Personal Tech

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, May 29, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, May 29 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

Read transcripts of Rob's past tech discussions here.

A transcript follows.


Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon! How are you ... wait, did you say something? Sorry, the connection's fading out... what?... I've only got one bar, that's why... huh? Oh, hell, I'm going to have to call you back.

Yes, it's that time of the year when I spend too many hours poring over wireless price plans and "terms and conditions" documents. The results of that labor appeared in this morning's paper and online, but you're also seeing them right here.

So ask away--about wireless service or any other tech topics you've got in mind this fine afternoon.


Carrboro, N.C.: Regarding mobile phone pricing--your dismissal of price as a factor in service choice assumes that users are at the level where the comparable $100/unlimited plans offer the best deal. As someone who still has a land line and uses relatively few mobile minutes (and VERY few daytime minutes) I note there are still price differences at the low-minutes end of the scale.

Checking my local plans and prices, I see that Sprint's minimum plan is about $35 for 200 minutes, while Verizon and AT&T have minimum plans at about $45 for 450 minutes. So if you're in the low-usage category, Sprint is noticeably the cheapest option (as it has been for years).

From where I sit--having not had a cell phone bill over $40 in years--the $100/unlimited plans are not particularly useful.

Rob Pegoraro: That's a good point. Everytime I do this story--which is probably (ulp) every year for the last decade--I have to think about how much readers are likely to use their cell phones.

On one hand, I never want to tell people to buy too few minutes a month; the overage charges will destroy you in that case. On the other hand, who wants to pad out a wireless carrier's profit margin?

Usually, I assume something like 300 or 350 minutes of use, based largely on statistics about Americans' wireless use (for instance, the numbers gathered by CTIA, the cell-phone industry's trade association).

Here's a somewhat disturbing fact from their research: last year, Americans spent 2.1 trillion minutes on cell phones.


New York, N.Y.: A friend of mine is selling her iPhone and I would like to buy it. What do you think the procedure is for getting a used iPhone activated, if I would like to port my number from Verizon?

Rob Pegoraro: Apparently, the trick is to use iTunes to restore the phone to its factory settings, then activate it as if it's new. See this thread on Apple's tech-support site:

BTW, in case anybody is wondering: No, I don't know when the 3G iPhone will be arriving in stores.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob! Perfectly timed question for today's cell-carrier comparison. I have a $50 credit towards a new Verizon cell (provided I renew the 2yr contract, of course...). I was considering their Motorola z6c World, as I'm in the midst of a job search that might put me abroad for an extended period of time in the somewhat-near future, so a GSM-capable phone's making sense. Your article mentions the US GSM carriers unlocking their phones at request, but do you know about the other way around? Would Verizon unlock my phone so that I could just replace the smart chip with a European carrier's plan, if I end up abroad? What about if it involved me cancelling the Verizon 2yr contract and paying the penalty?

Rob Pegoraro: Good question! I'd ask Verizon, but if they say no you might also be able to pay somebody else to unlock it--this is a service various outside vendors can provide for you at extra cost. (Can anybody recommend a nearby shop that will do the job?)

Your other option would be to rent a phone when you are overseas, or to buy the cheapest GSM phone you can find and get a prepaid SIM for that. It all depends on whether you need to be reachable by your U.S. number, or if you just need a cell phone, period, overseas.


Capitol Hill: Rob, I'm starting grad school this fall and the school has a contract with Lenovo. I've only ever had Dell laptops (do not want another) and don't know a lot about this brand. I was thinking about going the Mac route, but this huge public research university literally has only 10 Macs on campus.

Rob Pegoraro: Non-phone questions are fair game here also!

Lenovo is a Chinese company that bought IBM's personal-computer business. From what I've heard, they've continued to do a good job with ThinkPad laptops; Lenovo has also begun to branch out into the consumer market--something IBM never seemed to get the hang of--with a new IdeaPad line of laptops.

I'd give them serious consideration.

I wouldn't let the lack of Macs scare you away from buying a Mac if that's what you want, BTW. The only thing that ought to throw up a stop sign would be the school requiring you to use some Windows-only software (though even then you could run it inside Parallels or VMWare Fusion).


Kemosabe: A footnote to today's column re: D.C. Metrorail cell service. Metro's board is looking into ending Verizon's exclusive contract and allowing other carriers to provide platform and tunnel service. They're also talking about making WiFi available down there, too. Of course, this is all going to happen at the same time flat panel displays are installed on platforms and real-time bus schedules will be appear. In other words, it could be a very long time coming.

Rob Pegoraro: Indeed! I remember how long it took Verizon to upgrade from analog to digital service underground--it was something like six months for the signal to make its way down the Orange Line from McPherson Square to Court House.

The basic problem is that you've got maybe two hours a night in which you can string cables and transmitters through the tunnels without getting pancaked by a train. So, yeah, could be a while.

Here's the story we did on this in March:


Brookline, Mass.: Yesterday, two months after I signed up for an Internet/Phone/TV bundle from RCN, they encrypted essentially all their digital programming (HD and SD), including local channels. Customers were given no notice, and will have to rent a box for each TV to receive any service (at $12.95/month each).

As far as I can tell, there are no alternatives to renting a box - CableCard TVs are no longer made, and the cheap external decoders promised by the FCC remain a myth.

Do you know of any device (other than Tivo) currently available that will prevent my Samsung HDTV from becoming a paperweight, or any legislation to require Clear QAM for non-premium channels? I know about tru2way", but I predict the cable companies will sabotage that, just as they did CableCard.

Rob Pegoraro: I hadn't heard about this--it's kind of disturbing, if you've been following this issue. You don't have a whole lot of options here.

If you only have that one TV, your best option might be to buy a TiVo HD, which does have CableCard slots--by paying for a year or two of TiVo service in advance, you'll bring its monthly cost well below that extortionate $12.95 (!) fee.

(Seriously, if you're not getting a DVR for that kind of monthly fee, you should write out a complaint to the state A.G.)

You could also dump RCN for Comcast or Fios or satellite.


Falls Church, Va.: So the rumor is that Apple will announce a new 3G iphone next month. I am interested, but I am concerned about battery life, both between charges and the amount of time it will last before it needs to be replaced. How much does 3G shorten battery life?

Will Apple come out with better batteries or self replacable batteries?

Rob Pegoraro: Apple said that it left 3G out of the first iPhone precisely because of its effect on battery life. But in the year that's passed since then, there have been some improvements in 3G hardware; I'm pretty sure that Apple is not going to ship a new iPhone with worse battery life than the old one--just about every new iPod runs for longer on a charge than its predecessor.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob. Why does the AVG Free say that it program will no longer be available after May 31st? Is it a ploy for me to upgrade to a pay version? If so, do you recommend any other similar (free) anti-virus programs? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: No, AVG will still be free. I've already put AVG 8 Free on one or two PCs, and you can download a copy yourself at

In case anybody doing PR for the company reads this, please note: I had to write a Help File item a year ago when AVG had a bunch of users thinking that it was going to stop making its anti-virus scanner free for personal use. If I have do that again, I will send that company a bill--and they should be aware that my "correct your dumb advertising" service does not come cheap.


Re: No, I don't know when the 3G iPhone will be arriving in stores.: But it's soon enough to wait, right?

Rob Pegoraro: I would say that. But you're talking to somebody with a long history of postponing technology upgrades because something better is "not far away." That's why I'm banging out these notes on a TRS-80!


Old Bethpage, N.Y.: I just downloaded AVG 8.0 internet edition. After downloading it, I was unable to print items from my laptop and another networked computer in my home. When I disabled the AVG firewall, then I could print. How can I have a firewall and continue to be able to print from a networked printer?

Rob Pegoraro: Use the firewall built into Windows. It provides the exact same level of protection against inbound threats, but it's a lot smarter about not stepping all over legitimate network activity.


Arlington, Va.: What can you tell me about DVD recorders? I have checked what Consumer Reports recommends but then when I look at the models online they all get bad reviews.

Rob Pegoraro: I just looked on Amazon, and just about all the DVD recorders listed there get 3.5 or 4-star reviews.

FWIW, I tested LG and Panasonic DVD recorders last spring, and both worked fine. They were a little clumsy about editing and titling recordings, and both could have used an electronic program guide--but for the basic job of recording digital TV, I didn't have any real complaints.

Can any DVD-recorder owners in the room share their own experiences?


Arlington, Va.: To your prepaid plan discussion I would also add TracFone. I have used their service for several years now. Costs about $100 for 1 year. The minutes that you don't use carry over without expiration. I have something like 1500 minutes sitting on mine because I use it so infrequently. They have lots of double minute bonus offers and other special deals. True the phones aren't the newest technology but who cares if you only use it once in a while?

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestion!


Comcast Phone: No fan of the Philly Behemoth am I, but I just got off the phone after deciding to add phone service to my cable and internet (it's actually going to be a lot less than having a land line, which we thought about dropping altogether).

Please just tell me we didn't make a huge error in choosing to feed the beast even more.

Rob Pegoraro: In general, I have to think it's a mistake to give more money to any company you regard as a "beast" or a "behemoth."

In this case, you could drop landline phone service altogether, or you could cut your Verizon landline plan down to a "metered-rate" calling plan that only provides a set number of calls. They've got one plan that offers 40 or 50 outbound calls a month (10 cents/each afterwards) that's only $20 with taxes included.


Baltimore: I'm sure you've answered this before, but when my VCR becomes useless, is there a DVR that doesn't require a monthly subscription fee? I just want to record the occasional TV show when I'm not home.

Rob Pegoraro: That's why you'll want a DVD recorder--*with* a digital tuner. (I'm glad to see that Amazon labels those without tuners in the clearest manner possible: "tunerless." Some stores classify them as "line-in input," which is a lot sneakier.)


Washington, D.C.: My PowerBook G4 was stolen a few weeks ago and I've just now received the insurance check to buy a replacement. I'm leaning toward a MacBook Pro but have held off from purchasing it because I have heard rumors that a new design will be out this summer. Something about a new keyboard and/or screen similar to that on the Air. Have you heard anything in that regard? If need be, I could wait until July or August to make the purchase.

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry to hear about your loss. People who steal computers hate America!

I'd go ahead and buy an MBP now--it was last updated only three months or so ago.


Chicago: Hi, Rob.

Question about the Vista backup utility in Home Premium. It doesn't seem to understand that I want to have -two- sets of backups on two different external hard drives, each of which gets an incremental backup every other week. Am I missing something? After creating the two backup sets (call them A and B), if I try to do an incremental of A (having last used the utility to create B), Vista looks for B and gives up when it can't find it. Seems like a major oversight by MS, IMHO.

Rob Pegoraro: Well, yeah--and so is the fact that this backup program doesn't let you do any kind of custom backup. It's only useful for the most basic type of use.

What beginner-friendly, cheap-or-free third-party backup software do we like in Vista these days?


Bonifay, Fla.: The thought of Windows 7 scares me. While I'm sure a 3GB computer will accomodate both 7 and some programs - Notepad and possibly Wordpad, what is the chance of any of these happening (1) Office for the MAC to include ACCESS, (2) a MAC rdb equivalent to and somewhat compatable with ACCESS (perhaps through at least comma and quote delimited files), or (3) a new series of PCs whose registeres will accomodate larger addreesses, allowing use of 8 or more GB of RAM (4 for Windows 7, 4 for my applications.)

Rob Pegoraro:1) Very poor.

2) I don't know squat about databases, but have you looked at FileMaker Pro?

3) 64-bit processors are supposed to do that--although in Windows, 64-bit support comes at a huge price in software and hardware-driver compatibility.


Chantilly, Va.: I thought about buying a TRS-80, but decided to wait. That's why I do my computing on an Altair 8800.

Type your reply slowly so I have time to translate the text from the blinking lights.

Rob Pegoraro: [insert punchcard joke here]


Arlington, Va.: With regard to the low usage of phone minutes that was brought up. For those of us who don't use our cell phones much at all (I don't make/receive calls more than a couple of times a week and generally use 10-20 minutes per week), a pre-paid phone is the best deal I could find. After buying a phone from T-Mobile and loading it with $100 (this gives you 1000 minutes) in September, I've still got 200 minutes. The average cost per month is good. Awful deal if you're a chatterbox though.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Carrboro, N.C.: Basic question here: what would a "3G" iPhone do that the current one doesn't? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Download Web pages and e-mail much faster than the current model--easily 2 or 3x the speed. The 3G broadband connection would, however, still be slower than the iPhone's WiFi.

Apple is also rolling out a major software update with a lot of new features, plus support for third-party programs, but this 2.0 upgrade will be free to all iPhones.


Rockville, Md.: My 3 year old Sony DVD recorder does it job fine in a WYSIWYG way. Just like using the VCR. The only negatives are that you can't change the default menu it creates and that giving titles a name are a pain with just a remote.

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't like "typing" with a remote either on the LG and Panasonic models. Ugh.


London: I will be travelling to the U.S. soon. I know my mobile/plan work there, as I've phoned other people on past trips, but I was wondering: since we don't have to pay to receive mobile calls over here (the U.K.) and you do over there (the U.S.), while I'm in the U.S., who pays for the calls I receive?

Rob Pegoraro: I do. And I'm getting tired of subsidizing you like this, damnit!

Uh, I don't know. There is no "calling party pays" standard here. I'd guess that your carrier eats that cost, or that it's covered by roaming fees.


Washington, D.C.: Personally, I think the monthly fee plans for wireless are over-rated. I have used a pay-as-you-go plan for more than 2 years, and I am definitely ahead of the game. Yes, the phones don't have many features, but you get exactly what you pay for. And it does help you stay off the phone for completely useless calls.

Rob Pegoraro: OK, every time I do a chat about wireless phone service I get quite a few posts along this line. Thing is, there are far fewer prepaid than "postpaid" users (for instance, only a quarter of T-Mobile's customers use pre-pay, and Sprint has 39.7 post-paid and 4.4 million prepaid). So why does nobody seem to want to say "you know, postpaid works for me." Is it because prepaid gives you a feeling of being in control, while postpaid is just another bill? I'm thinking this may be more psychology than economics.


Washington DC: Hi, Rob,

Your suggestions, please: I clumsily spilled a cup of room-temperature tea on top of my closed iBook (G4) while it was in sleep mode and even though I removed the battery and waited a week for everything to dry, I'm getting no response at all when I re-insert the battery and plug -- No whirring sound of the motor coming on, much less any screen activity.

Some folks say I need to let it dry for another week. Does that sound right to you?

Immediately after the accident, it seemed ok, with the desktop files visible. But after I powered it down to clean it and then tried to reboot it, I got only a tiny, center-screen file icon with a question mark on it that alternated with a tiny, blank file icon. And when I rebooted again, all I got was jagged stripes across the whole screen. At which point I finally realized I should shut it off and take out the battery.

I love this computer. Do you think it's worth however many hundreds it might cost to fix my more-than-6-year-old G4 iBook, if it can be fixed? (It wasn't eligible for

Applecare insurance at its age.) Or to buy the same model used from Craigslist, if that's even safe? Or is it a better investment to pay hundreds more to move to a G5, a Powerbook, whatever? I can't afford $1600-2,000-plus for a new machine, and have some qualms about buying from Craigslist, where prices are much below those of the refurbished machines sold by Apple.

I'm hooked on Mac (mostly 'cause I got so many viruses on PCs but also 'cause it's just so much nicer) and on laptop convenience but suppose you could convince me to be more practical.

What do you suggest? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: If the laptop is six years old, it's not worth repairing; for one thing, a new MacBook will cost $1,100, not $1,600.

I write that even though I have a hard time imagining that spilled tea would kill the thing outright, and that I hate giving up on old hardware myself. It seems like it ought to be a fixable issue, no?

So what I'd do would be to take it to a local Mac repair shop (years ago, I had good results with MacUpgrades in Bethesda) and see if they can fix it cheaply, or at least extract the hard drive and copy your data off that--which you'll want to do before getting a new machine anyway.


ARRRGHHH!!!!: Can you please post a notice:

If you're talking about the computer, it's Mac (short for Macintosh, although when was the last time they wrote the whole name out? 1993?)

If you're talking about the hardware network identifier, it's MAC.

Every Mac might have a MAC, but not every MAC is found on a Mac.

Rob Pegoraro: Thank you. This is one of my pet peeves.


VCR graveyard?: I hadn't heard before that my VCR will stop working once TVs convert to hidef. Is that only for recording new tapes? Or will I also be unable to watch old tapes?

Rob Pegoraro: Yeah, the FCC is going to power up the VCR death ray it's built at its secret lunar base and use that to reduce every VCR in the land to a pile of dust. What, you didn't get the letter about that?

Kidding! No, the only part of a VCR that will stop working as of 2/17/09 is its analog TV tuner. Every other item on it will work as it did before.


The Boonies: Are there any options for internet service on the horizon for those of us who live beyond the reach of cable/DLL? Wild Blue satellite is providing more reliable service than Hughes did, but has a bandwidth limit that we seem to keep exceeding...

Rob Pegoraro: You're a victim of physics and geography. The bandwidth and latency of satellite Internet isn't going to get better anytime soon--the latency never will, since you're bound by the speed of light--and it will take major upgrades in wireless capability for other forms of broadband to reach you.

The WiMax service Sprint is working on might do the trick, but don't get your hopes up too high. Remember, it was supposed to be commercially available in D.C. now--and it seems we're going to have to wait another year for that to happen.


Honolulu, Hawaii: Hi Rob,

I have been using Eudora email for years now. Eudora 7.1.09 pro(paid mode)is on my computer. As you are aware, Qualcomm no longer provides updates.

My question: Is Eudora secure and can I continue to use it? Or should I use another email program and what's your suggestion?

Thanks for all your good advice in the past...

Rob Pegoraro: It's secure--secure in its obsolescence, certainly, but I'm also not aware of any attacks being made against it.

Your best upgrade option is called Eudora, but it's not the program you know--Qualcomm has turned the Eudora code base and developers over to the people working on the Mozilla Thunderbird mail program. But what's available right now is basically a FrankenProgram--bits of Eudora and Tbird stitched together, and not quite ready to replace either application:


Annandale, Va: Rob,

A warning about SP3 for Windows XP, from recent personal experience. I was about to install some new software on my three-year-old HP desktop, so I created a restore point and checked the Microsoft site to be sure I was current with updates, even though my system is set to get them automatically. I just reinstalled Windows in February - not by choice - and I've been extra cautious since then. The site recommended I download and install Service Pack 3, so I did.

What a mistake.

On the restart, the computer never finished booting but restarted itself, giving me the safe mode/last known good configuration/etc screen. No problem, I thought, I'll go back to the restore point I just made. Nope - the system cannot be restored to that date. I tried going going back to restore points days, weeks, and finally months old. No luck. Thanks to Microsoft, I get to spend the weekend recreating my computer for the second time in four months.

So everyone, when Rob tells you to back up your data, he means it. My backup drive is the only thing keeping me sane, but how I wish I had Apple's Time Machine. My next computer will be an Apple, no question.

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry to hear of your story. FWIW, Service Pack 3 has been fine in my experience. But that's the problem with Windows--success on one computer does not seem to guarantee anything on a second person's machine. The entire OS can just seem fundamentally ungovernable in cases like this.


Who rebooted you?: You seem particularly feisty & sarcastic today, Rob! Just giddy to have that wireless plan roundup article behind you?

Rob Pegoraro: Wait until it's a month to go before the analog-TV shutoff and I'm answering DTV questions for the 2 millionth time :)


Pre- vs Post-paid Cell: Just my personal experience with the Prepaid Debate... When I lived in France my junior year of college, I adored my prepaid cell. It was more widespread there, and it suited my needs of a ten-month solution for varying use. However, when I got back to the States, prepaid plans were just starting to become available. But without having a landline, my cell is my primary phone - and the prepaid rates tend to favor minimal usage.

Rob Pegoraro: True enough...


Madison, Wisc.: Hi Rob, what's your take on this agreement between the major cable companies and Sony? Do you think this will really hasten the end of the set top cable box? My take is I'll believe it when I see it, and I don't think it's likely I will.

Rob Pegoraro: I am skeptical as well. For one thing, Panasonic trumpeted a deal much like this several years ago; last I checked, owners of Panny HDTVs still had to put up with cable boxes like everybody else. For another, this agreement is confined to one company; any other firms will have to negotiate their own deals.

I just don't get this. Oh cable companies, why do you think anybody likes their cable boxes? We don't. Please get this through your heads at long last: YOU ARE IN THE SERVICE BUSINESS, NOT THE HARDWARE BUSINESS. Leave the hardware to people who are actually good at it, mmkay?


Syosset, N.Y.:

Rob... Love the chats (and the TRS-80 conversation - I had a Model I!)

My wife, son and I all have a Verizon family plan with varying end dates to our service plan. My wife and I each covet the iPhone.

Do we wait the years until IPhone is not exclusive to ATT, or... do we bite the bullet and pay off the cancellation penalties?


Rob Pegoraro: I would sit tight. Paying multiple cancellation penalties--that's gonna hurt. OTOH, you will be waiting a long time for a non-AT&T iPhone to appear; I'm pretty sure that company has a five-year exclusive on the thing.

You may instead want to wait for phones running Google's Android software, which aren't exclusive to any one carrier. They're supposed to arrive by the end of this year.


Columbia Heights, D.C.: Do you know of any good quality earbuds that have a retractable cord? I HATE winding up the cord in between use of my MP3. I bought one that lasted 2 months before the sound went out in one of the earbuds.


Rob Pegoraro: Can't think of any. Can any of y'all?


Tampa, Fla.: Re databases: OpenOffice Base is a free data base program. I haven't tried it, but if works as well as the rest of the Open Office suite, it should be a good program.

Rob Pegoraro: Forgot about that--thanks, Tampa!


Franconia, Va.: Anything important for buying a new HDTV aside from LCD versus plasma?

Rob Pegoraro: LCD and plasma is the most important decision, but there are also issues like screen size (well, duh :), resolution, response time and connectivity. Here's the story I did on HDTV shopping (among other tech topics) last winter:

One thing I'd add to that--a lot of LCD sets now offer "120 Hz," which is a fancy way of saying they redraw the image on the screen twice as fast as normal to reduce blurring effects. It's becoming a standard feature on mid-level TVs a lot faster than I though it would six months ago.


Arlington: Hi, I'm a pretty devoted Mac user and currently have a T-mobile phone. Would love, love an iPhone but enjoy the T-mobile service. Do you know if/when Apple will share the iPhone with other cell providers? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You could buy an unlocked phone or "jailbreak" it yourself--but you're on your own in that case, with no warranty and no recourse if the phone dies.

So I think you've gotta dump T-Mobile if you want the iPhone badly enough.


RE: Every Mac might have a MAC, but not every MAC is found on a Mac.: This is good to know. Are there more common techno-malapropisms I can intentionally use to drive my IT guy nuts?

Rob Pegoraro: Hmmm... I'll see if I can think of any. Maybe you could keep calling the Internet "AOL." That oughta drive them bonkers!


Alexandria: Re the conversion of TV broadcasting to all-digital: we are among the frugal who get our HD TV over the air, by antenna. Love it. I also dearly love my Panasonic DVR, which we use constantly to record one program while we watch another. So as I understand it, we won't need a converter box for the TV, since it's already "digital ready." But what about the recorder? Will that still work? Do we have to get a converter box for it? Or will we have to buy a new recorder? We paid about $600 for the recorder we have now, so hope we can still use it. And I note that the new Panasonic digital DVD recorders will record the program you're watching, which seems pointless to me - I want to record the one I'm NOT watching, so I can watch it later. Help!

Rob Pegoraro: If your DVR has an ATSC tuner, you're set. If not, you're hosed, in basically the manner you describe. (Although with a DVD recorder and an HDTV, each with a DTV tuner, you could record one program on the recorder and use the TV's tuner to watch another.)


New York: Hi Rob, any recommendations for a personal camcorder to shoot video for a blog? I'm looking for something under $500 with a good amount of zoom. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Use the video feature on your digital camera--that should offer more than enough resolution for blog posting. (I shot all the video you saw from my CES trip in January on my own, year-old cheap digicam.)


Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob--

If you tell my boss I'm sending this, I'll deny it, but the security settings on my work PC are driving me crazy. They just installed a new version of McAfee VirusScan Enterprise on my computer, and it seems to think that every cookie on every website is a security threat. I get a pop-up window every time a website tries to put a cookie on my computer--I never realized how often that happens. Do you know how I can adjust this without opening up my computer to every virus out there? I asked our IT people about it and they couldn't figure it out. Their solution was to wait until a new version gets released--very helpful.

Rob Pegoraro: You could download a copy of Portable Firefox, put that on a USB keychain and run that copy... well, assuming McAfee only policies cookies in IE. If it does that in Firefox as well, I would imagine that it would control a USB copy of the browser as well as one installed on the C: drive.

In which case you might have to do actual work at work. That's just awful...


Annapolis, Md.: Any suggestions on networking computers to a printer?

My parents use Verizon Fios (finally....). Both are using land-line links to the central router. Dad's machine (basement) has an attached printer. Mom's (2nd floor) does not. Any suggestions on a way to network Mom's PC in with Dad's to use the printer? I know the printer allows it, but I'm wondering if I'd need an extra router/hub on the inside of the Verizon unit to accomplish it? Or would I just need to connect the router to the Verizon unit to make it addressable to all?

Rob Pegoraro: You should have enough hardware on hand for this; you'd need to enable file and printer sharing on your dad's computer, then leave that machine on full-time to keep the printer accessible.

Some routers have USB ports that let you share a printer off them--for instance, Apple's AirPort routers--but I don't know that the standard Fios model does.

You could also buy a printer that has WiFi included, but those are still pretty rare in the market.


Rob asks "Oh cable companies, why do you think anybody likes their cable boxes?":$11 a month rental per box, that's why. That deal won't mean anything until that revenue can be replaced.

Rob Pegoraro: Sad but true.


Leopard Upgrade: I have a Intel Core2Duo MacBook, now that Leopard has a couple of point updates under it's belt, is it worth the upgrade? Will I see a performance hit? I'm used to every Windows OS upgrade slowing my computer significantly? Does Mac have the same issue?

Rob Pegoraro: No, Apple's new OS X releases typically run a little faster, as the company finds ways to optimize more of what is still a relatively young operating system.

I would go ahead with the upgrade. When I sit down in front of a Mac that's not running Leopard, I find it almost obnoxious that I can't, for instance, view any document with Quick Look, make a Dashboard Web clip of any Web page right in Safari, or add an iCal appointment from within Mail.


Farragut North/West, D.C.: Do tri-mode cell phones still have any tech value? I still have one because...well, it still seems to work fine. But there's that huge discount for renewing a contract, and many new all-digital phones are really cool, and there's that gadget-loving element of the Y chromosome...

Rob Pegoraro: If by "tri-mode" you mean phones with analog capability, they have *zero* value--analog service is being shut off pretty quickly around the country. Carriers stopped being required to offer analog back in February, so any analog transmitter in a cell phone is now just about worthless.


Minneapolis, Minn.: I'm so glad you're doing a chat today because I have a question that I'm dying to know the answer to, and that will help me decide where I spend my economic stimulus rebate.

I have a 42" 1080P LCD TV that I use to watch HD that comes from over the air (no cable or dish). From what I understand, this means there is no compression, and therefore Zero data loss in the transmission, therefore the best possible picture as of now. (Whether the compression used by cable/dish results in a picture worse than OTA, I don't know, don't care.)

Now, when ABC plays a movie like Harry Potter in HD, and I watch it in the setup described above, is that basically the same as watching it on Bluray? I have an upconverting (to 1080P) DVD player and I have to say that I can't see the difference in picture quality between that and the movies that are shown on broadcast television in HD.

I was told by one person that the difference between DVD and Bluray is even more stunning than the difference between VHS and DVD. I just have a hard time believing that. If watching OTA HD is about the same as watching Bluray, then I'm just tickled pink to stick with DVD and upconvert it. It's hard to get a side-by-side comparison in any of the stores (Best Buy etc) to really see the difference, hence my comparison to HD transmissions. What do you think?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, over-the-air DTV is as good as HD can get. So if you find that you can't see a big difference between an OTA high-def movie and an upconverted DVD, you should save your money and skip a Blu-ray purchase.

BTW, was the person who told you that "the difference between DVD and Bluray is even more stunning than the difference between VHS and DVD" under the influence of any hallucinogenic substances? Because not even the PR types flacking Blu-ray have tried to make that argument to me.


Bethesda, Md.: If I wanted to use a generic internet address i.e. one that is portable and not dependent on the the ISP provider being used, which one would you recommend? Isn't gmail still in beta testing? How about yahoo or hotmail?

Rob Pegoraro: I'd go with Gmail, as long as you don't mind the ads on the side. Hotmail and Yahoo don't let you download your messages to any other mail program unless you pay extra for the privilege.


Here's a digital converter question: I must buy a digital converter box for my TV tonight -- the government coupon expires today! Give me a name of the digital converter I should buy. Please?

Rob Pegoraro: This is why I told people not to rush out and order those coupons back in February :)

All I can tell you is that I've only tried two of the things, a Magnavox and a Zenith, and that the Zenith was better but not by a huge margin.


Arlington, Va.: Have you had a chance to check out Canon's new SD SDcard camcorders? They are tiny and very lightweight since it's all solid state. Battery life should be pretty good too since there's no motor to drive. I have my eye on the FS100 but no one seems to really have them in stock. I saw one at Penn Camera and they didn't even have it on display. The guy behind the counter had to track it down hidden in their cabinet. These models were supposed to be out in March, then April, then May, and here we are at June and they seem to be very hard to find.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestion--I'll have to look into this. FWIW, I think SD memory-card storage is the future for camcorders in general, when you see how its capacity keeps going up while its costs keep going down.


Arlington, Va.: After constant clamoring from the grandparents for more pics of their grandson (my son), my husband and I got the idea to buy each family a webcam and software to allow for videoteleconferences. I know of Skype but have never used it - would you recommend that or another service? Any recs on the cameras themselves? Our parents are older and not very tech-savvy, so I'm looking for the simplest solution out-of-box (otherwise they'll wait to set it up until we visit, defeating the purpose.)

Rob Pegoraro: Go with Skype. The software's pretty simple to set up, and you also get dirt-cheap international calling in the bargain.


Summerville, S.C.: Rob - Most of the SP3 problems seem to be centered on HP machines with AMD processors. Seems HP used an install script that references a dll that only applies to Intel processors. It runs ok on initial installs because they left out the actually dll! When SP3 installs it sees the reference to the Intel dll and installs it on the machine. AMD processor tries to run Intel dll, now HP machine no workie. See details here:


Rob Pegoraro: Interesting--gotta check that out.

Almost done here; just a few other questions that I want to get to (in case my producer is wondering when she can take a break already!)


Madison, Wisc.: Rob, on 4/17, you had this exchange:

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!


Here's what I tell the folks I help; I think most users can follow this. Use the limited account for internet and the administrator account for stuff done locally. Internet means web browser, email and IM. Local includes installing applications, games and office applications other than email.

I also install Firefox and tell users not to use IE. I suppose IE should be used for Windows Update, but most can just have auto updates do that for them.

The driveby download, email and IM pathways for dropping malware on Windows machines have become much too common. I'm sick of cleaning malware off machines, so at least for those I help, internet under limited user is absolutely necessary.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for this. The approach you suggest works because you're there to set it up. What I struggle with is giving advice that people can follow when you or I aren't there to help out.


i see this far too often:"Are there more common techno-malapropisms I can intentionally use to drive my IT guy nuts?"

Just say, "It's not working" without providing any details about what "it" is.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, that's a classic!


Rob Pegoraro: And on that note--I need to get back to the day job, starting with writing up something for Help File. Thanks for all the questions! I'll talk to you again in a couple of weeks.


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