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Personal Tech

Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Thursday, March 5, 2009 2:00 PM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online Thursday, March 5 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss recent reviews, answer your personal tech questions and provide gadget advice.

The transcript follows.

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

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Rob Pegoraro: Greetings, DTV viewers, e-book readers, computer users, and all other interested parties. Today's column details four ways we screwed up the DTV transition (and one way in which it worked better than expected); last week's reviewed Amazon's Kindle 2 (which is sitting on my desk as I type this). We can chat about either of those topics, or any other personal-tech issues you've got on your mind. Let's begin...

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I don't have cable TV, just a digital converter box. Is there a DVR that I don't need a subscription with that works on over-the-air TV, or is a cable DVR my only option? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, you've got options. One is the DTVPal DVR that Dish Network's parent company Echostar sells (dvtpal.com); another is a DVD recorder with a digital tuner (available from Panasonic and Toshiba, among others). Both options are free of subscription fees.

I really hope that some enterprising executive in the consumer-electronics business sees your question--and realizes how many others I've gotten just like it. I think there's some serious untapped demand for this kind of product.

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Mac "reinstall": Hi Rob, I've been a Mac convert (Macbook Pro) for nearly two years now, and it's just starting to get a bit bogged down. Do you have a help file or know of a good tutorial for wiping a Mac the right way?

Rob Pegoraro: Do an "archive and install" reinstallation of OS X, which preserves your data, settings and applications while loading a clean copy of the system: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1710

But: This might not make a real difference. Macs don't get gummed up from years of use in the ways that PCs do--there's no registry to get corrupted or jammed. (If you've seen major benefits from an archive-and-install reinstall, please let me know.) You might be better off adding more memory.

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Kindle 2: Totally bummed out with the release of Kindle 2 for one simple reason: price point. Is Amazon doing THAT well in the recession?

Rob Pegoraro: That's a good question. $359 isn't much in the larger scheme of things, but it's a lot compared to the traditional cost of the hardware necessary to read books (hint, we acquire the requisite components in the womb).

And yet... the first Kindle sold very well. We should know pretty soon if its successor keeps up that track record.

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Hamilton, Va.: Two questions: I bought a router at Circuit City the other day, what a deal. There is a security key that my laptop has to connect to the router. Does this prevent others from piggy backing on my broadband connection? I don't have any really close neighbors and no one could stop on the road out front close enough to pick up the signal but I'm just curious.

2. When there are multiple computers on one connection does each computer have separate IP address? E.g. do my laptop and desktop computers have differing addresses or does the address belong to the connection at the router?

Rob Pegoraro: 1. One of my colleagues lives in Hamilton--I'll Tom to go war-driving :) But seriously... yes, the security key is what will stop casual snoopers from getting on your network. (If it's only a WEP key, you'll want to change your settings so it uses "WPA" encryption.)

2. Yes, each computer on the network has its own private IP address; the Internet only sees the router's public address.

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Columbia, Md.: Hi Rob. I'm not happy with the HD DVR that comes with my FiOS service. Do I have any other options? I'd like to have more than two tuners and certainly more than 16 hours of HD storage. Can I buy an HD DVR to use in place of the one FiOS charges me for, or should I consider Windows Media Center? Does that mean I'll lose features like On Demand and PPV? I can probably live without those.

Rob Pegoraro: You can use a TiVoHD unit with Fios--the CableCard slots in the back let it tune in Fios, once Verizon gives you the two cards required.

TiVo is not what I'd call cheap, but neither is the $15/month Vz charges for its HD DVR. (You can bring down TiVo's monthly service fees if you prepay for a year or more)

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Nashville, Tenn.: I have never seen a Kindle so forgive this basic question, but does it have a scroll option? The descriptions focus on turning pages, but never scrolling. I read the occasional ebook on a Palm PDA and will probably transition to some electronic reader one day, but the adjustable-speed scroll feature is something I wouldn't want to give up.

Rob Pegoraro: There is no scrolling; the entire page appears on the screen at once, just as a piece of paper does. Good call by Amazon--not least because the Kindle's e-ink screen doesn't redraw fast enough to allow for any sort of smooth scrolling.

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Manassas, Va.: Hello, I'm not sure if you've answered this before or not: I have a Sansa FUZE. What is the best service to download music onto it? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: Speaking of Amazon: Amazon's MP3 store.

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Hatboro, Pa.: Recently, I lost all of last year's (2008) email messages plus all of Jan. 09. (Outlook Express on my PC). I don't know what happened. Question: any way to find and recover them?

Rob Pegoraro: Welcome to the latest installment of "Why I Hate Outlook Express."

I don't know what to suggest here--you only lost one year and one month's messages, but the others are fine? They're not in the Deleted Items folder? What else should Hatboro try?

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G'burg: How would you rate the WiFi features of the iPod Touch? I have a company-paid mobile phone so paying for a iPhone doesn't make sense for me but I would probably use the Touch's WiFi if it worked well. Is is possible to find enough unlocked signals so the WiFi can be used while on train, etc.?

Rob Pegoraro: The answer to your last question is "no"--unless you're crawling along on a train, you won't be in range of a WiFi access point to get online.

You can, however, roam from hot spot to hot spot within some urban areas, especially those with a large number of independently-owned coffee shops.

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, just a quick comment. I was extremely happy to receive the new software update to iPhoto '09 yesterday. For about a month now, I had been having trouble with iPhoto '09, specifically bugs in the "Locations" feature. Whatever changes they made in the most recent update seems to have stabilized that feature of the software and it is not acting as "buggy" as before.

Rob Pegoraro: I hadn't seen buggy behavior with the Places feature--though I'd rather not have to click into a second window to add a location that isn't in the standard catalogue.

In any case... I haven't downloaded this update yet, but from your account it seems I should.

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Beltsville, Md.: A TV with a digital tuner can do the job of a DVR. Windows Media Center provides TV schedule information, downloaded from the Internet, at no additional charge.

Rob Pegoraro: You're forgetting about the "R" part of "DVR."

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CoHi at Work: My HP laptop has suddenly died and I am in the market for a new one. I planned on replacing it anyway when Windows 7 came out, but I can't decide whether to hold out until it does and buy a friend's laptop on the cheap or buy a new one now and upgrade from Vista when 7 debuts. I had first-hand accounts of how bad upgrading went from XP to Vista, so I'm thinking the former. What do you recommend?

Rob Pegoraro: There's much less difference between Vista and 7 than there was between XP and Vista; I didn't have any issues upgrading Vista systems to the public beta of 7.

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Hamilton, Va.: I'm in the middle of a 5-acre parcel on a dirt road. Tom would have to do some searching. The security key is WPA.

Rob Pegoraro: I'll e-mail him and see if he wants to pick up the gauntlet you just threw down

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Rob, a coworker brought a Kindle II to work. I don't understand the controversy about text-to-speech, because an audio book it is not. Sounds like a voicemail menu:

"You have dialed Three... Zero... One..."

Rob Pegoraro: Exactly. It's not like you're having George Clooney or Kathleen Turner read the thing to you!

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, I've got a new computer problem that just started this week. When I'm watching streaming video on Hulu or Fancast, after about 10 minutes the streaming almost seems to skip or pause -- there'll be a syllable, a pause, a syllable, a pause, and on and on. (It really reminds me of a record skipping.) I've checked task manager and nothing else is hogging resources and I can't figure out what it is. I'm using an 18 month old HP with Vista and Firefox. (Somehow my IE has lost the connection to Flash and wants me to download it again.) Any help, please?

Rob Pegoraro: The last detail you mentioned make me think of one possibility: You need to update your Flash player. Hit adobe.com/flashplayer to get the latest version (which should also make IE happy again)

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Vienna, Va.: Hi Rob, Thanks for your service. Many of your answers to others are very handy for me.

For years I used Juno dial-up for my ISP and e-mail. The service was OK and only $3/month. Last year I moved on to Cox hi-speed, currently my only wired choice. My issue is: How can I eliminate the dial-up initiation box that appears when I want to e-mail something from a website or for example, my Photoshop program? Of course, I would like to be able to automatically send something thru one of my other e-mail accounts. I cancelled the Juno service and after some doing they have stopped charging me. I don't want Juno to resume the charges. What steps should I take?

Rob Pegoraro: Uninstall the Juno software, same as you would any other app you don't need: Control Panel: Add or Remove Programs. You may also need to follow the steps outlined in the second item in this old Help File:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/28/AR2006102800011.html

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W. Bethesda, Md.: Rob, POP or IMAP? I know that you have tread over this ground many times before, but I'm still trying to fully understand and get my arms around it. I retrieve my email from a Windows desktop, a Mac Laptop and an iPod Touch. Because I receive a lot of email, on the desktop and the laptop I have rules set up to move emails into specified mailboxes/folders when retrieved. This works fine with POP because it does not impact the inbox on the server. Now, what I "think" IMAP does is keep the email on the server rather than actually downloading it to your mail program's inbox, so, if I were to retrieve mail and move it to mailboxes on one of my computers, that would remove it from the inbox on the server and therefore I would not be able to pick it up on the other computer or the iTouch. Is this right, or am I confused? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You're confused. IMAP lets you keep multiple folders on the server, which are then synchronized to offline copies on as many PCs as you want.

In other words--yes, you want IMAP. POP is just about worthless for anybody who uses more than one computer, and I'm sure the big-name ISPs will realize that one of these decades.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Rob, I downloaded Yahoo Messenger and it crashed my whole laptop. I mean nothing worked. Once I removed the program everything was fine again. Do you know how I can make YM work? I have a 2001 top of the line SONY VAIO with all the bells and whistles, Windows-based. Everything else on there works fine.

Rob Pegoraro: If you don't use any of the multimedia silliness YM offers, you don't need to use that program at all--use the free, open-source Pidgin (pidgin.im), which connects to Yahoo, AOL, MSN, GChat and other networks.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Do you have any idea what happened to the Palm application Vindigo? I received an e-mail from them saying they were going out of business yet their application is still synching.

Rob Pegoraro: I wouldn't expect it to keep syncing for too long.

That company, incidentally, represents one of the bigger missed opportunities in gadgetry. Years before there was an iPhone or a Yelp, they had a street-level database of food/dining/entertainment options. I don't know what happened, but the company's inability to exploit that head start is what the kids call an EPIC FAIL.

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MoCoMD: Hatboro could try recovering the lost emails if he/she had been doing regular backups to an external drive using Norton, One Care, etc.

Rob Pegoraro: Something tells me that's not the case here.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, any insight into what Apple may do with AppleTV? Right now hardware seems great -- but there is a dearth of affordable content. Boxee briefly made Hulu available which was great -- but now that has ended.

Rob Pegoraro: I can talk at length about what Apple may do or should do. What the company *will* do--that's harder to say. The device obviously needs an update both to its basic hardware (like, where is Apple even finding 40-gig hard drives for it these days?) and its software (as you wrote). I'd also like to see some sort of authorized option to add on software; where's an App Store for the Apple TV?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob. What is your opinion on the new version of Apple's Time Capsule? I have an (older) Airport Extreme and an external hard drive, but it doesn't seem possible to link them up in a way that duplicates the wireless automated backup possible with Time Capsule. So I am considering replacing my current setup with a TC. (I am also a MobileMe subscriber, so I could take advantage of the new remote access stuff.) Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You could also buy the new AirPort and plug the hard drive into that--Time Machine will support a hard drive connected that way, although it's not an endorsed solution. See this report from when Apple enabled this option: http://www.macworld.com/article/132613/2008/03/airporttime.html

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RE: POP and IMAP: I use Cox Cable and the address they require for mail is POP. But I get my mail on several computers and a PDA. How do I change my settings to accomplish loading my mail into separate folders?

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry, you can't. You need to ask Cox to get with the program and offer POP (and, being a big-name ISP, they most likely won't).

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Alexandria, Va.: Another digital horror mentioned in Farhi's Pop Culture chat is that there seems to be a time lag between analog and digital signals, noticeable when you're watching a football game.

Rob Pegoraro: The real horror there would be switching back and forth from analog to digital. Pick one or the other!

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, FiOS question: Can you get someone at Verizon to explain why the FiOS remote has a Picture-in-Picture button and my DVR has two tuners but the PIP function is not enabled?

Also, any insight into whether FiOS will be increasing the hard drive capacity of the DVRs, or allowing customers to attach an external drive to their DVR? 160G is not cutting it, especially as I record more and more shows in HD.

Rob Pegoraro: On the very slight chance that somebody in Verizon PR is reading this... well, how about it?

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Myrtle Beach, S.C.: I recently purchased a laptop with Vista OS. I find that when I use the mouse and move over, say the delete icon in AOL, and hesitate for even a second the item is deleted. This also happens if leave it over an item that I am thinking of opening. This causes me some discomfort. Can I some how slow this process down or adjust the mouse marker to prevent this?

Rob Pegoraro: Your laptop's touchpad has "tap to click" enabled. I don't like that option myself and wrote about how to turn it off here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/27/AR2008092700466.html

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Ottawa, Canada: Is there a utility that can scan files to determine if their "content" is exactly identical? Something beyond name, date created and file size?

Rob Pegoraro: I think this is what you're looking for, though I can't vouch for its performance or usability: http://gnuwin32.sourceforge.net/packages/diffutils.htm

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Bowie, Md.: Is cost the only difference between Verizon FiOS TV and DirecTV? I have DirecTV now and pay about $95/month and would like to switch to Verizon FiOS TV (I have Internet and phone through FiOS now) and I think the bundle would save me money now.

Rob Pegoraro: Cost, channels carried, DVR options, availability in different locations--all the things you'd consider when comparing TV services. You should also see what Comcast and Dish Network might cost.

While I'm on the subject, forgive this little rant: Inasmuch as a) the economy is going down the toilet and b) they're not putting any more free hours in the day, would it kill these companies to offer some under-$40 programming packages that might better appeal to the segment of the U.S. population that can't spend 16 hours a day on its duff watching 250 channels of TV?

(Dish has some interesting, cheap, HD-only packages, but DirecTV, Verizon and Comcast have little or nothing below $40 a month.)

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Arlington, Va.: Rob, other than changing the password, is there any routine maintenance that needs to be done with a wireless router? I have Verizon FIOS and have not experienced any problems other than occasional slowness, but I am wondering whether there are updates or upgrades that I should be doing as security and other improvements are made. Also, is it a good practice to reboot the router from time to time? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: You don't want to be the first person on the block to upgrade your router's firmware when a new version comes out--I've had some unpleasant experiences with Apple firmware updates for my AirPort--but you do want to keep up with those upgrades.

You shouldn't have to reboot the router unless your network drops for some reason. (But if you're leaving the house for more than a few days, unplugging it will lower your electric use a bit).

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Washington, DC: Hey Rob! Thanks for all that you and your wonderful staff at the Post do to keep us informed of the latest and greatest in this digital age. I have a question: I have a Sharp HDTV and subscribe to Comcast. What is the best method for recording TV shows onto my HP laptop?

Rob Pegoraro: There aren't too many in that case--you'd need an analog-to-digital video converter to connect the laptop to the Comcast box, then you'd need to ensure that the Comcast box is tuned to the channel you want before each scheduled recording (since the laptop can't very well change channels on its own).

IOW, I don't think this is a tremendously workable scenario.

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North Myrtle Beach, S.C.: You say that POP3 is just about useless if you want to download e-mail to more than one computer. Not if you use Eudora, but I can't speak about Outlook since I never use it for e-mail. Eudora has an option to leave mail on the server. I check mail -- or my wife does -- on two laptops and two desktop computers, and just leave the mail on the server until the on-line mailbox becomes as full as I want -- usually a month or six weeks. Then I delete all of the mail after I am sure everything has been downloaded to all computers. I tried IMAP and was very unhappy with it. And by the way, the final version of Eudora, 7.1.0.9, is very stable and worked fine on everything up to and including Vista, before I wiped it out and installed XP Pro. Having used Eudora for about 15 years, I have found it to be versatile, especially in solving the multiple computer POP3 e-mail conundrum.

Rob Pegoraro: I used Eudora for about 7 or 8 years to download mail from POP accounts to multiple computers. So I hope you'll trust me when I say again: IMAP is better.

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Anonymous: Rob,

Submitting early. Windows Vista is driving me insane. Not the crashing or instability that others have reported, but usability issues.

I am not clear whether I should be installing programs under the limited user account or under the administrator account. I have done it either way and the program will run either way.

What really drives me crazy is that Vista will deny me access to a directory or folder under the limited user account, but when I go to the administrator account, the same folder or directory isn't there at all! How can that be? I thought that the administrator account would have access to everything without limitation.

I recently installed Quicken 2009 under the limited user account and now neither the limited user account nor the administrator account will give me access to the data file when I try to open the program. I have spent hours trying to uninstall the program to no avail due to the above-mentioned access problem in the administrator account to specified folders that need to be deleted but cannot be accessed or viewed by the administrator account.

Is Microsoft trying to drive us insane?

They are doing an excellent job of driving us into the arms of Apple.

Rob Pegoraro: A lot of industry analysts would agree with your last sentence.

What I'd do is stick with a standard administrator account in Vista, which isn't the same as an admin account in XP--even as an admin, you don't have unlimited access to the machine in Vista.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, there is a story on Yahoo today about Netbooks being unsecure and open to viruses, hacks, etc. I doesn't mention any difference between operating systems but I would guess that most of the problems are with Windows.

I assume that my Dell Mini with Ubuntu and Firefox is pretty safe right of the box, right? Is there anything else I should be doing to it?

Rob Pegoraro: I haven't read that Yahoo piece, but my guess is that your guess is correct--Linux in general, and Ubuntu in particular, provide a great deal of security out of the box. Make sure you've got a firewall active and you should be fine.

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Lanham: RP: "(Dish has some interesting, cheap, HD-only packages, but DirecTV, Verizon and Comcast have little or nothing below $40 a month.)"

Since Dish uses airwaves and hence is not local regulatable, it doesn't have to carry a few dozen-odd community access and government channels.

Rob Pegoraro: I doubt that the bandwidth incurred in carrying Public Access Channel D explains the high price of cable/satellite TV.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: I wonder if I have a problem. I just bought a 19" Toshiba HDTV, and the only major channel I get in HD is NBC, channel 4. When I try to switch from analog to HD on the other channels (5, 7, 9, 26, etc.), I get the message "Digital channel signal strength is low." Will this fix itself when the switch is made in June, or is there something I need to do to be able to get these channels in HD? I live in a high-rise building, in case that's relevant.

Rob Pegoraro: Most of the other local stations come from the same place (down the road in Tenleytown), and at about the same signal strength, as WRC. You may need to try different antenna positions or upgrade your antenna.

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Beltsville, Md.: By the way, I am speaking of the Windows Media Center software on my Vista Home Premium machine, as far as recording shows and burning them to a DVD goes. My older Windows Media Center pre-Vista machine could record shows, too, but I never tried to burn them to a DVD.

Rob Pegoraro: Sorry, meant to reply to your earlier follow-up... your first post said a "TV" could do a DVR's job. You meant "PC," right? If so, that's absolutely true.

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What?!? VA: So let me get this straight: You pay $400 for Kindle and THEN have to pay for the books too? Whatever happened to going to the library FOR FREE? And the feel of a hardback or paperback book? Gimme good old books any day. This is rip off!

Rob Pegoraro: To be fair, not everybody's library is as conveniently located as the branch in historic downtown What?!?, Virginia.

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wiredog: For the guy in Ottawa, I always (on Windows) use WinMerge. Any Unix or Linux box should come with the command line diff utilities.

My current employer uses Araxis Merge, which you have to pay for.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, wiredog. Shoulda known you'd come through on this one!

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Washington, D.C.: A hacker hijacked my iTunes account and I have fraudulent charges on my debit card. Who should I contact at Apple?

Rob Pegoraro: iTunes Store customers support, AFAIK, is only through e-mail. You can submit a report through the form at this page: http://www.apple.com/au/support/itunes/store/buy_troubleshooting/

This, BTW, is an excellent reason not to use a debit card. With a credit card, you call the issuer and they reverse the charges, period. With a debit card, the money's already gone from your bank account.

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Signal Strength: Can you explain the "gain/loss" maps at http://dtv.gov/fixreception.html?

I see the symbols, but there's no explanation of what the coloring on the maps means. What does it signify that the District and a few other spots are generally yellow, while most of the surrounding area is green?

According to the search program, I should be receiving "strong" signals from all the local channels--and a few extras--but in reality they're usually too weak to view comfortably.

Rob Pegoraro: If you're talking about the maps I'm talking about, they refer to the "final" DTV coverage we'll get after, or soon after, the analog shutoff on June 12. Green means you get a signal where you did not before, yellow means you'll get coverage from another station on the same network, read means there's a loss of signal.

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Warner Robins, Ga.: Hello Rob,

Good service you give here.

My comment is about something you said in your last chat about VCRs. I still use a VCR in my home office with a 20" digital CRT TV and a cable. My family room has a 46" LCD with cable and a DVR. The bedrooms have other TVs with cable and VCRs.

People still use VCRs because they still work for what they need. I don't need a DVR in the bedrooms or my office to record an occasional program. My family uses the DVR in the den on the big TV but I really can't justify the cost of having multiple DVRs for each additional TV.

That is just my opinion. Am I missing something with my thinking?

Keep up the good work informing us with news about technology!

Rob Pegoraro: First, VCRs record at a horribly low level of quality--their resolution is closer to YouTube than to DTV, much less HDTV. Second, tapes are bulky and fragile. Third, you can't watch tapes on a laptop. That's why I've been suggesting that people replace VCRs, at least when they wear out, with DVD recorders since began arriving on the market in the middle of this decade.

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Silver Spring, Md.: New Mac mini! Very exciting. But I've found a media-centeresque PC from Acer for roughly the same money (Mac plus tax, Acer incl shipping with no tax) with 4x the memory, a quad-core chip, 5x the hard drive space, and Blu-ray. Aesthetics of OS and actual box don't bother me; I just want something I can plug into my new TV and use for web surfing, media storage, and occasional gaming. I'm comfortable with both winXP and OSX.

What to do? ...and why? Full disclosure: if I buy the Mini, first order of business is to crack open the case to add ram and a new HD.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not sure how you can say the "aesthetics of the OS" don't matter when all the uses you outline will have you face to face with, yup, the aesthetics of the OS.

The more important factor for you, however, might be the occasional gaming you reference. The selection is still a lot better in Windows.

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Bethesda, Md.: Rob: How reliable is the Windows (XP) firewall? Forgive me if this is a naive question, but is it really necessary to install Norton in addition to using the firewall?

Rob Pegoraro: It is reliable; it's not necessary to replace it.

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Columbia, Md: There's also BeyondCompare for comparing files.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks!

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Beltsville, Md.: Rob: your first post said a "TV" could do a DVR's job. You meant "PC," right?

Me: D'oh!

Rob Pegoraro: If only I always proofread my own copy with the same attention...

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Washington, D.C.: When stations switch to digital broadcasting, will they be broadcasting in 480i standard resolution or 720p high definition resolution?

Rob Pegoraro: The DTV spec, as I mentioned in today's column, allows for 18 different levels of resolution. So the answer to your question is "yes"--you could have 480i SDTV for daytime reruns and 720p or 1080i HD for prime-time fare.

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Fairfax, Va.: I'm in the market for a new camcorder and currently use a MiniDV one but am very tempted to move to a flash-based one because of its light weight, lack of tape drive or fragile hard drive and current low cost flash memory. I've heard that you need a very fast computer (quad core and at least 4 g ram) to handle editing the AVCHD compression. And then there are questions as to which programs will allow this format to be edited like Adobe Premier. I don't plan to do a ton of editing but I like the ability to transfer video faster than MiniDV and I would like to do some editing. Do you have any thoughts regarding this that may help?

Rob Pegoraro: You don't need that much horsepower to edit AVCHD--check the requirements of individual movie editors (for instance, iMovie only needs an Intel Core Duo chip). I do agree that you've got the right idea to switch from tape to flash memory.

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D.C. and FiOS: Saw an article in the Northwest Current that various sections of the city were slated to get FiOS through 2009 and 2010. Any updates? (Basically, I'm sick of my sat TV/DSL/phone set-up and don't want to ask you the same question about what you'd do that you've been asked so many times before.)

BTW, is there any hope for Hoya basketball next year?

Rob Pegoraro: It's a phased rollout citywide, though there may be earlier deployments in new construction (my colleague Jacqueline Dupree's blog just reported that a new building near Nats Park will have Fios Internet service).

Next year can only be better for my Hoyas... because it could not be much worse.

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Seattle: I have an odd question. I currently have Comcast cable/internet and signed up for FIOS to be installed in a couple of weeks last week.

A couple of days ago, my cable and internet both failed at the same time. Basically, nothing's coming through on the cable box and I can't connect to the internet.

It doesn't look like a line broke on the outside of my house and the internet is on a different wire than my cable which makes it odd that both failed at the same time. I asked Verizon if they may have come by and did some prework and they said that it was too early for them to stop by.

My question is, is Verizon lying about not stopping by and messing with my connection or what the heck could cause both cable and internet to fail at the same time? Or did Comcast somehow know that I'm switching and decided to give me a going away present?

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're giving both organizations too much credit for conspiratorial thinking. Water can get into the junctions that connect stretches of coax cable outside your house and cause them to short out, and that's my guess as to what happened here.

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DC: What's happened to XOHM/Clear in D.C.? I signed up with XOHM in November and had a good signal without interruption until Jan. 20. Then service stopped and didn't resume for a week. The signal stopped again on Feb. 6 and hasn't come back yet. Customer service has told me that since the system hasn't officially launched yet in D.C., they are providing no support - in other words, tough luck. I even tried to send an email complaint to the management, and got back a response from customer service telling me what they had already told me on the phone. A sales rep told me that the official launch date was going to be March 1, but that's been pushed back to an unknown date for unknown reasons, and the D.C. regional sales manager apparently just left the company. Most recently, calls to the Baltimore mall outlet where the reps have at least tried to be helpful are rolling over to voice mail in the middle of the afternoon. Apparently there are -- or at least were -- a number of Washington-area users, and we can't get a straight answer about a service that we are paying for. Do you know what gives? .

Rob Pegoraro: I'm officially sick and tired of this topic--Sprint has had a test signal up in D.C. for months already, but nobody at the company will explain what's holding it back, or when it plans to offer the service already. It's as if Sprint wants people to forget that it even introduced this service with a big, all-day event at the Sheraton in Tysons Corner two summers ago, to which it invited dozens of reporters from around the region.

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Followup to firewall question: My desktop has the connection to the Internet via DSL. My laptop connects wirelessly to the access point to use that same Internet connection. If I'm using the Wndows firewall on the desktop, do I need to enable the firewall on the laptop? I use WPA with a long encryption "word."

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. You do take the laptop other places, right?

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Re: E-book readers: Today, I'd only buy an e-book reader if I could get an e-library card. I can't see buying an expensive reader and then paying high prices for a book I can't loan or swap.

The subscription model for music may not work, but libraries have been around for a long time. I suspect that most people only read a book once anyhow, but we (or at least I) listen to some music over and over for years.

I already subscribe to Safari books because geek books are obsolete in a year or so anyhow, so my Safari subscription is less than what I'd spend on paper books, and I can cut and paste code from a Safari book. If I could get "general interest" books for a good subscription price, I'd certainly consider it, but I'd not buy an e-book at paperback prices and also buy an expensive reader.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the input, which I'm happy to share...

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Rob. How does the Kindle 2 perform as a magazine and newspaper reader? What attracts me to it is the possibility of waking up at 6:00 a.m. and having the Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal all waiting for (and being able to drop all of them in my bag and go). But if navigation of periodicals is clunky, or content incomplete, then it's not so attractive for that use. Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: The text is there, but most photos and graphics aren't, and you lose most of the sense of importance a publication's print or online layout provide. Reading a newspaper or mag on the Kindle, conceptually speaking, is a lot closer to reading it on a phone.

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East Lansing, Mich.: Hi Rob, when would you say the best time to purchase a flat screen television would be? I understand that March is a great time before the new models are introduced.

Rob Pegoraro: There is no best time. Some new models will be arriving in March and April--you can see on Best Buy's site, for instance, that a few new Samsungs and Panasonics will arrive later this month--which can mean discounts on the older TVs, but it's not as if the industry operates on a strict yearly release cycle like the auto industry once did.

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re: Followup: I always use the Windows firewall on the laptop when traveling elsewhere. I was wondering about whether I need to use it at home too.

Rob Pegoraro: Leave it on all the time, and you won't have to remember to turn it on when you do exit your abode.

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State of Dyspepsia: The POP folks with multiple devices can POP all their e mail into Gmail, then access it all there through any device....

Rob Pegoraro: That's one way to give yourself IMAP access--shoulda mentioned that to the Cox user before.

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wiredog: Thinking about the Kindle, I still see it as a magazine/newspaper reader rather than a book reader. DRM isn't (as much of) an issue for something that will be read once, then tossed in the recycling bin. It'd save lots of dead trees, too. If only the comics were in the kindle edition of the Post...

This piece at The Atlantic is an interesting take on the book as technology vs the book as book.

From PCMag, are the points that "Amazon really understands what e-books are: software" and, interestingly, "Apple has ceded the e-book market to Amazon". Hadn't considered that.

That Mac Mini looks like a good little htpc. Couple it with an EyeTV and HuLu, and Handbrake for ripping DVDs.

Finally: I've been thinking (dangerous, I know) that the DVD (and Blu-ray) are soon to be dead tech. I have a shelf of DVDs that I rarely watch. I only bought them because I might watch them someday and wanted the convenience. Or was afraid they'd go out of print the way some books have. But with streaming video on demand those may not be major considerations after all. I haven't bought an actual physical CD in years. I suspect DVDs will end up the same way.

Rob Pegoraro: Thanks for the links and the comments...

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Arlington, Va.: My router is WEP encrypted but you said it should be WPA encrypted. How do I go about doing that?

Rob Pegoraro: Whoever you'd normally change your router's settings. You'll have to read its manual to find out; some require you to type a numeric address into your Web browser, some need you to run an extra program.

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Rob Pegoraro: I've gotta wrap this up. Thanks for keeping me busy... I should be back here in two weeks.

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