Personal Tech

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, October 30, 2008; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

A transcript follows.

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


Rob Pegoraro: The scheduling gods have me against Ana Marie Cox and Tucker Carlson *and* Celebritology--I feel like I'm getting set up here! OTOH, do any of those three have a shiny new MacBook on the desk in front of them? I do, so we can talk about that. There's a T-Mobile G1 next to that, also fit for discussion. And we can also discuss backup software, the subject of today's column, and tech policy, seeing as we have some sort of election next week.

Let's get started...


Arlington, Va.: Assume you nave backed up your computer religiously on an external hard drive (fat chance, but let's pretend), and your computer hard drive dies. Or you just want to install a bigger one. How hard is it to load the replacement hard drive from your backup? Do you just transfer everything, and you're good to go? Or does the OS have to be loaded from the reinstall discs? What happens to your various licenses, registrations, etc? Does the computer serial number change?

Rob Pegoraro: Let's start with this one. In general, you'd reinstall the operating system first--especially if we're talking Windows, as a clean, freshly-loaded copy will usually run faster than one that's gotten barnacled up by years of program installs and uninstalls. In Windows, you'd reload your apps (and, in some cases, might have to call at tech-support line to get them reauthorized), and then you would copy over your data and settings.

On a Mac, you could use the Migration Assistant program to reload your apps, data and settings all at once from a Time Machine backup.


Columbia, MD: I recently purchased a Blackberry Curve from Verizon and I'm disappointed that it can't read the graphics in HTML e-mail -- I just get a series of very long URLs. Is there a setting that I'm missing, or am I just plain stuck? I asked Verizon, and they think I'm stuck, and Blackberry wants to charge me for the privilege of providing an answer.

Rob Pegoraro: You're not missing anything--the BlackBerry e-mail client, for all its facility at keeping you handcuffed to a corporate e-mail server, does a lousy job at displaying messages.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good afternoon. You mentioned some capable yet free backup programs in your column today. That they may not be for those who don't work on computers regularly is of little importance; pretend we can handle it. Care to share a few? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Have a look at the blog post I wrote to accompany the story, where I briefly describe the other eight backup solutions I tried out:

Among them, the free program I've usually recommended is SyncBack Freeware--especially for users of pre-2000 Windows, since all of the others require at least Win 2000.

(Yes, that headline is all my fault.)


Anonymous: Help!, I believe my computer has been attacked by a virus. A relative with some computer skills has it operational to where I can surf, but apparently some registries are inaccessible. Thus I cannot save anything to the computer. Also, I cannot download or transfer any files from the computer. Of course the computer has the past 3-years or so of every digital picture of my family. So I need to extract those before we scrub the hard drive and rebuild the computer. All security programs have been rendered useless as well. I had McAfee and it was disabled by what ever attacked my computer. Any advice?

Rob Pegoraro: This, folks, is why you need to keep backups!

Try rebooting it in Safe Mode (hold down F8 as you start it up). If that doesn't work, remove the hard drive, pop it into a drive enclosure and connect that to a second machine.


Arlington, Virginia: I didn't come away with warm, fuzzy feelings from your column today on back-up programs with Windows. I use a shareware program you recommended sometime ago (the name of which escapes me), but it only copies files in the My Documents folder. At this point, I'm happy for that program to back up my iTune songs and my pictures, and I use Outlook to backup my contacts. Is there something else I should be doing?

Rob Pegoraro: Researching this column left me with cold, scratchy feelings too. (Is that the right antonym for fuzzy?)

You're not doing all that bad--just by backing up the contents of My Documents, you are getting all of your photos, music, videos and other docs. And if you've got the outlook.pst file as well, your e-mail, address book and calendar are safe too.

At this point, you need to look at what else you might lose in a drive crash. A lot of program settings are easy to reconstuct, but in some cases you'd be seriously inconvenienced (say, if you've got Word extensively customized).


McLean, Va.: Do any Windows ultraportables have the capability to "share" another computer's optical drive, like the MacBook Air can? I'd like to buy a Lenovo X200, but don't want to buy an external drive.

Rob Pegoraro: That's not a feature built into Windows, but you might be able to recreate it with third-party software. (Does anybody want to suggest some?)


Seattle, Wash.: I get over the airwaves TV. What will be my options for using or replacing my VCR to record shows once HDTV takes over?

Rob Pegoraro: This question comes up so often, I might have to devote Help File to just this topic this weekend. You've got two basic options:

1) Plug a DTV converter into the VCR and connect the VCR to the TV. You'd then be able to watch and record digital TV, but you wouldn't be able to schedule recordings unless you tune the converter to the right channel in advance.

2) Replace the VCR with a DVD recorder or DVD recorder/VCR combo that includes a digital tuner (warning, not all do). You'd then be able to watch and record digital TV, including the option of scheduling a future recording on a different channel.

Although Plan A costs only $10 to $20, after the converter-box coupon, and Plan B would run you more like $150 to $200, I think that second option offers a much better long-term value.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Rob,The new MacBook is dazzling, but shopping online I see I can get the old version of MacBook Pro 15 " for only a couple hundred bucks more than the new 13" MacBook. In fact, the $1,599 tradeup version of the new MacBook has the same 2.4 M processor as the older MBPro 15. The older model gives up the bling billet case, 256k of video ram and the dubious innovation of the button-less trackpad. In return for a bigger screen. At the same price. Am I missing something or is the old pro 15" a screaming deal? Or does the keyboard make a difference? How about flat vs glossy screen? (The older MBPro 15 can be had either way.)

Rob Pegoraro: I'd seriously consider the old MBP in that case as well. The matte screen would be an advantage in many settings, you get the backlit keyboard only available on the $1,599 MacBook, and you'd get an ExpressCard slot too.


Lake Ridge, VA: Hi Rob - I got a notice from Verizon that Fios will be available soon in my neighborhood. Can I just get the Internet and TV and keep my regular phone service? I have an alarm system. I read in an old chat that they disconnect your copper wire when then install Fios.

Rob Pegoraro: I have read that as well, but more recently I've seen reports that Verizon won't automatically disconnect your copper line--if you remind them not to do that.

I'm not sure that you can keep Vz analog phone service (not the same thing as keeping a copper line intact but unused) while getting Fios Internet and TV, though.


Arlington, Va.: Submitting WAY early. I am thinking about cancelling my Verizon landline and buying an iPod using my landline phone number. How is this done?

Rob Pegoraro: I assume you're talking about an iPhone--you're not going to have much luck porting a phone number to a plain old iPod. If so, you'd tell AT&T that you want to port over an existing number, either using a form online or by calling their customer-support number. I did this at the start of this year, and I as I remember the rest was simple--somebody at your new carrier calls you and initiates the port, then transfers you to a rep at your old carrier, who then verifies the port with you. Once the port is concluded, you cancel the old account.

One thing I learned from that experience: If you have online billing enabled, ask them to send you a paper bill for the last month, since you won't be able to log in to pay it off afterwards.


RIP PowerBook G4: I wrote in a two weeks ago about my slowly failing 4.5 yr old PowerBook. And now it is dead -- stopped charging and Airport stopped working.

Initially I contemplated a much cheaper PC, but I just couldn't do it. I picked up a $1,299 MacBook yesterday and so far I am pleased. The style is great, the trackpad was better than I expected after reading reviews, and compared to the PowerBook -- it is much, much faster.

I definitely have a little bit of guilt over the price (especially when you look at PCs with similar specs), but after sitting next to my husband who has an HP w/Vista -- I think that guilt is about gone. Hopefully I will have this one for another 4 years!

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report--good luck with the new machine!


Arlington, Mass.: Hi Rob,

Your Aug 14 review of laptops made new Windows laptops look like a better deal than the old MacBook. The new MacBook costs more and doesn't add much. Which computer would you recommend, The Dell 1318 or a MacBook?

What if I need to run Windows programs, adding the cost of Windows to getting a MacBook?

thanks Balanced Diets for Lighter Laptops (Fast Forward, Aug. 14)

Rob Pegoraro: The first thing to look at is what programs you'll run--if most of them are Windows-only (or lack Mac equivalents), then the Dell would be a far better choice. I think that for most home use, Mac OS X beats Windows Vista, but you need to look at this in terms of your own specific use first.

Setting aside the operating system--which I know is a bit of an absurdiy--I thought the Inspiron 1318 was a good laptop when I did that review and still think so.


D.C.: WiMax, a citywide wifi system, apparently is up and running in Baltimore. Any idea how well it's working? It's also supposed to be coming to Washington. Any idea when? Related question: In the D.C. area, the major cell phone services also provide wireless mobile broadband for laptops through their cell systems. Their prices and terms are just about identical. But in some other cities, there are independent companies that provide similar services at lower rates. Anything like that available in the Washington area? (There apparently is a tiny system that functions only within a few blocks of the Capitol, but that hardly counts).

Rob Pegoraro: I've seen some initial, positive reports about Sprint's WiMax system (which it sells under the spellcheck-defying moniker of "Xohm"). It should be arriving in D.C. in the coming months, but I don't think Sprint has released a specific date.

The competing wireless services you mentioned are, I think, WiFi-only operations, which offer both faster bandwidth and far more limited coverage than mobile broadband 3G. That D.C. provider, BTW, sounds like a company named DC Access (


Milwaukee, Wisc.: Hello Rob,

I am looking to purchase a large flat screen T.V. and would like to know who or what is the best plasma screen to purchase for the quality and money. Thank you.

Rob Pegoraro: Panasonic and Samsung pretty much own the plasma market, but I don't know that there's a huge gap in picture quality between them. I do like Panasonic's habit of including an SD Card slot on their HDTVs--you can pop the card out of your camera and into the TV for a quick photo slideshow.

Don't forget LCD; if your living room gets a lot of light, an LCD will probably exhibit much less glare.


When to give up on a broken backup drive: I recently sent this for Help file column via email but seemed appropriate for this chat: I've got a Mac OX 10.5.5 with Time Machine. Was backing up successfully with my Acomdata firewire drive for awhile, but suddenly a few months ago it stopped and now the computer (and my laptop) won't read the drive at all. When I plug it in and turn it on the little status light just flashes blue and red quickly. But it never shows up in Finder.

I've searched help files online at Acomdata, Apple and other forums and tried a few things to solve (something involving Secure HD Login came up, I installed that but have no idea what that's doing. Certainly didn't help). I tried to email acomdata support and they haven't gotten back to me (it's been about 2 wks now). My drive is out of their one-year warranty.

Luckily I don't need to get anything off of it - just want something to back up (as your column points out, this is crucial!) Is it worth investigating further or should I just toss it out and buy a new backup drive? My next won't be acomdata!

Rob Pegoraro: This means I can now ignore your e-mail :)

Try running Disk Utility (in the Utilities subfolder of your Applications folder). It may be able to bring up the drive even if it's no longer capable of functioning as a Mac volume. If that happens, your first move should be to erase it--preferably with one of the multi-pass wipe options under the "Security Options..." button.

If the drive really is dead, you should still find a way to nuke its contents. In the D.C. area, a company called PC Recycler ( will do this for you for free.


Arlington, Va.: Rob writes:

::::Rob Pegoraro: I'd seriously consider the old MBP in that case as well. The matte screen would be an advantage in many settings, you get the backlit keyboard only available on the $1,599 MacBook, and you'd get an ExpressCard slot too. :::::

Um, don't forget that the MacBook Pro will provide you with Firewire, grievously omitted from the MacBook.

I know at least twenty musicians/filmmakers who do location recordings using Firewire interfaces into a MacBook -recording with almost any of the big apps, like Logic, Digital Performer, etc.] The MacBook was the only affordable option -the MBP was unnecessary, as graphics and editing need an even bigger beast].

Apple has shut us out.

I am unhappy. . . .

Rob Pegoraro: I hear ya. Thanks for the reminder.


NJ again: Re: digital TV. I currently own a nice, small clock radio that also receives TV signals. Perfect for just listening to TV. The TV functions will stop working in February (The clock has no input ports so using a converter is not an option). My question to you - will manufacturers start making small devices (e.g., clock radios) with digital tuners?

Rob Pegoraro: At some point--manufacturers are working on miniaturized DTV tuners that you could put into things like smartphones, and the same circuitry could go into a clock radio too. This is the sort of thing that I *might* see at CES in Vegas this January, but the odds are probably better that we're talking CES 2010 for that.


Silver Spring, Md: My 85 year old dad wants me to help him buy his first computer so he can go on the Internet and get email. He will not do anything else -he won't even buy a printer. I need your help in figuring out what to buy. They need a laptop - their apartment is too small to have a full computer set up all the time. I figure he needs a laptop with wifi and a wireless router - do I need to buy anything else? The screen shouldn't be too small so it won't be too hard to read easily. He doesn't want to spend a lot of money - so I'm not sure that a Mac is worth the extra expense. Any suggestions on what to get and about how much I should spend?

Finally, any thoughts on Internet providers? He says he doesn't care if it is slow but I think he'll need DSL or he will be very bored waiting for it to download any videos he might want to watch.

My Dad and I appreciate any help you can give us.


Rob Pegoraro: You need to realize and accept upfront that *you* will be his primary tech support, so you'd better buy something that you can troubleshoot, either in person or by coaching him over the phone.

A Mac will be easier overall--especially over time, since there's less maintenance to do--but that may not be the case if he'll be calling for help (it still happens with a Mac, as my mom can tell you) and you won't know where to start.

Yes, spring for the cheapest DSL or cable available.


Lincoln, NE: Is there a trick to installing Adobe Flash Player for Firefox? I keep getting error messages at a site I visit, telling me I need to install the latest version, but I have. Am I missing something?

Rob Pegoraro: When in doubt, go to the and download the standalone installer (as opposed to the one that runs within your browser). It might also be one badly-coded site at fault, though.


Rockville, Md.: For your netbook roundup: 1/Most of the eee pc-style mini-laptops come with a choice of Windows XP or Linux, and apparently there are different versions of Linux. What are the arguments for and against the two systems? 2/Some of the netbooks use solid state drives, others use traditional hard drives. The argument for SSDs is that they have no moving parts to break, but they have much less memory. How fragile, really, is a laptop hard drive? It looks like people bang them around pretty casually with no ill effects. Others things being more or less equal, for a travel laptop do I want a 16gb SSD or an 80gb hard drive?

Rob Pegoraro: Considering that all of the people I talked about in today's backup story were using laptops, I'd say that--yes, laptop hard drives can break. Flash memory doesn't have that problem, and when we get to the point that large solid-state drives cost only a little more, I will be glad to be rid of hard drives.

The XP/Linux issue is a bit like the Windows/Mac issue, in that you have to consider what applications you must run. But on a netbook that's primarily intended for Web and e-mail use, there isn't that much that's impossible in Linux but possible in Windows. And with Linux, you get a current operating system, not a seven-year-old OS that's aged poorly.


Rural Virginia: I recently purchased a HDTV with one HDMI port. Now I am wondering if I should have purchased a HDTV with two HDMI ports. The reason is that I receive signals by antenna.

I connected the antenna using the antenna input on the tv.

In the one HDMI port, I connected my DVD player.

When High Def kicks in next year, will I be able to continue using the TV as configured? Or will I need to buy an antenna that will connect to the TV by way of the HDMI port? In other words, is this where I may need a converter box, or is a converter box strictly a tuner?

Rob Pegoraro: If by "recently" you mean "since 2007," your TV should already have a digital tuner.


North Port, Fla.: Rats, until I read your story today, I thought I had been doing the right thing backing up my docs and desktop onto a separate hard drive using XPs built-in backup utility. Have I only backed up a portion of what I really need to save or missed something more important? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm afraid you probably have left out some important data--most likely, your e-mail.


iPhone question: Hi Rob,

From past chats and columns, I noticed you've been using a iPhone. Out of concerns over AT&T's network, I passed on the iPhone in favor of a Blackberry on Verizon's network, but I confess to having serious iPhone envy. What's your experience so far? Have you had a lot dropped phone calls, or calls with poor audio quality?

Rob Pegoraro: I've been using the review iPhone mainly for Web browsing, not phone calls. My main complaint--this is something that I'm going to have revisit on the blog--is that the software in general seems less stable than on the first iPhone. Safari crashes way too often, and once or twice even the iPod part has crashed.

My colleague Michael Rosenwald has an iPhone 3G of his own, and he's had a considerably worse experience--dropped calls all the time. He's furious about it.


Arlington, VA: Hey Rob, what sort of deals do you expect to see this Black Friday? I'm trying to think of any new tech gadgets that people are going to be really geared up for and I'm stumped. I guess cheap HDTVs will always be popular.

Rob Pegoraro: They've gotta do something to get people into stores--if you still have a job and a house, this could be an excellent shopping season.


Atlanta, GA: I have an HD Tivo with 2 cable cards. A couple of weeks ago, my cable cards stopped recognizing HBO. The rest of the channels were still fine.

I thought: I can spend all day arguing with 5-10 Comcast reps about cable cards or I can just cancel HBO. I opted for the latter.

No question there. Just a comment.

Rob Pegoraro: Have you been buying any HBO shows off iTunes (or downloading them off BitTorrent) to make up for that?


Arlington, VA: Rob, About your story on backup options... Will the Clickfree product work with multiple machines? We've got 2 laptops and a desktop at home, none with all that much data (so I think it'd all fit on one HD), but I'm concerned the Clickfree software would get confused if I plugged the unit into multiple machines. Their website doesn't mention anything about this.

Rob Pegoraro: You shouldn't have any problem: When you plug the Clickfree drive into a computer for the first time, it will ask you to define a new backup set.


New York, NY: Were you at all surprised by Dan Hesse's comments regarding Android? Link to Info Week article

As a member of the OHA, I'd have figured he would be really excited to release this phone. Especially in light of how well the G1 seems to be doing. What do you make of this?

Rob Pegoraro: That surprised me a little, both in the sense you mentioned and in the concept that Sprint has been so tremendously picky about the phones it sells.

Maybe Hesse was talking about including some sort of desktop-sync program with an Android phone, which is something that T-Mobile conspicuously left out.


Philadelphia, PA: I understand I need to back-up my computer, but am now confused on the various types of external hard drives. I have an iMac. Firewire vs. USB? The hard drive speed (whatever that is)? What's important and what's noise?

Rob Pegoraro: Bus-powered FireWire/USB 2.0. Bus-powered means it gets its electricity from the computer, not a separate wall outlet; the FireWire port keeps your Mac's USB ports open; the USB port ensures you can connect it to PCs (or a new MacBook).


Rockville, MD: Regarding your story about backing up data, I use Acronis True Image. It cost about $60 (IIRC) and I have it set to automatically back-up my data every Sunday morning at 1 a.m. It compresses and password-protects a file (or files if needed) on my hard drive which I then copy onto a DVD during the day. Monday morning, I bring it to the office so it is stored off-site. Every week, I have a new backup and it only takes about 10 minutes (if that much) to copy the file to the DVD each week.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the quick review!


Chantilly, VA: Sorry, Rob, but in this day and age, there must be some onus on the user to understand computers... especially when it involves backing up such important data such as photos, e-mail or financial information. It's just another task that's invaded our lives as we move to a binary world.

While I agree that developers should make it easier for their users, users must also step up and stop hiding behind their luddite outer shell when it comes to this process.

Note that I'm NOT saying it's the user's fault entirely, but they -must- share responsibility in this. If they don't feel like learning about the backup process, they're the ones who will pay for it in the end.

Full disclosure: I'm a software developer; I also use software. I try and make my applications as user-friendly as possible (I'm a disciple of proactive development and try and follow Alan Cooper's user interaction philosophy), however, there's always going to be the user who needs help. We can't code for all people. Instead, we develop for target audiences. Unfortunately, when developing data backup software, the target audience is the ENTIRE community of software.

Rob Pegoraro: Those are all good points, and as you can see in today's blog post, I'm not letting the user off the hook either. BUT: Too many developers seem to take this attitude way too far, assuming that it's a "user education" problem instead of a "my interface asks too much of the user" problem.


Potomac, MD: Rob, with all the anti-piracy stuff that Microsoft has added to windows, how does one go about re-installing Windows on a computer. One of our computers is several years old and very slow, so I was thinking that it might be time to backup, reformat, and start all over. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You'd do it exactly as you described--backup, reformat and start over. You should not need to reactivate Windows, since it's being put on the same computer as before.


Columbus OH: Without ever having to learn my lesson the hard way, I have become religious about doing regular backups of my computer's hard disk. The portable hard drive to which I back up came with its own backup software, called "Bounceback Express." It seems OK and I use it, having read more than once that Windows XP's own back up program is lame (plus, I can't seem to find it on my system).

Is Bounceback as good as anything else out there? Or would you recommend other backup programs that cost little or, preferably, nothing? Finally, any "for dummies" general backup tips would be appreciated.

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know anything about this Bounceback program aside from our comment and the one I'm about to post, which suggests that it's not the easiest thing to figure out.


Gloucester MA: I just read your "heads up" on the subject of backing up files and since it is on my mind I thought I ought to take advantage of your offer to help.

I have never quite grasped the basics of backup strategy. Until I retired, someone else made sure that important data were properly backed up on a newwork server. I am now faced with doing it myself. I have been forced to pay more attention after my laptop hard drive crashed (a process that occurred over a period of time rather than all at once) and I lost a some of my data files including email before realizing that the device was headed for oblivion.

I now have an external hard drive with sufficient capacity to handle backups of all data files on my Inspiron. This HD came with software (Bounceback Express v 7.1.6) that seems to work well on my system (Windows XP Pro). I have it set to remind me weekly to run the backup program and I pay attention to that reminder.

First of all, I am assumming that it is finding and backing up all data files. I am not sure how to check on that. Is there a way to confirm that function?

Also, I am not a little confused about the need to backup programs and associated settings. If I have another crisis will I find that I have to go through the laborious process of reloading these things or not?

As you can see, I seem to be lacking some pretty basic information about this entire business. Can you suggest how to remedy that? Thanks for the help

Rob Pegoraro: You'd have to look for an Options, Settings or Configure screen that lists what folders get backed up. It will probably provide a long list of every directory on the hard drive, including some you may not have known existed; the important thing to check is that your entire Documents and Settings folder (in Vista, Users) folder is covered, not just its My Documents subfolder.


He's furious about it...: Suggest he turn off 3G and use Edge. I use Edge only and have never had a dropped call on my iPhone. Which I love, BTW. It's nice carrying one device for my calls, music, PDA and more.

Rob Pegoraro: I think he's a little irked by the concept of turning off 3G on a phone that, y'know, includes "3G" in its name.


Nashville, TN: Hi. Thanks for taking my question... I have a Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop and the dvd drive stopped working this week. At start-up or when I open/close the drive, it makes a click-click-click sound for about 20 seconds and the drive light comes on, as though it is trying to work. The device manager recognizes the drive, but XP doesn't "see" any disc (DVD or CD) that I put in the drive, as though the drive is empty.

Is the drive dead, and do I need to buy an external replacement? I'd like to squeeze another year or so out of the laptop because it more than meets my needs, although it is 3 yrs old... Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Sure sounds to me like the drive has conked out. See if you can't get that replaced with a new internal drive; an optical drive shouldn't cost much to pop in and might be a justifiable expense on a three-year-old machine.


New Jersey: The scheduling gods are not just working against you. They are working against those that read all 3 of the chats. I'm switching tabs faster than I switch cable TV with a remote.

RIM is rolling out a new operating system, 4.5, this Fall. The new OS does display HTML email and has received generally good remarks in the blogosphere. The only problem is that RIM has been slow in releasing the OS in the United States. Your reader should check to see when OS 4.5 is available.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the tip! (Please let me know if Carlson and Cox are dispensing iPod advice behind my back.)


Fort Washington, MD: I had to switch to the digital phone service when I got Fios. It didn't impact my alarm system though. It works the same as it did before I got Fios.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Fort Washington!


Bowie: If you backup everything in My Documents, how do you know the virus isn't hiding within a file in My Documents, and you're just going to transfer it back after re-boot?

Rob Pegoraro: A good anti-virus program ought to make that clear.


New York, N.Y.: Do you have an idea about when/if you'll have a review for the HTC Touch Pro? I believe it's coming out for Sprint/AT&T/Verizon in the next month.

Reviews seem generally mixed, but I wanted to get your take. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Good question. It's getting close to the time of year when I run out of column slots--there are some yearly regulars that I have to do, like a guide to computer shopping, a how-to piece on setting up a new computer, and a year-in-review piece. My odds of getting to this phone... I'm not sure yet.


Fairfax Apartments: Related to your piece today -- one thing I would like to see touched on is data recovery. Yes, it's essential to back up, but what to do when you've lost data. My hard drive died several months ago, and while there wasn't anything really essential on, or files that I couldn't re-create, I'd still like to be able to get back a number of the files if possible. I know that there are data recovery firms, but trying to navigate that industry is confusing at best. I think I might be willing to pay a certain amount to try and get back the data, but certainly not at a cost of, say, $2,500. And what firms are reputable? Or local?

Rob Pegoraro: Great question. (Maybe I could use this as a Help File item too.) My friend Robert, to whom I alluded to in the column, had to hire one of these firms when his Dell died; he took the computer to Kroll Ontrack ( in Reston.

The recovery procedure cost him well over $1,000, but it saved the draft of his book White House Ghosts... which earned the company a line in the acknowledgments. (I got one too for my tech support, which basically consisted of saying "boy, that sucks" and then suggesting this company based on a reader's tip.)


RE: Ipod telephone stability: When I'm commuting, I like to check the web while listening to the ipod. This causes a crash, like, 1 out of 10 times. I can live with it, but it's regular enough to be annoying.

Rob Pegoraro: I trust that by "commuting," you mean you're on the bus or the train, and that by "crash" you mean one that doesn't involve the screech of brakes, bent metal and broken glass.


Bounceback: Bounceback came with the Seagate I use to back up my 5-year-old eMac. I've found it pretty easy to use -- I even customized some less-than-full backup sets to expedite backing up when I haven't added enough data to need a complete backup. I haven't had occasion to recover lost data from my backup drive, but my father (who has the same kind of drive with an old Powerbook) did, and it was all there.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Alexandria, VA: Thanks for the backup column! I'm going to try Clickfree. You omitted the final step of backing up - try a restore on a critical file at least once. You don't want to rely on a backup and then find out that it wasn't working like you thought it was.

Rob Pegoraro: Don't worry, I tested both Clickfree and Mozy with that, and they got the file back (though when I tested deleting my e-mail archives, I had to switch on one option in Mozy that overwrites existing files with the same name as the ones you're recovering).


Eye Street NW: I know you're not a big fan of Windows Live OneCare, but some of us still have it on our XP computers. What about their backup process? Better, worse, about the same?

Rob Pegoraro: About the same--the OneCare backup app isn't set up to backup many non-Microsoft program settings automatically. Here's my review:


McLean, VA: Does Time Machine allow you to designate two backup drives, one that's always connected so it gets "everything" and another that you store away from the Mac but use to make, say, monthly backups?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, only one backup drive at a time.


Arlington, VA: Re: Columbia, MD and Blackberry email -- Yahoo and Gmail have mobile versions of email clients that work better if you are in a position to forward your email.

Rob Pegoraro: Good tip - you can run Google's Java Gmail applet on your BlackBerry, which gets around the BlackBerry's limited Web browser.


Washington, D.C.: Google Map's Streetview has expanded to such locales as Huntsville, AL, Shreveport, LA, and Spokane, WA, not to mention a host of European cities like Valencia and Toulouse. However, Washington and Baltimore are STILL not included. I understand there are security issues, but how many years does it take to blur out sensitive information? Or will we never have Streetview?

Rob Pegoraro: Google's map product manager told me in January that it was coming for the D.C. area - but, yeah, this delay is getting ridiculous. I'll ask the PR folks there what the story is.


Windows standby works again: A few months ago you asked about peoples' experience with computers that would not automatically go into standby or hibernate. My computer with Windows XP stopped doing this years ago. I recently removed Trend Micro Internet Security (I've been using various versions of that and PC-Cillin for a long time), and now my computer will go into standby or hibernate after a period of inactivity. Hooray!

I'm still computing safely, now for free. I installed Avira AntiVir and Comodo Firewall.

Rob Pegoraro: Yet Another reason to avoid these security suites...


Indianapolis, IN: Rob, maybe you can help me with a decision.I'm a graduate student with a 1.5 ghz powerbook running Tiger(10.4.11), with 512 MB, that's just over 3 years old. I use it for research, which means a lot of Matlab, but I have some very nice Linux servers in the department for the heavy computation.So, option 1: buy more RAM, upgrade to Leopard, install time machine and have automatic back ups, then try to make the laptop last a few more years.option 2: stick it out for another year (when I graduate), keep doing manual back ups, get a real job, and reward myself with a brand new Macbook. At which point, I'd probably only be using it for personal things.Any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: If you've got the typical grad student's budget, I'd stick with manual backups. Or download that iBackup app I mentioned in the column, which will automate your backups.


Rockville, Md.: Regarding FIOS and alarms. Alarm system get hooked in to a phone system normally at the Network Interface Device (NID). This is where the phone comes into your home. This is done so if the burglar takes the phone off the hook - so the alarm gets no dial tone - the alarm "hangs up" all phones in the house and becomes the "only phone".

So, with FIOS, the NID is gone. The FIOS box is the NID. When the alarm is hooked up, it gets wired between the FIOS box and your phone wires. Same effect - just no NID.

Rob Pegoraro: I appreciate the details here. Thanks, Rockville!


Rockville, Md: If you have the NoScript extension for Firefox installed, it might be blocking the site from knowing you have have flash. I've run into that a few times.

Rob Pegoraro: That's another possibility...


Bethesda, Md.: Rob, I have a 4 year old iMacG5 and Safari often crashes now. Someone suggested I get a Leopart OS and install that. How easy is that to do for a non-geek? Would all my content be put into the new OS?

Rob Pegoraro: It's easy--Mac OS X system upgrades aren't like Windows upgrades. There's little or no drama to them. But you should first try using the Mac version of Firefox.


Stanton Park, D.C.: Hi Rob. This is kind of a wacky question, but you seem to know a lot of random things, so here goes. What happens when you call 911 on a cellphone? More specifically, does it always get routed correctly automatically or do you have to dial an area code? For example, if I take a trip to California and need to call the police, does my 301 area code-based phone call the Montgomery County police, or does it know to get in touch with the LAPD instead? I am a bit reluctant to test this out through personal experimentation, for the obvious reasons. I have always just assumed it somehow works out, but I thought maybe you would know for sure . . .

Rob Pegoraro: Fortunately, I have not needed to test this myself. But by all accounts, it works--the call goes to the nearest 911 call center automatically. Carriers are required to get this right; it's not an option for them.


Linux Laptop: I run a Dell laptop with Linux Ubuntu, bought a year ago. Works fine, handles all documents from MS Office aps except Access, handles pix and video and seems plenty stable. Takes a bit of getting used to, but so far none of the MS headaches which drove me to Linux.

Rob Pegoraro: Ubuntu is my favorite Linux distribution; you made a good call picking that one.


Alexandria, Va.: My Cox cable bill is $85 per month for TV and Internet ($50 + $35). Are there other Internet providers that would cost less? Have you written on ISP cost comparisons lately?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, and you should also be able to drop your TV cost dramatically. Check out Verizon's DSL (they don't do Fios in Alexandria yet) and see what Dish Network and DirecTV will charge for a comparable TV bundle.


Silver Spring, MD: I'm thinking of getting a multi-function printer. Is there a particular model you like? I've been looking at Canon. Also, I have some old pictures I'd like to scan, and I'm told that the scanner function with multi-function machines does not work particularly well with scanning pictures as compared to a stand-alone scanner. Is that right?

Rob Pegoraro: At some point, I'd like to do a comparison of wireless printer/scanner combos so I can better answer that question. I can tell you that my own, now well-aged HP device seems to do a fine job with scanning pictures--I can't see buying a separate scanner unless you work in photo for a living.


Lincoln, NE: Re: NoScript. I do not have that extension. That's one thing I originally looked into. More than likely it's bad code on that one website, because that's the only one I'm having trouble on.

Rob Pegoraro: Probably. But what's this site's name, so that we can all point and laugh at its bad code? (I'm assuming/hoping it's SFW...)


Vienna, Va.: Rob,

Thanks for all of your answers to our questions.

My cell phone, when turned on but not on a call - I don't answer it when driving - and in the car by the radio, causes a quick repeated buzzing sound only when I pass certain points (not really near a tower) during my daily commute, mainly in the afternoon. Do you know what's happening?



Rob Pegoraro: My wife's Nextel phone used to do that all the time, but it hasn't recurred since she switched to Sprint.


Rockville, MD: Last April I bought a MacBook Pro after close to two decades of PC use. So far so so. I haven't backed anything up yet although I have copied most of my financial files to a flash drive. I think I need to get an external harddrive and start doing it. I use a proprietary version of wine called Crossover (it works for what I do). Can the setup for Crossover be restored from a backup in a way that will allow the programs to work? I saw a display monitor on the Apple website that looks like it will function as a docking station. Do you know anything about it or recommend it? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: CrossOver--a commercial release of the open-source program Wine ( let you run some Windows apps without first installing a copy of Windows. It puts those apps in a separate Applications folder in your home directory, so that should be covered in any normal backup cycle.

That Apple display might not be the best bet for your computer. At $899, it's a bit expensive; at 24 inches, it's awfully big; and it only includes a DisplayPort, not a DVI or VGA port, so you'd need to buy an extra adapter. You could buy a smaller monitor and a USB hub for much less money.


Laurel, Md.: Rob, have you ever reviewed automobile GPS navigators with traffic reports? Some of them are getting into the price range suitable for routine commuting use (about $200) and, speaking as someone who has several choices of routes home, that's a great feature.

I'm also wondering if any of the modern cellphone data plans is suitable to use as a traffic info source.

Rob Pegoraro: Yes - here's the review I did last year:

I will need to revisit that at some point and try out some newer units like the Dash GPS receiver.

You can also use Google Maps on your phone, which includes traffic data from the same sources as most of the GPS receivers... if you've got a co-pilot to look up congestion for you.


Rob Pegoraro: I gotta call it a day here--there are e-mails to reply to, phone calls to return and a Help File column to write.

And since my next chat won't come until two weeks from today: Don't forget to vote!


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company