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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, August 7, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Aug. 7, 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: Goooood afternoon! So nice to see so many of you here today on an August Thursday (unless you're logging in from the beach, in which case I must ask: What are you doing logging in from the beach?!).

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Apple: While I admire Apple's design and quality, I have a problem with the generally paternalistic way they treat their customers.

It seems as if they say, "You don't want to do what you think you want to do. You really want to do what we think you want to do."

For example, last week I was with a friend that wanted a USB-ethernet adapter for her Macbook Air to speed up the initial data transfer to the new laptop. The first words from the Apple salesperson (after an explanation of why she wanted the adapter): "But you're supposed to use the wireless connection with the Air."

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the comment. I don't know if I'd call Apple's design process paternalistic--but this company is much more willing than others to give customers what it thinks they need, not what they say they want.

Often, this has been a good thing; Apple has been way ahead of everybody else in adopting technologies like USB, WiFi and Bluetooth. But if it doesn't do a good job of communicating what's on its mind and what goals it's working towards, people can react poorly.

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Rockville, Md.: Rob:

I just got a new Dell a few weeks ago and already some of my keys are losing their lettering. What can I do. My last computer lost the L, M and N. This one is losing the E and R. Would some clear polish on top do any good or would it eat the plastic? Or should AI trim my nails? I am not that good a touch typist and need to see the keys.

Rob Pegoraro: I can't say that I've never seen this problem before--but it has been at least a few years. Not sure what to do; does anybody have a suggestion for Rockville? (Or, as it would appear on this keyboard " ockvill ")

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Arlington, Va.: Does the conversion to digital TV signals affect channels broadcast over radio? My kitchen radio can pull in the audio of local stations through the television band, but I have the feeling this is the last football season that will work. Are there any converters that work on radios?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope. Analog-TV receivers in radio will be just as useless as analog-TV receivers in televisions come 2/17/09.

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Arlington, VA: The apple store's help is legendary? Let's be realistic here, you're not going to have someone who is really a genius at computers working in a apple retail store. They may not just make up answers that are wrong (like I have seen happen at Bestbuy) but the help isn't all that great. Its just helpful and convenient for people with basically no computer skills.

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't call the Genius Bar people "legendary" (for one thing, I hate that adjective--to me, it says "something that happened so long ago that nobody can produce any historical records to prove it in the first place")

But: When I had to get a balky iPod looked at, the "Genius" had it back in working order--using a fix I didn't know existed--within 10 minutes. There's also an enormous benefit attached to being able to show somebody what's wrong, instead of trying to explain it on the phone. I say this as a regular source of tech support for both family members and readers who e-mail me--the hardest part of any phone call is making sure that I've gotten an accurate description of what's gone wrong, since I can't see the problem myself.

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Arlington, Va.: By the way, in regard to your first poster, the wireless method of doing the Apple Migration Assistant on the MacBook Air is horrible. We had read all the horror stories, but since my wife's iMac isn't all that loaded with large files (no music, few photos, no movies) we decided to try it when she got a new Air. It gave us a time frame in the multiple hours, then conked out after about 3 hours of work. We gave up at that point.

They should be promoting any other method. The firewire version of migration assistant has been fantastic for me in the past.

Rob Pegoraro: No argument there. WiFi of any flavor--b, g or even n--is no match for a hardwired connection like Ethernet or FireWire that can't drop out on you.

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Potomac Falls, Va.: Hi Rob. Thanks for these chats. Since I've moved from dial-up to Verizon FiOS, I notice that many websites now show my City, State. This bothers me from a privacy point of view. Should I be concerned? Is there any way to prevent this? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Those sites are probably detecting the Internet Protocol address that Verizon assigned you when you connected to the Internet. It's not a real privacy risk in this context, since your IP changes pretty regularly. (When you had dial-up, I'm guessing it was a national provider that used the same pool of IPs for its entire subscriber base--so a site wouldn't have any way to know where you were coming from.)

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob,

iphone question for you, not related to MobileMe (well, I don't think it's related). I cannot get my Outlook calendar to sync with my iphone. I loaded all of my Exchange information, and it seemed to work, except my events from my desktop calendar are not on my iphone, and if I add an event on my iphone calendar, it doesn't show up on my Outlook calendar.

I was able to load a Mobile Me calendar onto Outlook, but this means I have to enter events in twice, or move all my recurring events to the MobileMe Calendar, which seems like a pain. What I am doing wrong, or is Exchange on the iphone just not working well?

Rob Pegoraro: I tested the iPhone with Outlook 2007, and I don't recall seeing any issues with that combination. Are you sure the iPhone calender isn't showing up as a separate calender in Outlook? (If you use MobileMe, you'll see that it doesn't populate your primary Outlook calendar with MobileMe events, instead creating separate ones for each category on the phone.)

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Washington DC: Apple finally implemented a ticket system for iPhone sales - which is how I got mine last week. So the shortages should be going away right? Also, for those of us not using mobileme - there have not been any problems with the iPhone itself (or even with AT&T's service in DC proper).

Rob Pegoraro: The prior poster would disagree with you on that, I bet.

The shortages should go away, though--they always do, once the first rush of customers abates.

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Washington, DC: Rob,

While visiting my mother last month, she told that she is going to get rid of my old computer (1995 compaq) from college. I'm concerned about making sure there isn't personal information on it before she gets rid of it. Unfortunately, she got rid of the power cord, so I can't turn it on and erase the hard drive myself. Are there services I could take it to that could power it up and erase the hard drive?

Rob Pegoraro: Odds are any random power cord would work with it. There are also companies that will both zap the hard drive and recycle the entire machine for you--in the D.C. area, look into PC Recycler, in Chantilly: http://www.pcrecycler.net/

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Worn lettering on keyboard: There are companies like DataCal (www.datacal.com) and Hooleon Keyboards (www.hooleon.com) who sell durable key replacement stickers for about $15 a set. I just use white nail polish -- it wears off eventually, but it's cheap.

Rob Pegoraro: I learn something new here all the time! Thanks, Wlok.

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Glenview, Ill.: Hi Rob, and thank you for your great columns! I just purchased a 24-inch iMac with 3 gigs of ram, and I am planning to load VMware Fusion into it, with Windows XP Home (for work purposes). It is my understanding that I need to allocate some of my ram to the virtual machine. Do you have any recommendations about how much to allocate? Also: once I allocate ram to the virtual machine (e.g., 1 gig), does this mean that only the remaining ram (e.g. 3 gigs) will be available to run my Mac - - even if I am not running the virtual machine? Or will the full 3 gigs in my example be available to my Mac when I am not running the virtual machine? Do you think I should get more ram? Thanks, in advance!

Rob Pegoraro: Allocating RAM in OS X isn't like in the "classic" Mac OS, where you'd have fixed parcels of memory. OS X will swap out memory from one application to another (and from RAM chips to the virtual-memory swap file on the hard drive) as needed without any intervention by you. The only settings you'd have to adjust would be in Fusion itself; that program, like other virtual-machine environments, will let you designate how much memory the simulated Windows machine should have. I'd give it a gig, since that will greatly improve your "enjoyment" of XP while still leaving plenty to spare for OS X even with Fusion in the foreground.

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Arlington, Va.: My "Genius Bar" experience was a good one, even though it didn't result in an easy fix. They were able to determine what the problem was and give me concrete options, as opposed to someone guessing and then you wasting a lot of time when the guess turns out to be wrong.They were also able to handle shipping the PowerBook to Apple for the repair and all I had to do was drop by when it was returned to them. Much better than having it sit on my back stoop.So although the level of fix was beyond them, they did what needed to be done. It sure beats having a Windoze machine.

Rob Pegoraro: Another report from the Genius Bar front. Thanks, Arlington!

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Apologies if you've answered this question before, but is there any practical way to downgrade from Vista to XP? I don't have any problem with Vista itself, but now that I have a new computer, I have a lot of old programs and games that won't work. Vista hasn't dramatically improved my computing experience, and I'd really rather go back to what worked.

Rob Pegoraro: Forget about it. The general rule with XP downgrades is that if you have to ask how hard one would be, you're asking for trouble--mainly because you'd have to scrounge for all your own drivers for the computer's hardware. (If you think Linux can be cranky about supporting random PC components, try a stock edition of XP.)

You're better off getting updates for your old programs--and berating their developers if they still haven't shipped Vista-compatible versions. Seriously... Vista is over a year and a half old. It's computing malpractice for any Windows developer with a pulse not to have updated his software for Vista by now.

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Glover Park, Washington, D.C.: A comment and question about the Amazon Kindle.First, I was taking a poll of new gadgets I'd like to have. And while the overwhelming responses for the iPhone, I went for the Kindle. I guess I just don't understand the hoopla over the iPhone. I love my iPod, really prefer my phone to be only that -- a phone. I have no use for all the other stuff.Any idea of when the second generation Kindle is set to come out? I really can't think about buying one until the price comes down.Go Hoyas!

Rob Pegoraro: Hoya Saxa!

I keep hearing October as the date for an updated Kindle, and that makes some sense to me. The first one shipped in early December, too late for a lot of holiday shopping, so October would give Amazon a much better shot at that market.

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Washington D.C.: Apple's lack of communication can be extremely annoying (I am not one of the people who suffered through the mobileme meltdown). But, so far, Apple's design success has overshadowed any other issues. As long as Apple keeps producing well designed easy to use products (and standing by them)- people will tolerate these other issues.

Rob Pegoraro: I think this is true for its software and hardware--even when things go wrong, you still have a decent chance of solving them yourselves. I don't think that's the case for a Web service like MobileMe.

I mean, right now the only concrete evidence we have of Apple taking the MobileMe problems seriously is a leaked e-mail from Steve Jobs. (Weirder yet, when I asked one of my usual Apple PR contacts if there was anything new to report about MobileMe, this guy pointed me to the stories about the leaked memo.)

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Alexandria: Where would you put odds that Apple ever includes GPS in the iPod Touch?

As someone that uses a prepaid cell phone, such a device would really appeal to me since the demise of affordable quality PDAs.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd put the odds somewhere between 25 to 50 percent. GPS receivers are getting cheaper all the time, so it could become a "free" feature in short order.

Speaking of--remember when, a week ago, I wrote that GPS receivers would become a standard feature on cameras at some point? Nikon just introduced a new model, the Coolpix P6000, that has a GPS unit built-in.

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Glen Allen, Va.:"The shortages should go away, though--they always do, once the first rush of customers abates. "Tell that to Nintendo!

Rob Pegoraro: That first rush of customers is really, really large for the Wii.

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Washington, D.C: After reading your recent blog post, it does seem a little strange that Apple's corporate ethos runs contrary to the transparent culture of the web.I've always admired Apple for its commitment to a unilateral (not to mention sexy and artistic) vision, but I wonder how long it can sustain itself on that attitude as people agitate for more openness. We're already seeing friction between Apple and the iPhone unlockers, and the company barely has a handle on the cruft coming in from 3rd-party developers at the Apps store.My question is: Where do you see this going? Where will Apple be 20 years from now?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not sure myself. One thing that will be interesting to watch will be what's arguably the most important application on any Mac, Safari. (I'd say the same of any browser on any other computer.) Safari is itself built on an open-source foundation, so Apple has to be willing to talk about that. And so far it has--the Surfin' Safari blog (webkit.org/blog) is a remarkably informative, up-to-date resource.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, I'm looking to buy a laptop. I don't need portability, I just want to replace my desktop system with something smaller (I live in a small apartment so my living room is also my office). Mostly I use my pc for simple things, like email, web surfing, uploading photos from my camera, downloading music/software to devices like an mp3 player and gps unit. No gaming or stuff like that. I also need the ability to log into my work pc from home which requires Windows.

I looked at the laptop finder on cnet.com and it narrowed down my choices to over 900 different models, which of course is no help at all. Can you direct me to a source of information that can help me figure out what I need? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I think the Cnet laptop finder worked perfectly--it's showing an infinite variety of possible models because any laptop made would suit your needs. You're putting forth what are basically generic requirements, and so a generic laptop will handle them quite well.

Sorry--*I* can't help you much with this either.

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Alexandria, VA: Two questions:

iPhone (2g): I have an unlocked iPhone that I have been using on tmobile. I would very much like to upgrade to 2.0 so I can sample the new iPhone Apps. Is there a way for me to do that?

Web access on iPhone: What is the cheapest way to access the web? Does tmbile tzones for $ 4.99/mth do it?

Rob Pegoraro:1. I have no idea. You might brick the phone applying this update. (But if you can manage it, yes, go ahead. The App Store is neat.)

2. The cheapest way is through somebody's open WiFi access point. I don't think T-Mobile's WiFi will necessarily work for you--I mean, does it cover your home?

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Herndon, Va.: I'm getting a free used Desktop PC (IBM, XP) from work that I would like connect to wirelessly. I have a Dell desktop at home with a wireless router from Verizon (for FIOS). What do I need to do to connect to the web wireless with the IBM desktop?

Rob Pegoraro: Get a WiFi adapter--USB or PCI--for the desktop. It should come with whatever drivers are necessary, though XP might recognize it on its own.

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Detroit, Mich.: Rob-Thanks for the informative chats-a few tidbits I have gleaned now and then have saved me countless hours of frustration.

I'm looking for a cheap and easy way to get standard def TV shows I recorded on my media center PC (in DVR-MS format via Windows XP MCE) to play on an old TV. The TV is in a room without cable or phone and may be too far away from my wireless G router to stream reliably (if that's even possible with G). I purchased a D-Link DSM-520, but had to return it because I couldn't get the audio to work and customer service was no help. Even though the video stream was choppy, I would have used the USB port to watch my TV shows on a flash drive and kept the DSM-520, but the audio never worked and their customer service was terrible (they initially told me DVR-MS wasn't supported. I figured out it is supported after a firmware update). It looks like the SanDisk Sansa Take TV was a near perfect solution for what I'm looking for, but it didn't play DVR-MS and it's canceled now anyway. Can you suggest anything?

Rob Pegoraro: Can't you just burn a DVD and pop that into a DVD player?

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Falls Church, VA: Rob--We're one of the rare people who don't subscribe to cable or satellite TV, and like life just fine. We get great digital signals off the air, with our new digital TV.

Our question is about digital video recorders. Our VHS broke last year, and we of course just didn't replace it. Yet with the new choices in PBS channels, there are a lot of shows we'd like to record.

Our question, and I know it's a naive one, but I just haven't been in touch with the whole hyper-expensive TV options the past few years: Can we just go to an electronics store, and buy a DVR off the shelf, and hook it up to our digital TV? Will it function in the same way our VCR did, and record shows off the air? Will it only record those channels that are digital?

Or do we need to have a cable or satellite TV service?

Thanks for any tutorial about DVRs for those of us getting TV our semi-old fashioned way! (I won't even ask about using DVRs on TVs with a converter box...that sounds like way too much wiring for me....)

Rob Pegoraro: The only DVR--in the classical sense of "device with a hard drive and an electronic program guide"--is the TiVoHD, which will set you back a few hundred bucks, plus monthly service fees. I don't recommend it unless you really LOVE television.

What you could get, however, would be a DVD recorder with a digital tuner. That would be cheaper than the tuner, and wouldn't come with any monthly fees.

Oh, and Philips makes a DVD recorder with a built-in hard drive. That might be the best option for making both longer-term recordings and temporary time-shifting.

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Cincinnati, OH: Don't know if this is appropriate - it doesn't address your recent reviews or blogs. I need a recommendation for some music software (preferably freeware, but not necessarily). I'm looking for a user-friendly program that will let me take a music file (say, Run Throug the Jungle by Credence Clearwater Revival), and "loop" the first few measures, so you get an intro that's a lot longer. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Ralph

Rob Pegoraro: Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net) isn't the most user-friendly app out there, but it's not that much worse than other audio-editing apps, and it's also free.

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Arlington, VA: Hi Rob:

Do you have any info on when new Macbooks are coming? The rumors are everywhere, and the promotion they are offering of a free ipod w/purchase seems to indicate they are getting rid of their existing stock.

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Nope--but I do now think that we're not going to see one in time for back-to-school shopping. Shipping a new model in September would look pretty bad, so maybe... late October?

I am only guessing here.

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MacBook Startup Disk: Hi, Rob--This morning I received a message that my startup disk was almost full. I deleted a bunch of files and my macbook seems to be running faster. I couldn't really find anything more useful in the help forums. So, help! Is this normal? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, a startup drive that has little or no free space will slow down the computer--drastically. That's because computers all rely on the drive as "virtual memory" that augments the store of standard memory on the machine. If there isn't enough room for this virtual-memory file, it's like the PC is jogging in wet cement.

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Potomac Falls, Va.: re: City, ST showing up on Web sites. "It's not a real privacy risk in this context, since your IP changes pretty regularly." Problem is, it's not changing; it appears to be static. (Yes, should have mentioned this in my initial question.) I used http://myipinfo.net/to check, over a week and it's always the same IP address - just one number off the IP assigned to the Verizon-provided router. Maybe it's something I should address with Verizon? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: I didn't know Vz (or any other mass-market provider) was in the habit of handing out static IPs. It's more expensive than assigning them on demand.

That said, my point still stands; your IP address alone says little about you. You could be at risk if you share a lot of music off your hard drive, but if you're just browsing there's nothing to worry about. (I say this as somebody who does have a static IP address at home.)

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Nuremberg, Germany: Is it possible to retain Windows XP System Restore points for more than the current month?

Rob Pegoraro: Sure--just up the amount of disk space devoted to storing them.

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Potomac, MD: Rob, sorry if this is a bit long. First, a question on WiFi security. I am currently using WEP encryption because that's all my TiVo would support when I set up the network. I would like to beef up the security and was thinking of either dropping encryption in favor of limiting access to certain MAC ids, or limiting access and keeping WEP. Any thoughts on the relative merits of encryption vs limited access vs a combination? Am I better of just going to more robust encryption?

Also, I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my Mac Book Pro having trouble connecting to my network. After scouring all the chat groups I think I came up with an approach that may have resolved the wireless problems. My router does wireless A (who uses wireless A?) and wireless G, B, or G+B. First I went to wireless G only with the A still running. Connection problems persisted. Next I turned off the wireless A and it seems to have fixed the problem! Now it connects quickly and reliably. So far, so good.

Thanks for all you do to help all of us.

Rob Pegoraro: Upgrade to WPA from WEP. It will both be more effective and simpler than kludging some combination of WEP and MAC-address restriction.

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Port Townsend, WA: Giving up on HP after 20 years, the last five a sad erosion of quality. Any recommendations for a printer for a MacBookPro (not upgraded to latest OS)? Must have WiFi connectivity; don't want to add AirPort Extreme Base Station to our routers. Can be multifunction inkjet or laser, for home use, and don't even need fax function. Thanking you.

Rob Pegoraro: WiFi is becoming a standard feature at the high end of printer and printer/scanner lineups--HP has had one out for a while, and I'm pretty sure everybody else will be following suit. (I plan on doing a comparison of these in the next few months.)

As for what brand to get... hmm. My in-laws have a cheapo Canon inkjet that's worked fine plugged into their AirPort (I liked how clean its drivers were compared to the schlocky mess that HP ships). What inkjet makers do we like these days?

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Atlanta, Ga.: Can't the guy try rebooting his modem to reset his ip address?

Rob Pegoraro: Right, that ought to coax a new IP out of Verizon's systems if that hasn't happened on its own.

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Denver, Co.: I have a Windows XP peer-to-peer ethernet network and cable modem Internet access. Several different speed test sites have confirmed my download speed at 1.5 - 3 mbps yet when I download a file, it seems very slow and the downoad windows displays speeds as low as 15 kbps. Where do I start to see what the problem is?

Rob Pegoraro: That sounds to me like a very slow Internet server distributing that file.

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Netflix: Rob,I would love to get a better way to stream the admittedly limited Netflix movies straight to our TV. Currently we use an old laptop that connect wirelessly to our network. I hesitate to spend $99 on the Roku player only because I am tired of adding more devices to my TV area. I heard about a Blu-Ray DVD player that is going to have Netflix streaming built in, I think it might be from Toshiba. Have you heard anything about it? We need a new DVD anyway so this would be a happy piece of convergence.

Rob Pegoraro: That Blu-ray player you're talking about is a bit of a mystery--it's an LG model that won't ship until the fall, at an unannounced price.

The Roku box is pretty good, setting aside the limited inventory (I know, that's a big "setting aside"). I had no problem setting it up, and it's so tiny that it's easy to lose sight of it next to all the other junk hooked up to the TV.

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Cary, N.C.: Hope this isn't too late, but it's a quickie: Do you know of any reasons why my iPod touch lets some images be put on it, but not others? The ones in question (that work and don't) are all jpgs, and the sizes (dimensions and file size) interlap a lot between the two groups. The problem also extends to album art... in iTunes I have art for almost everything, but less than half of it was put on the touch. And I have 4GBs of open space.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the query, Cary. (Sorry. Couldn't resist that.)

I think I've seen this problem myself; there's one old JPEG both my own iPod and other review models--iPhones included--say can't be loaded. I should look into this further; any suggestions of where I should start?

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Washington D.C.: I used to just want a basic cell phone. All of my friends with Treo's and Window's smartphones kept asking when I was going to upgrade. I finally upgraded to the iPhone - and it is fantastic. There are probably dozens of things it cannot do that other smartphones can (voice dial, cut & paste etc.) - but it does everything I want nearly perfectly. Music, photos, calendar, contacts and cool add ons - all easy to use and work right out of the box. At its best, this is what Apple does better than anyone else. They make products that people like to use that don't require reading a giant manual.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for chiming in, WDC...

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Arlington, Va.: Me again, with the Outlook calendar not syncing.There is a separate MobileMe calendar appearing in my Outlook. Does this mean that I basically have to move all of my events/appointments/etc. from my original Outlook calendar to the MobileMe calendar in order for them to appear on my iphone? And if so, is there a way for me to get rid of the original Outlook calendar so I'm just dealing with one?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know of any easy or quick way to condense multiple Outlook calendars into one, but you can set Outlook (2007, at least) to display all of your calendars on top of each other.

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Alexandria: Rob, that previous post reminded me that I too have a Compaq Presario gathering dust in the attic that I bought in '98. The reason I've never gotten rid of it is because the CD ROM drive is completely hosed and I couldn't figure out any way to wipe out the hard drive without it - it probably hasn't been turned on in 5 years. Any suggestions besides taking it to a specialist like you mentioned, or purchasing a compatible CD drive just for the purpose of wiping it out (which seems like a waste...).

Rob Pegoraro: Yup, you've probably gotta take it to a specialist. It's possible that you could boot it up off a floppy or USB that's been set up with a copy DBAN or Eraser, but I haven't tried that myself.

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Rockville, Md.: I --really-- want to backup my Gmail, but when I look for a way to do it (online) I'm led to sites with a download and that require programming. I tried to hook my Outlook to it, but it only seemed to retrieve archived mail. Anything simple, reasonably priced, and that will backup in real time?

For the person wanting to DOWNGRADE TO XP... I took it to a local shop and had it done for about $160. Took them a few hours. Worth it to me.

Rob Pegoraro: There's no programming needed to backup your Gmail--the site offers both POP and IMAP download access to your messages. And its help pages provide directions on setting up a variety of mail programs, Outlook definitely included, for either type of mail downloads. (Go with IMAP.)

So I don't know where you looked, but whatever sites you found were leading you seriously astray.

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Arlington, Va.: For the Outlook on the iPhone -- this sounds like the same problem a friend of mine had. Check your addresses carefully. In his case he had used a forward-slash instead of a back-slash. That one change fixed everything.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm glad to pass along this tip...

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Speaking of keyboards: Hi Rob,I have an Apple aluminum keyboard, and I generally like it. However, I've noticed that I have to tap the keys fairly hard or the keyboard will occasionally drop characters. I'm a touch typist and have a fairly light touch. This is a nuisance. Is it a bug or a feature? Have you heard of any problems with the aluminum keyboard?

Rob Pegoraro: The most common complaint I've seen about Mac keyboards--especially from people switching from Windows machines--is not that they drop characters but that they double them. I.e., that they're too sensitive, not insufficiently sensitive.

You might have a defective keyboard, esp. if particular letters drop. Or you might just need to adjust your typing a bit.

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Bethesda, Md.: Apple Stores have become a real instance of added value. I'd never buy an extended warranty for a piece of hardware from Best Buy, but I'd consider it for Apple-- as long as I'm near an Apple Store, I can get actual help and value for the warranty from actual Apple employees.

Rob Pegoraro: More props for Apple Stores...

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Columbus, OH: Ever since installing Webroot Spysweeper with Anti-virus, my computer "hangs" for quite a long time at every attempt to either shut down or reboot. I have tried shutting down the Webroot programs first, but to no avail. Running XP-SP3, fully patched. Also ZA free firewall. 1gb RAM.

I like the Webroot programs, in spite of the problems I think they're causing (they also take quite awhile to load at bootup). Any help?

Rob Pegoraro: Are you sure it's the Webroot software, not ZA, that's causing these stalls and hangs?

Either way, if it is the security app that's causing these troubles, you should think about dumping it for a competing product. Security apps that make a nuisance of themselves are more likely to get shut off completely by a frustrated or distracted user, and then they're no good at all.

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Cody, Wyoming: Hi Rob,

A month or so ago, there was a new Java update. I downloaded and installed it with no problems on one of my computers, a 3-year-old Gateway desktop. But on my other computer, a 6-month-old Dell laptop, I could download the file, but not install it. I kept getting an "1101" error message. I contacted Java support, and they had a solution which I followed, step-by-step, several times. But it didn't work any of those times. I contacted one of the pay-for-hire Java experts, describing the problem in detail. He refused to help me. Strange!

So at the end of a frustrating day, I gave up. The next morning I realized I didn't even know what exactly Java did or why we need it. I did some Google research and discovered, according to one article writer, Java is old software that was used a lot in the mid-1990s by website developers. But very few websites use it now, and it's not usually necessary for end users like me.

Many websites do, however. use JavaScript. I also found out, despite the similarity of names, the two programs have nothing to do with each other, and were developed by two different, unrelated companies.

So I uninstalled Java on both my computers That's one less security issue I need to think about.

A caveat though -- as the article writer said, there are still some websites/programs requiring Java. But I've had no problems at all.

That's a long-winded way of getting to my question which is: Am I missing something here about Java? Why should I have it if I don't need it?

Thanks, Rob.

John

Rob Pegoraro: Java isn't obsolete or expired or anything, but it's not nearly as essential as its developers thought it would become. I find that I only encounter a site running a Java applet every few days, maybe once a week. (The most recent was a nifty Twitter-search visualization I checked out this morning.)

The problem, as you've noted and as I've complained about in my blog, is that on Windows, the Java auto-update process stinks. I dread going through it--even when it works, I have to delete the old version because the Java updater is too dumb to think of doing that itself.

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Longboat Key, Fl: Actually this isn't for discussion but a plea for a column covering wireless security. I have verizon wireless and Vista and find the whole thing so confusing. I am not sure just how secure my system is and worry about drive by attacks or cheap neighbors who piggyback. Are there any simple precautions to take or steps to secure a home computer? Especially with what we have just read about TJMaxx and all. Thanks a lot, Emilie

Rob Pegoraro: I could write a column about *what* to do--I'm pretty sure I've fit that into Help File and even the short "tip of the week" e-mail we send out to PostPoints subscribers. Here's the short version:

1) Change your router's password from the default

2) Change your network name from the default

3) Activate WPA encryption

But if you want a column detailing *how* to do that on different routers--I'm sorry, I can't. They all have different interfaces, so this is one of those times where you've gotta read the manual.

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Sound System: Rob, what's the best place in the area to buy a surround sound system (not a HTIB) outside of Best Buy or Circuit City?

Rob Pegoraro: If you're more of a stereophile type, there's Myer-Emco. Graffiti Audio-Video is another older-school, local store. There's also Tweeter--which I almost spelled as Twitter--but I haven't set foot in one in quite some time.

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Columbia, MD: Any idea of when either the Blackberry Bold or Thunder will be available for Verizon customers? I'm in the market for a new smartphone but would wait if either of these new phones hit the market in the near future.

Rob Pegoraro: If you've been a Verizon customer for long enough, you probably know the answer to this one already--several months after other carriers. Unless Verizon is the launch customer for a new phone (e.g., the LG Voyager), it usually takes anywhere from 4 to 8 months to ship a phone after a competing carrier has done so.

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Annandale, VA: I have been experiencing strange problems with my Cox Cable Internet service. About once a day, my internet connection stops working. I am using a Belkin router, Motorola modem, an HP laptop w/Vista and a Mac laptop. There have been no changes to my Cox service or any damage to the cable line entering my house. Our computers are update and working fine. This just suddenly began about three weeks ago.

After unplugging both the router and the modem for ten seconds or more, the service is restored. I've been having to do this about once a day, usually late at night. I once had a problem getting it back online and I called Cox. I was walked through their automated troubleshooter which did not find any problems (of course). In this instance, I was not able to get service until the next morning. Sometimes, there is no interruption at all.What could be causing this problem? Is it my equipment or an issue with Cox?

Rob Pegoraro: The only way to know is to apply the ol' scientific method--take your router out of the equation first. If the connection still drops, it's a problem with the cable modem. If the problem persists after you swap out the modem for a new model, it's the connection itself.

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East Lansing, Mich.: Hi Rob. Thanks for taking my question. We need three HD televisions 27" or less. First of all, when is the best month for deals on televisions. We want quality for the dollar. What are your thoughts of the 32" Sony Bravia XBR-Series KDL-32XBR6 and who would be their main competitors for visual and audio quality in the smaller sets. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro:1. There is no "best month" anymore. You don't think these guys would make things that easy, do you? :)

2. I don't know that model in particular.

3. Among big-name brands, check out Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp and LG. But also see what the lesser-known names, like Vizio, look like.

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Alexandria, Va.: Concerning the person looking for a notebook PC to replace a desktop system, ... let me recommend going with the folks at: http://www.xtremenotebooks.com/

On the information front: http://www.extremetech.com and http://www.tomshardware.com/us

Will we eventually see Bluetooth added to the Apple iPod Touch?

Rob Pegoraro: I have to beg to differ--if you're looking for an everyday computer that's not going to be put to any intensive use, the *last* place you want to go for advice is a site geared towards "extreme" anything.

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Arlington, Va: I'm one of the last remaining people who do not own a home computer. I'm very tempted to buy a laptop but do not want to pay Comcast as extra $40/month for internet. I live in Arlington, are there any other options for internet? I'm up for anything but the dreaded evil empire of Comcast.

Rob Pegoraro: Sure - Verizon DSL is only $20 or so a month.

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Richmond, Va.: I first heard about Google's Picasa program from one of your reviews, and I was wondering if there have been any new notable arrivals in the photo organization software genre. My grandfather gave us a number of old albums, and we're going to scan in all the pictures so we can all share. My favorite feature is being able to tag each photo with the names of people/places, but I'm not sure how well that transfers if burned to a CD and given to someone who doesn't have Picasa. Any thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: There hasn't been any exciting news in desktop photo-album software on the Windows side of the universe--Picasa itself has now gone many months without a major update.

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Minneapolis, MN: In terms of OEM ink/toner costs, which costs less per page, a color ink jet printer, or a color laser printer? Is the cost difference significant? (The usage would be document printing, not photography.)

Rob Pegoraro: Laser printer, by a substantial margin. If you're only going to print text, not photos, and you're going to do so in volume laser makes more economic sense than inkjet.

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Ashburn, Va.: Hi Rob, My laptop all of a sudden has lost its wireless connection (router is good), the adapter is displaying "Not connected, Firewalled" - any ideas what has happened and how I can get the wireless connection to work again?

Rob Pegoraro: Reboot the router. Yes, this is one of those times when Dogbert's tech-support prescription--"shut up and reboot"--does apply.

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Fairfax, VA: In response to your question on the blog (and btw, I can't get to the comments or permalink page for the post right now -- any URL that begins with "voices" returns a completely blank screen; the "blogs" prefix seems to work fine, though), I've been a Mac user since 1990, and I'm a fan and long-time advocate of the company and their products ... but they deserve every bit of flak they get for MobileMe. It's a disaster.

The genius of Apple's hardware and software has always been giving end users simplicity, efficiency, seamlessness, elegance, and stability, even when it's sometimes come at the expense of raw power or choice and flexibility. But the tradeoff is almost always worth it for me -- that's why I like them; it's not simply rooting for one logo over another, it's that I prefer the style and substance of what they do. When they screw up those principles they should be called on it, aggressively.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the note about blog issue--we'll have somebody look into this.

And thanks for appreciating today's column.

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Rob Pegoraro: And now I have to sign off so I can take care of this weekend's Help File and all the other fun stuff that eats up my Thursday afternoon. Thanks for all the questions; I'll see you here again in a couple of weeks.

- R

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