater receivers already handle HDMI switching.

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Seattle: On the 720p vs. 1080p argument: My laptop screen recently died, but the computer still works. Rather than replace the screen or purchase a new laptop (I'm in grad school, and not excited about paying for either prospect), I hooked it up to my 37" HDTV. It's functional for now, and the 720 resolution from my laptop on the screen looks great. However, because my TV is 1080i, I can't use the 1080 output, as the output is interlaced.

So, basically, if you ever plan on hooking up a PC to your HDTV (which is surprisingly easy to do and incredibly useful), you may want to spring for 1080p if the higher resolution is something you're interested in.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's an interesting perspective--literally and metaphorically--on 1080p HDTVS.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob -- Do you think CableCards are ever going to come back to tvs? It's all well and good that you can get them for Tivo, or you can get a set-top box that they plug into.

But say I want a TV in a guest room, so it doesn't need Tivo. Or I want one on the kitchen wall. How can I avoid having an STB for that? Seems like a market niche that someone could exploit.

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah, but most cable operators still seem to suffer from the delusions that a) they're in the hardware business, not just the video-service business; b) they're actually good at the hardware business.

So they've done just about everything possible to choloroform CableCards. The manufacturers that I've talked to all seem gun shy at this point; unless you could get a CableCard that also worked with satellite systems, I don't know that you'd see any big renewal of interest in this concept.

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RE: Arlington, Va. : I've had similar issues with my macbook. "not broadcasting" the SSID seems to work for me. Odd, but true. I've also had better success since I switched to a Linksys router, was a netgear. Hope that helps.

Rob Pegoraro: Hadn't thought of that one. Thanks!

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Seattle: Rob,

I'm normally a Zune user, but I bought an iPod nano to use with my new NikeID+ sneakers. The functionality of Nike+iPod is great, except on a run the other day, the iPod all of a sudden stopped working. I could click the buttons and hear them clicking, but nothing would happen. Eventually, I unplugged the transmitter, turned off the iPod by holding the Play button, and continued on. Any idea why this would happen?

Also, I defy you to explain to me how the simple up-down interface of the Zune is somehow inferior to waving your thumb in circles on an iPod. For all of your constant talk of elegance, rubbing one's thumb in circles seems like a pretty stupid way to use a device.

Rob Pegoraro: Sometimes iPods just crash for no reason.

As for the Zune's controls--I like 'em, and not only said as much in my review but pointed out how they work better than the iPod's in one respect:

Zippity Zune? Nah.

(It's other parts of the Zune package that I object to--most of which Microsoft could fix fairly easily.)

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Rob, Now that Blu-Ray DVDs have won the high-definition format war, is a Playstation 3 a reasonable and affordable alternative to a stand alone Blu-Ray DVD player? And will the PS3 upconvert traditional DVDS? Many thanks in advance.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes and yes.

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Frederick, Md.: Posting early due to time constraints. System is a Dell Dimension 4600, 4 years old, Windows XP Home, all updated, antivirus and spyware software up to date and working fine. The machine now refuses to fully boot. I can only see a black and white screen, with the Dell logo and BIOS info and an alert, saying not able to get past checkpoint (Aux), and the old style white cursor flashes and is hung up at that point. Dell techs tell me the motherboard needs to be replaced. I couldn't even boot from the Windows XP CD. Is there any advice to offer, or is this machine toast?

Rob Pegoraro: You might just need to replace a tiny battery on the motherboard. But if the Dell techs already said that won't work--then it's time to go shopping for a new machine. Four years is a pretty good run for a PC.

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Columbus, Ohio: I recently installed an Epson CX9400 all-in-one, which works fine. However, ever since the installation, when I reboot, a system tray icon informs me that it is now safe to remove a data storage device from usb. Trouble is, there is no stick in my usb, nor has there been for many weeks. The only new usb device is the CX9400. How do I get rid of the phantom stick and prevent the recurring icon? While we're at it, how do I prevent the repeated crashes--and reboots--being caused by the latest version of Firefox, short of closing the browser every time I leave my computer unattended for awhile?

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't seen any such crashes with Firefox. Are you talking about the 2.0 release or the 3.0 beta? I have seen reports of stability problems with the latter (which is why, y'know, it's a beta).

For the Epson printer: If you installed its drivers off whatever CD came with it, hit Epson's site and download the latest versions there.

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Oakland, Calif.: how do you remove antispyspider from my computer.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know this program, but the general drill is to get an anti-spyware program--try Windows Defender or Spybot Search and Destroy--and have that remove it. If you don't know how to do that, ask a friend who does or hire a computer-repair service.

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Washington, D.C.: I uploaded a mini-dv video to my pc for the first time, and it defaulted to a humungous .avi file (125MB for 30 seconds). The smallest conversion I could perform was with Windows "Movie Maker" which got it down to 7MB..Still 14MB for a minute of video seems excessive. What am I missing?

Rob Pegoraro: You're not missing anything. Video footage is HUGE, especially right off the camcorder. Getting it down to 14 MB per minute is really good, actually.

Now imagine how much fun it was for me to try to upload video over some shaky press-room connection at CES!

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Baltimore, Md.: Can you explain in something approaching standard (non-techie) English how I am in danger just from visiting certain websites? I have always assumed that I am safe if I don't install anything ... how does a browser hijacking work?

Rob Pegoraro: Essentially, the hostile Web site tries to shove a program down your browser's throat, exploiting a glitch in its programming to get the bad software on your machine. You may not be able to see this happening, much less stop it.

That's why it's so important to run a current, fully patched Web browser--repeat after me, no more Internet Explorer 6! You also have to make sure all your browser plug-ins, like Flash, Java and QuickTime, are up to date.

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West Milford, N.J.: Rob, for Oakton's disk problem: Open Windows Explorer (Click Start, type Explorer in the search box and Windows Explorer will be one of the choices or just type in Windows Explorer). Start Windows Explorer. In Explorer click on Computer (in the top of the left hand panel), then, in the right hand panel, right click on the D: drive, click on Properties and then click on the Security tab, he can then see what permissions he has for the D: drive and edit them as necessary. (Your way works too, but it takes longer to get there and is a little more involved.)

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, West Milf.!

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You're great: Rob: I emailed you 2 weeks ago with some DTV questions and you actually answered them. Just wanted to say thanks. Your online forum and email "tech support" is great!!!!!!

Rob Pegoraro: For everybody wondering why I haven't answered their e-mail yet: Sorry, I was busy taking care of this reader!

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Ashland, Ore.: Hey, for the guy looking for cheap and easy speakers - any 2.0 (two speakers) or 2.1 (two speakers plus a subwoofer) setup should work fine. Plenty of 2.0 packages for under $30 and 2.1 packages under $50 can be found, pretty much anywhere. All of them will sound a lot better than any computer's built-in speakers. 2.1 sounds noticeably better than 2.0

5.1 (dual front, dual rear, center and subwoofer) speakers won't work with a simple headphone out (you'll just get 2.1 sound) and are more complicated to set up.

I've owned several logitech speaker sets for computer use, and they seem like a good place to start.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

(Almost done here, just catching up on the comments people have sent in response to some earlier requests for help)

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob, I'm a Windows (Vista) user and girlfriend is a Mac user; neither one is likely to change. To share photos and music, I've set up shares on my machine and also have an external hard drive that she uses. Networking isn't a problem. But every time she connects, she involuntarily leaves a bunch of hidden .DS and .DS_STORE files all over my machines. Is there any way to prevent this?

Rob Pegoraro: There is, I think... but I don't remember it right now. I'll try to find that workaround and write it up for Help File.

Sorry for the tease!

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Potomac, Md.: Rob, I recently started to use a MacBook Pro laptop. For a web browser I'm using Firefox. I have noticed that there are still some websites that only work correctly with Internet Explorer (U.S. Government sites seem to be the most prevalent offenders.) Do you know of any way to get around this on a Mac or should I just continue to use my Windows machines to access these sites? Thanks, for all the great info and tips in your chats, blogs and columns.

Rob Pegoraro: And speaking of Internet Explorer--e-mail me sometime with the addresses of these cites, and I will make some calls and/or mock the stupidity of government offices requiring citizens to use one proprietary program to connect to them.

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Rob Pegoraro:... and that's gonna do it for today. Thanks for all the questions! If I didn't get to yours, you're welcome to e-mail me (robp@washpost.com) and I'll try to get back to you when I can.

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


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