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

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Oct. 2 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.

A transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon! If you've got a question about how you can cut your telecom bills, get ready for the digital-TV transition, shop for a digital camera or fix your PC, you've come to the right place.

If, on the other hand, you're curious about Gov. Palin's background, you must be looking for Sally Jenkins' chat--first door on the right. Thanks!

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Rockville: Rob, this is Washington D.C., where the economy is much more stable than the country as a whole, not going either up or down as much as other people's.

For those of us who are proud to act counter-cyclical from the rest of America, are there any real deals out there?

Rob Pegoraro: We'll start on an optimistic note, crappy economy notwithstanding. I think that if you've got the money to spend, you should see some decent deals--retailers are going to need to do something extra to get people into their stores and onto their sites. But it's a little too soon to see what these promotions might be like; wait until we're a little closer to the holiday shopping season.

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Falls Church, Va.: Rob,

Thanks for all your help in the past. I have two computers and they are both getting loaded up with pictures and video. The computers work well so I don't want to replace them and I was thinking of getting a harddrive to both back up the computers and hold all our pictures. I seen some very cheap harddrives, even portable ones at Costco with anything from a 100 to 500 gigabytes for anything from $100 to $200. I need your help in deciding what to buy. Is it a mistake to get one of these portable hard drives even if I don't plan to move them. Should I be worried because they are "too cheap" and, therefore, are unreliable. I am going to have pictures on them that I don't want to lose.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide in buying a backup hard drive.

Rob Pegoraro: Buying an external hard drive would not be a bad idea at all--you'll still need it to back up your next computer. Making it a portable drive, meaning one that's "bus powered" (it gets all the electricity it needs over a USB or FireWire cable, not a wall outlet), means you will also have fewer wires to mess with. So, yes, I endorse this move. It's exactly what I did two years ago.

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Beltsville, Md.: When Isabel came through a few years ago, I was without electricity for 3 days. (Many were far worse off than me.) However, since I had the old-fashioned landline telephone service, I could make and receive phone calls during all of that time. If I had one of the VoIP services, my phone service would have only lasted as long as the battery backup that came with it.

Rob Pegoraro: That's one vote in favor of maintaining a landline phone. But: How often are you in this position? I wouldn't keep a landline phone just for this situation; you could buy a solar charger for your cell phone with the savings gained from just a few months' worth of landline bills.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Why do you poo-poo VOIP such as Vonage as "I tried to stick with advice that wouldn't be too difficult or expensive to follow." When I setup Vonage, it was dead-simple. I'd think it would be harder to explain to a non-techy spouse how to use Skype or something similar.

Rob Pegoraro: Setting up Vonage requires moving over your entire phone service to that company; you also have to buy the phone adapter and hook that up to your router. Those things do constitute a mental obstacle to some people.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Is there a way to turn off my ability to receive text-messages? I have T-Mobile and no texting plan, so a few texts from friends (who don't realize I don't have a text plan) can add up each month.

Rob Pegoraro: Depends on your carrier. See this Help File item from several months back: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/01/AR2007120100137.html

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Arlington, Va.: MobileMe continues to be a cypher. It is S-L-O-W on all browsers on all platforms. And I have one issue that is very odd.

One thing that has started working pretty well is the push synching. I am able to add/delete/edit calendar and contact entries anywhere (desktop Mac, PowerBook, iPhone, browser on Windows) and the changes are propagating out quickly and accurately.

There is however one more thing. I have a recurring event that has been on my home iCal for a while. It occurs every other Friday. It shows up perfectly everywhere except on MobileMe via a browser, where it is always off a week. For instance this month it should be on the 10th and 24th but shows up on the 17th and 31st. I worked with Apple's online support and they came up with the following idea, delete the event entirely and re-add it in.

Man, that sounds like a solution to a Microsoft problem. I really can't believe how not ready for prime time MobileMe was at its launch. Shame on Apple!

Rob Pegoraro: I've found MobileMe's Web site to be more reliable lately--I haven't had the calendar fail to load or seen address-book entries appear with only the person's name in the last month. But I'm not going to say this service is close to living up to Apple's promises for it, or its broader potential.

For instance, will other developers be able to write MobileMe sync plug-ins? I don't know why Apple would want to limit Windows MobileMe users to apps developed by Microsoft, but the current closed system imposes that limit.

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Counter-Cyclical Purchases: Buy a car if sales are really down 27%.

Rob Pegoraro: They're down even more than that in the SUV segment of the market... but, y'know, I wouldn't rush out and make that purchase, even with gas at a "low" $3.60 or so (Va. pricing).

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Los Angeles, Calif.: As a fellow reporter who sometimes needs to record phone interviews, I was hoping the iPhone might have a conversation-recording capacity. Apparently the recording apps don't work for conversations. Any alternative ideas? A way to run a line out to my digital recorder, perhaps? Last resort, of course, is just recording off the speaker phone. But surely there is a better way.

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're stuck with that last resort. If you only need to record in-person conversations, you've got plenty of options (even if you only own an iPod nano), but phone calls are a different issue.

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Washington, D.C.: Could you please tell me what's the best way to move my 2,000+ collection of iTunes songs from one computer to another? Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: See the prior answer about an external hard drive: Buy one, copy your entire iTunes Music folder onto it, then copy the folder from the drive to the new computer. Authorize your iTunes Store account on the new computer--that's it.

(If you don't buy at the iTunes Store, you can skip the last step.)

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Chicago, Ill.: Have you ever hunted wolves out of a plane? It's quite a thrill!

Rob Pegoraro: Every time I try to do that around D.C., some F-16 scrambles out of Andrews AFB and forces me to land. It's getting kinda frustrating...

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Denver: Do you know a good application (preferably free) to use for video chats between a Mac and PC? We use Windows live messenger for PC-PC chats and it works great, but my aunt has a Mac and wants to join in.

Rob Pegoraro: Skype will do that just fine--they did a good job with their Mac app.

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DTV reception: Rob, just tried to pull in digital TV signals with an indoor amplified antenna through a converter box in Rockville, and was not impressed. Lots of drop outs. Are the major DC broadcasters using full power for their digital signals yet? In other words, will my reception get better in February once they turn off the analog signals?

Rob Pegoraro: Most of them should be at full power by now, unless they've gotten a waiver from the FCC. But in Rockville, you might need a bigger antenna than an indoor model.

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Richmond, Va.: Hi Rob - I'm interested in converting old VHS tapes to DVD (home movies type tapes, no copyright infringement!) Have you reviewed any of the hardware and/or software packages for this?

Rob Pegoraro: Get a DVD recorder with a built-in VCR. That is, by far, your easiest way to archive your tapes (and you also get a DVD player in the bargain).

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Arlington, Va.: After buying a new Vista laptop, what is the first thing I should configure? I am concerned about security, viruses and my wireless connection.

Rob Pegoraro: Anti-virus software: It's not included in Vista, and you do still need it. The firewall should be on automatically, and Vista will also check for updates for you.

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wash dc: Channel 4 is broadcasting its ATSC signal on channel 37 (I think). Channels 5, 7 and 9 are also broadcasting ATSC signals on UHF channels. Will these channel assignments change after next February so that Channel 4 will broadcast ATSC on Channel 4 and the other channels on the their current VHF channels?

Rob Pegoraro: The digital channel assignments are invisible in practice--on a digital set or a digital converter box, you just tune to 4.1 to get WRC's digital signal, not 37.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I want to watch television on my Mac. I know there is a product called Eye TV Hybrid, and it has some good reviews on the Apple website. Do you know anything about it, or any other software that would enable me to watch tv on a Mac?

Rob Pegoraro: I do know of it, and I've heard good things about it. However, I have yet to try it out. Can anybody here testify to their own experience with eyeTV's tuners?

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Alexandria, Va.: Help! My iPod is dying (it's a second generation iPod, so really I am just thankful, amazed it lasted this long). Not only do I have an old iPod but I have an old operating system on my iMac. I can't use a new iPod on my computer without updating the OS. Can I make the jump from OS 10.2.8 to the new OS 10.5 without any major glitches? Or do I need to get my hands on 10.3 and 10.4? If it's the latter, any advice on how to do this cheaply?

Rob Pegoraro: If your Mac shipped with 10.2, it may not be able to run 10.5 at all. It may be due for replacement in its own right--um, yeah, we're talking about a five or six-year-old machine, right?

You could probably pick up a copy on eBay, but you really have to think about the economics of sinking more money into a computer this old. You might be better off getting a used iPod that can still work with Jaguar.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, I have a Pioneer 5080 50" Plasma screen TV that I love. I notice that on some stations the station logo and some other text at the edges of the screen are often cut off. I have repeatedly adjusted the size of the screen to try to get everything on the screen which seems to work only in 4:3 mode. Is this an artifact of older programs that were originally rendered in 4:3 format being shown on the 16:9 format?

Rob Pegoraro: This sounds like a screen-formatting issue: HDTVs usually offer a few different options to display a 4:3-formatted program on their wider screens, and some (like the "zoom" option) will always cut off some of the picture. But if the logo is still missing when you show the 4:3 content in letterbox mode--with black bars on either side--then you've got some other problem that I don't know what to do about.

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Tina in Falls Church: I have FIOS and a word to pass on to others. The OEM battery for the back up system is made by Eagle Picher. Mine lasted 5+years. I bought an aftermarket replacement and it only lasted 7 mos. I have another Eagle Picher on order. Stick with the original brand, it seems to be better

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! You're the first Fios user to mention this detail to me.

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Washington, D.C.: How many tabs should you be able to have open at one time in the Explorer or Firefox browsers? I have a 6 or 7 year old laptop, not a whole lot of memory, and lately find that the fans start blowing at a high rate if "too many" tabs are open, or if running a youtube video. Sometimes it even shuts off the computer. It seems that the machine is getting so hot doing all this "work" that the fans can't cool it and it shuts off, rather than overheat. I'm guessing that more and more pages have ads that increase this problem. I switched over to Firefox and the problem is mostly gone, but still, I'm curious. Is the computer actually in danger of getting too hot and burning up a chip?

Rob Pegoraro: No, but IE 7 is a memory hog, so I'm not surprised that it would start eating processor cycles as well.

In any case, however, you face no risk of any kind of Computing China Syndrome. The machine will shut down if its innards get too hot--instantly, and without warning.

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Steubenville, Ohio: Rob, last time I had asked you about programs that "steal focus." I am using vista Home Premium and IE7. I have to use IE7 because of the web site (Washington State site so it figures they would be biased to Microsoft). I have a pdf in the browser, hit print, switch to Wordpad to paste the url from the browser page into a doc and many times the browser/print spooler steal the focus -- aggravating to put it politely. I did a search and found this link ( http://www.nordichardware.com/news,1644.html ). Our of curiosity I made the registry change to my personal home computer running XP Home. It didn't hose the system but I don't use that computer in the same way.Does this edit make sense to you? I would prefer to have some expert advice before attempting on the office computer. I backup info regularly but don't want to intentionally create a disaster.Puzzled Bob in Ohio.

Rob Pegoraro: I can't say that any form of registry editing makes much sense to me, but as this kind of tinkering does, the one you describe seems fairly straightforward.

Do realize, however, that if your IT department gets word that you've been editing the registry on your work machine, they may freak out.

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Washington, D.C.: OK I can't take it anymore I've been dying sticking with this Verizon 8703e blackberry when are they going to finally announce the blackberry storm!! Have you heard anything about this device and if it is going to live up to the hype?

Rob Pegoraro: Welcome to Verizon Wireless. This company has a long and consistent history of taking its time to introduce some of the more-hyped new smartphones.

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Northern Virginia: My computer wants me to install Service Pack 3 but I'm afraid that it will mess everything up. How can I tell it not to install Service Pack 3 but to install other updates? It's Windows XP.

Rob Pegoraro: If your computer is in good shape, you shouldn't have any problems with SP3. If it isn't, it could get sunk by any other update.

I recommend proceeding with SP3 after (of course) backing up your data, just in case.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi Rob,

I recently bought a Samsung Instinct and I've been pretty mixed on it. On the plus side, the navigation is pretty cool, but I live in NYC where the Google Map blackberry app would suffice. The visual interface is pretty nice, but little touches (like the web browser not limiting text to the screen width so you have to scroll in two directions) are missing. And last, there are no applications being built that provide any of the inane fun or functionality that Android phones or iPhones have.

Sprint offers a one month trial period where you can return your phone. I'm thinking about doing it. What say you?

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I tried the Instinct myself and wasn't too impressed either: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/02/AR2008070202762.html

I mean, it can work pretty well as just a basic phone, but then you're paying a bit much for something to use as just a basic phone.

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At a conference, DC: Have you seen the new Dell Mini 9? What are your thoughts compared to other minis for road warriors? Windows XP with 1 GB memory and 16 GB solid state drive for $450 seems like a good deal. For the Linux version, how much memory is reasonable for web surfing, email, word processing? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm waiting for Dell to send me a review unit, so I can give you a proper answer (hey, Dell PR--see this? Serious reader interest here! :)

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Silver Spring, Md.: It seems that installing Windows Service Pack 3 (for XP) prevents me from connecting to the internet (I use IE 7.0). I removed Service Pack 3 and now the internet works. What can I do to be able to install the service pack and still have functioning internet service? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: In the interest of balance, here's somebody who had an inexplicable SP3 malfunction. Dude, I have no idea what went wrong here. I've now upgraded every XP machine I use to SP3 and haven't seen any damage from it on any of them. (One was already mortally wounded from earlier software malfunctions; it's still mortally wounded.)

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Washington, D.C.: I'm trying to pick my next Verizon cellphone - all I ask is that it get good reception and take ok pictures and not weigh more than a paperback. And preferably not die within two years. So I'm not aiming super-high on the cellphone food chain. I'm down to three models - a Nokia, an LG, and a Motorola, all basically free with the various discounts.

Are there general differences in reliability between them? Is it true that Motorola batteries give up the ghost after a few months? My last phone was an LG but I kind of like this Motorola option because it can take a SIM card for overseas use. Not that I travel overseas that often. But when I do, I always want a cell phone.

Help?

Rob Pegoraro: Anybody want to take this one? I haven't owned a phone by any of these manufacturers since 2003 (a Motorola flip-phone that saw one hinge break 22 or so months after I bought it).

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Washington, D.C.: Speaking of SP3, any thoughts on results of updating to SP3 with Windows XP on a MacBook (10.5) running Parallels? I haven't updated yet, and would hope it'll be fine, but hadn't heard feedback from any others who have done so.

Rob Pegoraro: Go right ahead--just record a snapshop of the current install, load SP3, and if it doesn't work you can revert to that snapshot.

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Arlington: Some TV switchover questions. Many of us have tiny-screen, battery-powered black and white TVs that we take with us boating, camping and even to Redskins games. Obviously these become doorstops in February. But I haven't seen any digital equivalents. Will there be small-screen portable digital TVs (I'm hoping for something in the 5-to-7 inch screen range)? Or are there Ipods or superphones with TV tuners? Also, analog-tuner VCRs won't record after February. But will VHS tapes still be viewable on digital TVs? Do digital TVs even have the inputs to connect old VCRs? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: There's at least one portable DTV out there--the Radio Shack at the corner of 15th & L has been selling this LCD-equipped model since this spring.

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Columbus, Ohio: This has nothing specific to do with my area's recent and massive power outages from the remnants of Ike. However, outages where I live are frequent, most lasting 1-10 seconds. Even the briefest usually knocks out my V-Tech cordless phones (one base/answering machine, two handsets). The manufacturer's resetting procedure calls for disconnection from all power (batteries included) for about a minute in order to reset the phones. However, my phones must remain disconnected for 4-5 hours before they will successfully reset and communicate with the base. The batteries are new enough, the phones less than 3 years old, and they have always been surge-protected. They used to reset quickly, per the manual. Is their inability to do so now the cumulative result of stress on their innards from dozens of power interruptions?

Rob Pegoraro: I suppose all those outages could have an effect on your phone. What kind of electrical utility do you have there that keeps running into these micro-outages?

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Vienna, Va.: Every other new update of the ZoneAlarm Security Suite causes my PC to take three and a half minutes from the time I click on the "Switch User" button on the Log Off screen until I can enter a password for another user. With the help of a knowledgeable ZoneAlarm tech support member, it became clear than their On-Access file scanning was the culprit in the latest version, so I have reverted to the previous version until they fix the problem (again).

My questions are: why does this occur over and over again? Does Microsoft do things to the Windows operating systems which affect ZoneAlarm, or does ZoneAlarm make boo-boos? In the past I have experienced similar symptoms with other security suites hogging resources, so I am inclined to suspect that Microsoft is the problem.

Rob Pegoraro: This is why I don't recommend third-party security suites. They have very high odds of gumming up the works like this, they largely duplicate what Windows already includes and, of course, they're not free. ZoneAlarm seems particularly ugly in this respect (speaking as somebody who's had to take a few tech-support calls from his brother about ZA problems).

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RE: Low-tech Cells, Motorola : For the low-tech cell seeker... I can't vouch for its ease of international usage (yet...upcoming trip to India in the fall may change that), but I've been pleased with the Motorola z7c world phone since I bought last July. Nothing too fancy, but no complaints.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Arlington, Va.: question about digital TV transition. Will buy a LCD TV and want to maintain cable-less. So 1- does new LCD TV usually should have the convert box built in? 2- If yes, digital antenna is still needed. sorry being so clueless. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Any TV set that has a tuner at all *must* include a digital tuner--the FCC has fined retailers for breaking this rule. So as long as the TV isn't labeled explicitly as a monitor, you've got a digital tuner in there.

Try your existing antenna first--in Arlington, that ought to be enough unless you're at the bottom of a valley somewhere. There's no such thing as a "digital antenna."

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KGDave: Rob, for wash dc to be able to tune in WRC's ATSC (digital) signal by punching in 4 or 4.1, he needs to have his tuner scan for channels and learn the channel mappings first. It is true that all the full-power DTV channels are on UHF now. However, WJLA and WUSA will move their DTV broadcasts to 7 and 9 when analog shuts down in February. Plus, WPXW will move to 34 and WETA may move to 51 then, too. No matter where the DTV broadcasts end up physically, we will still be able to use the old analog channel numbers to find them thanks to data embedded in the signals and FCC regulations.

Rob Pegoraro: Bingo. Thanks! (I'd been meaning to look up the post-2/17/09 channel reassignments, but the FCC has one of the worst-designed Web sites in the entire federal government.)

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Richmond, Va.: A possible solution to the SP3 loss of internet issue.

Rob Pegoraro: And thank you as well! The link details a bad interaction between SP3 and Symantec's security suite, for which first Symantec and now Microsoft have posted fixes.

(Hey, wasn't I just now talking about the evils of security suites?)

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Stockton, Calif.: Why would anyone bother getting an Apple iTouch? (vs a full phone w/Internet capabilities?)

Rob Pegoraro: If AT&T's coverage doesn't work for you, but you like everything else the iPhone does as a music player/movie viewer/handheld organizer, the iPod touch can make some sense. See the next question...

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Lawrence, Kan.: Rob, I'm one of those on the fence about getting an iPhone (which I crave except for the pricetag of monthly service) or the iPOD Touch. I work on a college campus, so there is WiFi, but I'm worried that I will miss the GPS aspect of the iPhone if I buy the Touch. Any thoughts? Also, why did Apple go away from the chrome back, flat surface for the iPhone--it is not as sleek, smooth or nifty? Lastly, any great or inventive ways for a woman to carry this tool without a purse and without a beltclip that is huge? From, KU Fan

Rob Pegoraro: And here we are, one possible case for the iPod touch. The WiFi-autolocate on the Touch can work pretty well if, of course, you've got enough hot spots near you. Then again, how often will you need it when you're on campus? I wouldn't consider this too heavily either way.

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Winnipeg, Canada: For the VHS-to-DVD transfers, I second your suggestion. I got a VHS/DVD recorder combination machine for about $200 (in Canada). Other options I considered were taking it to a store to do it for me (would have cost a fortune), and some kind of software/hardware package that was supposed to run on my computer (but needed a machine with a LOT of juice, according to the specs).

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for sharing your experience, Winnipeg.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: hot PCs Someone commented that the cooling fan(s) on their PC crank up when they open a lot of browser tabs. Since this PC more than a year old, it's probably a dirty PC! Dust can really make a computer run hot.

Open up that PC case and do some cleaning and don't forget the air inlet panel (often on the front). Not sure how? Just ask Mr. Google "how to clean dust from my PC."

Rob Pegoraro: Hint: Your garden hose, dish detergent or sandpaper should not factor into this process in any way.

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Any suggestions for a rolling, portable laptop desk?: I hope this gets in under the wire. I have been searching and searching and searching for a laptop desk. I am tired (literally) of sitting on the couch and I want to use my computer standing up, so I can move around and stretch my legs.

I have looked at Staples/Office Depot/Best Buy/Circuit City, etc., but none of those stores seems to have what I want. I realize that part of my problem is that I have some specific elements I am looking for:

- I want it to roll around so I can move it easily

- I want it to be light weight, but also sturdy

- Finally, it would be ideal if I could break it down easily and put it behind the couch when I am not using it

I'm willing to buy online, but I'd prefer to look at something in a store. Please, readers, any tips would be greatly appreciated! I will love you forever!

Rob Pegoraro: I have no idea. Maybe one of those folding TV-dinner trays? Except you want to use the thing standing up... nope, no idea here. Can anybody help out Asfarpld?

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Mountain View, Calif.: Hi, Rob - this isn't really an on-line question, but a request for a column. This made me think that a column de-mystifying the registry and how to recognize and troubleshoot registry problems would be timely. Thanks. Judith

Rob Pegoraro: I disagree. Editing the registry has a high chance of breaking Windows outright, and the directions on how to do it right would take up an extraordinary amount of space.

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BD in Loudoun, VA: I have two 8 hour airplane trips ahead of me. I want to watch my own movies. What is the best way to do that? What player would you recommend? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Assuming you're not bringing a laptop, you could bring one of those portable DVD players. But even then, you're looking at a couple of pounds of fragile electronics that you may never turn on outside of the plane. I wouldn't do that.

You could use an iPod with a big-enough screen--a classic or touch would do--and avoid the weight penalty. A Sony PSP would work for that too.

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EyeTV review: I've had my EyeTV for a few months now, and haven't had any serious glitches with it. The remote that came with mine doesn't work all that well unless I'm within about 6 feet and pointed right at the sensor. However, since I generally just use it to watch recorded shows, and not channel surfing, it's not that big of a deal to start the show from the main application interface.

Setting up recordings is a little non-intuitive to me, but I have managed to have it record most of the shows that I want it to. I'm just not a fan of how they use smart guides and smart playlists. That doesn't seem like the division I would want to see. Also, the search logic on the smart guides isn't all that flexible: you either set it to ALL of the options (Title contains "House" AND repeat = no AND channel = 5) or ANY of the options (Title contains "How I met your mother" OR Title contains "The Big Bang Theory" OR Title contains "Two and a Half Men"). I'd prefer being able to do something like Title contains "met your mother" OR Title contains "big bang" AND channel = 9 AND repeat = no. Haven't found a good way to do that though.

But overall, barring power outages, it's recorded well, and I haven't had any problems with playback, even with HD recordings on an external hard drive. I'm happy with it.

Rob Pegoraro: And here we have a first-hand account of the EyeTV tuner. Much appreciated!

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: Do I have to switch any settings on my iPhone 3G when going to Canada next week? I don't want it to look for signals that will be costly. But Canada, eh? I know I will have to change some settings when I go to Japan next year.

Rob Pegoraro: Yup, you will want to turn off data roaming, which I believe is done by going to the Settings screen, then choosing General, then Network, then Data Roaming. (Note: Don't have an iPhone in front of me, so I'm going off somebody else's cheat sheet.)

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Rob! Well, it doesn't look like FIOS is coming to my neighborhood before the TV switch and I'm still using an antenna (I have tree blockage and a bias against cable). Which digital converter box do you recommend?

Rob Pegoraro: I've only tried two myself, but of those two I preferred LG's Zenith box. I'm told that the Insignia converter Best Buy sells is the same device on the inside.

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Boston, Mass.: Rob,

Is there a reason why system restore, does not automatically create a restore point on a daily basis. I am running Windows XP Home Edition

I know that I can manually create a daily restore point. Thanks, Tom

Rob Pegoraro: Because with a restore point a day, you'd either run out of disk space or be stuck with only a limited set of them; if you had a problem that had materialized more than a week or so back, that restore point would have already been wiped out by newer points.

You should probably take a moment to ask if an operating system that requires so much daily maintenance is the right fit for you.

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Rockville, MD: We just bought our daughter an iBook because her laptop PC died. She wants to add her iTunes from her iPod to the new computer. How do you di this without losing all the data from the iPod, which is what the software seems to want to do.

Rob Pegoraro: For the 5,632nd time, here's my Help File about copying music from an iPod to a Mac or PC:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/10/AR2007021000002.html

(You can also just Google "copy from iPod pegoraro")

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Madison, WI: For Arlington: All digital sets should have standard composite video and analog L/R audio inputs for VCRs. Some will have antenna inputs with analog tuners for the VCR RF out as well. You can still record digital broadcasts on a VCR using a coupon eligible converter box, although you may have to manually tune the box for each recording event.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Madison. And thanks for noting the problems of keeping an analog VCR; unless you're flat broke, you'll be better off getting a DVD recorder or DVD recorder/VCR combo with a digital tuner, which will be able to change channels on its own.

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Tired of my current provider: Who is the best all-in-one (TV, interwebs, phone) provider in DC? Dependable and fast internet connection more important than TV channel choices. I just need what seems to be referred to as basic cable, not interested in all the fancy stuff (HBO et al).

Rob Pegoraro: In the District proper, you're limited to Comcast and RCN. From what I hear, people seem to like RCN better than Comcast. Testimonials for/against either provider welcome...

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McLean, Va.: I need a portable computer to supplement a desktop iMac. (It will replace a ThinkPad X that's reached the end of its natural lifespan.)

My first choice would be a low-end MacBook, if Apple will put it in something other than that terrible white plastic case. Have you all in the personal tech writing community received demos in advance of Apple's 10/14 news conference, or does Apple ship to you when they ship to the public?

If the MacBook isn't redesigned, I'm torn between getting a super-portable netbook (like the Dell Mini) or a cheap but heavy full-size notebook (like a low-end Inspiron).

I may occasionally take it on personal travel, but mostly it will serve as a portable in-the-house computer for web surfing/e-mail while I "multi-task" by watching TV/listening to music.

Do you have any views on whether the netbooks' screens are large enough not to be a constant source of frustration? Do any of the netbooks impress you more than others?

Rob Pegoraro: A very select few journalists get Apple hardware before its public announcement, but I am not one of them. I think you're correct in thinking that we'll see a new model in the next few weeks--it would be almost marketing malpractice for Apple not to update the MacBook before the Xmas shopping season--but I don't know what the new version might have.

I'm working on lining up a few different netbooks, the Inspiron Mini included, but I've only had one (the Acer Aspire One) show up so far.

In general, though, you need to check out the resolution of their screens, not just the size. Some, like the original Asus EEE PC, don't have enough to accommodate most Web pages without scrolling, which is a huge pain. I'd be wary of screens below 1024 x 768, though on a sufficiently small display that may lead to constant squinting as you try to read microscopic type.

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Rockville, MD:"It seems that installing Windows Service Pack 3 (for XP) prevents me from connecting to the internet (I use IE 7.0). I removed Service Pack 3 and now the internet works. What can I do to be able to install the service pack and still have functioning internet service? Thanks."

A while ago, a security update for Windows conflicted with ZoneAlarm firewall. You need to download the latest version of ZoneAlarm before installing the update.

Rob Pegoraro: So it's not just Symantec. See, if y'all would stop buying third-party firewall apps, my job would be so much easier :)

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KGDave: Rob, the best site outside of the FCC for TV technical information is http://rabbitears.info/

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks - I'll have a look.

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Rockville, MD: I have had nothing but problems with Comcast internet over the past year. I recently tried Verizon DSL (no FIOS in my area yet) and found that the speed was not sufficient for some of the video uses I make of it (they tell me that my area in Rockville cannot get the highest speeds they offer). My question is, are there alternatives to Comcast and Verizon in my area? What are they?

I appreciate your help.

Rob Pegoraro: Maybe RCN? Also, try third-party DSL providers, which sometimes offer better coverage than Verizon (though at a higher cost). Broadbandreports.com should get you started with that.

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KGDave: For computer desks and carts, Anthro (http://www.anthro.com/) has a wide variety of models.

Rob Pegoraro: Man, you are just a font of info today, KGDave...

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Warner Robins, GA: Hello Rob, Good info. If I have a VCR connected to my cable provider, will the VCR still record?

Rob Pegoraro: This is really making me think that I need to write Yet Another "everything you need to know about digital TV" column. Yes, your VCR will work with your cable just as it does today. The digital transition ONLY AFFECTS OVER-THE-AIR BROADCASTS. Period, full stop. If your cable provider moves some channels to a digital tier, that has zip, zero, nada to do with the DTV switch; it's just trying to make more efficient use of its own bandwidth.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob -- Thanks for taking my question. I have an odd security problem in that someone else's email account keeps showing up on my Macbook. I'll put the computer to sleep overnight, and in the morning this other person's yahoo email account is on my screen (and it's always the same person's email). I have my firewall turned on, and can't for the life of my understand how this is happening. Are there other security precautions I should take? Thanks so much!

Rob Pegoraro: This makes very little sense. The whole point of having the computer asleep is that it's, y'know, not awake--it's not doing anything. It could be that you've got some weird cookie or cache corruption that causes this other person's account to get reloaded. Have you tried deleting Safari's cache and cookies?

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Answers to iPod questions: Hope I'm not too late to get in on this. For the person with the old computer who wants a new iPod, call Apple Retail sales (I don't have the number handy -- it's an 800 number you should be able to find online). They still sell discs for Tiger, in case your computer can't handle Leopard (and their salespeople can check that for you). I found them really helpful. Buying from eBay or other places can be risky because you might get the wrong discs for your computer.

As for why to buy the Touch -- I got one when they first came out because I wanted to watch videos on a larger screen than the Classic offered. (And I didn't want AT&T.) But the wifi and now 3rd party apps have made it a really useful all-around device.

Rob Pegoraro: Very interesting... thanks!

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Madison, WI: Possible laptop stand solution.

Rob Pegoraro: Hope the original poster sees this...

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Bethesda, Md.: I was a relatively early HDTV adaptor (2004).

I had planned to use a TV (an "HDTV") on my TV stand, but am only able to get 480p resolution via a set of adapters to component video, which works out to roughly 640x480.

Now we've banished the old set to the basement, and I'm planning to buy a new set (at least 720p, maybe 1080p) with a VGA input. What sort of resolution can I reasonably expect? Alternatively, my video card has a built-in DVI output. What's the chance that one of the HDMI inputs on the TV will accept that, and will it produce better resolution that the VGA input?

Rob Pegoraro: VGA, DVI, component and HDMI all pass long an incoming signal in its original resolution. It sounds like your old set might have only been "enhanced definition" (ever wonder why the TV industry didn't try to popularize the abbreviation "ED" instead of HD?), because component is perfectly capable of 720p by itself.

Also, unless you're buying an under-20-inch set or an "SDTV" tube set, I don't think you can find a new TV that can't handle at least 720p resolution.

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Silver Spring: Rob - love these chats. I use itunes and have it set to save automatically onto my external drive. I actually save everything there. That way when I need a new computer I won't lose anything and it will be easy to set the new one up to save to it. I do have a quick question about Vista. When I first turn it on I can scroll up and down a page quickly. When I wake it up from hibernation it is slow. I talked to the company and they supposedly downloaded a fix but alas - still slow. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: Try putting the computer in sleep mode, not hibernation (which it should do by default).

About your iTunes setup... um, what's your backup? External hard drives can crash just like internal ones.

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Marietta, Ga.: What do we need to do to boost your esteem in Apple's eyes? I trust you more than those other guys.

Rob Pegoraro: You could bribe all the Pulitzer judges... oops, they don't really have a category for "cranky consumer-tech column."

I wish I did get an earlier crack at Apple's hardware, but if Apple feels vaguely worried about what I might write, I suppose that means I'm doing my job right. If I can paraphrase that line in Swingers: You don't want to the consumer-tech columnist in the PG-13 movie, you want to be the tech columnist in the rated-R movie, the guy you're not sure whether or not you like yet.

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Washington, DC: I just got my "coupons" (actually, they look like credit cards) for my DTV converters. Could you provide (or point me to) a primer on what features I should be looking for when I go shopping? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: There aren't that many to consider--these converters are, by design, pretty simple. The only big feature to consider is "analog pass-through," the ability to tune into analog as well as digital broadcasts; you might need that if some low-powered stations have a waiver to keep analog signals on the air after 2/17/09, but that's a pretty rare situation.

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Centennial, Colo.: Read your Slingbox review recently and thought I'd mention the very similar HAVA box. I can't comment on HD quality; personally I think that's probably asking too much of any device like this. The HAVA was extremely easy to setup, perhaps 10 min with the supplied wizard and can use Windows MCE for recording/playback or its own basic record/timeshift/playback software. The best part of the HAVA software is its ability to stream to three computers on a LAN and one to the Internet at the same time (Slingbox can't). Watched Olympic swimming from my daughter's dorm at AU being streamed from CO with excellent quality.

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't checked out this device, but thanks for the report...

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Virginia Beach, Va.: On my MacBook, when I delete files from my thumbdrive I won't get my space back until I empty the trashcan. Is there a way to get the space instantly without having to take that extra step?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a relatively simple way to do that, if you're comfortable with copying a couple of commands into the Terminal app:

http://www.macgeekery.com/gspot/2007-03/getting_immediate_delete_functionality

Note: If you e-mail me later on to complain that you lost an important file because of this change, I'm not going to reply to your message.

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itunes-ville: Hi Rob

So I put some music videos in my itunes library and converted them to be transferred to my iphone. One video worked but for the rest, there was no sound on the iphone copy after I transferred them. Any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: It's a format or codec problem: iTunes can play some files that an iPod or iPhone can't. You need to crack this file open in an application that can do this conversion; iMovie should suffice, or you can also try the free HandBrake (handbrake.fr)

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Rob Pegoraro: That's gonna do it for today--I've got e-mail to answer, a Help File to write, and apparently some wolves to hunt. Thanks for all the questions; I should be back here in a couple of weeks.

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