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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, August 21, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, August 21 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

This Story

Read Rob's latest tech tips in his blog, Faster Forward.

The transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Hello, all. Today's column talks about "deep packet inspection," the automated surveillance of your online traffic (so as to gauge your interests and match up relevant ads). It's a controversial topic. But I have to say, the inbox has been pretty tranquil today. I've only received three e-mails in response to the piece--and two seem to be from PR types talking about how their clients do "DPI" right. And I see more questions about digital TV than about DPI in the queue here. Is this not an issue that's keeping y'all up at nights?

Let's discuss...

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Boston: Rob, in your great article today, you said that Cable One told the House committee that it did not monitor encrypted Web traffic. Is it possible for them to monitor encrypted traffic? Does "encrypted" mean those sites with "https" at the start of the address? This is scary, scary technology.

washingtonpost.com: Internet Providers' New Tool Raises Deep Privacy Concerns (Post, August 21)

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, "encrypted" means a site with the "https" prefix (although some secure sites only encrypt the part of the page and so may not carry that prefix; a more reliable clue is the presence of a lock icon in the browser toolbar or status bar).

The encryption used in these cases will resist deep packet inspection, because the encryption happens between your computer and the Web server. The only way to eavesdrop in this scenario would be to install a keystroke logger on your own computer.

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Annapolis, Md.: Can you stand another DTV question? The cover story in this week's TV Week suggests that the DTV coupons will apply only to the purchase of a converter box. Didn't you say before that we would be able to use the coupons to buy digital receivers? Or am I misremembering or misreading something?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's the first of many digital-TV questions... DTV converter boxes are digital receivers, and vice versa. But the coupons the government is handing out--see dtv2009.gov--are only good for the purchase of basic DTV converters, not higher-end receivers that can output an HD signal or record programs to a hard drive.

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Rockville, Md.: I am using Vista for a backup of my C: drive. It says the backup was successful. But when I look at the file in Windows Explorer it says 0 files and 0 size. I did it again with the same results. This is to another internal hard drive. Should I try it on an external drive? Or am I OK?

Rob Pegoraro: If you're not sure a backup completed, you should always try again. You don't want to find out the hard way that your data went "poof."

Yes, try backing up to an external drive (a good idea anyway, since you want the backup to be accessible easily from another machine). But also make sure you're setting the Vista backup software to grab all your files.

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Potomac, Md.: Hi Rob, I have a question about doing email via WiFi hotspots. My main email account is on Comcast. If I use Mac Mail I am afraid I am exposing my password whenever I POP out for mail. True? But, If I look at Comcast's webmail, it is not too clear how safe that is from prying eyes either. Do you have any wisdom on this? Thanks for keeping us all up-to-date on everything technological.

Rob Pegoraro: Great question! (I may steal this for Help File). Remember the earlier exchange about encrypted Web sites? If your provider's Web-mail site uses encryption, then you're safe to use that on a strange network. But you'll need to check your own e-mail software's account settings to see if encryption is also enabled for your mail login. In Mac OS X's Mail software, you'd have to open the Preferences window, click the Accounts tab, select your account, then click the Advanced tab to see if the "Use SSL" checkbox is clicked.

Unfortunately, a lot of providers don't offer this option.

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Pittsburgh: Hi Rob, I just installed Service pack 1 on my vista laptop. So far, so good. Are you getting any feedback as how many SPs will be needed and how it has been received in the tech world?

Rob Pegoraro: Windows 2000 has had, I think, four service packs by now, and XP just saw its third ship not long ago. I expect Vista will need that many--but when I say that, remember that Service Packs don't just fix outright bugs but also improve performance and add features. They are, on balance, a good thing... assuming they install properly, which is not always a given.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: I am sooo close to switching to Apple from Windows systems. I will not convert to Vista. If I choose the Mac route, can I use my Office applications? Do I have to get new peripherals? If I need a new external hard drive now, which will work with both? Thank you!

Rob Pegoraro: In order:

* You can't use your Windows copy of Office, but you can buy Office for Mac (about the same price as Office for Windows), you can buy Apple's own, mostly Office-compatible iWork ($70) or you can install the free, open-source OpenOffice.

* No, you shouldn't need any new peripherals. The only exception I can think of is Dell's printers.

* If you do get an external hard drive, make sure it has a FireWire connection--Macs are short on USB ports, so the FireWire connection will let you keep those free for other users. (If you're getting a laptop, make sure the drive is "bus powered," meaning it won't need to plug into a wall outlet)

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Olney, Md.: Your article today was very scary. Is there any limit to the spying that cable or telephone companies can do with this deep packet inspection?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. As stated before, encrypted traffic can't be monitored. If you really wanted to get around this kind of tracking, you could redirect all your traffic through an encrypted proxy server... but if you have to act like a Chinese dissident, there's clearly something gone rotten with your Internet service.

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Dupont Circle: What do you make of Comcast's saying it will delay traffic for heavy users -- whatever they are -- for up to 20 minutes? Is that another deep packet inspection trick?

washingtonpost.com: Comcast to Slow Internet Service at Times to Its Heaviest Users (NY Times, August 20)

Rob Pegoraro: Different issue. Comcast, having gotten nailed by the FCC for interfering with peer-to-peer traffic and then pretty much lying about it, has to find a way to keep traffic flowing smoothly on its network that does not discriminate among particular sites or services. The only fair way to do that is to watch for overall bandwidth use and throttle the connections of people maxing out on that--whatever their reasons for doing so (downloading a new version of Linux, installing a Windows service pack, stealing a movie, etc.).

The HughesNet satellite-broadband service has long employed a similar system of bandwidth management. From what I hear, it's not exactly the favorite feature of that service among HughesNet users.

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Oakton, Va.: Hi Rob. We're retired, and our laptops stay safely at home. But we're taking a trip soon, and we'll be taking my wife's machine, because I do the online banking and recordkeeping on mine. Beyond backing up the disk, what precautions should I take in case the machine is lost or stolen? Thanks for your help!

Rob Pegoraro: Are you sure you need to take this laptop? Can't you pre-pay a bunch of bills in advance? A laptop on a trip can be a serious hassle; it's a reasonably large, expensive and easily damaged/stolen object. And if you're going to travel internationally, you also risk having the laptop inspected or detained by customs on your return to the States.

All that said, if you do take the laptop along, your first priority has to be securing your data from theft. Password-protect your account, then encrypt your own data. If you've got a Mac, use FileVault to secure your account; if you use Windows, your easiest option is the free, open-source TrueCrypt (truecrypt.org).

Any other suggestions?

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm in the process of dropping my current email service (web-based pay service) to using Gmail for my primary email account. I'm wondering what is the best way to get other people to send mail to my new address (besides/after a mass email). Is having everything forwarded to the new address and sending an auto-reply from the old address informing people about the change a good idea? Would such a message be annoying?

Rob Pegoraro: It might, but the auto-reply is the only effective option--if it weren't annoying to senders, they might not get the message. I had to go through this a couple of years ago when I retired my old work e-mail address, and I still get people who try to e-mail me there, a full year after we shut down that account.

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Bailey's Crossroads: Hi Rob -- $2500 budget. What HDTV would you get if it were you? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You could buy two very good 40- or 42-inch flat-panel sets fo that price, BC. How big of a set are you looking for?

My general advice on HDTVS is that you should get a flat-panel set; make it an LCD if you're buying something smaller than 40 inches or you'll put it in a well-lit room, but go with plasma if you're buying something 40 inches or bigger and it won't be in a room where the screen can pick up a lot of glare.

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Apple updates?: I'm looking to buy a new iPod and Mac laptop of some variety soon. Any major new releases for either coming up soon? I'm not in a huge rush so happy to wait a few months if it's worth it. Thanks for the chats and columns!

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know for sure, but when you look at how long the current Mac laptops--especially the MacBook--and iPods have been around in their present configuration, it looks like both sets of gadgets are due for a refresh or an outright redesign. I'd wait on this purchase if possible.

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hard drive for Mac: Don't forget the formatting! If he formats it to work with a PC it's not optimized for use with a Mac, or may not work at all...

Rob Pegoraro: Not necessarily. Macs read and write the FAT32 format--what you'd expect to find on most external hard drives--without any problem. OS X can only read NTFS volumes, but you're unlikely to see that filesystem on an external volume.

(Either way, reformatting the drive to a Mac's HFS+ filesystem is pretty painless, so long as you copy the drive's contents to the Mac first.)

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Tracking Behavior: Rob,

I haven't read your article yet, but a week or so ago another post writer wrote an article about web firms tracing behavior and I was actually pretty shocked when I read that Cable One, a company owned by the Washington Post, ran deep packet inspection technology, but didn't alert customers. How can we make sure companies aren't tracking us and our clicks?

washingtonpost.com: Some Web Firms Say They Track Behavior Without Explicit Consent (Post, August 12_

Rob Pegoraro: Reading that story was not my proudest moment as a Washington Post Co. employee.

Cable One and other providers that tested NebuAd's setup put at least a vague warning or notice in their terms of use. But after the past few weeks, I think it's pretty safe to say that no sane Internet provider will try to sneak this kind of change past their customers again--the blowback on this kind of move is too severe.

(There can also be other clues to the presence of a DPI system--the Wikipedia entry on deep packet inspection notes how some users noticed ads being downloaded from a strange server.)

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Baltimore: I run a Google search. In 0.12 seconds, Google checks millions of web pages and returns 137,000 hits. I click on one of these hits, and it takes IE 30 seconds to load it. What's up with that?

Rob Pegoraro: Internet Explorer isn't as fast as Firefox in general. But 30 seconds is ridiculous. Not sure what would cause that.

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Minneapolis: If I buy a Mac and use Windows via Boot Camp, will I be able to use ActiveX components on IE (barf) to log on remotely to my office? I know Macs aren't ActiveX compatible, but does Windows/Boot Camp offer an exception? Would the software purchases for Windows/Boot Camp be less than the cost of a low-end refurbished Notebook PC?

Rob Pegoraro: If you run Windows in Boot Camp--or inside Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion--you are running Windows. Period. The virtual-machine programs may not give Windows access to all of your Mac's hardware, like the full power of its graphics chipset, but as far as software compatibility goes they are at 100 percent AFAIK.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Rob -- love the chats! Question about the upcoming digital TV conversion in February. I have Comcast digital TV service with all the premium channels and have Comcast digital boxes on two of my three TVs. None of the TVs have built-in digital tuners. Although Comcast says if you have cable you have nothing to worry about with the conversion, does that apply if your cable is connected directly to the wall outlet? The other TV is in my guest room and is just connected to the wall -- no Comcast digital cable box or regular non-digital cable box. So it doesn't get any of the premium or digital channels I get on the TVs that have the digital boxes, just basic and expanded cable. What happens with that TV come February? Will I need to replace it, get a digital box for it, or will these converter boxes you can get with the coupons for analog TVs allow me to still get regular and expanded basic cable on it? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: This is one of those questions that Will. Not. Go. Away. [exhales slowly] Here we go again...

Correct, TVs plugged into a cable or satellite box need no extra hardware for the digital transition.

A "cable-ready" TV plugged right into the wall may or may not. But this has NOTHING to do with the digital transition; you're not using any of the public airwaves, remember. Cable operators move channels from analog to digital not because the FCC or anybody else is making them do that, but because it's a much more efficient use of their network--the same reasons why analog cell phone service is history.

The FCC has set some restrictions on this; if your cable operator hasn't gone all digital already, it has to keep local and public stations available in unencrypted, analog form through February of 2012. But anything else can be moved to the digital tier whenever Comcast or whoever feels like it.

Lastly, buying a DTV converter box will do NOTHING about this. DTV converter boxes only work with over-the-air signals. Your only way to avoid a digital cable box is to get a digital TV, DVD recorder or DVR with at least a QAM tuner (that'll get unencrypted digital channel) or a CableCard slot (for encrypted, premium channels).

Got it?

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LarryMac: For Baltimore -- Google is not checking thousands of pages in 0.12 seconds, it's checking its index. Just like when I use my copy of "Joy of Cooking" -- I find the page number for the bechamel recipe in the index, but it takes me a bit longer to flip through the book to actually get to the page with that recipe. Here endeth our tortured analogy for the day.

Rob Pegoraro: Me, I just turn to the page with a bechamel-sauce stain covering up half the recipe. I guess everybody's got their own way of looking up information!

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Annapolis, Md.: Thanks for taking my DTV question, but I guess I wasn't clear. My current TV is analog, and 17 years old, and so I was planning (hoping?) to apply the coupon to the purchase of a new digital set. Will I be able to do that, or am I basically at the mercy of the blueshirts?

Rob Pegoraro: DTV-converter-box coupons are only good for the purchase of DTV converters, not DTVs or anything else.

Perhaps this is a coincidence, but the electronics stores I've visited have had the DTV converters at the far end of the TV section, where you only see them after you've walked past dozens of plasma and LCD sets.

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Arlington, Va.: I was talking to a computer salesman and he told me that HP, Toshiba and Acer have adopted an open architecture for their laptops and that it is easier to tinker with these machine than Sony, is that correct? Do you know if Dell and Lenovo have similar designs? Also, do you know any good laptop that allows one to quickly swap Hard Disks? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: I kind of wanted to stop reading your question after "I was talking to a computer salesman." Don't mean to stereotype, but in general those folks are not the most reliable sources!

Anyway: I'm not aware of any such open-architecture standard for Windows laptops. Sony does use a lot of proprietary parts, but it's not like you can swap out core components that easily on an HP or Toshiba model either.

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Manassas, Va.: Have you evaluated the new Dell Studio line of laptops? I just ordered one and haven't had a chance to experiment with it yet. Mine is the 17" one.

Rob Pegoraro: No, haven't checked them out yet. The Studio machine I am, however, hoping to try out soon is the Studio Hybrid, the first small-form-factor desktop Dell has shipped in a while. It's tiny and actually looks kind of cool.

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Eugene, Ore.: Thanks for your recent column on new laptops. Regarding Bootcamp, is it possible to install a mirror image backup of my current XP laptop, or do I have to buy a new copy of Windows for installation? I'd like to try an Apple laptop, but not if I have to go to the expense and time of reinstalling a mountain of old programs.

Bonus Question: Why does the built-in XP SP2 firewall need to be restarted every time I restart the computer? I use ZoneAlarm, so it's disturbing only in theory, at least for me. (Multiple online virus scanning sites say no malware)

Rob Pegoraro: Boot Camp by itself can't clone an existing Windows installation, but Parallels Desktop includes a Transporter utility that will do that. Parallels can also share its own virtual machine with a Boot Camp partition, although I'm not sure if you can clone the Parallels install to Boot Camp.

Bonus Reply: You don't have to restart the XP firewall; it's on full-time. (One of changes Microsoft made with SP2 was to move up its place in booth sequence, so it was active before any Internet connectivity could be set up.)

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Olney, Md.: About the person who chooses a site from a Google list and it takes 30 seconds to download. That is almost certainly the fault of the site he has chosen for the most part. A small part of it may be his browser or ISP because it is downloading not only the text, but probably lots of separate files for photos, drawings, fancy lettering, little animations and stuff from a possibly very busy and slow-operating server. When you do a Google search all Google sends is text and maybe a small picture or two. The fact that one click brings up a fast response, and another brings up a slow one means: Blame the slow site's servers!

Rob Pegoraro: One theory about an earlier question raised here...

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for taking my question. Do you have a preference or opinion regarding software that backs up a PC's data by creating a mirror image? I am not interested in the traditonal file backup utilities. I need software that creates a drive image. Any advice from you or your readers would be greatly appreciated.

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't tried any of these apps lately; you all are welcome to suggest which ones WDC should use.

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DeRidder, LA: Whatever happened to power line broadband? It seems like the perfect vector for high speed internet access.

Rob Pegoraro: This technology looks like a bust. All of the existing trials--including one in Manassas--seem to have wrapped up without any real success.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey, Rob. I'm finally ready to join the 21st century and get rid of dial-up. Since I use my cell for pretty much all my calls, what are my high speed internet options if I also were to drop my landline?

Rob Pegoraro: In the District, you're looking at:

* DSL from Verizon ($20 and up) or competing providers like EarthLink or Speakeasy (more expensive)

* cable modem service from Comcast or RCN ($40 and up)

* WiFi in a few places (see, for example, dcaccess.net)

Verizon *finally* signed a deal to bring Fios fiber-optic service to D.C., but it will take many months for that to see any widespread availability.

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For traveling laptops: Clear out cookies, too, that may have web passwords in them (although file vault should cover that).

Rob Pegoraro: Good idea--though you'd better make sure you've got those passwords memorized first.

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Alexandria, Va.: With Comcast planning on putting a cap of 250GB a month, how do you see other online services -- Netflix, Apple, Amazon Unbox, etc. -- putting pressure on Comcast to up the limit or doing away?

I realize that Netflix, Apple and Amazon are competing with Comcast on video rentals, so Comcast might not care much, but Apple and Amazon are pretty formidable in the online world.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd think the more effective pressure would be from competing ISPs that don't impose bandwidth caps.

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Washington, D.C.: Can I submit a rant? I got a digital converter box, as we've all been told to do before the fall of western civilization (or Feb. 2009). I REALLY do not like it. Every time a helicopter flies overhead, a large truck goes by, or the wind blows, the signal goes out. And since I live under a helicopter flight path and two blocks from a fire station, this is often several times an hour. I also don't get all the channels I did with my trusty rabbit ears. Why is this better again? Do I really need to go out and buy an expensive antenna to add to the money I spent on the box, or will the signals improve before next year? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You should be seeing better performance than that. What converter did you get? What kind of antenna are you using? And where in D.C. do you live?

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Fairfax, Va.: Rob, I have my Windows XP computer set to auto-update windows with security patches. I heard that the new SP3 has some glitches and I don't want that auto-installed. How will I know if that eventually is on one of their weekly updates?

Rob Pegoraro: My own experience with SP3 hasn't shown any glitches--and remember, also, that this update has been available as a voluntary/non-automatic update for months already. That ought to have been enough time for Microsoft to iron out any wrinkles with it.

You should know when it's available because it will be a much longer download and install than a normal update. You may even get a dialog box announcing it specifically, but I don't know for sure--I updated all my XP machines when it first came out.

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Bethesda, Md. : I need to replace my Dell desktop which is about 4.5 yrs old. We use Microsoft office (mostly Word), some graphics (logos, photos, etc.) for a freelance editor gig, and, of course, email and internet. Fairly simple requirements, but my 14-year-old son is interested in a computer with gaming capability. I'm not sold yet, as these computers seem to be much more expensive than what I can get to meet my own needs and basic computers seem to have come down quite a bit in price since I last purchased one. He is also is suggesting I convert to a Mac,as he says they're less prone to viruses. Any thoughts suggestions on a low-end computer (PC or Mac) that would handle gaming, but meet my needs as well? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: As a general rule, low-end machines and gaming don't mix--fast-paced, graphically-intensive games need much more graphics-processing power than you'll get on any low-end machine.

You might be looking at two machines--a gaming rig for your son, so he can play his games and not tie up your own computer, and a low-end PC or Mac mini for you.

Or you could get him an Xbox 360.

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Atlanta: Laptops are not good for tinkering. Desktops are good for tinkering.

Rob Pegoraro: Good point, if you're into that sort of thing.

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Silver Spring, Md.: The DPI issue sounds fairly academic so far. There would be more traction if we could actually attach the CIA or a missing child to the story. That said, I'm trying to be more youthful and accept that everything today is about marketing and I basically have zero privacy. All the musicians are sell outs and if you want to know something about me, just look at my Facebook page.

All that aside, it seems like DPI is mostly about trying to figure out how to make money on the Internet. I'm sure if either of us could figure that out for the Post, we wouldn't be online on this beautiful day.

Rob Pegoraro: One of the ironies of this situation is that it's not *that* hard to get people to pay attention to ads. Take a look at YouTube and the random videos people e-mail you or post links to on Facebook or Twitter or whatever; odds are, a good chunk of them are ads. Maybe they're movie trailers, maybe they're funny TV commercials, maybe they're political attacks you agree with, maybe they're viral videos (like that crazy Gatorate ad where the ballgirl climbs 20 feet up the outfield wall to catch a fly ball).

People will go out of their way to watch ads if they're entertaining enough, and you don't need to spy on them to make that happen.

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Re: clone an existing Windows installation: Once you've created a Boot Camp partition and gotten some version of Windows to run from it, you can do about anything to it that you could do to a similar partition on a PC. That includes installing another OS from scratch. I haven't tried it, but you might be able to restore a ghosted Windows image to a Boot Camp partition. Just remember to install the Mac drivers from the Mac OS installation DVD after you're done. Otherwise, as you said, Parallels Transporter (and VMware Converter) both work well.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Tina in Falls Church, Va.: I got the cheap charlie Digital Stream converter box at radio shack...I added a cheapie set of rabbit ears with a directional tuner knob and that worked great to improve picture. I understand TV stations are fiddling with signal a lot while they get ready for Feb...is this correct? I have noticed some variability in signal strength recently.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, there will be some fluctuation in signal strength as local stations tweak their digital broadcasts. Some of these will also bump their digital channels to their old analog frequencies (in most case, going from the UHF band to VHF) when the analog broadcasts end.

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Digital converter:: Thanks for taking my question. Sorry, I don't have the model with me, but it was $60 at Radio Shack. (RCA maybe?) I do have an older antenna, but it worked fine for analog TV (and I got more channels). I live at 16th and U (under a helicopter flight path, near an alley and fire station), but at least one other friend (at 17th and Mass, with a different box) is having the same problems.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the details! As Tina just noted, changing the antenna can help--doesn't need to be an expensive model, either. (You might also want to see if your building has an antenna on the roof and if that's hooked up to each apartment.)

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I put my iPod music library onto an external hard drive. I've downloaded iTunes to a new computer, but can't get the iTunes to recognize the library from the external hard drive for old music (yes, I've changed the advanced settings to make that the library location going forward).

Rob Pegoraro: If iTunes is putting new songs in the right folder on the external drive, why not just drag and drop the old songs onto iTunes, so it adds them to its library the old-fashioned way?

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I'm having a rough time getting my Canon Pixma 850 printer to operate wireless via the Apple Time Capsule. I've downloaded the latest drivers. The Time Capsule recognizes the printer and there is obviously some connection there, as when I try to print there is obviously some signal being sent to the printer, as it spits out blank pages. Have you heard anything about this being a common problem and if so how to fix it?

Rob Pegoraro: I've had pretty good luck in general with shared printers on a Mac. The Canon shows up in the Print & Fax system-preferences pane?

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iPod question: I have an iPod dock in my car. My car is either in a garage at home, or a garage at work. My home garage rarely gets above 80 degrees, or below 57 in winter. It's adjacent to the heating/cooling room in my house. The work garage is usually a comfortable temperature too. Both garages don't have protections against humidity though. How bad is it to leave the iPOD in the car all the time? It's one of the new fancy Touch ones -- 500 bucks. Am I asking for a fried iPod? The car almost never sits outside except maybe at the grocery store.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's the "environmental requirements" listed on the Apple's tech-specs page for the iPod touch:

* Operating temperature: 32 to 95 F (0 to 35 C)

* Nonoperating temperature: -4 to 113 F (-20 to 45 C)

* Relative humidity: 5% to 95% noncondensing

* Maximum operating altitude: 10,000 feet (3000 m)

You didn't say if your home or work sits more than 10,000 feet above sea level, but if that's not the case you're fine. The biggest risk to your iPod is from somebody breaking into the car to steal it.

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Richmond: Rob, I've got this urge to buy a Mac for my next PC, and the family CFO keeps telling me I don't NEED one. I already have a nice LCD 20" monitor, so I can buy a Windows PC with 3GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive for under $400. I'm looking at $949 to upgrade a Mac Mini to just 2GB and 160G HD. Can you help me make the argument?

Rob Pegoraro: I'll make the argument both ways:

* "You should get the Mac because with 2 GB of RAM, it will perform as well as a Vista machine with 3 GB--and you can save still more money by getting third-party RAM and upgrading that yourself. OS X Leopard is far better than Vista in its own right, and Apple provides a far better software bundle than most cheap PCs. You may not 'need' these things, but we're talking about a computer, not food or water--this is a 'want' transaction in the first place."

* "Apple's pricing, especially for add-on memory and storage, simply hasn't kept up with PC vendors in the last year. You'll save still more money by being able to install your old programs on the new machine. Windows Vista has its issues, but it's had a year and a half to get its bugs ironed out, and if you custom-order the machine you can get a clean configuration without the usual trialware crap. You also won't waste time learning a completely new operating system. Finally, think of all the neat gadgets you can buy with the money you save on the PC."

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Digital converter: Get the cable co. to test signal strength. I had a problem with cable cards and only getting a bad picture, or none at all. They took out a couple of splitters and that solved the problem.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the tip!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Rob, could you explain more about what data is in the "deep packets" compared to whatever is used now? The grocery store/cereal analogy wasn't all that helpful to me. How about an actual example of a Web page somebody would visit and what would or would not be tracked by DPI?

Rob Pegoraro: All of the data you send and receive online gets split into packets of data, each of which crosses the Internet as fast as possible before being reassembled at its destination. You can look at the exterior of these packets--the destination and origin--easily enough, but peering inside the envelope in real-time, and for many users at once, requires enormous processing power. (On a local network, it's not as hard.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you have a reference or article you can point me to on Comcast implementing a 250GB cap? I heard about them slowing the heaviest users, which I have no problem with, but a cap could be an issue.

And I don't see competing ISPs being able to mount any pressure. Where I live it's Comcast or Verizon DSL, and DSL is too slow. The community monopolies don't give users any choice.

Rob Pegoraro: Y'know, I can't find the 250 GB cap the earlier chatter mentioned either--although Comcast has experimented with bandwidth caps already, and Time Warner is testing a cap set at only 40 GB. Here's the blog post I wrote on that:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2008/06/time_warner_tries_out_tiered_b.html

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, tell my IT guy at work that he should support activesync so I can have an iPhone for work. We already use Treo family using activesync, but says we don't support iPhone. Can you make it happen?

Rob Pegoraro: The iPhone does support Exchange Server--though I didn't test that, as it's beyond my area of interest as a consumer-tech guy and as an employee of a company that doesn't use Exchange. So if Treos work, then iPhones should as well, unless he's somehow blocking them specifically.

Plan B: Give your CEO an iPhone. That should get this problem resolved in a hurry.

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San Francisco: I want to ditch my land line, but I get AT&T broadband through it. Apparently, there's no option of keeping it as a data-only line at reduced cost (I know, I was dreaming). So, would my only options be the same as what you described for the person in Virginia, adjusted for my location in San Francisco?

Rob Pegoraro: What you're talking about is called "naked DSL," and other providers offer it. Not sure why AT&T would not. You could drop your voice service to the cheapest possible metered-rate plan, where you pay 10 cents per outgoing call.

Otherwise, yeah, you're looking at the same overall options: DSL, cable and maybe WiFi.

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Farragut Park, D.C.: Why the heck would an iPod not work above 10,000 ft. elevation? What about other e-devices? In some places -- Colorado comes first to mind -- you wouldn't have to work that hard to get above 10,000 ft.

Rob Pegoraro: An iPod will work that high--I've taken one or two skiing in the Rockies--but Apple isn't certifying it for that altitude. This should be a fundamental law of technology: "Not supported" rarely means "not possible."

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Rob Pegoraro: On that note, I've gotta take off. Thanks for keeping me as busy as ever! I'll be back here after Labor Day.... enjoy the rest of August, by which I mean: Try not to spend too much time in front of the computer.

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