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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, January 15, 2009; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro will be online Thursday, Jan. 15 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

This Story

A transcript follows.

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

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Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon. I got back from CES on Sunday but I'm still recovering--literally. Looks like I picked up the flu from one of the 110,000 other people at the show, and as a result I've spent the last four days confined to my home. That sucks. So that's my PSA for today: Don't be an idiot like me and forget to get a flu shot!

Now let's move on to tech topics. What can I tell you about today?

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think a delay in the 2/17/09 DTV switch will help or further confuse people? Seriously, if they're not ready now, they won't be ready in 6 months. It is not as if people need the coupon to buy a converter box.

Rob Pegoraro: I thought about blogging about this and probably will at some point. I agree with your basic point: Many of the people who are confused about DTV now will probably still be confused two or three months from now. And since most of them don't have to do anything in the first place*, we might as well rip the band-aid off and let them see that they'll (mostly) be fine.

The issue of DTV-converter-box coupons is a separate angle. If delaying the transition for a couple of months lets people who need a coupon get one, then maybe--maybe--that's worth doing.

* Here I commend to you Consumerist's excellent flow-chart on the DTV transition: http://consumerist.com/5116811/a-very-simple-flowchart-explaining-the-digital-tv-transition

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Alex., VA: I have cable but I wanted to do the digital conversion for an old TV that I have in my workshop.

So, I applied for the coupon, received it, bought a converter and hooked it up to a powered antenna. And you know what - the channel search finds ZERO channels. I live in Alexandria less than 10 miles as the crow flies from central DC. Is this what we have to look forward too? Or will the station increase their digital signal enough to make it useful?

Rob Pegoraro: I hate to ask, but are you sure you plugged the antenna in properly to the converter box? I can't see how you wouldn't get at least one channel at that distance.

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Cary, N.C.: This past weekend I had a magical mystery tour in upgrading from XP to Vista.

First I tried from my XP64 to Vista Home Premium... it said it couldn't upgrade from 64-bit to 32-bit. It let me do a clean install, though, but didn't let me activate the new clean install (since I had an upgrade, not a full license).

Then I installed my old copy of XP Pro, and tried again. It once again told me it couldn't upgrade (Professional to home being a no-no), but let me do a clean install. I did that again, planning to just buy a full license once it was up and running, but this time it let me activate it.

All seems to be running good, except for one thing: I have to have the Vista disk in when I boot. Without the disk, I get an error booting from disc error. With the disk, I can ignore the boot-from-disk prompt and it launches fine. This isn't a huge deal for me since I have two DVD drives as it is and don't use them both frequently (mildly inconvenient, perhaps); but is it a sign that the activation (or maybe install) didn't go as cleanly as I would be led to believe it did? Is there anything to be done about it?

And a warning for any future XP-to-Vista upgraders: upgrade like-to-like. They don't tell you on the upgrade box that you can't upgrade 64 to 32, nor Professional to Home.

Rob Pegoraro: As I recall from my original review of Vista, my own general advice about upgrading from XP to Vista amounts to one word: Don't.

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Roquebrune-Cap Martin, France: Dear Rob,

I like the comics from the online edition of the Washington Post. But, in some of them (like "Zits", for example, or "Wiley"), the size of the captions (we call them "bulles" in French) is far too small for me, and to read them I need a magnifying glass.

How do I enlarge them ? Neither the "A" key on my toolbar, nor the "apple/+" keys on my Apple computer seem to serve that purpose.

Is there any way ? I guess there must be one ! Thank you !

Elio

Rob Pegoraro: Your browser's zoom command--in IE 7, Firefox 3 and Opera--should magnify everything, text and images, on the screen. Bonne chance...

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Silver Spring, Md.: I'm way overdue on a phone upgrade. So which will I be able to buy first: a Palm Pre or a non-T-Mobile Android phone? Any time estimates on either one?

Rob Pegoraro: I'd guess a non-T-Mobile Android phone, because that involves a shipping operating system. The Pre certainly looked like a finished, functioning product when I (briefly) saw it up close at CES, but we'll have to see what work Palm still has to do there.

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Freehold, N.J.: The Consumerist's flow chart is good, but misses one scenario; you have a TV, and a digital converter box, but you can't receive all or some of the same channels you had gotten via analog reception. What do you do now? I guess the Fed's/FCC stance would be "Well, that is an issue between you and your local broadcast operators"? Right?

Rob Pegoraro: Wrong. Try upgrading your antenna. I did a little testing with this flat-panel-shaped RCA antenna over Christmas at my mom's house in north Jersey. She lives about 16 or 17 miles from Manhattan, in a neighborhood where many houses have rooftop antennas visible. Well, with a regular tabletop antenna an LG converter box got maybe 2 or 3 channels, all local public stations and none of the NYC networks; with this RCA antenna, she got almost all of the NYC networks, plus all of the PBS affiliates in north Jersey. (This is another thing I'm due to blog about, once I try out this antenna here.)

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Arlington, Va.: Howdy Rob. I just bought a new HDTV and got an HD-DVR from Comcast. Everything's set up and working great, but working with Comcast to get to this point was a painful experience. First I logged into their website with my existing customer account, and it displayed a bunch of special offers. But it turns out that existing customers aren't eligible for any of those offers. So why show them to me? Then I had to call three times to get accurate information on how much I would have to pay to get HD. The first person I spoke to was rude but eventually helpful, the second person told me that the first person was wrong and I would have to upgrade to a much more expensive package in order to get any HD channels, and the third person (who was actually polite!) confirmed what the first one told me, which means the second guy was flat-out lying to try to make me pay more than is really necessary. My advice to anyone in a similar situation with any cable company is to call multiple times to make sure you're getting the correct information. You just never know when the "customer service" person is either clueless or just plain trying to take advantage of you.

Rob Pegoraro: I guess Comcast had to cut their tech-support budget to pay for all the flyers they keep stuffing in my mailbox...

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Charlotte, N.C.: I inherited an entry level MacBook and am suddenly beginning to see the light about Macs. This thing is so cute!

I hate the built-in word processor text edit though.

What are your thoughts on the free Open Office.org word processor?

I really don't want to have plunk down the cash to put Microsoft onboard.

Rob Pegoraro: It's not the prettiest or most Mac-like application ever, but on a new MacBook OpenOffice 3 should be fine. You can also try Google Docs (free, Web-based at docs.google.com). Then there's Apple's iWork '09, $79; I plan to review that sometime soon.

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Temple, Tex.: I have a sony vaio about 5yrs old. It came with a partitioned hard drive c and d c being the smaller of the two. c is now full. any to increase c without formatting the hard drive

Rob Pegoraro: This is why I hate artificial partitioning schemes. Go to gparted.sourceforge.com and hit the "LiveCD" link for a free program that can resize those partitions, or delete one entirely (once you copy your data off it) and then expand the other to fill the drive.

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Alex., VA: I am quite certain that I plugged in the antenna properly... but on your advice, I'll give it a second shot...

Rob Pegoraro: Please do. There should be two coax posts on the back; better converter boxes label them something like "ANT IN" and "TV OUT," but you never know how a manufacturer might complicate things.

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Here would be my DTV readiness test: For $3m, buy a super bowl ad. Have an actual ad touting DTV go out to everyone viewing on digital TV or cable. Have anyone getting analog OTA get a screen saying "This is what your screen will look like after 2/17/09 if you don't act" And provide a place to get info.

If people aren't watching the SB, are we really worried about their ability to get TV on 2/18/09?

Rob Pegoraro: There are already ads like that on the air and in the works. The Super Bowl would be an excellent place to get people's attention--though you'd then have to include beer and cheerleaders in the ad as well.

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Raleigh: Rob, are there any decent, fairly inexpensive cards (?) to get internet anywhere for the MacBook? Like for travel in non-wireless environments, etc.

Rob Pegoraro: Not cards, but USB adapters--the MacBook doesn't have a PC Card or ExpressCard slot. But make sure whichever one you get comes with Mac drivers.

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La Jolla, Calif.: My mom has an old Mac IIfx (circa 1990) that is (was) probably running System 6 or 7. She would like to give it away, but wants to wipe the hard drive before trying to find a worthy recipient (victim?). It has been some time since I've used these older Mac OS's, so I'm not sure where to begin. Do you have thoughts about how to do this or possibly a website with information?

Rob Pegoraro: Wow, the IIfx was really hot stuff at the time. I don't think you'll find a recipient now outside of museums or Mac geeks with room to spare, but in any case the file-erase program to try is one called FlameFile. Here's a download link: ftp://coast.cs.purdue.edu/pub/tools/mac/util/flamefile1.38.cpt.hqx.Z

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converter box: Rob, I have the same issue and I live in Vienna -- when I plugged in the new converter box, I was shocked to see that I barely had access to a single station (which came and went). With analogue, I can get 4-6 local stations passably, and one or two depending on the weather (it's much better in the winter). Is there any talk of boosting digital signals to make them more accessible? Frankly, if I have to crawl up to my roof to put an antenna, I might as well just get cable.

Rob Pegoraro: This is a more understandable outcome, getting one station versus none at all. Some stations will see their digital signals get stronger after 2/17, but in the meantime, as I said before, you should look at upgrading your antenna--I'm a little surprised that you get any usable DTV reception in Vienna with an indoor antenna.

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Silver Spring: If I buy a cell/"smart" phone that is WiFi enabled, does that mean I can use it to connect to my home WiFi network to access the internet, or other WiFis such as in malls, bookstores, coffee shops, etc? I'd like to be able to get on the internet, but at the same time, don't want to pay $30/month for a data plan. I can deal with the fact I'll have to be near a Starbucks, McDonalds or similar if I want to access the internet.

Rob Pegoraro: Your understanding is correct.

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Greenbelt, ME: Rob, the early reviews that I have seen for the beta of the Windows 7 operating system have been good. But I'm planning to order a new PC soon from Dell and my options seem to be: (1) Get it with the Vista Home Premium OS or (2) Pay an extra $120 to downgrade to XP. Which do you like?

Rob Pegoraro: Get it with Vista. Vista's not *that* bad, and XP's not *that* good. (Ask me about how well the power management on this XP laptop worked out on last week's trip...)

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Alexandria, Va.: RE: RCA Antenna - Rob, I think I have the same one - silver and rectangular. An advantage of this antenna over some others is that it is powered (amplified), and it has a gain adjustment knob - though it would be nice if the instructions provided an overview of how this works so you could know if you were setting it optimally or not.

I have one Westinghouse HDTV that is a monitor with no built in antenna, and one that does have a built in antenna, and I find that the TV with the built in antenna gets better reception/more channels, and this is increased even more when it is connected to a VCR (I assume the VCR acts as a supplementary antenna).

One thing I've always wondered - could the reception using an indoor antenna be increased by connecting two of them in series?

Rob Pegoraro: Close--I'm trying the version without an amplifier. So the test I did at my mom's was even less kind to the antenna.

I wasn't a fan of that late timetable, or the even later timetable for DVD recorders and VCRs to include digital tuners. It left too much of the work to the digital-converter-box market, and we've seen how well that's worked out.

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Silver Spring, Md.: For those struggling to tune their DTV converter boxes: Go to Antennaweb.org to enter your street address and find out where all of the station towers are and what antenna is recommended. (What do I need to get the Baltimore stations? for instance).

Rob Pegoraro: AntennaWeb is a good resource, but note that it won't even recommend indoor antennas. In my experience, it's really conservative in its advice.

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Baltimore, Md.: I bought 4 of those flat RCA antennas and gave them to relatives to help them on their quest for DTV channels. Those antennas are great!

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks--good to know!

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Raleigh, N.C.: Regarding the Apple/Jobs health item, why are Apple's fortunes tied so closely to Jobs exactly? The way I see it, its not that Jobs is so great as much as Scully was so bad as CEO. Isn't John Ives really the design guru behind all Apple's cool products?

Rob Pegoraro: It's a few different things. One is the usual stock-market BS psychology, the idea that "this guy symbolizes Apple, so if he gets a hangnail it can only be bad." Another is his role as Apple's salesman-in-chief, but I think that's overrated. Silicon Valley is full of people who give great demos. The last is his job as Apple's editor-in-chief, the guy who asks if the new laptop needs so many screws on the underside. That's the important part of his job. But to the extent he's hired people, like Ive, who share his views or taught his principles to his colleagues, Apple will be fine too.

There's more on this in yesterday's blog post: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2009/01/steve_jobs_is_sicker_than_we_t.html

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Raleigh, N.C.: Regarding magnification on an Apple computer, if it isn't answered already, you can turn on magnification in the System Prefs's Universal Access to magnify images like cartoon panels that may not get bigger with the browser text size shortcuts. If magnification isn't on, the cmd+'+' and cmd +'-' won't do anything. Fwiw...

Rob Pegoraro: Right--good advice for our reader in France. There may be a similar option in Windows Vista's accessibility control panel, but I don't have a Vista machine in front of me at the moment.

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Florida: Hey Rob. I could use some counsel.

I'm running a venerable but still highly functional G4 iMac with OS X 10.4.11; all software is up to date.

I've run into a problem with iPhoto. I frequently use the Grab function to copy images off the net of buildings, interior designs, etc. which I then save and drag into iPhoto for presentations, research, etc.

All of a sudden, iPhoto refuses to recognize the input. I get a message that "the following files could not be imported (they may be an unrecognized file type or the files may not contain valid data)."

Since Grab creates TIFF images, I tried converting to JPEG, with no success, and the same message.

Any thoughts, besides Apple going downhill since Jobs got sick? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I think it's quite a reach to blame this on Jobs' health...

But I don't know what could be going on here. Have you tried just making a regular screen capture (shift-cmd-4 lets you capture an arbitrary segment of the screen, which gets saved to the desktop as a PNG)?

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Wash, DC: Check Youtube for instructions about how you can build your own loop antenna for digital TV. They're not pretty, but they are cheap, and the reception apparently equals any of the indoor antennas you can buy.

Rob Pegoraro: That's a new one... I'll have to check it out. Very MacGyver!

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Arlington, Va.: I have an 5 year old Dell desktop, Pentium 4. The HD that I load my programs on (30 g) is almost full which makes it run slow. I have a second 120 G HD as well which has all my data and photos. So I'm thinking of getting a laptop (for convenience and travel) and then gradually building a new desktop to handle the demands of my photography. But in looking for a laptop I'm getting conflicting advice. One person told me to upgrade the desktop and that Pentium 4 is not much slower than a dual core or core 2 duo but to make sure I get a video card that's at least 256 k (my current one is 128). I also heard that Core 2 duo is faster than dual core and way faster than Pentium 4 and runs cooler and with less energy. So I'm looking at a Dell Studio with a 256 radeon video card and core 2 duo. What's your advice oh wise sage.

Rob Pegoraro: Does the friend giving advice play a lot of video games? If so, I suggest thanking him/her politely and then ignoring the advice. Gaming requires far more processing and graphics capability than most other kinds of personal computing.

Otherwise:

* Core 2 Duo is way better than Pentium 4, *especially* on a laptop.

* 256 MB graphics card is overkill if you're not a gamer. 128 MB is fine, and you'd probably be fine with an "integrated" card if you never touch games.

* You forgot memory. With Vista, get at least 2 GB and at most 3 GB (so you don't get switched to Vista 64-bit, which may not run all your existing applications).

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Short Hills, N.J.: Hi Rob, Any idea if simple clock-radios will be available with digital TV tuners? That is, I currently have a clock radio that also receives TV signals. The TV signal will go silent on Feb. 17. It cannot be hooked up to a converter. On another note, many emergency clock/radio/TVs are all analog based. Will there be a new batch of products ready for consumers in the near future?

Rob Pegoraro: No. I didn't see anything like that at CES.

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Vero Beach, Fla.: Thinking of digital, I just got an HD radio receiver, basically to get public radio programming not available on FM (which I could just as well get via internet).

Digital radio broadcasting seems long overdue, but I get a feeling that the HD Radio format isn't going to last unless there's a serious effort to pull the plug on FM.

Rob Pegoraro: Nobody's going to even wiggle the plug on FM--that's never been the plan with HD Radio. What does need to happen, however, are three things:

* stations doing creative, interesting and engaging things with their HD2 digital-only channels;

* cheaper and more receivers

* effective presentation of same in stores. If you go into the average Best City or Circuit Buy and ask for an "HD Radio," you don't have great odds of being pointed to the one radio out of 20 that has an HD tuner.

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Charlotte again: Thanks!

Between OpenOffice and Google Docs (which you seem to be inferring is "prettier," correct?), which convert best to Word?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, Google Docs looks a lot nicer. It's also easier to use, and if you ever have to share files with somebody it's much better than any disk-bound program.

As for compatibility, most everyday Office files should look fine in either app. In my experience, OpenOffice does a little better with complex files from people who actually read Microsoft's manuals and know what the heck a pivot table is--but with Office 2007 files, it still has some work to do.

I'd like to hear from other folks who rely on OpenOffice or Google Docs; please, report in!

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DTV Reception: Just wanted to throw this out there: When we lived in Ashburn, I was able to receive all but the PBS stations using my "rooftop" digital antenna. No amplification needed. Not sure why places closer in to the District would have such issues.

Are their walls lined with lead?

Rob Pegoraro: That, or they could be living in a mine shaft. I don't want to prejudge my readers...

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RE: Digital Converter: I live in Springfield. I have a digital converter plugged into a set of rabbit ears beside the tv. I get most all the stations without a problem (MHZ could be a little stronger). I have noticed if I turn on the amplification some signals drop off. The best channel: Retro TV

Rob Pegoraro: Still more. Alexandria, based on this, you should be getting much better performance from your converter box.

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5 year old Dell follow-up: Yeah I think he is a gamer. So an integrated card won't slow down running photoshop CS3 and several other programs on a laptop? Like simultaneously editing a number of RAW photo files?

Rob Pegoraro: Photoshop is one of those apps I never touch--it's $700, it's pro-use only. So you're asking the wrong guy. You need to find a friend who takes or edits photos for a living and ask that person.

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Fairfax, Va.: In your previous answer you commented on RAM for Vista but I've seen 4 gig ram packages that don't specify Vista 64. Can you have 4 Gig ram and run Vista 32 bit?

Rob Pegoraro: You can, but you won't have access to the full 4 GB. Most manufacturers won't let you make that choice; if you bump up the memory to 4 GB, you get Vista x64 added to your config.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob - what enhancements with the next Iphone have and when will it be released?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't know, and I don't know.

I can guess that it will have more memory, and you probably could too. I would like to think that it will--finally!--be able to deal with picture messages, but I would have thought that before the launch of the iPhone 3G. Same thing for copy and paste. It's hard to figure out where Apple's going with this.

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Rockville, Md.: Rob, every portable MP3 device I've ever owned or tried has a lousy time shuffling tracks in my library. I'll get clusters of songs from the same artist or songs repeating after only an hour or so. PC music players don't have the same problem. Is this normal or is it the way I've organized my library? (they're in folders by artist and then album)

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like a bad random-number-generation algorithm in the player. You shouldn't see that at all. (When I test laptops, I'll put the same set of music on a bunch and set them all to shuffle playback at the same time; they never play the same selection.) Which brands of players were these?

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Capitol Hill: Rob,

I have a bunch of tracks in my iTunes that are unnamed because they've been ripped off CDs, etc.--Track 1, Track 2, etc. Are you (or anyone in the peanut gallery) aware of any software that could automatically name these tracks--something like Shazam for the iPhone, but that would automatically add the song name/artist to iTunes? Thanks--love the chats!

Rob Pegoraro: I covered this in Help File last summer:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/04/AR2008070400062.html

(Hopefully, this story's publication date also reminds those of you in the D.C. area of when it was over 85 degrees out.)

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washington, dc: My old digital video camera uses firewire to download video into a computer but my new MacBook does not have a firewire slot. Are there USB adapters for firewire cables?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope. This is one of my least favorite parts of the new MacBook--quite possibly, an act of editorial excess on Steve Jobs' part.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, any update on the status of XOHM/Clear WiMax here in DC? Sprint had said by the end of 2008, but I haven't heard anything.

Rob Pegoraro: Me neither. I've been asking Sprint's local PR guy about this every few weeks--he offered me a unit to try in Baltimore, which I said wouldn't work very well for a guy who lives in Virginia--and I haven't been able to pry any specifics out of him yet.

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PhotoShop: If the integrated card has a decent amount of on-board memory and is a fast graphics card, it should work fine for PhotoShop. Also, how much memory does the PC have? PhotoShop files can be large - the file would be loaded into the PC's memory (virtual or physical), not the video card's.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks...

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, I'm looking for a small, digital HD video camera that also takes still pictures. I've read reviews for the canon powershot tx1, a couple of the sanyo xacti, and also looked into the nikon d90. They all have pros and cons. Is there anything else out there you would recommend?

Rob Pegoraro: If you can, wait a few months. Most of the cameras I saw at CES can record HD video; as the second or third generation of models with this feature, I'd hope--perhaps vainly--that they'd do a better job with it.

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Oakton, Va.: Hi Rob,

My wife and I are in charge of our high school class directory (a spreadsheet), which has about 220 e-mail addresses on it. I recently sent out a copy in groups of 95, 95 and 30, with the addresses as "bcc".

Some people replied that they found it, just by chance, in their spam folders.

Is there any way of preventing this, short of sending out 220 individual messages asking them to whitelist my address?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd start by dropping the references to Russian bank accounts, online gambling, free porn and mortgage refinance schemes :)

Otherwise... evening out the three mailings--74, 74 and 73--might help a little. But when you're dealing with multiple providers' spam filters, not all of which may be equally smart, there's not much you can do in this type of situation but hope your readers do help get you white-listed.

Another option would be to use a commercial mailing-list service, which is more likely to be pre-whitelisted. But I haven't tried out any off those myself...

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Arlington, Va.: Lots of questions about converter boxes, so I'll add an even simpler one. Which box should I get and where do I get them?

I got my coupon and need to use it soon, but don't know what I should be looking for in the converter box itself.

Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Not much--they're all about the same. A few add a feature called "analog pass-through" that doesn't matter here, since we don't have any low-powered stations nearby exempted from the analog shutoff. (Right?) A clear arrangement of buttons on the remote helps, but you can't usually see that from the box itself.

I will say that the LG box I tried out a while back has generally done pretty well in terms of reception, and its onscreen prompts have been pretty well laid out too.

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iPhone music shuffle: Hi, Rob--Finally went and got an iPhone, and here's the strange question of the day: when I use the music player in the "shuffle" mode, each song repeats and I have to fast-forward to the next track. What's up with that?

Rob Pegoraro: You probabably activated the "repeat" option by mistake. When you've got a song playing, tape the screen to bring up the time display; you should see the shuffle icon in blue at the top-right corner, but if you see the repeat icon in blue at the top left, tap it until it returns to white.

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RE: I would like to think that it will--finally!--be able to deal with picture messages, : Are we sure that Apple sees that as a feature, not a bug? Is it one of those crazy Jobs "give em what we know they need not what they think they want" deals like mice with only one button?

Rob Pegoraro: It really is bizarre, isn't it?

Here's one CES story I can share: At one evening event, I had the opportunity to meet John Maine, the Mets pitcher. I told him what I wrote about, and before long he started complaining about how his iPhone wouldn't display picture messages--he hated having to tell people "no, please don't send me pix messages to this number!" I told him he wasn't alone.

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Williamsburg, Va.: (Ask me about how well the power management on this XP laptop worked out on last week's trip...)

OK, I'll bite. How well did the power management work on your XP laptop last week?

Rob Pegoraro: Weak. At least once, it stalled at the "Preparing to stand by..." prompt--so that when I opened the screen, that's all I saw, and I then had to reboot. Other times, it failed to wake up at all, requiring other reboots. I don't know that these were issues in XP itself--it could have been the security software, the driver for the Verizon Wireless aircard or something else--but the OS does deserve a share of blame.

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Verizon Wireless service underground along Metro: Rob, I've noticed over the past couple of months that my verizon wireless reception when I'm using metro has been pretty poor and hit or miss. Have you heard from others about this or from Verizon? Any word on when other carriers will be able to provide service along the metro routes? My #1 reason for going with Verizon was to be able use my phone on the metro. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't seen any serious issues myself using a Sprint phone (which roams on Verizon's signal). But I spend most of my time on the Orange Line, a little on the Red and almost none on the Blue, Yellow and Green lines. How are other Metro riders doing with their phones?

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Rob, here's the situation... Our DSL has worked fine for a year - modem hooked up to wireless router, desktop PC plugged directly into router, while laptop and PS3 utilize wireless. In the past couple of weeks however, our desktop's internet connection keeps getting hosed - it will work for 15 minutes or an hour, then stops being able to open web sites. Unplugging the router then plugging it back in fixes the problem until another 15 minutes or an hour goes by. The wireless devices still seem to work ok though when the desktop's signal goes down or weakens. Any idea what's going on here? The only thing that's changed around the same time this started happening is that we got a Wii, so is it possible that a wireless device like the Wii can hog a wireless signal even when it's powered off? FYI - our wireless signal is locked down so I don't think it could be someone stealing the bandwidth.

Rob Pegoraro: Wired Ethernet connections should never stop working--it doesn't make sense that the desktop would lose access but not things on your wireless network. Are you sure the problem isn't in the DSL modem?

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Arlington, VA: Rob - Any chance we see a 32 gb iphone anytime soon or at least a 16gb with MMS? I'm holding off my purchase until at least one of these is addressed. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Sure, there's a chance! But I'm no longer willing to put a number on it. (I should have asked if any of the sports books in Vegas would give me the odds on that happening.)

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Fairfax, Va.: Hey Rob, My 3 year old Sony Mini DV camcorder is making a very audible (and recorded on tape) clicking noise and I don't think its worth repairing. Did you see any good new camcorders at the CES. I'm debating whether to make the jump to flash memory to avoid a moving mechanism (I hesitate the HD camcorders for the same reason) but I like the clarity and ilink firewire ability of the MiniDV cameras. Do you have any strong opinions as to which one is the most reliable and flexible. I've heard horror stories about editing flash memory recordings. And yes, I'd like a Hi def recorder. Thanks for any insights.

Rob Pegoraro: You will have plenty of options, because the industry is moving to flash storage in a hurry. Your main choices then are cameras with internal solid-state drives or those with SD Card slots. Most use the same file standard, AVCHD. I've heard of some compatibility issues with it, but not too many of them.

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iPhone Shuffle again: It worked! You're a genius! Thanks!

Got the t-shirt with "genius" on it?

Rob Pegoraro: Glad to help...

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Washington, DC: What's the model of that RCA antenna? They make more than one that fits your description.

Rob Pegoraro: The one I'm testing is the ANT1500. There should be others like it--at CES, I saw a Terk antenna designed along the same general lines. (One advantage of this panel shape; it's a lot easier to tuck behind an LCD or plasma screen.)

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Phoenix, Ariz.: To magnify graphics on a Mac, hold the control key and scroll up. That's how I read the comics, too! CMD/+ only works for text.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks! Had forgotten about that one...

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Washington, D.C.: Just so you know, there's now a DVR just for over-the-air people so they can ditch the VCRs and/or DVD recorders to record digital. It uses the free OTA TVGuide listings information. http://www.dishnetwork.com/dtvpal/dvr.shtml

Rob Pegoraro: Yup, I mentioned this in Help File a week or two ago. I will say that I checked one out at CES, it had one of the uglier program guides I've seen. Not that it's bad, just that if you're expecting TiVo for free you won't get that here.

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Most manufacturers won't let you make that choice; if you bump up the memory to 4 GB, you get Vista x64 added to your config: HP changes the config if you pick 4 GB RAM, but Dell does not...in fact, Dell has button with the Vista 32 and 4 GB RAM config preselected. What does Dell know that HP does not?

Rob Pegoraro: They've got more trust in their customers, or they've given their tech-support reps a script for the "why can't I use all 4 gigs of my RAM?" question.

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a guy who lives in Virginia?: Rob, thought you were a district dweller?

Rob Pegoraro: I live within the original, pre-1846 confines of the District, if that makes you feel any better.

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More on antennas: I guess those of us who have rabbit-ears indoors, but whose homeowners association isn't fond of rooftop antennas, are just outta luck...?

Rob Pegoraro: You show your association the FCC rule prohibiting restrictions on the installation of TV or satellite antennnas on your own property, then politely tell them to go pound sand: http://www.fcc.gov/mb/facts/otard.html

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Zoom in sys pref: Re Mac sys pref for universal. What is the symbol before the command key to zoom? It looks like a slash with little horizontal marks at each end. Don't see it on the MBP keyboard. It almost looks like 3 symbols, including the comm key.

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like the symbol for the Option key

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NoLo, DC: It's probably worth pointing out that as of CS4, Photoshop makes very good use of GPU acceleration, so a high end, high-ram video card is a very good idea for someone who plans on using that app for a lot of photo editing!

Rob Pegoraro: A little more help for our laptop shopper...

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Akron, Ohio: The system restore function on my XP SP3 machine has stopped working. Every restore attempt fails, including efforts to restore to a set point that is only 24 hours old. Is this something I can fix myself?

Rob Pegoraro: Try turning off System Restore entirely, then turning it on again--that should force XP to create a fresh, working restore point.

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Tampa, Fla.: I have a question about iPods and iTunes:

Will an iPod work with music players such as Cog (http://cogx.org/) or must I use iTunes?

I ask because I would like to load music on my iPod that is in formats which iTunes does not support, such as .flac and .shn. iTunes does not support these types of files. Cog does. But I can't get my iPod nano to recognize Cog.

I'm not interested in cover art. I listen mostly to classical, jazz, and groups such as Phil Lesh & Friends (whose free downloads are .flac and .shn). I'm not interested in cover art. I don't intend to watch video on a such a tine screen.

Am I stuck with iTunes? Must I convert .flac files to formats which iPods support?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. The iPod only plays a subset of the files than iTunes can handle, so using a different client app on the PC won't help you out here.

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Akron, Ohio: How will I be able to use my several battery powered portable emergency type TVs with the digital conversion. The converters all require AC power and do not work on battery. Also I find that the TV audio on my emergency battery powered radios will no longer work. Do you have a solution?

Rob Pegoraro: Rely on the radio when you need important information in a crisis. (Seriously, when disaster strikes you're going to turn to your local Kent Brockman for advice? That part I never quite get...)

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Prairie du Sac, WI: Would you please explain Twitter, and similar communication technologies, and how to use them?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a description short enough to post as a Twitter update: Twitter allows short--140-char.--updates. It's like txt-msging the Web, but rewards relevance with popularity, in the form of "followers."

You can use it for whatever you want; for me, it's mostly a way to air out my notebook. I see, hear and read far more interesting stuff than can ever fit in my notebook. So, for example, if you followed my Twitter feed (twitter.com/robpegoraro) during CES, you could have read live updates from me about Palm's unveiling of the Pre.

I also find Twitter really useful as a back-channel to talk shop with PR types and other journalists.

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Washington, D.C.: It is becoming more and more difficult to find cutting edge smartphones without cameras. Even RIM seems to be putting them on everything . . . witness the Bold. Given the number of offices and buildings that prohibit phones with cameras (most, if not all, federal buildings, for example) why don't more companies provide an easy to access "delete" option for the camera? For example, I was eventually able to get one of a small number of Treo 650's that Palm made for AT&T without a camera, but it was a tremendous hassle and took the better part of a year to do it.

Rob Pegoraro: Why does nobody ever phrase this question as "when will everyday government building stop pretending that they're the CIA's Langley headquarters?"? I recognize that some jobs do have strict security requirements, but I suspect that in many other cases it's the same look-how-important-we-are impulse that leads commonplace government buildings to barricade themselves from the street with concrete barriers.

Look, cameraphones are *not* going away. It's a shame that some people can't carry them to their jobs, but they don't constitute a big enough market for a Nokia, a Motorola or an LG to make a special model of phone.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob,

How can I stream movies and music from my computer to my TV.

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: See today's blog post for a summary of the most promising options--but realize that the only one to guarantee compatibility is to plug a computer right into the TV/stereo: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/2009/01/tvs_web_transition.html

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Madison, Wisc.: For Alexandria with the desktop wired connection dropping internet and wireless still working.

The problem likely isn't with the modem, or the wireless connections would go down - unless they are really connecting to a neighbor's open access point. Try one of the laptops with the same wired connection using the same cable and see if that goes down. If it does, then it could be the router or the cable. A complete reset or firmware upgrade may be in order or replacement. If the laptop works, then it may be the desktop network card going bad or even some sort of software, malware or Windows problem.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, Madison!

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Chicago, IL: What are some of the signs, if any, that my computer has become a bot for spammers?

Rob Pegoraro: Well, there's all this spam you've been sending me :)

Scan your machine for viruses and spyware. And make sure your firewall hasn't reported any issues lately.

What makes you think the computer might have gotten zombified?

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D.C.: Rob -- after MacWorld and CES, what products did you see that most excite you in the coming year?

Put differently, what should we hold off on purchasing because a sweeter, better product (a TV that makes toast! an iPhone that drives your car!) is coming along later this year?

Rob Pegoraro: This is a good question to close out with. In general, I was a little relieved that CES didn't leave me anticipating too much progress--I hate thinking that I can't upgrade *anything* because the stuff due in six months will be so much better. Ditto Macworld. So here are the few things that did excite me at both shows:

* Palm's Pre: if it lives up its billing, this could become the iPhone's best competitor yet. (I won't call it an "iPhone killer"; that usually ensure the doom of any product described as such);

* Yahoo's TV Widgets *could* help solve the problem of watching Web video on TV if enough developers write widgets for this platform;

* LED backlighting on LCD TVs, I'm not so exciting about--it's been horribly expensive in the past. But maybe if it doesn't come at a four-digit premium...

* Apple's iLife '09. I'm *really* looking forward to seeing what its version of iPhoto can do.

That's about it, honestly. But since nobody has any money for electronic indulgences anyway, maybe that's not so bad.

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Rob Pegoraro: That's it for me, folks. I'm going to take a couple of weeks off to recuperate, but I'll be back here soon enough. Thanks--again--for all the great questions!

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


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