Personal Tech

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, February 19, 2009; 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, Feb. 19 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his recent reviews and answer your personal tech questions.

The transcript follows.

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


Rob Pegoraro: Greetings, all. What can I tell you about technology today?


San Francisco, Calif.: So I bought an HDTV with a digital tuner...and still needed a converter box for my there a cheap, good DVR that records over-the-air TV(no cable or satellite) and doesn't have a monthly fee like TIVO? And will I need yet another converter box for that?

Rob Pegoraro: Since there aren't any questions about today's column on Facebook (really!), I'll start with this. What you want, S.F., is a DVD recorder with an ATSC (aka, digital) tuner. That shouldn't cost you more than $200 in stores, and it will also upconvert your existing DVDs to something that looks closer to high-def.

I have to say--I have been floored by how many people want to tape DTV with a VCR. I mean... that's an excellent way to lose just about all of the original broadcast quality. Plus, there's the fact that VHS is *seriously* dead.


New i-Phone?: Any news on whether Apple has plans for a 32 gb i-phone anytime soon? I'm hoping to combine music, phone, email into one device and need that amount of storage. (And will 20gb of music alone be too much for the phone to handle?).

Rob Pegoraro: I'm positive that Apple has such plans. But I don't know the timing of them. Will Apple ship yet another major upgrade to the iPhone in the summer, keeping with its schedule the last two summers, or will it bump up the memory sooner? I have no idea.

But I don't know that you *need* that much memory. You didn't mention viewing movies on the iPhone; even 16 GB is a lot of music, an amount measured not in hours of listening time but in days or weeks.


Washington, D.C.: Rob -

Have you upgraded to iLife '09 yet? Is it worth it? I've been reading on the chat boards that people seem disappointed and have found the "upgrade" to be buggy, especially for Apple. Curious as to your take on it.


Rob Pegoraro: I bought my copy at the neighborhood Apple Store two weekends ago and, so far, like it very much. But I haven't done much more with it than start geotagging photos and identifying faces in iPhoto. (Then again, that was my primary use of iLife '08 as well.)


Chambersburg, Pa.: I am unable to load the software for my Verizon Blackberry Curve on my Vista based Dell PC. I did load it on an older XP Dell. When trying to put the software either from disk, or online, I get error 1606, cannot find file in H: Photos. Why would it even go to the external drive for photos? This is more of an intellectual curiosity issue than real world problem since I can get at least some performance from the old XM set. Thanks, Karl PS-Don't worry about being stumped. Dell and Blackberry are too!

Rob Pegoraro: I am, in fact, stumped. I didn't have any problems installing the BlackBerry Desktop software for a Bold and a Storm on a Vista based Dell PC last month.

But... BlackBerry Desktop is an ugly piece of work in general, so I can't say I'm surprised that it would cough up an inexplicable error like that.

Anybody have a suggestion for what Chambersburg should do next?


Columbia, Md.: Rob - Instead of buying a stand-along GPS device, I'm wondering if any PDA/phone can reliably be used in the place of a real GPS. I currently have Verizon, but would consider the iphone when my contract is up. Otherwise, I would probably look at one of the Blackberry phones.

Rob Pegoraro: Any good smartphone will have GPS and, with a copy of Google Maps or an equivalent Web-connected mapping app, should be all you need unless you're engaging in some especially... precise GPS work.

I would stick with Verizon in your case--VzW carries multiple BlackBerry models itself, and its coverage is pretty good.


Re: DVD recorder -- with VCR: I've been happy with the DVD video recorder/VCR we purchased to replace our VCR, a D-VR610KU. Got it for $179 and it records directly from the TV or records those old videotapes of our children growing up....onto DVD. At least it allows us to rescue those tapes and record them onto something that we can save...for a while.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the report! I want to emphasize the point about rescuing VHS: videotape is not a particularly durable storage medium. Once you get your video on DVD, it's not only stored on something without moving parts that can break, you can also copy the DVD to a computer, yielding a digital file you can copy an infinite number of times.

That reminds me... anybody tried a new DVD-ripping app for Windows called BitRipper ( It's gotten some favorable writeups, and it seems to work fine on the one computer I've tested it on, but I'd like to know that I'm not alone in finding it does the job right.


Northern VA: Hi, I have pre-ordered a Kindle2, and it is scheduled to arrive on the 24th. Have you had a chance to look at one yet?

What do you think?

Rob Pegoraro: Nope - it looks like I'm not getting one any sooner than the general public.


Laurel: This isn't exactly about Facebook, but a somewhat similar subject.

I was taught to read everything before signing, and try to. But I certainly click ACCEPT without doing any more than scrolling down the length of the document.

Am I playing with fire? (I don't believe every software consumer actually reads all the text of every new install.) Are there any things in all that boilerplate that one should actually pay particular attention to?

Rob Pegoraro: A while back, I thought about doing a Help File on this subject--what parts of a license agreement you can ignore. Somehow I never got around to it.

I do think your last sentence has the right idea: skip past the usual boilerplate and try to find the passages that could actually cause trouble. But which ones? In any sort of digital-music or digital-video download store, I'll look for the clauses governing my usage rights. In a software license, I'll want to know how many computers I can install the program on. Clauses about the protection of your privacy and mandatory arbitration are always worth reading.

What else?


Lancaster, Pa.: Hi Rob, When I enter in my IE 7 it goes to I have never bookmarked nor been on that mobile site (before this!). Found one suggestion on the internet to use This works but whenever I click on a link there it goes to I have cleared my cookies, history, etc but still am being sent to Wrote to NBC but haven't heard back from them. Found that this is a problem not restricted to the NBC site but to others also. ( has been mentioned) One internet guru (???) suggested to another user with the same problem that it was caused by the pen in our tablet pc's! I have 2 tablet pc's (same models) and one works fine.

Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: Huh. The address takes me to the right site in Firefox. Have you tried that browser? I know you all have heard me say this about 2 million times already, but it doesn't mean it's not true: When you run into a bizarre IE fault like this, by far the easiest fix is to switch to Firefox.


Anywhere: (Don't want my cable company to know where I live.)

I don't have cable service, but all the wiring is still there from the previous owner. I hooked up the white coaxial cable to my TV, and where it exits the house exterior wall, I attached an antenna to it to pick up HD over-the-air after detaching the black cable from the transmission line.

Can the local cable monopoly demand I unhook my antenna from the cables?

Rob Pegoraro: I've heard of this happening before. Your cable company would certainly be within its rights to demand that you either pay up or disconnect. But if they don't know you're watching TV this way... that's ultimately a matter between you and your deity of choice.


North Shore, New Zealand: Hi Rob, Good morning, it's Friday morning this week - and no you can't go home now!!!! Jack.

Rob Pegoraro: If it's the morning, can I at least have another cup of coffee and a donut?


Hudsonville, Mich.: I went to the Apple store this week to try to decide between the MB with the backlit keyboard and the MBP, 15". I seem to prefer the MBP because of a little more room on the screen - I do editing and writing work in Word. I forgot to ask about the screens on the two machines. Is there any difference - glossy or not as glossy? It looks like both computers have the same number of USB ports (2) and one firewire port, is that correct? Am I forgetting to compare anything on these two machines? They look pretty much the same when I configure them with 4GB DDR3 SDRAM (won't I want this?) Pricing is $1826 vs. $2282 with the extra ram on each and Applecare. Any input would be appreciated. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: The new MacBook does *not* have a FireWire port--a big mistake, in my view. The MBP has that (technically, a FireWire 800/400 port), plus an ExpressCard slot. They both have glossy screens.


Washington, D.C.: I would love to hear comments from your readers who have tried the new Google Sync service to sync their iPhone address books. How, for example, does it handle GMail's habit of mashing first and last name into a single field?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't tried this myself--how about you all?


Richmond, Va.: For Chambersburg - Based on some Googling, it might be- "The BlackBerry device user does not have adequate privileges on the computer." I'm not sure how to deal with permissions on Vista. It might also be interference from Norton, so shutting that down before trying to install might help.

Rob Pegoraro: In a regular Vista user account, you just have to authorize the Desktop install via the usual UAC prompt.


Charlottesville, Va.: Hi, Rob. First of all I just thought I'd let you know that it is a rare Sunday column that doesn't teach me something useful. Thanks for your insight and tips. I want to donate some old computers, but want to erase the hard drives first. I did this once before, but ended up (using "Eraser") deleting everything, including the operating system, leaving somebody with a basically useless doorstop (unless they had the tech savvy or desire to try to reinstall Windows). What files should I delete and which should I leave alone to protect both my privacy and the usefulness of the equipment. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Delete your Documents and Settings directory's contents. That should blow away all of your own data but leave the operating system intact (but first, set up a new, blank user account for the next person to use the computer).


New Jersey: Hi Rob - posting this question early. I'm expecting my laptop to be delivered sometime next week (HPG60t with Vista). I was trying to look around for a basic checklist for setting up a new computer, migrating files from old XP-based computer, putting in the requisite firewall/anti-virus/anti-spamware programs (I didn't buy any extra software while ordering the machine) etc. Could you point me to the right place?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's the latest version of the "how to set up your new computer" piece I do every December:


Silver Spring: Rob, I have a Dell with Vista for my home computer. What is the best state to leave the computer in when I am not going to be using it for 24 hours or so? There is a problem with Vista when I put it in a low power state. Upon "awakening" it it scrolls very slowly. Advice?

Rob Pegoraro: Sleep mode (called "standby" in XP)


Expat in Hong Kong: With today's dwindling expendable dollars, any chance that Apple will "low price" the various i-Pods in order to keep the market? Or will people migrate to lower cost MP3 players even with less capability? We've already talked ourselves out of i-Pods for the children.

Rob Pegoraro: I doubt it. Apple seems to be doing pretty well with the current pricing.


Home with a sick kid, MD: Here's an odd challenge: is there any way to take address info from an email address list (Outlook, Thunderbird) and export the addresses into mailing labels? I can't figure out how to bridge this gap. (FYI, I'm writing this on a Dell Mini 12, which is the perfect size between the netbooks and larger laptops)

Rob Pegoraro: Use your address book app's file-export option to save the addresses in a format you can crack open in Word. CSV (comma-separated-values) should work.


Tampa, Fla.: How difficult is it to tune the display of an HD plasma TV? Can a consumer with a laptop do this? I've seen DVDs for sale that claim to allow you to do this. I have to replace a stolen TV and don't want to pay again after just 6 weeks. I watched the tech do this last time, and it doesn't seem that hard.

PS: Anyone with an HD TV--big or small screen--or a latest model game console such as PS3, should write down and retain the serial numbers to help the police.

PPS: Best Buy tuned the TV 6 weeks ago. They didn't tell me until they arrived that you have to tune each port separately, and their $250 fee included tuning only 2 ports of the TV you just bought from them, even if it has more.

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry to hear of your troubles--that stinks.

Yes, it's possible to tune an HDTV screen on your own. The calibration DVD most people seem to recommend is one called "Digital Video Essentials."


Vienna, VA: For SF looking for a cheap DVR: Dish/Echostar sells an OTA-only DVR called the DTVPal DVR for $249 ( There are no monthly fees, and it has two tuners so it can record up to two shows at once in HD.

Rob Pegoraro: Good point... I should try this out myself.


Faster Backwards?: I like blogs and follow about a dozen. Now that they are entrenched I would like your views on ditching one. Sometimes they don't 'take' and peter out. Or the topic was time-related (an election, a landmark b-day) and that time has come and gone. Or the blogger gets too busy/ill/deployed/distracted or harassed to continue. What then? How do you deblog? Kill it? Leave it up, with stale posts hanging forlornly in cyberspace? Add some cheesy notice that 'that's all folks?"

Rob Pegoraro: If your blog has attracted any sort of regular readership, it's polite to tell them that you've decided to hang it up. No point in leaving people guessing or vainly clicking the "reload" button every few days.


Melbourne, Australia: Rob, I have a Dell Dimension 3000, four years old, but running well and squeaky clean of bad stuff (according to numerous scans). But I have only 512 MB memory and over the years the number of programs I run has grown. So, naturally, loading sometimes slows down noticeably when the memory starts running low. My question is, does it make sense for me to buy a memory card and install it, say doubling RAM, or should I just buy a new PC? I have a new monitor, but the CPU appears to be in fine shape other than the meager amount of memory. Will a four-year-old PC last much longer, or is there a built-in "die by" date? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Double the memory. A desktop should be good for a while longer, but the more important point is that memory is so cheap--you could probably quadruple the memory for less than the cost of a non-extravagant dinner.


Anywhere Again: Sorry, Rob, I can't tell from your previous answer if I made clear what I'm doing.

I not watching cable programming. I just attached an airwaves antenna to the cables they ran into and through my house.

Rob Pegoraro: Ah, yes. Sorry, I thought you were tuning into cable with a QAM tuner. In that case--I don't see a big ethical issue. You're not placing any sort of burden on the cable hardware in your own home.


Fairfax, VA: You may be interested in the following. While attempting to log onto BB&T's web site for online banking last night, I was unable to do so. The message from the bank indicated that there is a problem with the latest update to OSX/Safari which prevents a MAC from logging onto their site. They say that Apple has been notified of the problem. Meanwhile, BBT suggests that customers use Mozilla/Firefox as their browser to log into the bank's system.

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like a screwup on the bank's part--I haven't had any issues logging into all of my bank/financial accounts with Safari. At least they're not telling you to use a Windows PC while they figure out how to make the Interwebs work again for Macs.


McLean, Va.: Please rate the best security suites for my PC computer.

Rob Pegoraro: None of the above. Get an anti-virus program and use the firewall built into XP and Vista.


Ft Washington, Md.: I have palm pilot that's about five years old that just died. It gave no indication it was on it's last legs. Since I purchased a smartphone a couple years back I was primarily using the Palm as calculator and to back up my passwords. Is there anyway to get the information off it? I'm constantly forgetting my passwords these days. I called Palm and they weren't helpful at all.

Rob Pegoraro: If you can't turn on the Palm, then, no, you can't get the data off it (unless you're going to start investing in serious data-forensics hardware).


sherman oaks, calif.: rob, my wife works at a business that produces reams of documents that are printed on only one side of a page.

i've asked her to bring these documents home for me to use as paper in my printer.

someone has suggested that printing on the other side of the documents is bad for my printer.

can this be true? i'm thinking that some printers print on both sides of a page and my 'recycling' of these documents isn't any different than that.

thanks, tom

Rob Pegoraro: I've never seen or heard of any problems using the other side of paper you've already printed on, provided it hasn't been folded and it's not so thick that it might jam your printer. Go ahead and reuse those papers.


Arlington, Va.: Good afternoon, Rob. I'm not the most technically literate person so can you explain why Firefox is better than IE? I hear that it is more stable but, frankly, my IE rarely crashes. Is it less susceptible to attack? Or is IE just the target of more hackers? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Firefox is safer, simpler and more capable. Here's my review of the current release:

(This advice applies even more so if you're using IE 6, which--there's no other way to say it--completely sucks.)


Arlington, TX: After my computer crashed in the past due to a corrupt OS, I had to reformat the hard drive and reload the OS, Application Programs and my backed up data files. This as you will appreciate is a lot of work. After that I decided to reduce the chance for a reformat and reload every thing in case the OS gets corrupted again by partitioning the hard drive. I installed the OS and the applications programs on the 'C' drive and my data in subsequent drives. My question is as follows. Can I go a step further in partitioning and put the OS on the 'C' drive, and isolate the application programs from the OS by installing them on the 'D' drive and the data in a third drive. The idea being that in case of another instance of a corrupt OS and the need to reformat the 'C' drive I would not need to re-install all the application programs. Is there potential downside to having the application programs on a different drive from the OS? Will there be a mismatch with the registry? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: You are setting yourself up for an ongoing systems-administration headache. And it won't work--Windows programs, by design, put all sorts of components in system directories. If you want an operating system that divorces applications from the system from your data, you're going to have buy a Mac.


State of Dyspepsia: 2 Things about Facebook and Terms of Service (I've tried to make these points as comments to your articles, sorry for the dupe).

1 - All the Facebook applications that are in use have there own separate TOS, and now have access to your Facebook profile to do with as they please - Do I have that right?

2 - FB, and other companies, can change their TOS at any time (even retroactively), and simply grab your information and sell it to the highest bidder when it is in their best interests to do so. Do I have that right?

Thanks for the chat and the blog....

Rob Pegoraro: On the first point, I believe the answer is no--you've always been able to limit the access any application has to your own profile.

On the second one, Facebook's terms say right at the top that "We reserve the right, at our sole discretion, to change, modify, add, or delete portions of these Terms of Use at any time without further notice." So, yes, the company could rewrite them any time it wants. But, you know, a company could also simply decide to violate its own rules. Part of this comes down to your own decision to trust the company or not; either you think it's going to try to operate in a generally ethical manner, or you flee the premises.


What recession?: I went to Best Buy in Rockville last weekend for a new TV. I saw an open box 42-inch Insignia--their own house brand--for $799, the same price they were selling a brand new one two weeks ago. I mentioned this to the salesman, and asked if we could work a little on the price. No deal. I asked for the manager, and showed him an ad with a similar set at Target, new, for $698. He told me that was a very good price, and I should buy it there! Which I did. I think they're really feeling their oats now that Circuit City's dead.

Rob Pegoraro: That's crazy stuff... not arrogance so much as incompetence. It's Retail 101--I'm pretty sure this is among the first 10 Rules of Acquisition as well--that selling somebody one thing is your opportunity to sell the customer a second item with a higher profit margin on the way out of the store.


Bethesda, Md.: My brother-in-law recently received a hand-me-down Windows (XP?) laptop. He reports that it Blue-Screens upon boot, although it worked when he first received it.

I ordered him a Knoppix CD, and told him to try running that when the disk arrives in the mail.

If Knoppix boots cleanly, my first choice will be to tell him just to use that. But more likely he'll want to get Windows working again. Any thoughts on how to proceed? No O.S. disks are handy.

Rob Pegoraro: I think he'd better get used to Linux! The non-upgrade, full version of XP isn't cheap, and I'm going to guess that if he's using a hand-me-down PC he doesn't have a lot of flexibility in his computing budget.


FIOS or Cable?: Thoughts on which is better?

Rob Pegoraro: Assuming you're also paying for broadband, Fios is going to be a lot faster. It may also be cheaper, but Verizon isn't doing itself any favors by not offering programming packages cheaper than the $48/month "Fios Essentials" plan. (In what alternative universe do 295 channels constitute "essential" viewing?) And the $15/month Verizon charges for a high-def DVR is, IMHO, a ripoff.


State of Dyspepsia again: Regarding Facebook apps, yes, I completely understand that you don't have to accept them.

I guess my point is that they are in fact, very separate, and if you use them, then FB's policy doesn't matter much, since you've already given away the house to these 3rd party folks.

If I have that right, I'm not sure most people understand that, or make that distinction.

Rob Pegoraro: Not sure I get your point... when you install a Facebook app, you have to consent to its access, and on that same screen you can block its access to most of your content (blocking its access to all of your profile, of course, means it can't do anything).


NYC: I have a new HP Pavillion Laptop with Vista 64 bit. I have loaded Micosoft Office 2007. Many of the files I get sent me from work are in Excel 2003. When I upload the come as a Compatible File. I can work with it, make changes, save it, et. al. but I can't get them to print. I am also using a new HP Office Jet printer. It does print the 2007 Excel files without a problem. Any suggestions?

Rob Pegoraro: Good grief... and there I thought the guy with the BlackBerry Desktop issues would win the award for "most inexplicable and pointless Windows problem" for this week's chat. This doesn't make any sense. What, exactly, happens when you try to print these documents?

(General tip to readers seeking tech support: "I can't get x to work" doesn't give me much to work on. Quote the error message you see.)


Labels for Home with a Sick Kid --: If you have MS Word, you can use its Mail Merge feature to import addresses from Outlook for labels. The catch is that you must designate Outlook as your default mail program (temporarily, you can return to Thunderbird after the merge). Open Word, then Tools/Letters & Mailings/Mail Merge, and let it walk you through the steps. If you want some of your contacts on labels, but not all, you should first create a folder just for those contacts -- or else remove names after the merge.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, LfHwaSK


Former Cable Guy Here: You own the wire once it's inside your house. If you want to test the theory, have a mouse eat the line inside the wall. When you call Comspaz for repairs, they'll tell you that it's your responsibility unless you pay a monthly "line maintenance" fee.

And for the record, one of the big cable re-regulation acts ('96?) made receiving cable service without paying for it a felony, even if the operator didn't disconnect the line. Hey, we paid those lobbyists a lot of money for laws like these!

Rob Pegoraro: What do you do with the mouse after you've completed this test?


Winchester, Va.: I guess this is a rant, and a question to verify my sanity. Late last year I decided to try "pay as you go" cell service. I checked the various company's plans. Verizon's coverage map indicated it would work where I needed it to, and seemed great for my area. So I went with their service.

Once I got it (or $129 dollars later), I discovered that I couldn't get service where I work (17 miles from Winchester in Inwood WV). Eventually I found out from Verizon that the "pay as you go" coverage area is not the same as the regular coverage area.

My mistake was that when I went to the map, at the top are boxes to enter the Address, City, State and Zip and a SEARCH button. BUT, below the map there is a list of coverage types that you must first select. I hadn't selected the correct coverage "type" to view the "pay as you go" map.

Depending on your screen and/or window size, you don't even see those options and there are no instructions telling you that you need to do scroll down to finish selecting options before clicking Search. It is not intuitively obvious, in fact it's counter intuitive. Looking at the top of the page down, you can enter your data and click Search and never be aware of the additional options.

My mistake really, but still infuriating.

So my question is, why would the coverage for pay as you go be less than normal wireless? I didn't want less coverage, I wanted no monthly bill to deal with.

The fact that I lose service just 17 miles form home seems fairly ridiculous.

FYI, AT&T seems to have the best coverage area for pay as you go, and once my minutes are used up for Verizon, I'm gone. The phone was only $29.

Thanks for these great chats.

Rob Pegoraro: You're welcome, and thanks for your report--hadn't heard about this problem. It's very strange that Verizon would offer lesser coverage for prepaid.


Springfield, VA: Verizon FIOS is too expensive for me considering I rarely use the internet at home. Unfortunately, Verizon does not offer high speed internet in my area, and Cable seems just as expensive. Do you have any suggestions of other companies I haven't considered?

Rob Pegoraro: Verizon offers Fios at your home but not DSL? That doesn't make any sense.

(Can't anybody here present me with a problem that *does* fit into a logical pattern? :)


Arlington, VA: Mr. P:

We recently bought a Sony flat screen television. However, we have NOT changed from our analog Comcast cable service, mainly because we see no need to spend more money and we LOVE using our Tivo and not having to deal with a cable box or cable card.

However, I have noticed lately that no matter what I do in terms of the wide screen settings on the tv, certain stations seem to be cutting off the sides of the picture instead of letterboxing. It seems to be limited to our cable feeds of the over the air channels, specifically channels 5 and 26. It also seems to vary sometimes by show, we saw it badly on Frontline the other night (or "tline" as it appeared on the right side of our screen) but not on the program that followed it. The pure cable channels, especially TNT, always take advantage of our screen and either fill it or letterbox, which is what we want.

I tried to find possible solutions on the Comcast web site, but in the support FAQ your choices are limited to COMCAST DIGITAL CABLE WITH CHANNEL ONE AND 8 TRILLION ADD ONS YOU DON'T NEED. Not a peep about analog cable subscribers.

Sorry for the long post, but can you think of anything we can do about this? And should we just realize that Comacast does not care about the $62 a month we pay them and just upgrade to DIGITAL CABLE WITH TOOTH WHITENING?

BTW, I have Tivo set up to know we have a 16:9 ratio screen.


Rob Pegoraro: One, I think you're kind of being robbed if you pay $62 a month for analog cable.

Two, the bargain is even worse considering you're feeding your new HDTV one of the lowest-quality signals available.

Three, why are you subscribing to cable at all? Satellite is a lot cheaper, and you should able to get Fios as well.


For the GPSer: My wife had a simple Verizon phone with GPS a couple of years ago (before her iPhone).

She really misses the VZ Navigator GPS system. It worked really well and gave voice commands for driving directions. Plus, you could get the GPS service as a stand-alone and not have to pay for a full data service.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!


Napa Ca: what can I do about a message on my screen "stack overflow at line 873"?

Rob Pegoraro: Nothing--that message doesn't even say what program crashed.


New York, NY (Manhattan): Hi Rob Can I use a 'flash drive' for back up system files as well as documents in the same way that I'd use a so=called 'external hard drive"? I have a fairly new iMac, mainly Pages documents in folders, small amount of music and picture files--not much at all, and don't expect to accumulate much. I'd like to use Time Machine to back up automatically. thanks. and thanks for all the help all the time to all of us.

Rob Pegoraro: Time Machine doesn't support flash drives, unfortunately.


Arlington, Va.: I still use a VCR even though I have finally upgraded to a DVR. It isn't that I want to record to VCR anymore, but since my father insists he does not want a DVR, I sometimes need to record things for him with a VCR. Also I have some exercise tapes that I use and would rather not spend the money to upgrade at this time. They don't look so hot on an HDTV, but I can live with them.

That being said, I have a large storage box full of VHS tapes that I'm looking to get rid of. I would like to recycle them if possible. So far the only option I've found is to send them to Greendisk, so it looks like I'll be doing that.

Rob Pegoraro: Here's a Help File I wrote about what to do with old VHS tapes:

As you can see, there aren't many options out there.


Levis, Quebec; Canada: I read that:

the ongoing Conficker/Downadup malware campaign which has already passed the 10 million infected hosts milestone...

Downadup seems to be a huge preoccupation, the only solution seems to be a registry hack:

XP The easiest and most effective means to truly disable autorun can be done via this simple autorun registry hack: REGEDIT4

Does there exist other ways to protect against Conficker/Downadup?



Rob Pegoraro: Install all of Microsoft's security patches, then refrain from using strange USB drives (it can spread via those).


Sony or Samsung: Looking for a 46 inch LCD TV. Wondering which brand you think is better for HD movies and sports.

Rob Pegoraro: There aren't any brand-specific differences like that. You're going to have to look at things like performance specs (get the TV with the lower, faster refresh rate) and add-on features (120 Hz display is good). One detail that might sway your decision: Samsung includes USB ports that you pop in a flash drive with your photos, while Sony does not.


Reston, VA (near Reston Town Center): Two weeks ago I described how planes passing overhead on approach to Dulles disrupt my DTV reception. You said that shouldn't happen and doesn't happen to you as planes approach DCA -- and you're closer to DCA than I am to IAD. But another factor is that I'm further from the TV transmitters than you are. Sure digital TV needs much less power than analog, but my experience is broadcasters (or the FCC?) have reduced DTV power too much.

I watch DTV using my gov't subsidized converter. It's an Insignia, model NS-DXA1.

Rob Pegoraro: That could be an issue--you're maybe 10 miles farther from the transmitters than me.

Speaking of... just in the last week or so, the FCC has put a really helpful series of maps showing how local stations coverage will change as they shut off their analog signals:

Another good resource, although it's a little more technically oriented:


Syracuse, N.Y.: Hi Rob...

About a decent digital converter box antenna. I've seen a few questions about them on your bi-weekly chat. I've read a lot of antenna reviews and this one gets great user comments and is really inexpensive $9- $10.. I've bought two and I think it works great. Available at Best Buy and Walmart...I think Amazon might carry it also.

(Best Buy link)

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the suggestion...


Columbus, Ohio: Since some time ago MS changed its mind and decided to maintain support for Outlook Express indefinitely, a question: Is it worth my while to change--for offline email management--from OE to Live Mail for Hotmail and for several POP accounts that I currently manage offline via OE? Is it worth retiring OE? Or am I asking for trouble?

Running XP/SP3 home. BTW, as you read this, my hard drive is being wiped and the OS reinstalled for a fresh start, so I am somewhat committed to this system for awhile longer.

Rob Pegoraro: OE is a woefully obsolete mail client. Yes, upgrade to Live Mail, Thunderbird... or any other e-mail app that's seen any serious development in this decade.


arlington: Rob, what is your opinion of software that is advertised to clean computer registries? Do you know if System Mechanic or PC Tools Registry Mechanic work? Can using them cause problems with the registry? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Editing the registry can easily cause problems--it's one of my least favorite parts of Windows. You can try using a free app like CCleaner (, but you'd better read the help file first and think carefully about which options you enable during a cleanup.


New York, NY: One caveat to the 46" tv guy.

120hz is NOT a panacea to all sports/gaming issues. Try it out in a store before you buy it. I bought a 120hz tv and returned it because it just looks TOO real to me. It's like looking through a window. And since 120hz is using interpolation of frames, you can get weird pinwheel effects too. Go to a store and watch a blu ray movie on 120hz for 15-20 minutes. You'll either love it or hate it.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks - taking a look at a TV in a store is always a good idea. (For instance, it's your best way to see if the screen will be too glossy... though you might have get into some weird contortions to see if the store's overhead lights reflect too strongly.)


Rob Pegoraro: That'll do it for today. Thanks!


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