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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, July 24, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, July 24 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and blog posts.

This Story

Read transcripts of Rob's past tech discussions here.

The transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Greetings, all! What can I tell you about today?

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Bethesda: So, any good suggestions on a replacement for .Mac/MobileMe? All I ever really wanted out of the service was imap webmail, easy photo hosting for family photo, and good web calendar. I was psyched they were finally adding a good web calendar, but the implementation has been awful. Even the webmail is hardly usable now. I can't see paying $100 a year for the lousy service that .Mac has become.

Rob Pegoraro: If you've already spent the $99--note, only $80 if you order the boxed copy of Amazon--there isn't all that much to do but wait/hope for Apple to hammer the dents out of this service.

Otherwise, for what you in particular are looking for, the closest substitute would be a combination of free Google services--Gmail, Picasa Web, Google Calendar--and free and not-free software to tie them to your Mac. If you don't need photo hosting, Plaxo is another option (though its corporate parent, Comcast, is not exactly everybody's favorite company).

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San Francisco, Calif.: Whatever happened to bookmarks with the mew Mobile Me? In the old .mac I used that function all the time when I was at another computer other than my home one. Now I can't find my safari bookmarks anywhere and it's really frustrating. I'm happy they've added calendar but I don't want a trade off. I expect more from Apple and overall I think MobileMe is disappointing. Is there a work around for the bookmark problem, or am I not looking in the right place?

Thanks, Jeremy

Rob Pegoraro: The Web bookmarks feature of Mac.com is, in fact, gone. Which is downright odd: I mean, it's a lot easier to create a Web interface for a list of Web links (hint, it's called a Web page) than a calendar or an address book.

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Mobile, ME: Two MobileMe tips for Tiger users:

(1) From the perspective a Mac running Tiger, MobileMe is the same as .Mac. All the controls are in the .Mac system preference pane. There are articles describing a MobileMe software update that appears when you use the .Mac preference pane and changes the name displayed to MobileMe, but that is a Leopard-only upgrade.

(I believe the underlying idea is: the MobileMe servers are compatible with .Mac connections. So your Tiger machine can connect and "see" what looks like a .Mac server, but since it's really the MobileMe server the data--once synchronized--is available through the web, Windows, and iPhone clients and other MobileMe-specific access methods.)

(2) If you are using Tiger, and you enter your MobileMe ID and password but the .Mac sync panel gives you a message like:

There was a problem with the .sync operation. .Mac login failed.

then your problem is a corrupted preference file. Exit the System Preferences application, go into /Library/Preferences (where "" is your home folder) and delete the file named:

com.apple.DotMacSync.plist

Once you have done that, you can return to the .Mac preference pane and the Sync tab should work as expected.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for sharing!

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Rockville, Md.: Just got a Hauppage television tuner for my computer and don't know if there are any HD broadcase sources in the Bethesda area now broadcasting. Do you? I see lots of channels, but do not know if I have HD or not.

Rob Pegoraro: Um, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you're new to DTV. There have been HD broadcasts in the D.C. area since about 1998--by now, you're looking at all the network affiliates broadcasting from down Wisconsin Avenue in Tenleytown, all the PBS stations, and, well, pretty much every other broadcaster with a decent signal. Put that signal on a big screen--i.e., not a 15-inch monitor--and you'll have no doubt whether you've got HD or not.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, Like you I am very disappointed at the launch of MobileMe and I'm starting to worry that Apple, nee Apple Computer, is stretching itself too thin and losing sight of it's mantra of quality above all else. I love my PowerMac G5 and have converted my wife to using an iMac and a MacBook Air and I don't want to see the company continue to branch out at the cost of maintaining those systems. Of course, I love the revenue they are getting which allows the company to thrive.

Do you see danger ahead for them?

Rob Pegoraro: I've wondered about this in the past. Remember, Apple said it had to delay the launch of Leopard because it needed to sic its programmers on the iPhone first. I am somewhat relieved to hear that the next release of OS X isn't supposed to contain any big new features but will instead focus on stability and performance improvements.

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Bethesda, Md.: Rob, I just ordered my new Mac Book Pro (WOO HOO!). I was wondering what you think the best way to run windows on this machine is. I want to run windows for 1 reason only -- watch Netflix "play now" movies. This is, of course, only for a few more months till I can download them to my XBox 360.

Rob Pegoraro: If you have a valid XP SP2 or Vista CD, you could install Windows inside Bood Camp for free--but rebooting the entire Mac to watch a movie seems a bit much, no?

But avoiding rebooting will require spending $80 on a copy of VMWare Fusion or Parallels Desktop. At that point, I think you've got to ask if it wouldn't be easier to spend $100 on the Roku Netflix Player, the tiny box that plugs into your TV.

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Fairfax, Va.: iTunes added rented movies a little while ago. Did you know that the movies only play on the latest iPods and not the earlier 30g video iPod I have?

Rob Pegoraro: ITunes rentals come with much stricter "digital rights management" than all other iTunes downloads--and therefore much tighter system requirements.

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

As you noted, Amazon does offer MobileMe at a discount, but what if you need to renew your MM account? Can you use the Amazon version to do so?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. Buy the boxed copy, and when it shows up you log into your account, type in the alphanumeric code printed on a slip of paper in that box, then throw out the box. It is a rather silly and wasteful way to buy a digital good--but you do get one or two of those Apple-logo window stickers in the box, too!

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The Rock, Ga.: I am among the lucky "1%" of Mac users that was changed over to the newly designed MobilMe. Since that happened, I have not been able to receive any email since last Thursday. That would be 7-17-08 around 4:00 p.m. It has been a whole week, and the best answer is "We understand this is a serious issue and apologize for this service interruption. We are working hard to restore your service." I have been a loyal and dedicated user to Apple, and over the years, there have been glitches and bumps. However, they were easily worked out. This blundering problem is still going on a week later! I and many other used-to-be .mac users would just like our email, or here is an idea, revert back to .mac till you figure the stinking thing out.

Thanks, Steve B. (Would leave an email address, but can't get the reply!)

Rob Pegoraro: It's annoying, isn't it? I think at this point, Apple owes folks like you more than just a free month of service.

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Sherman Oaks, Calif.: Rob, Twitter question -

I've signed up. I sent out some invites.

Not sure what happens next. First, most of the people I know have never heard of twitter - so no help there.

I just went to your twitter site. I tried to figure out how to 'follow' you and wasn't able to. Can you easily explain that, as a beginning?

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro:[shakes head] I don't mean to sound exasperated, but all you gotta do is visit and click the "follow" button underneath my ugly mug. It's not that hard!

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U St: Recently switched to Comcast internet from DSL. It goes out a lot - at least once or twice a day. Normally will work after resetting the router but not always. People in my building say that they sometimes have problems, but they don't seem to be as frequently as mine. I assume the problem is the router, but I guess it could be my wifi card. Is there any way to run a test to determine the source of the problem?

Rob Pegoraro: Plug your computer right into the modem, so you take the entire WiFi network out of the equation. Good luck...

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob-

Since you're a reporter for a major newspaper, I hope maybe you can get Apple to answer questions about the widespread failure of their email service.

I haven't been able to check my email for eight days--a personal tragedy since I had just sent out a stack of resumes with my mac.com addy and expect to be receiving inquiries.

Mac tech support will only say they're working on the problem and that service will be restored "soon." They also claim that only 1% of customers are experiencing the disruption, though online discussion boards indicate they may be trying to cover up the extent of the problem.

I've read comments of people contemplating legal action to force a change in liability of service providers. Because internet is not legally categorized as an "essential service," such as elec, gas, water, and land-line phones, Apple can include a clause in the contract that their services are provided on an "as-is" basis only. But the legions of folks transitioning to working from home these days would disagree that RELIABLE internet and email is not a service essential to their well-being.... particularly when it goes out for 8 days and the company can't explain why or when it will be back.

Regards, Christina

Rob Pegoraro: And here's another satisfied customer! (sarcasm)

I don't think you need to view this situation through a legal prism to figure out what Apple could or should do. Not providing e-mail--e-mail!!!--for over a week is one of the most basic, blatant screwups any Internet-connected company can do. Like I said, it's past time for text-based groveling for forgiveness.

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Arlington: Rob,

Have you had any experiences will solar chargers for gadgets (eg iPod, cellphone, etc.) I'll be heading to a region without electricity for a while and I was wondering if you could recommend any solar chargers.

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't tried any myself. Can any fellow chatters recommend a solar-powered charger?

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Baltimore, Md.: This is awfully old-fashioned sounding but: I am having Comcast digital cable installed on Saturday. I'm only doing it because they dropped AMC from their analogue cable lineup and Mad Men is returning on Sunday. So...when I have digital cable, will I still be able to tape (yes, tape) shows on my VCR? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, if:

1) The digital-cable box stays tuned into AMC throughout the show;

2) The VCR is set to record off whatever input connects it to the cable box.

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Fairlington, Va.: So the iPod Touch is still $100 more than the iPhone? How does that make any sense? I keep hearing something about new iPods being announced in September (and my memory is that is when they like to do so). What event does Apple hold in September making this likely?

Rob Pegoraro: It's not any Apple events in September that are likely to govern iPod pricing--it's the arrival of students in classes in late August. We are as due for a cut in iPod pricing as I've ever seen, and that certainly includes the iPod touch.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Rob! We're planning to do a big remodel on our house. We'd like to set up a camera or webcam to automatically capture the progress like they did with the new baseball stadium. Without spending big money, of course, we'd like some kind of time-lapse photography. Could we do something simple by putting a webcam in a neighbors window over-looking the construction and have it take a picture once an hour or so during daylight? Or, should we just stand in the same place once a day with our hand-held digital camera? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: The latter. Let's not make things more complicated than they have to be.

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Rockville, Md.: I give credit to Google for working out an arrangement that should pretty well protect their users by anonymizing accounts, although if some user is found to be a big poster of material that Viacom is concerned about, I can see them coming back for real information on that user.

But the entire process really concerns me: I may have good reason to trust a provider like Google or LinkedIn. And I accept that in case of a criminal investigation, my data will be exposed. But recent events shows that the data I've trusted them with, under agreed conditions, can end up in a third party's hands based on some civil action. Very disturbing.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure (this is a comment on the Viacom vs. Google/YouTube lawsuit). It's like Lou Reed sings: You can count on the worst always happening.

One of the folks who commented on my blog post on this issue made a good argument that this situation wouldn't come up if Google hadn't decided to keep this data for all time. If you don't store user data permanently, you can't be forced to give it up by some misguided judge.

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External Storage for Mac: Not a MobileMe question, but still a Mac question (and note, I didn't say 'MAC'). I've got a PowerBook G4 running Tiger, and I'm looking for an external drive to (1) free up memory by moving iTunes library; (2) store VHS-to-digital conversions; and (3) use to backup the PowerBook regularly. Any recommendations on a drive? I'm considering Seagate FreeAgent Pro. And can I use the one external drive for all 3 functions or do I need a separate drive for the backup?

Rob Pegoraro: I can't recommend a particular model, but I will recommend one type of drive: bus-powered FireWire/USB 2.0. And get one with more capacity than you think you need.

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Annapolis, Md.: Wondered if you have any recommendations for a Verizon wireless phone to combine cell and the equivalent of a Palm. Telephone sound quality is very important to me and that has been the sticking point in the past. Or is it still worthwhile to carry both?

Rob Pegoraro: Get the Centro, which combines a cell phone and a Palm organizer.

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Clifton, Va.: Rumor has it my name was used in vain in your last chat host.

If you are talking about those all in one speaker enclosures they have some problems with sounds coming from the rear speakers and providing a nice sound envelop. Also the bass and LFE stink. With no rear speakers their ability to do a plane flying over your seat from the left rear to right front speaker or a bullet whizzing by your ear from front left to the right rear just isnt there.

For budget speakers look PSB, B&W, Boston, Paradigm, Energy, Aperion, Focal, NHT and for a little more Magnepan. Avoid Bose at all cost. Bose speakers are awful and have been since the mid 60's when they introduced the Bose 901.

You should wander over to Merrifield/Dunn Loring and ask the folks at Conrad Johnson for a tour. They are a local company that is legandary in audio circles.

Vinyl and tubes rule!

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Clifton! Good to have you back...

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23112: I'd been having intermittent outages with my Comcast phone service (internet was doing OK but not perfect), and I called in a service request. They had a tech out the next morning who ran completely new cable from the node at the street to the junction at the house. It hasn't been properly buried yet, but our service has been rock-solid since. I know there's a lot of hate for Comcast out there, but I've been with them for 7-8 years and they get a solid A from me.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for sharing your experience, and the tip.

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Manassas, Va.: I just installed a home network using a Netgear router with the g WiFi standard, and it is working great. I did not go with the n version for three reasons. One - I did not want to spend the extra money for the n version. Two - the n version has not been ratified yet. Three - I only use email and surf the web. Thus I do not need the faster speed of the n version. I also bought a Dell printer that has a WiFi access. Thus I can print from any location the condo. Everything was so easy to setup, and I can access the internet from any location in my condo. How cool!

Rob Pegoraro: Technically, Manassas isn't asking any sort of question--but it's so rare for anybody to report complete success with a tech gadget, I have to pass this along.

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New Carrollton, Md.: I emailed you the response I received from the government about my unused, expired DTV coupon. They will not issue a new one. What should I do (beside pay full price)?

Rob Pegoraro: Ask your neighbor to order one for you. They don't card you before accepting the coupon as payment.

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Fairfax, Va.: So, how's your MobileMe subscription working out?

Seriously, how could Apple screw this up so badly? If there's one area that could use Apple's usual combination of simplicity and stability, it's synchronizing data across multiple devices...but it seems like they've completely booted it.

Rob Pegoraro: Oh, MobileMe works fine--if you only sync from one Mac to another. It's all these other, non-Apple parts (Outlook, Windows Contacts, etc.) that confuse it.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Rob - Is there any benefit to downloading mail to a computer application (like Apple's Mail or Microsoft Outlook)? I use Gmail and prefer the interface there, but a friend said it is better to have mail in a desktop application. Is that just preference or is it really better? Is downloading mail relevant anymore with the prevalence of IMAP over POP?

Rob Pegoraro: A lot of people would like to know about this perpetual, omnipresent, bulletproof Internet access that you've got, Silver Spring.

(Also: IMAP is still downloading, but downloading to synchronize online and offline stores, not downloading to transfer from online to offline.)

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Alexandria, Va.: For the chatter who was looking for a portable electronic solar charger, Silicon Solar (siliconsolar.com) makes a good portable one. I had one I used in Iraq and Sudan. Just make sure when you order that you make sure to specify the cable(s) you need for your device (I had to have them send me a special cable for my Sony PDA).

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report! This is the kind of testing I can't do on my own.

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Bethesda, Md.: I'm not wild about MobileMe/Me.Com's user interface, but the service is at least functioning for me. One question, though: um, why isn't there a logout button? Or have I just lost it in the cluttered UI?

Rob Pegoraro: Very top-right corner--it's a power-button icon, in dark gray on black.

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Harrisburg, Paa.: I have about a month left before my DTV coupons expire. Which converter box should I buy?

Rob Pegoraro: In my own experience, and from what I've heard from other people, the Zenith and Insignia boxes (same hardware inside) are the best choices.

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23112: What do you think about the Linux version of the Eee 900 series? We're talking about getting a laptop to use for simple stuff...web, email, maybe typing letters. We don't need a desktop replacement and I like the idea of solid-state everything in a laptop. Is the OS on the Eee as simple as it looks for someone who's not a tinkerer?

Rob Pegoraro: It is simple--although I think I also called it simplistic. For the basic use you're talking about, the only tricky part might be setting it to remember your wireless network password (unless, as I can only hope, they've improved that interface).

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Dallas, Ore.: Thanks for all you useful information. I am going to buy a new television and was told by a guru friend to be sure and get one with 1080 specs as the earlier lower number (700ish something)will be slowly phased out. He said that I would spend a little more money, but in the long run, I would be happier with my reception. I have satellite dish now but no other "fancy" electronics. I am happily retired and see no need for those gadgets I do not need.

Rob Pegoraro: Your "guru" doesn't know what he's talking about. 720p isn't going to be phased out anytime soon--nobody broadcasts in 1080p and nobody can (not enough bandwidth for that, only 720p or 1080i). 1080p is a nice "bonus" feature, and you'll probably get it for free on most mid-range sets now. But don't go out of your way to spend extra just to get that feature unless you're buying an enormous (50 inch or larger) screen and a Blu-ray player.

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Mt. Pleasant: What are the chances of me being able to walk into an Apple store this weekend and buy an iPhone? In desperation last weekend, I pre-ordered one through AT&T. Now I'm thinking this is the long route and Apple is giving priority shipments to its stores.

Thanks, Rob.

Rob Pegoraro: I think your odds are pretty lousy. Sorry - it now seems it's going to take a few weeks for Apple to catch up on demand.

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Fairfax, Va.: Speaking of IMAP and downloading email, one of the things I liked about an old version of Outlook that I had (don't remember which one) was that it had a little icon beside each message that told you if it was still on the server or not and allowed you to delete it from the server if you wanted to -- even though this was POP.

Mail seems to only let you make this decision for your messages as a whole rather than on a message-by-message basis. Could this functionality be revived, or are new technologies making it obsolete?

Rob Pegoraro: If you want advanced POP mail management, forget Outlook: Eudora--anybody remember that?--owned that end of the market. Mail, however, was written first an IMAP client, second as a POP client.

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Rockville, Mr.: Once the new iPhone actually can be obtained, will I be able to sync it with my Mac at home for music, videos, etc, through iTunes and then with my PC at work for my contacts, even though my office is not providing support for Exchange push email to the iPhone? I think I will be able to do this but I wanted to confirm.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm almost positive you can do that. You'd install MobileMe on your work PC (by loading iTunes 7.7 there), then set that to handle over-the-air sync from your Outlook file.

(You might need to bribe somebody in IT to get iTunes installed, though.)

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Norfolk, Va.: Will the iPhone sync with Entourage? Does MobileMe support Entourage?

Rob Pegoraro: Only for Entourage notes, and that only seems possible if you install Office 2008. But you could set Entourage to synchronize its own records with Address Book and iCal through Sync Services (right?), and in that way you'd have an indirect, Rube Goldberg-esque MobileMe sync system.

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S. Rockville, Md.: What's with the message I keep getting from AVG that I have to upgrade to 8.0 by Friday? Have they fixed all the stuff that people were saying is wrong with the new version?

Rob Pegoraro: Grisoft is retiring the old version, as most anti-virus developers do periodically. This company, however, has a bad history of misleading customers with ads and messages that suggest it's taking away the free version. (Then there are people who say they've visited free.avg.com and can't find the free download, which I don't understand at all--it's right there in the entire left half of that page.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: AVG is a RAM hog that is slowing my computer down so now I am ready to buy a security program for my laptop. Please give ma few suggestions. Someone recommended Kaspersky. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Speaking of AVG--what other free apps do we like for anti-virus duty? Avira? Avast?

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Washington, D.C.: Tried posting this earlier...

I have an iPod (ca. 2005, literally two weeks before the nano) and a new car without a cassette player, but it does have an outlet for MP3 players -- what's a decent cord (doesn't have to charge, too)?

Rob Pegoraro: Any standard mini-RCA patch cable will do--like, the kind that the nearest Radio Shack will sell you for $5 or so.

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South Boston, Va. 24592: Recently,I had my hard drive formatted because of some virus problem. Later, I noticed that my hard drive capacity had dropped from 250gb to 127 gb. Please explain how this could happen.

Rob Pegoraro: As I recall--this is one of these inane bits of PC-maintenance trivia I wish I could forget entirely--there's either a BIOS setting or a dip-switch change required to get access to the drive's full capacity. Whoever reformatted the drive ought to know how to do this--or ought to have a very good explanation of why they don't.

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Baldwinsville, N.Y.: I have a Mac OS X, version 10.5.4. I do a newsletter using Pages. When I e-mail the newsletter, those with PC's can't open the pages. How can I solve this problem? Buy Word for my Mac? I hate to have to spend the money. Bob

Rob Pegoraro: Of course they can't read the files--there is no Windows version of Pages. Use the export feature to save a copy of the newsletter in PDF format, which will work on just about any computer made: Go to the Pages menu, select Print, then click the Save as PDF button.

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Manassas, Va.: Rob,

Do you know anything about the Kindle digital reader from Amazon? There was a favorable article about it in "Time" magazine.

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I reviewed it back in December: Kindled, but Not Enlightened

Now, if I can offer some general advice: It is Not At All Difficult to find an old review by me. Use any search engine you care, type the name of the product and my last name, and you will find it. There aren't that many people named Pegoraro in the world, much less those who review technology. My last name is, in the context of tech critics, a globally unique identifier.

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Tina in Falls Church re: FIOS: I had a problem with the FIOS TV signal from Verizon. When I bought the HDTV last year they were very specific in telling me that if I wanted to connect with a HDMI cable I would have to buy it (50 bucks at the time), Verizon does not supply it. Must be a new policy now....They wondered if the HDMI cable I used was bad (Blue Jet) so they sent me one of theirs. Worked perfect. No charge for the cable. I was able to exchange the Blue Jet for the latest version so...I have an extra. Blue Jet did say there are occassional problems.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for sharing. But: $50 is a colossal ripoff for an HDMI cable, and you shouldn't have to swap out HDMI cables in the first place. Digital cables work or they don't; there's no reward for spending more some other brand.

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New York, N.Y.: Hi Rob,I need a MacBook soon. But I'm in Hesitation Mode because of very recent notes on the MacRumors site, to wit: 1. Apple is expected to announce a price cut on its laptops; 2. a redesign of the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, perhaps incorporating Touch features, is also in the works. The redesign info, issued yesterday, is attributed to the investment bank Piper Jaffray. Problem is that this is still all rumor. In the meantime, I need a MacBook. Because you're on the cutting edge of news about developments and have years of experience watching it all, I ask you: would you wait (rumors say between now and October)or would you take the leap? After all, the MacBook is probably good enough as it is now.

Rob Pegoraro: I wish I knew! I, too, am trying to gauge Apple's intentions and schedule, since I have to do a laptop-shopping column next month. I don't want to write this, then have to review a new MacBook a week later. But I also can't wait until after people have completed their back-to-school laptop shopping.

Because of this market-timing issue, I have to think that we'll be seeing a new model Real Soon Now--so if you can hold out for another three to four weeks, I suggest you do so.

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Re: My last name is, in the context of tech critics, a globally unique identifier. : Stop trying to make me feel small.

Rob Pegoraro: Well, it does kind of make up for a childhood full of new teachers utterly mangling my last name.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: Anti-virus software

If you think AVG is a resource hog, stay away from Kaspersky unless you've got an incredibly beefy machine. It used up so much RAM and CPU cycles on my computer that it made my system worse than if I'd actually had a virus. I actually switched to AVG because of that, though am now trying Avast because AVG's 8.0 upgrade was constantly crashing my Vista machine. (7.5 worked perfectly.)

I'm not totally sold on Avast, but at least it hasn't broken anything yet.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Silver Spring!

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W. Bethesda, Md.: Hi Rob, are you familiar with the MacBook Pro WiFi problem? Even though the computer detects and acknowledges a wireless router (shows all bars in the Airport icon), it doesn't always do the handshake and connect. Sometimes you have to cycle Airport on and off several times before you get an IP address (even when the MBP is inches from the router). Now that it looks as if Apple may be coming out with a new version of the MBP I'm afraid that this problem, which they seem to have ignored for years, will be totally forgotten. BTW, here are some weblinks from various chats discussing the issue: MacBook Pro Wifi Problems Fix for Wireless Connection Problems on MacBook Pro

There is one on MacRumor as well but I can't find it right now. Several solutions are presented (non from Apple) some seem to work for some people, not for others. Any thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm afraid this is the first I've heard of it--but I haven't reviewed an MBP in years. Too expensive compared to a MacBook.

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Orange County, Calif.: Hi Rob! Thanks for answering so many questions I don't even know I have until others ask them! Now here's one of my own:

I bought an external hard drive a few weeks ago and will be getting around to transferring/backing up some data this weekend. I have a PC but plan on getting a Mac in about 6 months or so once I have the money saved up. What I plan on backing up mostly are photos, music, and documents--files that can be read by both Mac and PC.

What I'm wondering is if the HD needs to be formatted a special way to be readable by both. Once I switch to Mac and transfer my files, I don't plan on using the PC much. Should I partition the HD? I've googled this, but what I've found seems so complicated.

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: To keep a single hard drive readable to both a Mac and a PC, the easiest solution is to format it in the FAT32 filesystem. Using a Mac's HFS+ filesystem would require adding extra, non-free software on a PC (MacDrive), while using the more advanced Windows NTFS filesystem would require adding extra, free software on a Mac (MacFUSE).

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Arlinton, Va.: I'm glancing over my shoulder as I type this... I got a Harris Teeter savings card this week. There is a barcode printed a paper gum label on the card and the label is too thick to be just paper. Could there be a radio ID/radio transponder underneath? Would Harris or Teeter be tracking my in-store movement?

Rob Pegoraro: I doubt it--why would HT want to go that extra expense when you still have to scan the card at the cashier's? But if you want to find out for sure, dismantle the card. You can always get a new one for free.

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iTunes shared question: Hope you can answer something for me. I have noticed lately that when I open iTunes on my computer there is sometimes Shared Playlists (or called something like that) and there will be playlists of other people. I can even play their songs. I am on a Mac and I have my firewall on. I am only networked to another older Mac here in my office. This is a two person office so I know no one is here is sharing lists. We do NOT have wireless internet so my network is not open. My two computers are linked through a wired router. The only option I have checked in my firewall setting is Personal File Sharing which I thought I needed to have checked so I can get files off the other Mac in my office. Should this be unchecked also? This makes me nervous that other people seem to show up on my computer. Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: You're seeing playlists that other people have chosen to share (open iTunes' Preferences window and click the Sharing tab), then do the same on your colleague's machine. Then you need to ask whoever set up your office network to see how it's connected to the rest of the Internet. Are you sharing a larger building's connection?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob, I can't find this program to delete it - it is not in add/remove, don't see it in the registry and I want to get rid of this error message every time I sign on. I have scanned for viruses and spyware and all is clean.

Unhandled exception has occurred in your application. If you click continue the application will ignore this error and attempt to continue. If you click quit the application will close immediately. Index was outside the bounds of the array.

If I click continue: a box comes up asking me to select my provider and the box is blank

Error signature:

Eventype: CLRZ0R3

P1: watchmycell.exe

P2: 2.0.1.3

P3: 45ec4e95

P4: watchmycell

P5: 2.0.1.3

P6: 45sec4e95

P7: 16

P8: 2

P9: system.nullreference exception

Rob Pegoraro: A program that doesn't show in add/remove programs and hides itself from the registry is automatically suspect as spyware. What security program claimed that everything was fine on your computer? (Try Spybot Search & Destroy--spybot.info--and see what that says.)

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Airport Express in D.C.: I am so frustrated! I am using the AX to play internet radio through my stereo speakers. I got it to work several months ago but last month I got a new router (other one burned out) and the tech added a wireless card to my Dell laptop (through which I run Rhapsody, etc. Now, I can't get it to work. I have spent 2 weekends on this. Got the laptop checked out, scheduled time at the Genius bar but AX is fine. Any thoughts? PLEASE....

Rob Pegoraro: The likeliest explanation is that the new router uses a different password setup than the old one, and you now need to set up the AirPort Express to use that new password as well. That means you'd need to log into your router, then open the AirPort Utility, and go through your settings one at a time to make sure they match up.

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PC issue: My PC is running Vista and sometimes won't shut down, cycling in the "shutting down" screen. I then have to physically turn of the PC and wait for a few moments and then turn it on again (not something I think is wise to do on a regular basis). I defrag and the OS is running all current updates. Any ideas why this is happening? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Are there any BIOS updates from the manufacturer? What sort of background apps do you have installed? As I noted in last week's Help File, security utilities can be cranky about quitting on their own during a shutdown.

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Arlington, Va.: I have had very good luck with ClamWin anti-virus. It seems very unobtrusive and has done the job (at least as far as I can tell).

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! (Does it scan new files automatically, so you can't open a virus by mistake? Or do you have to order up a scan of each new file that arrives in e-mail or through your browser?)

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Washington, D.C.: If you had to make a list of the top three useful personal tech items, what would you choose? iPod? Tivo? A hammer for smashing the land-lines at your local Comcast HQ?

Rob Pegoraro: I like this question. Hmm... the three things I make sure I take along on any trip are a smartphone (so I know my agenda and can look up stuff on the Web), an iPod (so I'm entertained) and a flash-memory drive (so I can carry along data and, if necessary, run the portable edition of Firefox off the drive).

A small set of power tools can be useful as well, but you try taking that kind of stuff through security at the airport!

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Anonymous: Hi, A follow-up question: Can everyone with a PC open my newsletter if I send it via my Mac OS X version 10.5.4 using NewOffice? Many thanks. Bob

Rob Pegoraro: I assume you mean NeoOffice, the Mac port of OpenOffice--in which case the answer is the same. This is a universal rule: To share a file, you need to provide it in a form that the recipient can read. Your safest choice for any kind of data where presentation matters is PDF; this way, the reader doesn't need to worry about having the same fonts installed as you.

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Nathalie, Va.: I live in the fringe area for TV transmissions from Roanoke-Lynchburg, Va. Now that we get Digital transmissions along with Analog, I've discovered that weather events cause loss of digital signals even as analog signals make it through. I have an outdoor antenna (Radio Shack, longest range) and wonder if there is some better digital-long range antenna that will improve all-weather reception? Would multiple digital antennas be a waste of money, why? ----Bob Mckenzie

Rob Pegoraro: Is your antenna amplified? That's what I'd look into--an amplifier can actually mess with reception in close-in areas, but at extreme ranges it can make the difference for you.

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Programmer Storage, Cube 8216A: I work on the 8th floor of a giant glass windowed building. We recently learned that our boss's window pops out. In the event of a fire, what should we tie together to make a rope ladder? Water cooler opinion is split between network cables and power cords. Can you suggest any knots?

Rob Pegoraro: I'll close with a question I have no business answering at all!

I'd go with the power cords. The plastic nubs at the end of Ethernet cables break far too easily, so you'd have to tie a much tighter knot to fasten them securely. As for what kind knot, I'm gonna have to suggest you ask my colleague Angus Phillips.

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State of Dyspepsia: Using the new AVG 8.0, which is at best 'fine' (no more) but you MUST do a custom install and un-check the safe search options. It is also a little overprotective at first so monitor the scans closely to allow safe programs to function without AVG interference.

Build 138 is the magic version number.

Rob Pegoraro: OK, three other questions :)

Thanks for the suggestions!

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Paris, France: MacBook Pro and WiFi:

I bought my MacBook Pro in May, 2007, and I've never had the slightest problem with it either in the US or Europe. I do a bit of IT support during my "golden years," and I cart the thing around to people's homes for network troubleshooting. It has connected successfully to more than a dozen home networks since I've owned it, and has never shown any suspicious behavior. Last week I added Vista Home Premium via Boot Camp, and WiFi works great with Vista as well.

Maybe I've been lucky. I did not buy the bottom of the Pro line, and I do install all software patches. It is running Leopard now.

Rob Pegoraro: I think we've figured out this problem: To get your MacBook Pro's wireless to work properly, you need to move to France.

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Richmond, Va.: WatchMyCell -looks- legit. Incidentally, the same question was in your 6/26 chat, which is the third Google result for "watchmycell.exe".

washingtonpost.com: Personal Tech

Rob Pegoraro: Well, that question did sound a little familar :)

[the columnist typed as he shrank, sheepishly, into his chair]

So maybe our reader just has a buggy program. That's a big upgrade from a spyware problem.

If you can't uninstall it, how about installing the latest version over it? That ought to wipe it out. Failing that, use Windows Defender or another startup-manager app to block it from running at each startup.

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Rob Pegoraro: That's the news, and I am outta here! Thanks for all the questions... I should be back here in a couple of weeks.

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