Personal Tech

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, May 1, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, May 1 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

A transcript follows.

Submit a question or comment now or during the discussion.


Rob Pegoraro: Greetings, all!

So should I limit all of my responses to 140 characters apiece, in honor of today's column on the culture of status updates, itself written as a series of status updates?

Ummm: nah. That piece took about four times longer to write than any other column I've written lately, just because it took so long to chisel every paragraph (save that one at the end) down to 140 characters or less.

It's showtime...


Ardmore, Pa.: How do you find Twitter helping you professionally?

Rob Pegoraro: It works in a few different ways.

* It's a good outlet for tidbits that aren't blog-worthy, or aren't blog-worthy yet. (People have called Twittering "micro-blogging," which I think is a pretty apt description.)

* I can "chat," in slow motion, with other writers and sources

* Keeping a presence on Twitter, at some level, may serve to demonstrate that I grok this whole Web 2.0 thingamajig. (I.e., all the other kids are doing it!)


Bethesda, Md.: You have any inside information on when the next iPhone is going to be introduced and what will be different?

I'm finally out of my Verizon contract and I am going to get an iPhone, but I've been seeing rumors of big discounts or a 3G version on the way in the next few weeks.

Would you wait until after the developers conference in June or is there no reason to wait.

And what does 3G mean anyway: how will it change the usage of iPhone? Or does it just allow use on other carrier's networks?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure, it's coming out [redacted], at $[redacted], with an upgraded [redacted].

Oh, heck, Apple's jamming my signal again. Drat!

But seriously: Sorry, no inside info here. But consider that it's been almost a year since the first iPhone debuted; it would make an enormous amount of sense for a 3G model to ship at or not long after that first birthday.

3G, since you asked, won't let the iPhone run on any more networks, but it will greatly improve its Web performance away from WiFi hotspots.

Were I you, I'd sit tight--let the contract run out, then brush off Verizon's requests to sign up for a new 2-year deal.


St. Petersburg, Fla.: Rob - I see that Apple thinks enough of your opinion to quote you on their website at We all think highly of your opinions, too, or we wouldn't be here with you on the occasional Thursday afternoon.

Rob Pegoraro: I hadn't known! (That site quotes my review of the Time Capsule.)

Of course, I had the usual first reaction on seeing any vendor quote a favorable review by me: "I feel like such a whore now!"


Washington, D.C.: The Apple Airport Express base station streams music wirelessly from your PC to main stereo system. Will the Airport Extreme, which I have, be able stream music at some point? Is it more difficult because the Extreme is Gigabit Ethernet? Can the 2 Airport stations work together to stream music?

Rob Pegoraro: The Extreme doesn't stream music, and I don't think it will anytime soon. My guess there is that Apple doesn't see that many people setting up their cable/DSL modem right behind the stereo; ergo, why build music-streaming into a WiFi router designed to be plugged into your cable or DSL modem?


Potomac, Md.: Rob,

Submitting in advance. I have a new laptop with Vista (2 GM RAM and 120 GB Hard Drive). What is your recommendation for anti-virus program? Should I get a stand-alone and use some features in Vista or get a security suite? Cheaper is nice, but I am more interested security and not cluttering up the laptop more than necessary.

My internet use is mainly web browsing and emails. I may get wireless internet in the future, but for the most part I would only access the internet from my home network and not use other wireless networks.

Also, do I need anything additional in case I get wireless internet access at home or is the wireless modem that my provider gives me sufficient?

Many Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Don't get a security suite--that's just going to gum up the works. (Many of my readers would say that Vista is pretty good at that job already :)

Stick a stand-alone anti-virus program. If you're not using the computer for business, there are some pretty good free ones to choose from: AVG, Avast, Avira and so on.

The wireless router you already have should be fine, but make sure you check the default settings; yours may come set to leave your network poorly secured.


wiredog: Will a move to 3g improve the iPhone's performance as a phone? I know several people who tried it out and then returned it because it had poor voice quality.

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't notice any voice issues myself when I tried out an iPhone last summer, but if there are any they would be independent of its "air interface"; that's strictly a matter of microphones, speakers and the digital-to-analog circuitry hooked up to them.


Bowie, Md.: Rob,

Bootup or user-switching on our home laptop (we run WinXP) has slowed to a crawl, presumably because of all the hidden programs that run at startup. What used to take two minutes now takes six. I can't do anything about the Windows routines, but how can I find and kill all of the third-party "gifts" left behind by my kids and/or my brother-in-law (who always tries to "improve" our computer with new utilities that he must have but we do not)? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: First, you should set up a separate account for your kids with only "limited user" privileges, so they can't install anything else.

Second, trying using Microsoft's free Windows Defender to shut off all these startup apps. Or just open up the Add or Remove Programs control panel and start booting unwanted programs off the machine.

You could also instruct your brother-in-law to clean up the mess he's made.


Burke, Va.: My laptop at times becomes completely unresponsive. Using CNTL-ALT-DELETE and reviewing the processes tab, I find java.exe completely monopolizing the CPU. This is not something I want, much less something warranted. So, I end the process. Not wanting to do this every time, is there any other action I can take other than removing java.exe from the computer. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You may have an old version of Sun's Java runtime-environment software. Hit Add/Remove Programs and uninstall that, then go to and install the latest release. (It is necessary at some Web sites.)


Anonymous: Rob, Why does HP not support its printers for Windows VISTA. It only provides some universal drivers and multifunction printers with scanners are left hi and dry

Rob Pegoraro: Maybe HP is trying to tell you to get your next printer or scanner from other vendor?


New York: Rob, first I join everybody else in thanking you for the helping hand you extend to us loners, working without IT apparatchniks.

My question: I'm poised between buying the mid-level MacBook or the Mac Book Pro. There's a big price difference. For the extra money the Pro provides things I'll never need and won't use. What I do want is the larger display, better sound, for me a more comfortable keyboard, and I can order a matte screen. But including the differential cost of Apple Care I'd be paying ca. 900 bucks for these few features. Would these features make the Pro worth it for a non-technie who doesn't do films, photos, graphics? I do documents, all day long, a lot of research via the www, and much cutting and pasting for my editing work, the usual emails.

MacBook basic seems not quite the ticket for a grownup at work all day (is this unfair?), though it's a better buy. Any thoughts?

and thanks of course.

Rob Pegoraro: I know what you're thinking; $900 extra is a lot to pay for a laptop upgrade.

How about Plan C? Get the MacBook, then buy an external LCD and add-on keyboard that you can use at home? If you're not traveling that much, you could probably deal just fine with the MacBook's smaller screen on the road.

Though if you don't travel at home, you might be happier yet with an iMac (which Apple just upgraded, slightly, this week).


Tempe, Ariz.: Hey Rob! I'm having some issues with Internet Explorer 7. I hate IE, but am forced to use it because Netflix's online viewing service isn't compatible with Firefox. (That's a rant for a different time!)

Background info: I'm running Windows XP SP2 on a Compaq laptop. Every time I load IE, it takes at least three tries to start. Sometimes four or five, but never less than three. So I open IE, it locks up and I have to hard close the program through the task manager, then re-open, freeze, hard close, re-open a third time, and then it launches, and runs fine once it's launched. I've tried uninstalling and re-installing IE and the problem persists. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Check your add-ons, all the plug-ins that run when IE starts. If you only use IE to watch movies from Netflix, you can probably deactivate or shut off most of these components. Open IE, go the Tools menu, select Internet Options, click that window's Programs tab and click the Manage Add-Ons button.

Try deleting everything there, then reinstall only whatever the Netflix site prompts you to add to watch a movie.


Washington, D.C.: Do you find it ironic that the most popular Anti-Virus applications are from overseas such as Russia, Chez, and the like - where many of the virus programs derive from?/Ed.

Rob Pegoraro: Considering the complaints I've gotten about some of the best-known American-made anti-virus apps, this might not be so much ironic as predictable.


Harrisburg, Pa.: My wife and I will be Italy on vacation this summer and plan to get a new digital camera to replace our two+ year old model. As a former 35mm photographer, I remember well the days of worrying about security machines fogging film. With the new generation of high-tech security machines, which appear to be more powerful, do I have to worry about our removable SD cards? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Nope. Unless airport security involves putting you through an MRI or taking a hammer to your SD Cards, you should be fine.


Reston - iPod woes and the iPod Touch: Hi Rob

My three-year-old iPod battery is not long for this world. In fact the device will only work when it is plugged in.

Sooooooo. As much as I'd love an iPhone, I don't need a third mobile phone. I was thinking of getting the Touch and filling it up with my iTunes and taking it to Europe with me in a few weeks so that I can connect to Wifi (check emails) and also have music and even movies for the plane.

Anything I need to know? Any place to get a deal - i.e. is Best Buy better than the Apple store, etc.

Is something newer and groovier coming out shortly? Right after I bought my iPod I think it upgraded but it was too late for me.

Many thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: That kind of use makes sense for the Touch (even if it's not my favorite iPod for plain old listening to music).

To find the best deal, have a look at But don't expect to see any great savings; Apple keeps a tight grasp on retail pricing, so you will rarely see any discounts, maybe just some other accessory, like a carrying case, thrown in with the purchase.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob -

Thanks so much for doing these chats. I noticed that Apple this week upgraded its iMac line of computers. One of the upgrades was a more advanced video card (NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GS 512MB as compared to the ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro) on its 24in iMac. I am thinking of getting the 20in iMac without the advanced video card, but I feel like I'll be missing out on something. Should I be concerned? Would getting the larger screen and better video card be worth it if I want to run Vista through bootcamp and help to future proof the machine? Thanks so much!

Rob Pegoraro: Unless you play a lot of fast-paced action games--in OS X or in Windows, via Boot Camp--I don't think the card's a worthwhile upgrade. Put the money you'd spend on that card on more memory or a good external hard drive for backup purposes.


Seattle, Wash.: Hi Rob,

We have a Gateway NX860XL laptop with Vista we bought about nine months ago. We use it for web access, movie watching and some gaming, and it rarely leaves our coffee table. The big screen is nice, and the full-size keyboard is easy to type on. However, we've already had to replace the hard drive because we kept getting an error message about it, and now we are getting occasional black lines across the screen. Should we send the whole thing back and get a MacBook, or is it worth hanging on to and fixing?

Rob Pegoraro: It's still in warranty, so you should get Gateway to fix the latest round of problems (or to replace the computer entirely). At least then you can get some money for the thing if you do want to get a different computer... much as my own cheapskate mind rebels at the thought of retiring a laptop less than a year after purchase.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Rob,

I'm grateful for your response to a long email I sent a couple of weeks ago regarding options for broadband internet access. Anyway, after some investigative research, the bottom line seems to be whether or not I should continue with Verizon 768 Kbps DSL at $24 per month, or sign a 2-year contract for their 3 Mbps DSL with a $30 price guarantee for life? On the other hand, does anyone know of any good alternatives to Verizon?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't think you're going to beat Verizon's DSL pricing (although Fios would come close). There are third-party DSL vendors, but they cost a bit more, and there aren't that many of them anymore.

But perhaps I should have asked first: Are you happy with Verizon?


Washington, D.C.: Since I'm completely at sea when it comes to electronic products, I REALLY appreciate your taking my question.

I need a dvd recorder/player. But I'm reluctant to buy one as it may not meet future technological advances. Anything else on the market? Any advice or suggestions will be most appreciated. (I'm short on apt. space, hate clutter and love versatility in a product.)

What do you think of the Neuros OSD?

Rob Pegoraro: DVD recording is a stable technology. I reviewed my first DVD recorder... well, it was long enough ago that I have to think of it in terms of "where was I living at the time."

(I'm thinking 2002, however.)

As long as you buy a DVD recorder with a digital ATSC tuner and that supports upconverting, you should be fine.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Rob. I need to purchase a new router because my old wireless-G no longer seems to be working. We have one desktop and two notebooks, both of which run on wireless g (I hope I got that terminology right.) Would I see any benefit in connection speed by updating to a wirless-N router (for $30 more) if my components only run on the g standard? We probably will not be purchasing a new computer for a couple of years. We may, however, add wireless components, such as a printer or Web cams for conversations with grandparents and family. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: No, you won't see any speedup from 802.11n with your current computers. You might see a boost in range, but if your house is like most in D.C. I suspect you'd need to physically leave the house to enjoy that expanded range.

BUT: 802.11n's faster performance is helpful for things like streaming video from a computer to a wireless media receiver like Apple TV. So if you think you might want to do that at some point, the extra $30 for an N router could be justifiable.


Mount Airy, Md.: Rob, tell the iPod Touch buyer that Apple frequently has good deals on refurbished equipment. Check the Apple online store. The refurbished equipment carries a full Apple warranty, and you can add AppleCare too.

Rob Pegoraro: Done! Thanks...


Seattle, Wash.: Hi Rob,

I have a Sprint phone and a Palm Vx PDA (fairly ancient, I know), and I would like to combine the two for convenience. I know the Centro would be a good option (though no one seems thrilled about it), but I would love to have a phone that would let me browse using Wi-Fi because I hate paying extra for web surfing that I don't use very much, and because there is Wi-Fi everywhere here. Do you have any suggestions or anything available now or in the near future?


Rob Pegoraro: No, not if you want to stick with the Palm software you know. Go ahead with the Centro--Sprint doesn't charge much at all for unlimited Web access (just $15/month).


Georgetown, D.C.: I'd really like to get a PC laptop with a backlit keyboard so I can type in my garden at night -- I got hooked on this after testing a Powerbook, but have decided a Mac isn't right for me.

The only model I've found is the Dell M1730, but this a pricey XPS beast designed for gamers, which I don't do.

Do you know of any others? Are there any aftermarket backlit keyboards that I could install?

Apple hit on a really good idea here. I'm surprised the PC big boys didn't follow suit.

Rob Pegoraro: I could not agree more--I've made this same point many times before.

Take a look at Lenovo's ThinkPads; they don't have backlit keyboards, but they do feature a little LED in the lid that illuminates the keys from above.


Washington, D.C.: My wife and I have new blackberries. Are there any must-have applications to download or purchase for an average middle manager and parent?

Rob Pegoraro: Google Maps (visit from the phone.

And if you use Gmail, Google has a nifty little mail program you can download as well.

After that... I'm not so sure. The funny thing about the BlackBerry is how little extra software it has, considering how many of them are in use and how long they've been around. RIM seems to have trouble grasping that it's a good thing to have other programmers writing software for your product.


Richmond, Va.: For Tempe - Since starting IE is a problem, you can also get to Internet Options through the control panel.

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip!


Urbana, Md.: Hi Rob,

Do you know of any free file encryption software available? Also, has Microsoft fixed the Word encryption bug issues?

Thanks - Al

Rob Pegoraro: TrueCrypt:

It's both free and open-source

Um, which Word encryption bug?


Bowie: Rob, prior to trashing my PC, I took out its hard drive to use as the D: drive in my new one. Since it was full of junk and had Windows XP on it, I erased the whole thing using DBAN.

But now my new Vista machine doesn't detect that drive when it's hooked up. The BIOS detects that drive, and my Linux-on-CD detects it. Why doesn't Vista see the drive (and more importantly, how do I fix it)?

Rob Pegoraro: How did you reformat it? If it's not FAT32 or NTFS, I don't know that Vista would see it at all.

(DBAN = "Derek's Boot And Nuke," a helpful free program that overwrites everything on a hard drive to ensure there's no data leftovers for anybody else to pick over)


Arlington, Va.: Does Time Capsule provide advantages with automatic backups? Or can you configure any external hard drive to do that from the OS?

Even so, would the wireless nature make it especially handy for backing up laptops which one often forgets to plug into external drives when they move around the house?

Rob Pegoraro: Time Capsule relies on Apple's Time Machine software, which--notwithstanding its somewhat limited taste in backup volumes--is about the best consumer backup software I've used. It does automatic backups and even preserves different versions of documents. Once you've got it running, you have to seriously work to lose a file.

Time Machine can actually be described as "fun," which is not something I'd say of any other backup apps that I've tried.

Yes, the wireless aspect is a big deal for laptop users. In a lot of ways, Apple built Time Capsule for multi-laptop homes.


Coventry, Conn.: Silver Spring might want to see if Cavalier Telephone can provide service. Much cheaper than VZ.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Coventry!


Antwerp, Belgium: Hi Rob. Thanks for all your advice. Whats your opinion on defragmentation tools like Diskeeper - very expensive - UltimateDefrag, PerfectDisc from Raxco - which I hear is the best around - Defragler, there are so many. You have any special preference? I use PerfectDisc and see a great improvement on my XP SP2 pc. Good luck.

Rob Pegoraro: I think defragging is generally a waste of time unless you're starting to run low on disk space.


Creative Zen mp3 player: Hi - is there anyway to get my Mac to recognize my Creative Zen mp3 player? Another music program organizer instead of iTunes, or even just recognizing it as a 16GB hard drive to use to move and back up files and photos to? Thanks.

(And how come your discussions haven't been listed on the weekly schedule only on that day's list on the main page?)

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know that this is possible at all. If the Zen is a PlaysForSure device--one that can only be used on Windows with certain programs, like Windows Media Player or whatever Creative throws in the box--then it might not work at all on a Mac.

Does anybody have ideas about what this person could do?


Atlanta: Hi Rob, Do you think the Samsung Instinct, which Sprint will start offering in June, is truly the iPhone killer it claims to be. They are promising a 3G network to back it up, and so far reviews are good. I'm a longtime Sprint customer and wonder if I should use my handset credit to upgrade to this. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: As a rule, anything labeled an "iPhone killer" is automatically doomed. Look at Verizon's LG Voyager. Like the Instinct, it looks a great deal like an iPhone. But its software is nowhere near as good as the iPhones.


Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi, Rob,

When I bought my flat panel I was looking forward to watching DVD movies at nearly full screen because HDTV was supposed to be closer in aspect to that of a theater screen. So why is it that some movies still appear severely letter-boxed when I watch them in standard mode? The image runs in a band taking up barely a third of my 42-inch screen. Using the zoom function makes it larger but cuts off either sides. Am I doing something wrong? It almost makes me long for the old days of pan and scan.

Rob Pegoraro: You've gotta play with the aspect-ratio settings on your TV and the DVD player. Either one may be confusing the other... only way to get at a solution is to grab both remotes and start experimenting.


VHS to DVD: I've got some old VHS tapes that I'd like to transfer to DVDs, assuming they haven't already disintegrated. (Not movies, of course, just family stuff.) I probably don't have enough of them to justify buying a recorder. Do you know of any store who offers this service? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Quite a few video-service places can do this (there's a nationwide chain called YesVideo, for instance). Any suggestions for the D.C. area?


Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, any updates on the rumor of a google phone? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Not a rumor; Android is a very real project. But it's also some time from yielding a phone you can buy. Don't expect to be able to purchase one until (pulls timetable out of hat) the fourth quarter of this year.


"Maybe HP is trying to tell you to get your next printer or scanner from other vendor?": Hilarious! I guess you don't have to worry about HP putting that quote on its start page.

Rob Pegoraro: Well... at least I spelled "HP" right. That's gotta count for something...


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Rob -

I recently purchased two identical Western Digital 500GB MyBook external hard drives. One of the drives is plugged into a USB hub. The other drive is plugged into a USB outlet in my monitor. Neither drive initially appears in Windows Explorer. If I unplug a drive and plug it back in, it will show up. If I then unplug then plug in the other one, the other one, it will show up, but the first one will disappear. What can I do to get both drives to show up at the same time? Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: Does each drive have a different name? What if you plug both into the hub?

(Anything else to try? This one has me a little stumped)


DC Fed: Can you help my office settle a question that has puzzled us. Citing the higher cost per page of color laser printers, our office director has instructed us to save color printing for "special occasions" and use the cheaper black laser printer for most documents. Are the cost comparisons made in the computer users magazines made on an apples-to-apples basis, or do they compare a color picture (with ink on the entire surface of the page) to a page of text? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Most of those reviews are pretty specific about how the tests are done, so you should be able to tell by checking the fine print at the end of each comparison.

Not having bought laster-printer toner anytime soon, I don't know if color costs more than black. But if the person who buys that stuff for you all says so... they'd know better than I would.


cbr: Hi Rob, late to the chat, hope you'll post. Will you ever write a follow-up on the Zunes? I've got one and I love it for the most part, but syncing can get funky. Have you heard anything about others having finicky Zunes? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I reviewed the second-gen Zune right after it debuted last fall: Zippity Zune? Nah.

I haven't heard from any readers having problems syncing their Zunes. OTOH, I've only gotten Zune-related e-mails from less than a handful of readers.


Springfield, Va.: I just bought a Philips 47" 1080p LCD TV and love it. I watch DVD movies on an inexpensive player connected via HDMI cable. My question is: on some, not all, of my DVDs (widescreen versions) the black bars still appear. If I try changing the screen aspect through the TV, the widescreen option is faded as in 'not available.' I thought the point of buying widescreen movies for the last three years was that they'd "fit" when I splurged on the widescreen TV. What am I missing here?

Rob Pegoraro: With HDMI, a digital connection, the TV should figure out the aspect ratio automatically from the source device. It could be an issue with the DVDs themselves; there are different levels of "widescreen," and many of these aspect ratios are wider than an HDTV's 16:9, which would still leave you with some letterboxing.


For VHS to DVD: Price it out first. A while back, I had a tape turned into DVD. It cost alot (maybe I was ripped off).

Recently, I wanted more done and it was much cheaper to buy a digitizer (PLEXTOR ConvertX PX-TV402U - on sale with a rebate at the time) and do it myself than out-source it.

However, I did have to use my new computer (Dell Inspiron 530, XP Pro, Intel Core 2 Duo 2.19 GHz, 4 GB RAM) to get it to work well.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


wiredog: Courtesy of Dave Barry's Blog

The Wi-Fi Camera Umbrella

I fully expect to see an in-depth review in the Post soon.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm on it!


Vienna, Va.: Rob, I would like to mount a "webcam" on a room wall so I can clearly observe online remotely what is going on in the room. Since my pets are in there I don't want wires that can be chewed. What equipment would you recommend, the simpler the better with reasonable picture quality? My HP PC running Vista is on Cox cable modem.



Rob Pegoraro: You could get a wireless-enabled Webcam, but it's still going to need a power outlet.


Arlington, Va.: C'mon, Rob........your Apple-whoredom has been well known for years now.

Rob Pegoraro: You forgot to call me a "fanboy" and ask how much money I'm getting from Apple. Let's stick with the plan here, people!


I'm such a girl: and therefore need some help. I just bought a new LCD tv (32"). Currently, I've got my digital receiver connected using the composite (component?) cables. The HD channels definitely have a nice quality to them. My question is this- will there be a marked difference if I buy an HDMI cable? My cable is braodcasting in 1080i (I tried to switch it to 720p, but apparently I can't).

Does this question make any sense? It makes total sense in my head. Thanks for your help!

Rob Pegoraro: Component video--three separate cables plugged in side-by-side--provides the same resolution as HDMI, but loses a smidgeon of quality along the way. HDMI's main advantage would not be a better picture (I doubt you'd see a difference from the couch, not with a 32-inch screen) but less clutter; it handles audio as well as video.

If you do opt for an HDMI connection, do not buy the name-brand HDMI cables in the store. Get a generic cable; they all work just as well.


Silver Spring, Md.: Regarding Verizon DSL.

I've basically been happy with our 768 Kbps service, although streaming of video content is often not that good. I was hoping that upgrading to the 3 Mbps service might solve our video streaming problems. The thing that really bugs me about Verizon is their seemingly overcomplicated pricing schemes.

Rob Pegoraro: The faster speed would help; 768 kbps is on the low side for most higher-quality video (not YouTube, but movie trailers and the networks' streaming video of TV shows).


Centro!: I do! I love the Centro! Its a great little phone, and very affordable. I don't understand the point of Blackberrys anymore -- my Centro can do things that they can't. I urge the other chatter to go for it.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the input!


Columbus, Ohio: Lately my computer (XP/SP2 fully-patched) has been crashing and rebooting for no apparent reason several times a week. At first, I blamed it on Firefox, but there now appears to be little evidence to support that theory. The crashes occur no matter how many or how few programs are running. After sending an error report to Microsoft after two such crashes-and-reboots, I received the following, both times: "...unable to determine the exact cause of this error. However, this problem was most likely caused by an error in your omputer's...RAM....During the crash analysis, we noticed the...BIOS...system version on this computer does not match the specifications for the..CPU...that is installed on your computer. This can occur when a newer processor is installed on an older system board or older BIOS...."

There has been no such change in my 3-year-old system. The only recent change is the installation of a new Epson printer (including latest drivers), after which BTW--at every boot-up--a phantom "storage device" icon appears in my system tray, indicating safe removal is possible.

Any insights or suggestions appreciated.

Rob Pegoraro: Some memory modules can cause problems later on, but that shouldn't be the case if you haven't added any.

Does the computer run hot, with the cooling fans whirring away at full speed? If the processor overheats, it will shut down immediately (though I don't know that it would restart right away).

Let's throw around some other ideas. I'll stick around another 15 minutes or so to see what we can come up with here...


Silver Spring, Md.: iPod issue. Recently, when I plug my first generation iPod shuffle into a USB port in my Mac, it'll show up on the desktop but will not appear in iTunes. So now I can't do anything other than charge it. Any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: I was all set to pass along a link to a tech-support story on Apple's site detailing how you can reformat the iPod with Disk Utility, after which it should pop up in iTunes as a fresh iPod... but it says this workaround only works for iPods with click wheels, not shuffles.

Have you tried connecting it to another computer?


"Since my pets are in there I don't want wires that can be chewed. ": Your "pets," Dr. Evil?

Actually, just hard-wire the power through the wall and connect it on the other side. Or get some of that wire-cover-moulding the cable companies used to use to retrofit buildings.

The girls are still gonna chew their way out, though.

Rob Pegoraro: Not much I can say but this: These are my readers!


Beltsville, Md.: I think the letterbox questioners were talking about the black bars at the top and bottom. But if one of the was talking about black bars on the sides, some older "widescreen" DVDs are not anamorphic, which means that an upconverting DVD player will not expand the image to fill the width of the screen.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks. I should have asked the original poster how old these titles were.


Germantown, Md.: To Bowie (with Hard Drive recognition problems):

Right click on my computer, left click manage, and you'll be able to manage your disks. Specifically, on Windows 2000, XP and Vista, you'll commonly find that you're wiped HD will be listed as "unallocated." You need to define it as a basis or dynamic disk, assign a drive letter, and reformat. All should be fine after that.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, G-town!


cbr: Me again. I did read your "Zippity Zune" follow-up and agreed with most of it, but the features you didn't like I never use, so it worked out for me. I love the Zune for the radio and the lack of DRM controls. I also just don't like iPod's hardware or interface in general. I just have issues getting the Zune software to listen to me at times -- I've been trying to get some TV episodes I downloaded from Bit Torrent, and it just says "Syncing..." for ages but never loads them. From your response, I suppose I'm the only lonely in that case...

Rob Pegoraro: FWIW, I like the Zune much better when it's used separately from the Zune Marketplace, which it sounds like is the case for you.

The TV downloads might not be in the exact right format for the Zune; I know I've read numerous reports from iPod users who had to tweak encoding and format settings to get some video files to play on their own devices.


Rockville: I just got an HDTV (720p/1080i) but don't have HD service from Comcast.

I tried plugging in some rabbit ears to pick up an HD sports broadcast over the airwaves, but my TV seems to assume anything hooked up by coaxial is 480i.

What do I need to do to at least experiment with seeing something in HD before buying the full cable service?

Rob Pegoraro: What brand of HDTV is this? Every one that I've tried has automatically picked up an HD signal when I have an antenna hooked up to the antenna post on the back.


Maryland: Hello Rob, thanks for taking question. Not sure if you covered this or not but what's your take on the ModBook, the tablet MacBook?

Rob Pegoraro: A neat technical achievement, but irrelevant for the vast majority of users, or at least the home users I'm supposed to write for.


wiredog: The people who dumped the iPhone did so because of poor rf performance, as well as it's a bit quiet.

Quite simply: It doesn't get a signal where other phones do, and when it does get the signal it's not as strong. At least that was their view.

Jerry Pournelle had that experience, too, and wrote about putting a cell repeater in his living room to make the iPhone usable as a phone.

Personally, I'm happy with my Motorola V2 on Verizon, but am thinking of an iPhone to develop applications for. An expensive hobbyist tool, as it were.

Rob Pegoraro: Throwing this out there...


Rosslyn, Va.: Rob, I've been a loyal fan of DirecTV for a few years until they have begun causing enough exasperation lately I need to vent.

First, we upgraded to a bigger HD dish in January, which was great except when I went out in my yard and saw the old dish just laying there in pieces. DirecTV has told me that I just need to throw it out. First, this seems like a ridiculous waste as surely there is some way they could recyle or re-use some of the parts. Second, I now have two extra receivers gather dust because during upgrades, installers have not taken the old equipment away even though I was told they would since they were free, but leased receivers. I can't say I like the business model that they just leave it up to you to dispose of perfectly usable equipment any time you upgrade something. Then I called in January b/c the new HD DVR was acting buggy. During same call I asked to cancel my MLB package for this year (since it's automatically renewed if you don't cancel - another annoying practice). The person on the phone says no problem, they took it off. Bill comes for April - and there it is. I call DirecTV multiple times and they say there's nothing they can do once the season starts and they'll have to elevate it to the credit department. A month later, no word, and I'm still paying for a subscription I don't want and asked to cancel.

Next, our reception starting going out a couple of weeks ago. Turns out the new dish (which had to be moved to a slightly different place) points at some trees that don't let a signal through now that the leaves are out. Guy comes out yesterday, and says not much they can do. You're telling me the original installer didn't see this coming? We're moving in a month, so I say no big deal, but on calling DirecTV they say they move you for free, but you have to commit to another 12 months. Our new neighborhood is wooded, so how can they ask me to commit to something if I don't even know if we'll get a signal there???

I never thought I'd say it, but this is making Comcast look tempting again (no Fios at the new house). I'm angry I'm missing hockey playoffs now, and I'll sure miss Sunday Ticket, but this is RI-DICULOUS!!!

Rob Pegoraro: I'm happy to share your venting. Who made the service call and misplaced the antenna--one of DirecTV's own personnel, or some local subcontractor?


Misc. responses and 1 question:- Like a previous poster, I adore my Sprint Centro, although I wish it had a more-capable web browser

- Since there is FIOS cabling at my house, I'm apparently ineligible to upgrade my Verizon 768kbps DSL to 3Mbps. I'm thinking of switching to RCN instead, at least for a year.

- Of course your Mac Zen user could run BootCamp

- I agree that the MyBook user needs to rename one of the drives. Maybe this can be done through a web interface


- I'm still looking for a TimeMachine equivalent for Windows, now that I have a NAS. Anything new on that front?

Rob Pegoraro: At the end of the Time Capsule review, I invited people to suggest a Windows backup program with degree of simplicity/elegance comparable to Time Machine. And after 38 replies, some extremely technical, nobody's suggested one. I would like to think that such a thing to exist--so if you've got ideas, please leave a comment pointing me in the right direction.


U St: I recently switched from DSL to Comcast. Every two or three days the internet service goes out. It restarts if you reset the Mac and the wireless box. While I am glad it is an easy fix, it is annoying. Any idea why this might be?

By the way, I think someone mentioned something about HD channels on Directv and Comcast last week. As a former Directv and now Comcast subscriber, Directv has more. The Comcast ads that say they have more are ridiculously deceptive - the fine print mentions something about free HD channels. You have to pay a little more for an HD package through Directv whereas you don't for Comcast - however - Comcast charges a fee for the HD box that you don't pay for Directv. With both you are paying, it is just the semantics of paying for the service or the equipment. Similar fees, but with Directv you get more.

Rob Pegoraro: Just in case the embittered DirecTV customer is still around...


Arlington, Va.: Rob, Know anything about availability of HD Set Top boxes for Verizon FIOS? I have FIOS and just got an HDTV, but Verizon told me they are out of HD STBs and HD DVR STBs. they gave me a free DVR for three months. I had read that their shortage was over but I guess not. Heard anything about this? I want my hi-def!

Rob Pegoraro:"Out of"?! I'm going to ask Verizon about this one. Seems hard to believe.


Washington, D.C.: I don't know if video games fall under your purview, but is it safe yet to buy an Xbox 360? I know Microsoft switched processors last year, which was supposed to fix many of the problems the 360 was having. But even after doing some research online, I can't tell if there's been a notable decrease in systems breaking down or not.

Rob Pegoraro: I asked Mike Musgrove, who knows far more about this than I ever will. He said he gets the occasional report from a reader about a broken 360, but he can't tell if those systems have the latest components or the original ones.


Richmond, Va.: Hey Rob -

I'm thinking of making the switch over to Mac. I currently use Firefox and the "IE Tab" extension to allow me use of certain features that are "Internet-Explorer only" (such as Netflix "Watch Now" and Launchcast radio). Does Firefox for the Mac have an IE Tab extension that would allow me to "fool" the Mac into letting me use these websites? Or is there another way to use them? Why anyone would make their players IE-only baffles me.

Rob Pegoraro: The only way to view IE-only pages on a new Mac is to run Ie itself, either inside CrossOver (a $70 program) or inside a full Windows system (by running Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion).

I agree that it's idiotic to make an IE-only page; that should be a firing offense for Webmasters. But the Netflx page also relies on Windows-only digital-rights-management software, so even if it worked in Firefox you'd still be out of luck on a Mac. (Microsoft could port its DRM to Mac OS X but has declined to do so.)


Rob Pegoraro: That's gonna do it for this week. Thanks for all the questions! See you here in a couple of weeks...


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